Epicopolainism is an offshoot of the Church of England which was established in the 16th century following the English Reformation movement. The Church of England retained lots of catholic liturgy and practices while at the same time embracing some Protestantism. Over time, the Church of England evolved into the Episcopal church which had distinct doctrinal elements and leadership structures.
On the other hand, the Lutheran church has its origins in the protestant reformation movement that was led by Martin Luther and other leaders. The teachings of Martin Luther on grace, faith, and church governance are some of the important foundations of the Lutheran doctrine. The movement that followed the teachings of Martin Luther is what become known as Lutheranism and it became a denomination under the protestant wing of churches.
Episcopal churches use a hierarchical structure of leadership with Bishops serving as spiritual authorities. Lutherans however, use a congregational leadership structure that allows each for congregational autonomy. The two denominations agree on most of the doctrines but they differ in how they view or apply them.
Let us have a look at some of the important doctrinal differences and similarities between Episcopalians and Lutherans below.
Baptism and holy communion are the main sacraments for episcopalians. The Episcopalian doctrine views Baptism as an initiation rite into Christianity. Both adults and infants are therefore baptized as a way of welcoming them to the Christian family. The Eucharist is viewed as an act of worship and it is done to commemorate the last supper of Jesus Christ. Episcopalians believe that the elements of the Lord’s table (Bread and Wine), become the body and blood of Christ during the communion. This is referred to as a doctrine of real presence.
Lutherans also observe the two sacraments of baptism and holy communion. However, for Lutherans, Baptism is viewed as a covenant between man and God representing God’s grace and forgiveness. The Eucharist on the other hand represents the ultimate sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Suffice it to say that both sacraments are considered signs of God’s grace and forgiveness as well as signs of a new life in Christ.
The episcopal church uses an episcopal leadership structure which means the church is governed by Bishops. The bishops are believed to be successors of the early apostles and they are therefore deemed to play an important role in the spiritual oversight and administration of the church. The Bishops are also in charge of ordaining deacons and priests as well as confirming individuals. Episcopalians also have a general convection that sits after three years. This convention draws members from the various dioceses and it is the highest governance structure in the Episcopal church. The general convention discusses theological issues, social concerns as well as liturgical issues in the church.
Lutheran churches, on the other hand, have individual governing systems at the local church level. The congregations are then grouped together into regional or national bodies referred to as synods. Each synod has some level of autonomy but they are still expected to adhere to the general Lutheran principles and doctrines. Some examples of famous synods include the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS).
The governance structure in Lutheran churches involves clergy and lay members who work together in decision-making. Pastors are in charge of spiritual leadership and pastoral care for their congregations. Apart from preaching, the pastors also administer sacraments and oversee the spiritual life of the church.
Lutheran doctrinal beliefs
- Sola Scriptura (scripture alone): Lutherans believe the Bible in its entirety (both Old and New Testament) is the inspired word of God. As such, Lutherans believe the Bible should be the final authority in the determination of doctrine and practice in the church.
- Sola Fide (faith alone): Lutherans emphasize the concept of salvation by faith. This doctrine teaches that the only way to get saved is by believing in Jesus as the son of God and accepting the atonement. Lutherans believe that good deeds and human effort cannot earn salvation.
- The priesthood of all believers – Lutheranism teaches the priesthood of all believers. This means that every Christian has a right to access the throne of grace and they do not need to go through a human intermediary. Lutherans believe that Jesus is not only the ultimate sacrifice but also the only mediator between man and God.
- Law and Gospel – Lutheranism makes a clearcut distinction between the law and the gospel when interpreting the Bible. They believe that the law came to reveal God’s standards and man’s inadequacy while the Gospel came to breach the gap between Man and God.
Episcopal core beliefs
- The Holy Trinity: The Holy Trinity is an important doctrine for Episcopalians. The doctrine of the trinity emphasizes that God is one but he exists in three personalities – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
- The Incarnation: Episcopalians emphasize the doctrine of incarnation where they believe that God the Son was incarnated in the flesh and born of a virgin. They believe that without the concept of incarnation, salvation wouldn’t have been a reality.
- The Atonement: Episcopalians believe in the atonement. This means that the ultimate sacrifice that was paid by Christ on the cross bridged the gulf between man and God and thereby gave man a way out of sin and eternal damnation.
- The Bible: Episcopoilians believe the Bible to be God’s inspired word which should be the only authority in the determination of doctrine as well as for spiritual guidance. They posit that the Bible should not be replaced by human wisdom or by any ecclesiastical authority.
Worship and Liturgy
The episcopal church puts emphasis on liturgical ceremonies and traditions. The worship has a formal and structured order. The episcopal liturgy is based on traditional Christian practices and it borrows heavily from the Book of Common Prayer.
Episcopalian services have some common elements including the collect (the day’s prayer), the liturgy of the word (Psalms, scripture reading, and the sermon), the Nicene creed (statement of faith), Intercessory prayers, and the Liturgy of the Table (The Eucharist). The liturgical ceremonies are meant to promote a sense of reverence and thereby help humans to connect to the divine.
On the flip side, Lutheran worship styles may vary depending on the tradition and cultural influences. However, there are some common elements that cut across the board in all congregations. The Lutheran liturgy is adapted from Martin Luther’s adaptations of the Catholic Worship. Martin Luther was seeking to reform catholic worship but his move created a foundation for the Lutheran church as well as other protestant churches. Lutherans use several historical liturgical elements like the Creed, Gloria, Kyrie, and Santus which help to provide a sense of continuity of the Christian traditional practices.
To wrap it up, the main difference between Episcopalians and Lutherans is their leadership structure. As the name suggests, episcopalians are governed by Bishops which means they have a centralized leadership. Lutherans however use a decentralized approach and this allows for more flexibility in worship styles among other things as described above..