Anglicanism and Episcopalianism are closely related denominations that might seem alike on the surface but there are still some subtle differences between the two. Anglicanism emerged in the 16th century during the Reformation movement and after King Henry VIII separated the Church of England from the papal authority. The Episcopal Church is the American branch of the Anglican Communion and it is independent of the Church of England. The term Episcopal is derived from the Greek word “episkopos,” which is translated to mean Bishop. It, therefore, reflects the main characteristic of its governance structure which is based on the authority of Bishops.
The differences between Anglicans and Episcopalians
The Episcopal Church is the American wing of the Anglican communion and as such, the two are quite similar. However, there are some distinct differences between Anglicans and Episcopalians in theological principles, styles of worship, and liturgy, as well as structure and governance.
Let’s take a deeper look at these differences below:
Anglican Theological Principles:
Anglicans have an inclusive approach to theology that draws from Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. Let’s have a look at these four tenets and how they influence Anglican theology.
- Scripture – the Bible is the foundational authority for the Anglican doctrine and faith. Scripture is divinely inspired by God and is therefore profitable in guiding the life of a Christian.
- Tradition – Anglicans place a lot of weight on the customs and teachings that have been handed down over the centuries. For instance, Anglicans affirm the authority of the ecumenical creeds such as the Nicene Creed, and the teachings of the early Church Fathers.
- Reason – Anglicans allow for the use of reason when interpreting scripture. They believe that intellect can be guided by the Holy Spirit to help reconcile the human experiences and knowledge of the natural world to the faith.
- Experience: Personal and communal experiences play a significant role in Anglican theology. They believe that God’s presence and revelation can be encountered through personal spiritual experiences, worship, and the shared life of the Christian community.
Episcopal Theological Foundations
Episcopalians share the same theological views as the Anglicans. However, they also emphasize the following:
- Sacramental Theology – Sacraments are considered an important part of Episcopalian theology as they are believed to be the means of attaining God’s grace as well as experiencing the presence of Christ. The main sacraments observed are Baptism and Holy Communion.
- Social Justice – Episcopalians are known for advocating for social justice in society. They believe in promoting inclusivity, dealing with societal inequalities, and striving to attain peace and justice.
- Inclusive Theology – The Episcopalian denomination is committed to inclusivity. As such, they invite varying theological perspectives and extend the hand of fellowship to people from different backgrounds, races, and sexual orientations.
- Ecumenical Engagement – The Episcopal denomination believes in ecumenical engagement and actively welcomes and participates in dialogue with other Christian denominations. They believe in ecumenical cooperation and attaining unity of the different faiths.
Worship and Liturgy
Anglican Liturgical Practices:
Anglican worship practices seek to strike a balance between flexibility and order. Here are the common elements of Anglican worship:
- Book of Common Prayer
Anglican worship is centered around the Book of Common Prayer. This book gives the framework for worship services including prayers, scripture readings, administration of sacraments, and hymns. There are several versions of the Book of Common Prayer that have been adapted to different regional contexts.
- Liturgical Seasons
The Anglican church observes a liturgical calendar that is somewhat similar to the catholic’s. The calendar includes seasons like Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. Worship services are structured around these seasons and the seasons also help to provide a rhythm for the spiritual life of the believers.
- Holy Communion
The Eucharist also referred to as Holy Communion, is central to Anglican worship. Anglicans believe that the Holy Communion should be celebrated with solemnity and reverence because it is the real presence of Christ.
- Choral Music and Hymnody:
Anglican worship often incorporates choral music and hymns, with a rich tradition of choral anthems, chants, and congregational singing. Hymns from various historical periods and diverse musical styles are used to enhance worship.
Episcopal Liturgical Practices:
Episcopalians follow the same liturgical traditions. However, they also have some additional practices that are distinctive to them. These include:
- Liturgical Diversity
Episcopalians allow for liturgical diversity which means they embrace various worship styles and practices. The diversity is meant to allow flexibility for regional, cultural, and theological variations. However, they still keep the practices within the guidelines of the Book of Common Prayer to ensure a common biblical foundation across the different churches.
- Inclusive Language
The Episcopal Church endeavors to use inclusive language in liturgical texts. The idea is to reflect the denomination’s commitment to gender-neutral language which they believe is tantamount to achieving inclusivity in worship.
- Social Justice Emphasis
The Episcopal Church often incorporates sermons, readings, and prayers that are aimed at addressing social justice issues and advocacy for marginalized groups in society. This is due to the denomination’s commitment to living out the faith via engagement and action.
Leadership and Governance
Anglican Hierarchy and Leadership Roles:
The Anglican Communion follows a hierarchical leadership structure that includes various roles. The roles are:
- Archbishop of Canterbury – He is considered the symbolic head and spiritual leader of the Anglican communion. He is a unifying figure for all Anglican provinces in the world.
- Archbishops and Primates – these are senior bishops that have leadership roles in specified regions. They are in charge of multiple dioceses and also have other administrative roles. Primates are archbishops that often represent their provinces in international Anglican convocations
- Bishops – These are the main leaders in the Anglican church. They oversee the diocese as well as provide pastoral care and guidance to the congregation and clergy under them. Bishops are considered to be successors to the Apostles and are therefore empowered to ordain deacons.
- Clergy – these include priests, deacons, and other ordained ministers. Priests are tasked with the responsiblity of administering sacraments, leading worship, and offering pastoral care. Deacons are tasked with the responsibility of serving the community through outreach programs.
Episcopal Church Structure and Leadership:
The Episcopal Church has a different leadership structure from the Anglican church. The Episcopal leadership roles are:
- Presiding Bishop – the presiding Bishop is recognized as the chief ecclesiastical officer of the Episcopal Church. He serves as the main spokesperson and leader of the church both nationally and internationally. Presiding Bishops are elected by the General Convention.
- General Convention – The Episcopal Church has a legislative body made up of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies. The General Convention elects the presiding Bishop, determines the church’s policies, and sets the direction for the Episcopal Church.
- Bishops – The Episcopalian Bishops have somewhat similar roles to their Anglican counterparts. Bishops not only oversee their diocese but also provide pastoral care to their congregation and clergy.
- Clergy and Laity: The Episcopal Church values the involvement and collaboration of both clergy and laity in its governance and decision-making processes. Lay people are actively involved in various leadership roles at the parish, diocesan, and national levels.
As we have seen, Anglicans and Episcopalians are somewhat similar in doctrine, liturgy, and governance structure. However, the Episcopal Church is a distinct denomination that has some unique differentiating characteristics. For instance, unlike the Anglican church which is led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Episcopalians are led by a presiding Bishop who is chosen by the general convention. But even with such big differences, the two are arguably more similar than they are different.