Posted by: AJ the Irish Lass | June 18, 2007

How is the Episcopal Church Different from Most Protestant Churches?

All Saint's Episcopal Church in Enterprise4

How is the Episcopal Church Different from Most Protestant Churches?

A Protestant church can be defined as one that split from the Roman Catholic Church out of protest against some of its doctrines, or formed as a new denomination for the same reasons. (Some churches within this tradition prefer the term Reformed) The Episcopal Church has many characteristics that set it apart from Protestant denominations that arose out of the Reformation in other parts of Europe. (Many people do not consider the Episcopal Church to be either Protestant or Catholic because of its history). Also worth mentioning is the fact that TEC is very different in doctrine and worship than many of the evangelical and charismatic groups that make up non-denominational Protestantism today.

1. The Apostolic Succession, or Historic Episcopate. Episcopalians use this term to describe the idea that the authority of our clergy goes back to the apostles in an unbroken line of succession. Catholic, Orthodox, and some Lutheran churches also have the Apostolic Succession. The Bible tells us about how the apostles laid hands on others so they could share in their ministry. Those ordained by the apostles would them ordain others the same way. When the Church of England (“mother” to the Episcopal Church) became independent of the Roman Church, this was continued. Other churches use this term, too, but may describe it differently. For example, Lutherans believe that an apostolic succession means preserving the teaching of the apostles through the ages but not necessarily keeping the Historic Episcopate in the same manner as the Catholic churches. Protestant churches have various orders of ministry that many include bishops but have not kept the Historic Episcopate.

2. The Three-Fold Ministry. The Episcopal Church has kept the three orders of ministry found in the early church since late New Testament times. A bishop is a chief pastor who is in charge of a geographical area called a diocese. He or she ordains others as bishops, priests, and deacons, preaches the Word, and celebrates the sacraments. A priest is usually the pastor of a congregation, and preaches the Word and administers the sacraments, as well as other pastoral duties. A deacon assists the priest and bishop in administering the sacraments, preaches the Word, and often has the job of bringing communion to the sick. Two kinds of deacons serve the Church: vocational deacons who devote themselves to this ministry permanently, and transitional deacons, who serve as deacons for a year before being ordained as a priest. Protestant orders of ministry vary by denomination, and may include three-fold or five-fold orders.

3. Seven Sacraments. In addition to the sacraments Jesus instituted (Baptism and Communion, or Holy Eucharist), the Episcopal Church recognizes the sacramental rites of Confirmation, Holy Matrimony, Reconciliation, Unction (also known as Ministration to the Sick), and Ordination. Only Baptism and Communion are seen as being generally necessary for a meaningful spiritual life for all Christians. Some Protestant churches do accept Baptism and Communion as sacraments, and may also give importance to the lesser sacraments.

4. The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. While the Episcopal Church does not define exactly how this occurs, the Eucharistic is more than just a memorial or ordinance. Many believe in a form of Real Presence very similar to (if not the same as) the Roman Catholic belief of transubstantiation, while some believe that the Bread and Wine stay bread and wine but still become the Body and Blood of Christ. Probably very few Episcopalians have no belief in Real Presence. Some Protestant churches also believe in a form of Real Presence, usually in a spiritual sense.

So, the Episcopal Church is a church greatly influenced by the Protestant Reformation while still keeping the traditions of the early church.

©2000-2016. Written November 8, 2000, with revisions on March 31, 2002, March 11, 2007 and August 16, 2016*. May not be reproduced without the author’s permission.


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