What does the Episcopal Church believe?
Episcopalians are (mostly) the US branch of Anglicanism, which is the name given to the denominational tradition that developed from the Church of England.
In the mid sixteenth century Europe was undergoing a lot of turmoil, both political and religious. European nation states were starting to emerge, and looking to strengthen their autonomy. At the same time, scientific and philosophical advances meant that Europe was heading into the Age of Reason, replacing medieval superstition with rationality. Combined with this, many people thought that the church had become too powerful and corrupt. A perfect storm emerged, which we now know as the Protestant Reformation. The key initiator was Martin Luther in Germany, but there was Zwingli in Switzerland, the Petri brothers in Sweden and Cranmer and others in England. The English king, Henry VIII, resented the fact that the Pope had so much authority in his country (such as deciding whether or not Henry would be granted his divorces) and took the opportunity to break with Rome once and for all, and found his own denomination - the Church of England.
Anglicanism differs from other protestant denominations, though, because it still sees itself as Catholic, as well as Reformed.
Reason plays a big part in Anglicanism - and therefore in the Episcopal tradition. A famous metaphor for the way Episcopalians think about belief is the 'Three-Legged Stool'. A three-legged stool is inherently one of the most stable pieces of furniture you can have - so long as all three legs are present, and of the same dimensions as each other. The three legs of Episcopal belief are:
- Scripture (the Bible),
- Reason (your God-given capacity to think for yourself) and
- Tradition (centuries of evolved accumulated wisdom).
So, when you read the Scriptures, they will only make sense in the light of your own rationality, and the wisdom of those who have preceded us. But, equally, reason in isolation is meaningless - it needs Scripture and Tradition to give it purpose. And so on.
So, you will find that Episcopalians are very open-minded and not at all fundamentalist (we take the Bible seriously but not literally). We welcome questions about faith as being essential to growth in discipleship.
We adhere to the historic creeds of the Church: the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed in particular, as the best way we, as a community of believers, can understand the Christian faith. The Creeds are a great example of tradition, which we balance equally alongside Scripture and Reason.
For more information about specific doctrines, please choose from the following articles: