Christian Communities versus Christian Institutions
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Christian Communities versus Christian Institutions

According to the Gospels, Jesus had a community of followers. Their common denominator was an admiration for Jesus, who called for a reformation of Judaism. Jesus claimed that he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). As I see it, Jesus rejected the religiosity of those who followed the letter of the law yet neglected the law’s moral spirit.
Subsequent to Jesus’ death, there were numerous small Christian communities, many of which Paul founded. They met in homes, encouraged communal living, and used various Gospels and Pauline epistles to guide faith and practice. Even though it seems that Christendom today encompasses a wide range of beliefs and practices, there was far greater diversity among these early Christian communities. The relative uniformity of faith today reflects, in part, the institutionalization of Christianity.
By institutionalization, I mean development of a hierarchy of Christian leaders, development of physical structures (most prominently, churches), and establishment of an “orthodoxy” of faith that defines what it means to be a “Christian.” Christian institutions have accomplished much good, including the sponsorship of magnificent works of architecture, art, and music. They have promoted the Gospel worldwide, which, when this has been done nonviolently, has been a good thing. They have offered a uniformity of faith and practice that helps people feel that they are part of something larger than themselves. In particular, many Christian rituals give meaning and direction for people’s lives. They have often engaged in important acts of charity, such as sponsoring health care facilities, which have assisted weak and vulnerable members of society.
But institutions can also be self-serving, and when this happens they can promote or defend injustice. Next essay, I will explore the nature of institutions further, and I will then examine strengths and weaknesses of non-institutional Christian communities. This series of essays will conclude with thoughts on how institutions and communities relate to animal issues. 

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