The Christian Faith in the Episcopal Church

Many Catholic Communions | Catholic & Non-Catholic Christianity | Apostolic Succession | Episcopal Sacraments | Episcopal Church Hierarchy | Interesting Church History |
Why We Became Epsicopalians

The Episcopal Church is an independant member of the Anglican Communion of the "One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church." The Episcopal Church is a "catholic" church because it is "open" (non-Gnostic), its faith is based on the Nicene and Apolstolic Creeds and it follows the apostolic succession of deacons, priests and bishops.

Christianity—The Many Catholic Communions
There are several primary communions of the "One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church." Some of these churches/communions include the Anglican Communion, the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Catholic Church (Greek, Antiochian, Alexandrian, Jeruselem and other national Orthodox churches all of which are sometimes called Eastern Orthodox Church or Orthodox Catholic Church, etc.), the Polish Catholic Church, the Polish National Catholic Church in the U.S.A. and the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht ... to name a few. Each catholic church/communion has a different organizational structure and each has a number of offshoot churches. Some Roman Catholics refer to the Anglican Church (and Anglican Communion partners) to be such an offshoot church.

The Anglican Communion's structure is most like that of the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht. There is no one Pope over the entire communion. Interestingly, a common bond has been shared between the Anglican Communion and the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht.

To monitor the progressive union of these two communions, the Anglican/Old Catholic International Co-ordinating Council had been established by the International Bishops' Conference (Old Catholic) and the Lambeth Bishops Conference (Anglican). Its first official meeting took place in 1999. For more details on the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht, The Polish Catholic Church and their union with the Anglican Communion, visit the Churches of Europe Web Site.

Catholic Christianity and Non-Catholic Christianity
The term "catholic" means "universal", even though in the United States, the term is generally used to refer to the Roman Catholic Church. The Episcopal "Catholic" Church is not a part of the Roman Catholic communion of the "One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church", but it is "catholic." A good explanation on the Episcopal Church and other churches in the Anglican Communion being a part of the "One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church" can be found at the Church of Ireland's website. NOTE: As the Episcopal Church U.S.A. is a member of the Anglican Communion with a Primate in the United States, the Church of Ireland is a separate member of the Anglican Communion like the Episcopal Church.

The name "catholic" partially came into to prominence in early Christian communities that were considered "open" because it was not Gnostic Christian (secretive where some members advance in place and knowledge) where some were accepted into the "knowing" community. Rather, a Catholic Christian community was universal and open to all.

While the Episcopal Church is a "catholic" church, at times, some of the churches in the Anglican Communion, including the Episcopal Church, have referred to themselves as Protestant to show that they are not a part of the Roman Catholic communion of the "One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church." However, Anglican Communion churches are not protestant per se. Like the other communions of the "One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church","[p]resent day Episcopal Bishops trace their ordination authority back through a continuous line, person to person, to the 12 Apostles" (Peek Through the Window of the Episcopal Church).

If it is the Anglo "Catholic" Church (Anglican Church), then how did the term Episcopal come into play for the American branch of the Anglican Communion? The word Episcopal comes from the Greek word "episkopoi" which means "having bishops." During the establishment of the Anglican Church in America, the American Church was unable to ordain priests by a bishop since all the bishops remained in England and the United States just won the Revolution War which made things a little difficult. So, in accordance to the accepted rules of apostolic succession to ordain priest by a bishop, three bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church (so named because the Scottish were not fans of the Anglican name but were a part of the communion with Canterbury) named not one, but three American bishops. The Scottish Episcopal Church's action of ordaining three American bishops allowed American Anglican bishops to ordain more American bishops as well as priests. This is why the emblem for the Episcopal Church in the USA is the Anglo Cross with the Scottish blue Cross of St. Andrew in the top left corner.

Apostolic Succession in the Episcopal Church
The Episcopal Church, like the other communions of the "One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church," claims a direct priestly lineage following apostolic succession. This means that the church follows the ordained hierachy of bishop, priest, deacon.

Some churches have questioned the biblical validity of apostolic succession where a bishop ordains due to lieneage passed down from the apostles. For all catholic churches (namely: the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican Communion and other related churches), however, this link with the apostles guarantees their authority in matters of faith, morals, and the valid administration of sacraments. What is essential to maintaining the apostolic succession is the right or rather interpreted and accepted consecration of bishops. Protestants (non–Anglicans) see the authority given to the apostles as unique, proper to the apostles alone, and therefore reject any doctrine of a succession of apostolic authority. As a result, the Protestant view of ecclesiastical authority differs from those churches that accept apostolic succession.

