Anglican and Episcopal Church Beliefs and Practices

Defining the Diverse Structure of Anglican and Episcopal Church Beliefs

Anglican Episcopal Church Beliefs and Practices
Epics / Contributor

The roots of Anglicanism go back to one of the main branches of Protestantism that emerged from the Reformation. By the late 1600's the Church of England had settled into the Anglican structure that still characterizes it today. However, because Anglicans, in general, allow for significant freedom and diversity within the areas of Scripture, reason, and tradition, a great many variations in doctrine and practice exist within Anglican churches of different regions.

Today Anglican/Episcopal churches consist of 85 million members in 39 Provinces across the globe, as well as six other extraprovincial church groups. In its early reformation efforts, the Anglican church spurned a strong central authority, which has resulted in a worldwide fellowship loosely bound through regular meetings and shared beliefs.

Authority of the Church

While the Archbishop of Canterbury in England is considered the “first among equals” in the leaders of the Anglican Church, he does not share the same authority as the Pope does in the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, he holds no official power outside his own Province. However, he does call the Lambeth Conference in London every ten years, an international meeting which covers a broad spectrum of social and religious issues. That meeting also has no legal power but demonstrates loyalty and unity throughout the Anglican communion.

The “reformed” aspect of the Anglican Church is its decentralization of authority. Individual churches enjoy great independence in adopting their own doctrine. However, this diversity in practice and doctrine has put a severe strain on issues of authority in the Anglican denomination. An example would be the recent ordination of a practicing homosexual bishop in North America. Most other Anglican churches do not agree with this commission.

Book of Common Prayer

Anglican practices and rituals are primarily found in the Book of Common Prayer, a compilation of liturgy developed by Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1549. Cranmer translated Catholic Latin rites into English and revised prayers using Protestant reformed theology.

The Book of Common Prayer lays out concise statements of belief on 39 articles in the Anglican Church, such as works vs. grace, the Lord’s Supper, canon of the Bible, and clerical celibacy. As with other areas in Anglican practice, much diversity in worship has recently developed around the world, and many different Prayer Books have been issued.


Some congregations put more emphasize on Protestant doctrines while others lean more toward Catholic teachings. Teachings of the Anglican/Episcopal Church on the Trinity, the nature of Jesus Christ, and the primacy of Scripture agree with orthodox Protestant Christianity.

The Anglican/Episcopal Church rejects the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory while affirming that salvation is based solely on Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross, without the addition of human works. The church professes belief in the three Christian creeds: the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, and Athanasian Creed.

Ordination of Women

Some Anglican churches accept the ordination of women to the priesthood while others do not.


The church does not require celibacy of its clergy and leaves marriage to the discretion of the individual.


In summary, Anglican worship tends to be Protestant in doctrine and Catholic in appearance and flavor, with rituals and readings, bishops and priests, vestments and ornately decorated churches.

Some Anglicans/Episcopalians pray the rosary; others do not. Some congregations have shrines to the Virgin Mary while others do not believe in invoking the intervention of saints. Because every church has the right to set, change, or abolish those ceremonies prescribed only on man’s authority, Anglican worship services vary widely throughout the world. No parish is to conduct worship in a tongue that is not understood by its people.


The Anglican/Episcopal Church recognizes only two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Departing from Catholic doctrine, Anglicans say Confirmation, Penance, Holy Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction (anointing of the sick) are not counted as sacraments. “Young children” may be baptized, which is usually done by pouring water.

About communion, the church’s Thirty Nine Articles of Religion says:

“...the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ. 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. The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith.”

For more information about the Anglican or Episcopal Church visit or The Episcopal Church Welcome Center.