Leadership, Authority, and Religious Roles

What kinds of smaller religious organizations do some Christians belong to?

In addition to the various monastic orders that are still an integral part of religious life in the Anglo and Roman Catholic as well as Eastern communities, a number of non-monastic religious and lay organizations have also made significant contributions. There are several types of organizations for men and women fully committed to various kinds of religious life. Members of those formally known as “orders” (such as the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits) take solemn vows of perpetual poverty, chastity, and obedience. Members of “congregations” take simple vows that can be either perpetual or renewable at set intervals. Most religious organizations belong in this category. “Lay institutes” are like congregations, except that most or all members of the former are not ordained to the priesthood, as with the Daughters of Charity or Christian Brothers. In addition, a number of the “orders” strictly so-called (such as the Dominicans and Franciscans) have “second” orders (for female members) and “third” orders (also called Tertiaries) for lay affiliates. Although the Roman Catholic tradition is more structured in this respect than most others, almost all Christian churches provide multiple organizational opportunities designed to allow members fuller participation in the life of the community. These groups typically revolve around some specific socioreligious focus, such as church maintenance, social outreach, or the interface of religion and politics.

An Orthodox Christian monastery clings to the side of a cliff overlooking ancient Jericho, the West Bank, Palestine. Its placement in the Judaean wilderness reflects longstanding tradition of preference for austere environs for monastic asceticism.


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