"[W]here in practice was [the] apostolic testimony or tradition to be found. ..." asks the early church historian, J. N. D. Kelly. "The most obvious answer was that the apostles had committed it orally to the Church, where it had been handed down from generation to generation. ... Unlike the alleged secret tradition of the Gnostics, it was entirely public and open, having been entrusted by the apostles to their successors, and by these in turn to those who followed them, and was visible in the Church for all who cared to look for it."

Still, however, there are those who claim that if something is not entirely in the Bible, then it is not following in line with "the infallible word of God." Episcopalians believe that the Bible is the "inspired" word of God written by man, inspired by God. Churches that adhere to apostollic succession hold that the Apostles had special authority given to them by Jesus Christ and that this authority has been passed down in unbroken succession through the bishops of the Church for two millenia. But is there any Biblical claim to apostolic succession?

One thing is certain, the Bible is not a Chilton type manual. Therefore, readers sometime grasp something a little different than others. However, following are some scripture passages to support apostolic succession:

Some people God has designated in the church to be, first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers; then, mighty deeds; then, gifts of healing, assistance, administration, and varieties of tongues.
1 Corinthians 12:28

In this next passage, Peter, first among the Apostles, declared the problem and the solution. He decided what conditions were necessary for the consecration of one who would "take an office" in the church.

5 During those days Peter stood up in the midst of the brothers (there was a group of about one hundred and twenty persons in the one place). He said ... 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to his resurrection.” 23 So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this apostolic ministry from which Judas turned away to go to his own place.” 26 Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the eleven apostles. Acts 1:5,22-26

The following passages of scripture describe how the Bible establishes apostolic succession. Further, these passages alude to the "laying of hands" which some Protestants claim is not in the Bible.

They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them. Acts 6:6. Then completing their fasting and prayer, they laid hands on them and sent them off. Acts 13:3. They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, "It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God." 23 They appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith. Acts 14:22-23. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. 1 Timothy 4:14. For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. 2 Timothy 1:6.

Even Paul, who was called in a special way by God, only became a minister after the laying on of hands by an officer of the Church.

15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites, 16 and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house; laying his hands on him, he said, “Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me, Jesus who appeared to you on the way by which you came, that you may regain your sight and be filled with the holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. He got up and was baptized, 19 and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength. Acts 9:15-19

What about succession between the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and other catholic churches? Churches in the Anglican Communion claim appostolic authority through the Archbishop of Canterbury. Like the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht and the Polish Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion carried apostolic succession from appointment that originated from the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church, likewise, apparently carried apostolic succession from the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

The Sacraments in the Episcopal Church
In being a "catholic" church, the Episcopal Church maintains the seven sacraments which are certain regular acts of worship or reenactments of Christ's ministries on earth. More detail on the sacraments can be obtain from the Diocese of Texas Episcopal Information Page. The theology behind some of the sacraments is different or more open for personal interpretation and personal need compared to the Roman or Orthodox churches. This may seem odd to some because the same creeds are shared between the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican Communion churches.

Interestingly, the Anglican churches and the Orthodox churches Eucharistic worship are more similar in comparison with the Roman Catholic Church. It is interesting to conduct a 3rd Century Eucharist then consider the Roman Catholic standard on transubstantiation. An example of a 3rd Century Eucharist is provided in the Episcopal Church's Education for Ministry Common Lessons guide.

There are many differences as well as similarities between the Roman Catholic Church and Episcopal Church beliefs and method of worship. A good place to start is how both churches view Holy Communion. The Roman Catholic Church holds the belief in transubstantiation, or real presence of Jesus Christ in the bread and wine of the Holy Communion. The Episcopal Church does not fully follow transubstantiation as being absolute. The concept of transubstantiation and the rules for who can receive Holy Communion in the Roman Catholic Church arose during early years of the church and the middle ages; from a time when people commonly believed that something could physically exist in something else and when the Church had to protect itself from enemy infiltration. So the rules can be understood. The Episcopal Church, by contrast, believes Jesus is spiritually present in the the Holy Communion elements. How Jesus is present spiritually is a mystery. This answer does not dismiss the question. Rather, this answer is given because its acceptable to have mystery in life and some things are way beyond human comprehension. "We don't have to understand everything there is to know about Holy Communion. What's more important is that we believe and trust Jesus that he said he would be present to us." (Peek Through the Window of the Episcopal Church). In other words, it is an acceptance or rather spiritual acceptance of Christ's presence. The interpretation is more dependant on the receiver.

In the Roman Catholic Church, only a Roman Catholic in good standing or an Orthodox Christian may receive Holy Communion. In the Episcopal Church, all baptized Christians may receive Holy Communion. The thinking on this in the Episcopal Church is that God works through each person, through the Holy Spirit and Jesus never turned anyone away from healing. Communion is a sacrament that is considered to be an outward sign of an inward grace. The church's stance on Holy Communion is one of the reasons why Larry and Celina chose to be received in the Episcopal Communion of the "One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church."

