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Independent Baptist vs Episcopal & Anglican – What’s the Difference?

For most of this article, we’re going to consider the Church of England, also known as “Anglicans” and The Episcopal Church as one denomination, to compare them to Independent Baptists. However, they are slightly different, so let’s clarify that first.

The Church of England separated from Roman Catholicism in the 1500s, when King Henry the Eighth wanted to have his marriage annulled, and the Pope wouldn’t have it. So King Henry decided that instead of the Pope being the head of the Catholic Church in England, He would be, and the Church of England was born, with the Monarch being the Supreme Governor of the religion. That’s still in place today, so the Supreme Governor in 2018 is Queen Elizabeth the second, as you can see on the church’s website.

Anyhow, the Church of England views itself as having apostolic succession, that is, an unbroken line of authority back to the time of Christ and through Peter, though the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t agree.

Meanwhile, up north in Scotland, things were also getting interesting. In 1560, the Church of Scotland also broke from the Roman Catholic Church in the Scottish Reformation, led in part by John Knox. The reforming continued, and in 1582, the Church of Scotland Rejected Episcopal polity and adopted Presbyterian Polity instead, becoming the precursor to Presbyterian churches in America today. The main difference between Episcopal and Presbyterian polity is the rejection of Bishops, so when the Episcopacy was rejected, the Bishops still were around, but were now “non-juring” bishops with no authority. Over time, they worked to regain bishop status, and in 1638 the Church of Scotland excommunicated all the Bishops to solidify their Presbyterian government. The fight wasn’t over, as with certain political changes the Bishops regained power, but 1689 saw a radical swing back to Presbyterian polity that wouldn’t be overcome. The Scottish Episcopal Church was now decidedly separate from the Church of Scotland.

Going forward about a century, over in America there became a bit of a problem. In July of 1776 the declaration of Independence was signed, and there was now a new nation, declaring themselves free of the rule of England, and especially that rascally King George. Except, oops, three-quarters of the signers of the Declaration were Anglicans, meaning that the supreme leader of their religion was that Same King George. Awkward! The Anglican denomination in America began to shift, and laws were passed trying to separate it from the Monarchy. In Maryland, the convention passed a resolution which said:

“that every Prayer and Petition for the King’s Majesty, in the book of Common Prayer . . . be henceforth omitted in all Churches and Chapels in this Province.”

Obviously, the name “Church of England” had to go, and the congregations began to call themselves after their polity, taking the name “Episcopal.” The biggest problem with the Episcopal churches in America continuing like nothing had happened was that there were no American bishops. Without them, they were powerless to control their own church government. Clergy tried to get the Anglican church to consecrate American bishops, but the Englishmen weren’t real fond of that idea. So instead, the Americans went to the Scottish Episcopal church, who weren’t exactly best friends with the English either, and they were happy to consecrate the first Anglican Bishop outside of the British Isles – Samuel Seabury. Within the decade, the English began appointing Bishops for America as well, to keep the Americans within the fold of Anglican Communion.

So at the time of the American Revolution, the book of common prayer was also revised by the American churches, and due to the fact that the head of the Church of England no longer had control over the American version of Anglicanism, the two have drifted a bit. The Episcopal Church ordained women as priests sixteen years before the Church of England did, and as a result, in the 1970s, several Episcopal churches broke away from the Episcopal Church, forming their own denominations as part of the Continuing Anglican movement. Viewing themselves as the true heirs of Anglican orthodoxy, in recent years these churches have opened talks with the Vatican to try and be in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church while retaining Anglican distinctives.

The Episcopal Church is generally supportive of Same-sex marriage, while the Church of England is opposed to it. The Episcopal church has permitted practicing homosexuals to be bishops and priests, and in 2010, Reverend Mally Lloyd and Reverend Katherine Ragsdale, both Episcopal priests, were married to each other. American Episcopal churches have tended to drift theologically liberal faster than the Church of England has. As a result of these changes, the more theologically conservative or Evangelical-type churches in the Episcopal Church have begun to break away at a faster pace. In 2009, a new denomination was formed, called the Anglican Church in North America or ACNA, which has grown to over 1,000 congregations. This denomination affirms marriage as between a man and a woman, and is pro-life and opposed to euthanasia. In some dioceses, ordination of women is not allowed. The ACNA, as well as the Continuing Anglican Movement churches, are not part of the Anglican Communion, meaning that they don’t have relationships with the main body of Anglicans or recognize the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is the highest bishop within Anglicanism.

With this understanding of the intricacies of the Church of England and The Episcopal Church, let’s discuss how they differ from Independent Baptists.

First, their episcopal polity. The archbishop is at the top, with bishops under, and rectors (who are priests) under them, with congregations and additional deacons and priests under the rectors.

Independent Baptist churches have no authority above local congregations. Within the congregation, most churches are led by a single Pastor or occasionally multiple pastors or elders, and the congregation makes decisions by voting with the Pastor or pastors directing the decisions.

Anglicans accept the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds, and generally the Athanasian Creed as foundational to their doctrine. Most independent Baptists are not creedal, meaning that even if they agree with the content of the creeds, they reject creeds as they view them as leading toward addition to scripture or usurping scriptural authority. Instead, each congregation generally has a statement of faith which the congregation holds to as a description of the teaching of that church body.

