Episcopal polity

An episcopal polity is a hierarchical form of church governance ("ecclesiastical polity") in which the chief local authorities are called bishops. (The word "bishop" derives, via the British Latin and Vulgar Latin term *ebiscopus/*biscopus, from the Ancient Greek ἐπίσκοπος epískopos meaning "overseer".) It is the structure used by many of the major Christian Churches and denominations, such as the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Church of the East, Anglican, and Lutheran churches or denominations, and other churches founded independently from these lineages.

Churches with an episcopal polity are governed by bishops, practicing their authorities in the dioceses and conferences or synods. Their leadership is both sacramental and constitutional; as well as performing ordinations, confirmations, and consecrations, the bishop supervises the clergy within a local jurisdiction and is the representative both to secular structures and within the hierarchy of the church. Bishops are considered to derive their authority from an unbroken, personal apostolic succession from the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. Bishops with such authority are said to represent the historical episcopate or historic episcopate. Churches with this type of government usually believe that the Church requires episcopal government as described in the New Testament (see 1 Timothy 3 and 2 Timothy 1). In some systems, bishops may be subject to bishops holding a higher office (variously called archbishops, metropolitans, or patriarchs, depending upon the tradition). They also meet in councils or synods. These gatherings, subject to presidency by higher ranking bishops, usually make important decisions, though the synod or council may also be purely advisory.

For much of the written history of institutional Christianity, episcopal government was the only known form of church organization. This changed at the Reformation. Many Protestant churches are now organized by either congregational or presbyterian church polities, both descended from the writings of John Calvin, a Protestant reformer working and writing independently following the break with the Roman Catholic Church precipitated by The Ninety-Five Theses of Martin Luther.

Mitre evolution
Church authority in ceremonies is often represented by a mitre as headdress.
Roma-san giovanni03
The chair (cathedra) of the Supreme Pontiff (Pope) of the Catholic Church in the Archbasilica of St. John in Lateran in Rome, Italy represents his episcopal authority.

Overview of episcopal churches

Chartres 1
The government of a bishop is typically symbolized by a cathedral church, such as the bishops's see at Chartres Cathedral.

The definition of the word episcopal has variation among Christian traditions. There are subtle differences in governmental principles among episcopal churches at the present time. To some extent the separation of episcopal churches can be traced to these differences in ecclesiology, that is, their theological understanding of church and church governance. For some, "episcopal churches" are churches that use a hierarchy of bishops that regard themselves as being in an unbroken, personal apostolic succession.

"Episcopal" is also commonly used to distinguish between the various organizational structures of denominations. For instance, "Presbyterian" (Greek: 'πρεσβύτης, presbítes) is used to describe a church governed by a hierarchy of assemblies of elected elders, referred to as Presbyterian polity. Similarly, "episcopal" is used to describe a church governed by bishops. Self-governed local congregations, governed neither by elders nor bishops, are usually described as "congregational".

More specifically, the capitalized appellation "Episcopal" is applied to several churches historically based within Anglicanism ("Episcopalianism"), including those still in communion with the Church of England.

Using these definitions, examples of specific episcopal churches include:

Some Lutheran churches practice congregational polity or a form of presbyterian polity.[1] Others, including the Church of Sweden, practice episcopal polity; the Church of Sweden also counts its bishops among the historic episcopate as do some American Lutheran churches like the Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church, Lutheran Orthodox Church, Lutheran Church - International, and the Lutheran Episcopal Communion.

Many Methodist churches (see The United Methodist Church, among others) retain the form and function of episcopal polity, although in a modified form, called connexionalism. Since all trace their ordinations to an Anglican priest, John Wesley, it is generally considered that their bishops do not share in apostolic succession, though United Methodists still affirm that their bishops share in the historic episcopate.

Before the Great Schism

All orthodox Christians were in churches with an episcopal government, that is, one Church under local bishops and regional Patriarchs. Writing between ca. 85 and 110, St. Ignatius of Antioch, Patriarch of Antioch, was the earliest of the Church fathers to define the importance of episcopal government. Assuming Ignatius' view was the Apostolic teaching and practice, the line of succession was unbroken and passed through the four ancient Patriarchal sees (those local churches known to be founded by apostles), Rome, Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria. Rome was the leading Patriarchate of the ancient four by virtue of its founding by Saints Peter and Paul and their martyrdom there, not to mention being the political center of the Roman empire at the time. Some organizations (e.g. the Assyrian Church of the East), though aloof from the political wranglings of imperial Christianity, nevertheless also practiced episcopal polity.

