Throughout history, Christianity has splintered into many different denominations, each with their own beliefs, missions and values. Although many of these Christian institutions are very similar, there are key differences that separate them. The Episcopal church and the Presbyterian church share many commonalities, but their differences are what make them stand out as separate denominations.
The Episcopal church is led by bishops. Each bishop presides over its own diocese, which is a small number of churches in one area. These bishops, known as diocean bishops, may have help from other bishops in creating rules and guidelines for their dioceses. The bishops form the main governing body of the Episcopalian church. The Presbyterian church, on the other hand, is largely governed by the General Assembly, which represents the entire denomination instead of a group of bishops. The entire church elects elders who represent the needs and desires of the laypeople.
If you were to travel to two different Presbyterian churches, you might be surprised at how different their worship services are. Presbyterian worship differs from church to church, because each individual church's pastor and laypeople determine the way they will worship. Although the order will likely be different across Presbyterian congregations, all churches usually focus on prayer, music, scripture, preaching, offering and sharing community concerns. The Episcopal church, on the other hand, derives their worship schedule from the Book of Common Prayer. This book ensures that all Episcopal churches across the world are praying the same thing at the same time.
The Presbyterian Church U.S.A. recognizes only two sacraments: baptism and the Lord's supper. Baptism is the sacrament by which a young infant is brought into the church and blessed with holy water, allowing them to be cleansed of original sin. The Lord's supper is the sacrament by which church members share in the Communion of Christ. The Episcopalian church recognized baptism and Communion as well, but also recognizes confession, ordination, anointing of the sick, confirmation and matrimony as sacraments.
Tradition is very important in both the Presbyterian and Episcopalian churches. Each church has its own unique history that has helped shape the types of churches they have become today. The Episcopalian church identifies itself as Anglican. They historically took part in the Reformation, making them Protestant, but still also view themselves as connected to Catholic traditions. The Presbyterian church, on the other hand, views itself as a Protestant church that participated in the Protestant Reformation with no connection left to Roman Catholic tradition.
- Presbyterian Church General Assembly Mission Council; Presbyterian 101
- The Episcopalian Church Vistors' Center: What Makes Us Anglican?
- Religion Facts: Presbyterian and Reformed Beliefs
- St. Mark's Episcopal Church: Beliefs of the Episcopal Church
- The Episcopalian Church Visitors' Center: Episcopal Church Governance
- Presbyterian Church General Assembly Mission Council: What's Presbyterian Worship Like?
- Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images