For more on the differences and similarities between the Roman Catholic and Episcopal Church visit the website on Roman Catholic vs. Episcopal Beliefs. NOTE, you will have to scroll down the page a little to see the comparison.

Episcopal Church Governance
Tthe Episcopal Church essentially is governed by two "houses" of Church leadership. Different from the Orthodox and Catholic churches, the Episcopal Church is governed by a lay member "house" and priestly "house." For example, on the parish level, the Vestry (made up of lay members) and the Rector (head priest) work together in governing Church operations. The Vestry hires the Rector and the Rector serves out his term. The Episcopal Church's method of governing arose from the same thinking as that considered in the formation of the American Government. As with the U.S. Congress, the Episcopal Church is goverened by two houses (bishops and laity). In being with the Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church USA is an independant church body that is in agreement with other churches in the Communion around the world. Therefore, the Episcopal Church is a catholic church that is not under the jurisdiction of the Pope. Additionally, the Episcopal Church is not under direct leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury either, even though it is in Communion with the Anglican Church.

Interesting Church History
Similar to, but not exactly like, the structure of the Orthodox Catholic Church where a preciding bishop, known as the Ecumenical Patriarch (Pope) in Constantinople/Istanbul, which has certain Ecumenical influence on the Orthodox Patriarchs of Antioch, Jeruselem and Alexandria; the Archbishop of Canterbury has an influence on the American Episcopal Church, but not direct authority. Like the Anglican Communion, the Orthodox churches are independent but are in agreement with each other. Apparently, historical evidence shows that the Bishop of Rome, who was in union with the Bishops of Constatinople, Antioch, Jeruselem and Alexandria, broke away early on and formed the Roman Catholic Church claiming the Pope as the sole head of the entire Christian Church. The Orthodox claimed that the Patriarch of Constatinople excommunicated the Roman bishop, while Roman Catholics claim the same. Though there are claims by both sides as to who broke away from whom, evidence tends to lead one to believe that the Roman Catholic Church broke away.

The Episcopal Church, along with the Roman Catholic and various Orthodox churches have established methods of ecumenical and interfaith relations. The difficulty in establishing full communion lies in some differences in canons, theology and authority, that's quite a lot. For additional information on Interfaith relations between the Episcopal Church and other Christian denominations, primarily, the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Catholic Communion as well as the Evangelical Lutheran Church please visit the Epsicopal Church's Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Page.

Larry and Celina's Reason For Choosing the Episcopal Church
Larry and Celina joined the Episcopal Church after intense research and reflection. Larry began to increasingly disagree more and more with certain positions, hierarchal structure, organizations and regulations of the Roman Church. However, Larry also strongly disagreed with the biblical literal fundamentalist Christian ideologies that dominate American Christianity today. Larry needed a place that he could feel more comfortable and accept, like those originating members of the Old Catholic Church of the Union of Ultrect. The Episcopal Church's governing structure, theological perspectives, canons and traditional method of prayer and worship lead Larry and Celina to move towards being received into the Episcopal Communion of the "One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church."

Larry and Celina are currently sponsors in the E.Y.C. (Episcopal Youth Community). Larry is the facilitator for the Junior High School/High School Christian Formation classes. Colton attends a weekly Episcopal Sunday school called "The Good Shephard" and "Godly Play." Larry also attends a program called Education For Ministry (EFM) which is an enlightening study of the scriptures with a focus on developing new theological perspectives and thought provoking theological reflection. EFM is a detailed four year program that assists a person in discovering one's ministry. Larry is taking classes to become a member of the Community of Hope which emphasizes the Benedictine Rule of Life in caring for others. This will be beneficial in Larry's volunteer work at the Shriner's Hospital. Larry has fun being a member of the St. Andrew's Men's Group, though he doesn't have much time to volunteer here because he is a lousy cook. Larry also enjoys serving on the St. Andrew's Education Committee. In addition, Celina and Larry are Lay Eucharistic ministers and Lay Readers. Larry, Celina and Colton are also Acolytes.

While some of our family members are concerned or upset about our choosing to leave the Roman Catholic Church, they should be happy to know that we are still members of the "One Holy Catholic and Apostolic" faith which was established by Christ and organized by the apostles. We can continue to focus on the issues that separate us, but is that what we as who try to live our life according to Christ ought to do? Shouldn't we focus on doing God's work from our faith? Christ said that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul and mind. And like unto it, love your neighbor as yourself. Well, we may have differences with certain aspects of each other's faith and doctrines, but if we are to call ourselves members of the Christ's community (or God's greater community), then we should focus on what is important—"Love."