Shortly after the Roman Emperor Constantine I legalized Christianity in 321, he also constructed an elaborate second capital of the Roman Empire located at Byzantium and renamed it Constantinople, in 324. The single Roman Empire was divided between these two autonomous administrative centers, Roman and Constantinopolitan, West and East, Latin speaking and Greek speaking. This remained the status quo through the fourth century. A deep chasm developed between the East and West, becoming critical around 350, known as the Arian, or Nicene controversy. The Eastern Christian Churches were thought by Constantine to believe against the Trinity; that Christ was lesser than God. Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers, France, believed that the Eastern Church should be given the opportunity to, at least, be educated on the subject. Constantine, in his wisdom, and upset by disagreement, banished Hilary to the East. Hilary perfected his Greek language skills while in exile, and determined the great divide between Rome and the East was actually not a disagreement at all, and was merely a linguistic ignorance on the part of his Latin speaking contemporaries. This truth became known in the West, though some differences lingered. Hilary of Poitiers later became St. Hilary, Doctor of the Church, for exposing the true Christian beliefs of the Eastern Church. Many of Hilary's writings were lost to time.

In the fifth century, Pope Dioscorus, the Patriarch of Alexandria, rejected certain Christological dogmas promulgated by the Council of Chalcedon, and as a result, the Oriental Orthodox churches split from the rest; however they continued the episcopal tradition, and today in fact there is dialog between the various orthodox churches over whether the schism was due to real differences or simply translation failures.

Also during the fifth century, the Western Roman Empire declined and was overrun by German and Frankish peoples. Although the city of Rome was in ruins, distant from the seat of secular power, and constantly harassed by invaders, the Roman Patriarchate remained the center of the Western or Latin Church. Claiming the ancient primacy of Peter and the title of "Apostolic See", it remained the last court of episcopal appeal in serious matters for the whole Church, East and West. However, the center of the civilized Roman world had shifted definitively to Constantinople, or New Rome, the capital of the Greek speaking Empire. Along with this shift, the effective administration of the Church in the Eastern Roman Empire also shifted. This practical eminence of Constantinople in the East is evident, first at the First Council of Constantinople 381, and then ecumenically at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

Beginning with John the Faster (John IV, 582-595), the Bishop of Constantinople adopted as a formal title for himself the by then customary honorific Ecumenical Patriarch ("pre-eminent father for the civilized world") over the strong objections of Rome, a title based on the political prestige of Constantinople and its economic and cultural centrality in the Empire. In the following years, Rome's appeals to the East were based on the unique authority of the Apostolic See and the primacy of Peter, over the powers of councils as defended by the East (councils, for example, had endorsed that lofty title which Rome contested).

The sometimes subtle differences between Eastern and Western conceptions of authority and its exercise produced a gradually widening rift between the Churches which continued with some occasional relief throughout the following centuries until the final rupture of the Great Schism (marked by two dates: 16 July 1054 and the Council of Florence in 1439).

Pope Pius IX convened the First Vatican Council that approved the dogma of Pope as the visible head of the church, prime bishop over a hierarchy of clergy and believers[2]

Catholic Church

The Catholic Church has an episcopate, with the Pope, who is the Bishop of Rome, at the top. The Catholic Church considers that juridical oversight over the Church is not a power that derives from human beings, but strictly from the authority of Christ, which was given to his twelve apostles. The See of Rome, as the unbroken line of apostolic authority descending from St. Peter (the "prince and head of the apostles"), is a visible sign and instrument of communion among the college of bishops and therefore also of the local churches around the world. In communion with the worldwide college of bishops, the Pope has all legitimate juridical and teaching authority over the whole Church. This authority given by Christ to St. Peter and the apostles is transmitted from one generation to the next by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the laying on of hands from the Apostles to the bishops, in unbroken succession.

Eastern Orthodox Church

The conciliar idea of episcopal government continues in the Eastern Orthodox Church. In Eastern Orthodoxy, all autocephalous primates are seen as collectively gathering around Christ, with other archbishops and bishops gathering around them, and so forth, in a model called "conciliar hierarchy". This is based in part on the vision in the book of Revelation of the 24 elders gathered around the throne of Christ, who are believed to represent the 12 patriarchs of Israel and the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ. There is no single Patriarch with exclusive authority comparable to the Pope in Rome. However, the Patriarch of Constantinople (now Istanbul) is seen as the primus inter pares, the "first among equals" of the autocephalous churches of Eastern Orthodoxy.