The Episcopal Church recognizes two great Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Eucharist. Additionally, it views more loosely five other so-called “spiritual markers”[1] that can be “means of grace”, namely these:

Confirmation: the adult affirmation of baptismal vows
Reconciliation of a Penitent: private confession
Matrimony: Christian marriage
Orders: ordination to the diaconate, priesthood, or episcopacy
Unction: anointing those who are sick or dying with holy oil

In contrast, Independent Baptists do not accept the concept of sacraments, believing that God’s grace cannot be earned, procured, provided, or obtained in full or in part by any act of human merit.

Baptism is viewed in Independent Baptist churches as one of the two ordinances of the local church. The Episcopal church says this of baptism:

In the case of Baptism, the outward and visible sign is water, in which the person is baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; the inward and spiritual grace is union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God’s family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit.[2]

Independent Baptists reject many parts of this. Baptism is viewed as symbolic of Christ’s death burial and resurrection, and doesn’t provide any specific union with Christ or spiritual grace.

Baptists view birth into God’s family taking place when a person is born again or saved – an act of saving faith alone, and that Baptism plays no part in this.

Many Independent Baptists reject that the family of God is the same thing as the church – they reject the idea of a “universal church” and hold to a view that the only churches are local assemblies.

Independent Baptist reject that baptism plays any part in forgiveness of sins, but instead being born again by faith is what causes remission of sins.

Finally, new life, and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling are both viewed by Baptists as taking place at salvation as well, separate from Baptism, which always takes place later.

For Episcopalians, baptism can take place as an infant, and all of these things such as remission of sins takes place then. Independent Baptists hold to believer’s baptism, meaning that only once a person has believed and been born again are they to be baptized. This is viewed as putting that person then as a member of the local congregation.

The common mode of baptism in The Episcopal Church is by pouring, but sprinkling and immersion are also viewed as valid. Independent Baptists only accept immersion as a valid Baptism.

Anglicans will accept the baptism of other denominations as valid – they do not re-baptize. Many independent Baptists view baptism from other denominations as done under improper authority and will require people who join their churches to be re-baptized. If a person was baptize by means other than immersion or as a baby they will certainly be required to undergo Baptist baptism.

One clarification to make is that Anglicans do view faith as taking a role in Baptism. Regeneration takes place at baptism, but it is contingent also on the faith of the individual. In the case of infants, the faith is initially the faith of the parents, and then the faith is confirmed in a later event called confirmation.

The second of the two ordinances that Baptists hold to is the Lord’s Supper. Of this, called the Eucharist in The Episcopal Church, Episcopalians believe in the real presence: that is, that the body and blood of Christ are truly present in the elements. Some hold that the presence is spiritual, others hold to it as bodily presence in a mystery.

In the thirty-nine articles, which establish the principle differences between Anglican and Roman Catholic theology, they reject transubstantiation, saying:

Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.[3]

The practice of the Eucharist in Anglican and Episcopal churches is liturgical, with consecrations, certain prayers, etc., and is familiar from church to church. In independent Baptist churches, the Lord ’s Supper is the closest thing most of them have to liturgy. Some churches may have the same scripture readings each time it is done, but others do not. For Episcopalians, the frequency is weekly or monthly, while Independent Baptists have a wide variety of frequency from less than yearly, to weekly.

The Episcopal Church teaches that Christ went down into a burning hell, which most Baptists do not accept.

The Episcopal Church agrees with Independent Baptists that the books of the Apocrypha are not canonical scripture, disagrees with the idea of papal infallibility, allows the clergy to be married, rejects images of the saints, rejects the existence of purgatory, and rejects speaking in languages unknown to the congregation, such as Latin, in a service.

The Episcopal Church claims the following:

The threefold sources of authority in Anglicanism are scripture, tradition, and reason.[4]

Independent Baptists reject this view, holding the scripture as the sole authority of faith and practice.

The Episcopal Church teaches veneration of the saints, which Independent Baptists reject.

Some Anglicans or Episcopalians use prayer beads and some pray to dead saints. Others reject this practice. All independent Baptists reject this practice.

Independent Baptists are nearly universally theologically conservative, while Anglicans and Episcopalians, as mentioned before, have more variety, and as a whole are slanted toward theological liberalism.

Independent Baptists nearly all hold to Young Earth Creation, Episcopalians generally evolution, whether god-guided or not.

The Episcopal Church, as a mainline denomination, doesn’t affirm biblical inerrancy, and has a large focus on social justice. Rarely will you hear a call for people to be born again. Evangelism is not encouraged, and doctrines such as the virgin birth may be frequently viewed as other than literal.

The Episcopal Church has full communion with several other denominations, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and portions of the Moravian Church.

Like other Mainline denominations, the Episcopal Church is seeing a decline in membership. They declined from 2,320,221 members in 2002 to 1,712,563 in 2017. Since 2000, baptisms and confirmations have dropped by over 50%, and marriages are down 60%.

[1] //www.episcopalchurch.org/sacraments (Accessed 12/14/2018)

[2] ibid

[3] //www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/worship-texts-and-resources/book-common-prayer/articles-religion#XXVIII (Accessed 12/14/2018)

[4] //www.episcopalchurch.org/library/glossary/authority-sources-anglicanism (Accessed 12/14/2018)

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