Both Islam and Judaism have religious law which cover matters from acts of worship to the principles of government. In Islam it is Sharia (Arabic: الشريعة‎; literally "law") and in Judaism it is Halakha (Hebrew: הלכה‎; literally "walking").

So my question is does Christianity also have anything similar? And if yes, then is it still considered valid?


2 Answers 2


What is the Christian counterpart of Sharia and Halakha?

Within the Catholic Church there is Canon Law. Other Christian Churches also have a type of Code of Canon Law unto their own denomination.

For the Catholic Church, the Holy See's government, Canon Law directs one to another special law for it's legal makeup and framework:

Can. 360 The Supreme Pontiff usually conducts the affairs of the universal Church through the Roman Curia which performs its function in his name and by his authority for the good and service of the churches. The Roman Curia consists of the Secretariat of State or the Papal Secretariat, the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church, congregations, tribunals, and other institutes; the constitution and competence of all these are defined in special law.

Can. 361 In this Code, the term Apostolic See or Holy See refers not only to the Roman Pontiff but also to the Secretariat of State, the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church, and other institutes of the Roman Curia, unless it is otherwise apparent from the nature of the matter or the context of the words.

What is Canon law?

Canon Law Definition

Canon law has two functions: to govern churches with a uniform code of rules, and to guide church members in their conduct and worship. Canon law covers a range of issues, including human rights, property, relationships, becoming an adult member of the church, choosing church leadership and more. Of course, canon law is separate from legal codes enacted by governments. You won’t get arrested if you break your church’s canon law, but you may face consequences within your church community. The word “canon” means rule. So, think of canon law as a set of rules for churches and worshipers. Canon laws keep things smooth and uniform.

The following churches use canon law: Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Episcopal and Mormon. Some of these don’t have formal unified canon laws like those of the Catholic Church. However, they still incorporate some type of canon law into their practices. For example, the Anglican Church does not have a centralized canon law, but does use a canonical system within its member churches.

Canon Law History

Canon law has a long history dating back to early Christianity. The first Catholic canon law was called the Decretum and was adopted by the Church in the 12th century. The Decretum remained the standard law of the Catholic Church for centuries. After the first Vatican Council in 1869-1870, the church leadership decided to create a uniform code. Cardinal Pietro Gasparri led the project, and in 1917, the first Code of Canon Law was adopted by the Catholic Church.

As the church grew over the 20th century, so did its need for updated rules and regulations. In 1983, a revised Code of Canon Law was enacted, still in use today. In 1990, the Catholic Church issued a Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. This means the Catholic Church now has two canon laws, one for its Eastern churches, and one for its Western or Roman Churches.

List of Canon Laws

  • Code of Canon Law (Roman Catholic): Originally codified in 1917 and last updated in 1983, the Code of Canon Law is the comprehensive set of rules followed by the Roman Catholic Church.
  • Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (Eastern Catholic): This set of laws was adopted in 1990 to address the unique needs and practices of Eastern Catholic Churches.
  • Constitution & Canons (Episcopal): The Episcopal Church officially adopted its Constitution at a General Convention in Philadelphia in 1789. Constitution & Canons lays out the Church's official rules for governance. It has since been updated many times, most recently in 2015.
  • The Book of Discipline (Methodist): This set of rules addresses how Methodists agree to live together. The Book of Discipline has been evolving for more than 200 years. Every four years, Methodists update the Book at their General Conference. The latest update was released in 2016. - What Is Canon Law?
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    Unlike halakha and sharia, though, Catholic canon law doesn't cover things like "the principles of government" generally speaking. It's not nearly as broad. Commented Apr 20, 2019 at 13:40
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    The Free Methodist denomination had their last Book of Discipline update in 2015; the next is coming this year, in July 2019.
    – JDM-GBG
    Commented Apr 20, 2019 at 19:33
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    It's probably worth mentioning that Canon Law never applies to anyone who is not a Catholic, and in my understanding can't enforce penalties (other than purely ecclesiastical ones) on anyone other than clergy. Commented Apr 20, 2019 at 20:57
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    @DJClayworth My answer refers to other denominations that have their own Canon Law.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Apr 20, 2019 at 23:02
  • Sorry, yes. I meant to say "doesn't apply to people outside the denomination ". Commented Apr 21, 2019 at 0:48

So far as the Methodist (Protestant) tradition goes, there is a "Book of Discipline" which lays out some general guidelines on worship services, and specifics on the leadership structure within the individual churches and the denomination as a whole. But this is understood to have force only within the context of the denomination in question. It draws on biblical references and principles to the fullest extent possible but it is never claimed to be anything more than a human construct.

At the broader level, the New Testament gives very little guidance on specifics of worship; the only ritual in particular that is described as essential is communion (aka "the Lord's Supper"). And nowhere in the New Testament is there any guidance on a system of government or civil law; that is something that the faith simply wasn't designed to include. Christian churches can exist in any government context: an empire, a constitutional monarchy, a republic, a dictatorship, whatever. "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's; give to God what is God's."

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