Oriental Orthodox churches

The Oriental Orthodox Churches affirm the ideas of apostolic succession and episcopal government. Within each national Church, the bishops form a holy synod to which even the Patriarch is subject. The Syriac Orthodox Church traces its apostolic succession to St. Peter and recognises Antioch as the original See of St. Peter. The Armenian Apostolic Church traces its lineage to the Apostle Bartholomew. The Indian Orthodox Church traces its lineage to the Apostle Thomas. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church received its lines of succession through the Coptic Orthodox Church in the fifth century.

Both the Greek and Coptic Orthodox Churches each recognise their own Pope of Alexandria (Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, and Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria respectively), both of whom trace their apostolic succession back to the Mark the Evangelist.[3] There are official ongoing efforts in recent times to heal this ancient breach. Already, the two recognize each other's baptisms, chrismations, and marriages, making intermarriage much easier.

Church of the East

Historically, the Church of the East has traced its episcopal succession to St. Thomas the Apostle. Currently the bishops of the Assyrian Church of the East continue to maintain its apostolic succession.

Anglican Communion

Anglicanism is the most prominent of the Reformation traditions to lay claim to the historic episcopate through apostolic succession in terms comparable to the various Roman Catholic and Orthodox Communions. Anglicans assert unbroken episcopal succession in and through the Church of England back to St. Augustine of Canterbury and to the first century Roman province of Britannia. While some Celtic Christian practices were changed at the Synod of Whitby, the church in the British Isles was under papal authority from earliest times.[4]

The legislation of Henry VIII effectively establishing the independence from Rome of the Church of England, did not alter its constitutional or pastoral structures. Royal supremacy was exercised through the extant legal structures of the church, whose leaders were bishops. Episcopacy was thus seen as a given of the Reformed Ecclesia Anglicana, and a foundation in the institution's appeal to ancient and apostolic legitimacy. What did change was that bishops were now seen to be ministers of the Crown for the spiritual government of its subjects. The influence of Richard Hooker was crucial to an evolution in this understanding in which bishops came to be seen in their more traditional role as ones who delegate to the presbyterate inherited powers, act as pastors to presbyters, and holding a particular teaching office with respect to the wider church.

The Most Reverend Paul Kwong
Paul Kwong, Anglican Archbishop and Primate of Hong Kong

Anglican opinion has differed as to the way in which episcopal government is de jure divino (by the Divine Right of Kings). On the one hand, the seventeenth century divine, John Cosin, held that episcopal authority is jure divino, but that it stemmed from "apostolic practice and the customs of the Church...[not] absolute precept that either Christ or His Apostles gave about it" (a view maintained also by Hooker).[5] In contrast, Lancelot Andrewes and others held that episcopal government is derived from Christ via the apostles. Regardless, both parties viewed the episcopacy as bearing the apostolic function of oversight, which both includes, and derives from the power of ordination, and is normative for the governance of the church. The practice of apostolic succession both ensures the legitimacy of the church's mission and establishes the unity, communion, and continuity of the local church with the universal church. This formulation, in turn, laid the groundwork for an independent view of the church as a "sacred society" distinct from civil society, which was so crucial for the development of local churches as non-established entities outside England, and gave direct rise to the Catholic Revival and disestablishmentarianism within England.

Functionally, Anglican episcopal authority is expressed synodically, although individual provinces may accord their primate with more or less authority to act independently. Called variously "synods," "councils," or "conventions," they meet under episcopal chairmanship. In many jurisdictions, conciliar resolutions that have been passed require episcopal assent or consent to take force. Seen in this way, Anglicans often speak of "the bishop-in-synod" as the force and authority of episcopal governance. Such conciliar authority extends to the standard areas of doctrine, discipline, and worship, but in these regards is limited by Anglicanism's tradition of the limits of authority. Those limits are expressed in Article XXI of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, ratified in 1571 (significantly, just as the Council of Trent was drawing to a close), which held that "General Councils...may err, and sometimes have erred...wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture." Hence, Anglican jurisdictions have traditionally been conservative in their approach to either innovative doctrinal development or in encompassing actions of the church as doctrinal (see lex orandi, lex credendi).

Anglican synodical government, though varied in expression, is characteristically representative. Provinces of the Anglican Communion, their ecclesiastical provinces and dioceses are governed by councils consisting not only of bishops, but also representatives of the presbyterate and laity.

There is no international juridical authority in Anglicanism, although the tradition's common experience of episcopacy, symbolised by the historical link with the See of Canterbury, along with a common and complex liturgical tradition, has provided a measure of unity. This has been reinforced by the Lambeth Conferences of Anglican Communion bishops, which first met in 1867. These conferences, though they propose and pass resolutions, are strictly consultative, and the intent of the resolutions are to provide guideposts for Anglican jurisdictions—not direction. The Conferences also express the function of the episcopate to demonstrate the ecumenical and Catholic nature of the church.

The Scottish Episcopal Church traces its history back to the origins of Christianity in Scotland. Following the 1560 Scottish Reformation the Church of Scotland was initially run by Superintendents, episcopal governance was restored in 1572, but episcopalianism alternated with periods when the Kirk was under presbyterian control until the 1711 Act allowed formation of the independent non-established Scottish Episcopal Church. The Nonjuring schism led to the British Government imposing penal laws against the church. In 1784 the Scottish church appointed Samuel Seabury as first bishop of the American Episcopal Church, beginning the worldwide Anglican Communion of churches, and in 1792 the penal laws were abolished. The church accepted the articles of the Church of England in 1804.[6] The spread of increasingly democratic forms of representative governance has its origin in the formation of the first General Conventions of the American Episcopal Church in the 1780s, which established a "House of Bishops" and a "House of Deputies". In many jurisdictions, there is also a third, clerical House. Resolutions may be voted on jointly or by each House, in the latter case requiring passage in all Houses to be adopted by the particular council.

Churches that are members of the Anglican Communion are episcopal churches in polity, and some are named "Episcopal". However, some churches that self-identify as Anglican do not belong to the Anglican Communion, and not all episcopally-governed churches are Anglican. The Roman Catholic Church, the Old Catholic Churches (in full communion with, but not members of, the Anglican Communion), and the Eastern Orthodox churches are recognized, and also their bishops, by Anglicans.

American Methodist churches

As an offshoot of Anglicanism, Methodist churches often use episcopal polity for historical as well as practical reasons, albeit to limited use. Methodists often use the term connexionalism or connexional polity in addition to "episcopal". Nevertheless, the powers of the Methodist episcopacy can be relatively strong and wide-reaching compared to traditional conceptions of episcopal polity. For example, in the United Methodist Church, bishops are elected for life, can serve up to two terms in a specific conference (three if special permission is given), are responsible for ordaining and appointing clergy to pastor churches, perform many administrative duties, preside at the annual sessions of the regional Conferences and at the quadrennial meeting of the worldwide General Conference, have authority for teaching and leading the church on matters of social and doctrinal import, and serve to represent the denomination in ecumenical gatherings. United Methodist bishops in the United States serve in their appointed conferences, being moved to a new "Episcopal Area" after 8 (or 12) years, until their mandated retirement at the end of the quadrenium following their sixty-sixth birthday.[7] British Methodism holds that all ordained ministers are equal in terms of spirituality. However, for practical management lines are drawn into President of Conference, Chair of District, Superintendent Minister, Minister. However, all are ministers.

Episcopal government in other denominations

The Reformed Church of Hungary, and the Lutheran churches in continental Europe may sometimes be called "episcopal". In these latter cases, the form of government is not radically different from the presbyterian form, except that their councils of bishops have hierarchical jurisdiction over the local ruling bodies to a greater extent than in most Presbyterian and other Reformed churches. As mentioned, the Lutheran Church in Sweden and Finland are exceptions, claiming apostolic succession in a pattern somewhat like the Anglican churches. Otherwise, forms of polity are not mandated in the Lutheran churches, as it is not regarded as having doctrinal significance. Old World Lutheranism, for historical reasons, has tended to adopt Erastian theories of episcopal authority (by which church authority is to a limited extent sanctioned by secular government). In the United States, the Lutheran churches tend to adopt a form of government more comparable to congregationalism. A small minority of Episcopal Baptists exists.

Most Anabaptist churches of the plain dress tradition follow an episcopal system, at least in name. Congregational governance is strongly emphasized, and each congregation elects its pastor. Bishops enforce inter-congregational unity and may discipline pastors for breaking from traditional norms.

Although it never uses the term, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) is episcopal, rather than presbyterian or congregational, in the sense that it has a strict hierarchy of leadership from the local bishop/branch president up to a single prophet/president, believed to be personally authorized and guided by Jesus Christ. Local congregations (branches, wards, and stakes) have de jure boundaries by which members are allocated, and membership records are centralized. This system developed gradually from a more presbyterian polity (Joseph Smith's original title in 1830 was "First Elder") for pragmatic and doctrinal reasons, reaching a full episcopacy during the Nauvoo period (1839–1846).

See also


  1. ^ Encyclopedia of Religion and Society, William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor Lutheranism Hartford Institute for Religion Research, Hartford Seminary. Retrieved on September 4, 2006.
  2. ^ Vatican I, Session 4, 1870. Decrees of the First Vatican Council, SESSION 4 : 18 July 1870 - First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ. Daily Catholic Online edition retrieved on September 1, 2006.
  3. ^ Eusebius of Caesarea, the author of an Ecclesiastical History in the 4th century, states that St. Mark came to Egypt in the first or third year of the reign of Emperor Claudius, i.e. 41 or 43 AD. "Two Thousand Years of Coptic Christianity", Otto F.A. Meinardus, p. 28.
  4. ^ Marcus Holden and Andrew Pinsent, The Catholic Gift to Civilisation (London: CTS), p.13ff
  5. ^ Cosin, Works, Vol. IV (Oxford, 1855), p. 402
  6. ^ "History". The Scottish Episcopal Church. 5 November 2013. Retrieved 21 May 2019., detailed history
  7. ^ Still in Production. UMC.org. Retrieved on 2013-07-23.

Further reading

  • Fairweather, E. R., and R. F. Hettlinger. Episcopacy and Reunion. First English ed. London: A.R. Mowbray & Co., 1953, cop. 1952. ix, 118 p. N.B.: First published in 1952 by the General Board of Religious Education of the Church of England in Canada, Toronto, Ont.
  • Swete, H. B., ed. Essays on the Early History of the Church and the Ministry, by Various Authors. London: Macmillan and Co., 1918.

External links

Anglican Communion

The Anglican Communion is the third largest Christian communion. Founded in 1867 in London, England, the communion currently has 85 million members within the Church of England and other national and regional churches in full communion. The traditional origins of Anglican doctrines are summarised in the Thirty-nine Articles (1571). The Archbishop of Canterbury (currently Justin Welby) in England acts as a focus of unity, recognised as primus inter pares ("first among equals"), but does not exercise authority in Anglican provinces outside of the Church of England.

The Anglican Communion was founded at the Lambeth Conference in 1867 in London, England, under the leadership of Charles Longley, Archbishop of Canterbury. The churches of the Anglican Communion consider themselves to be part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, and to be both catholic and reformed. Although aligned with the Church of England, the communion has a multitude of beliefs, liturgies, and practices, including evangelical, liberal and Anglo-Catholic. Each retain their own legislative process and episcopal polity under the leadership of local primates. For some adherents, Anglicanism represents a non-papal Catholicism, for others a form of Protestantism though without guiding figure such as Luther, Knox, Calvin, Zwingli or Wesley, or for yet others a combination of the two.

Most of its 85 million members live in the Anglosphere of former British territories. Full participation in the sacramental life of each church is available to all communicant members. Due to their historical link to England (Ecclesia Anglicana means "English Church"), some of the member churches are known as "Anglican", such as the Anglican Church of Canada. Others, for example the Church of Ireland, the Scottish and American Episcopal churches have official names which do not include "Anglican".

Apostolic Church (Slovakia)

The Apostolic Church in Slovakia (in Slovak Apoštolská cirkev na Slovensku) is a Pentecostal denomination in Slovakia.

It shares much of the history of the Apostolic Church (Czech Republic) until the two countries separated in 1989. Yet, both churches keep a close fellowship and interaction. Pentecostalism came to present Slovak lands in 1927, but only in 1977 did the Pentecostals start to have open meetings, and only in 1989 was the Apostolic Church officially recognized by the Slovak government. Today, the Apostolic Church keeps close fellowship with the Apostolic Church (Czech Republic) and both maintain a Bible school in Kolín, close to Prague.

It has an episcopal polity and 20 congregation with about 1,000 adherents.

Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa

The Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa (AFM) is a classical Pentecostal Christian denomination in South Africa. With 1.2 million adherents, it is South Africa's largest Pentecostal church and the fifth largest religious grouping in South Africa representing 7.6 percent of the population. Dr. Isak Burger has led the AFM as president since 1996 when the white and black branches of the church were united. It is a member of the Apostolic Faith Mission International, a fellowship of 23 AFM national churches. It is also a member of the South African Council of Churches.The AFM is one of the oldest Pentecostal movement is South Africa with roots in the Azusa Street Revival, the Holiness Movement teachings of Andrew Murray and the teachings of John Alexander Dowie. The AFM had an interracial character when it started, but, as in American Pentecostalism, this interracial cooperation was short-lived. The decades from the 1950s to the 1980s were marked by the implementation of apartheid. After 1994, the white AFM moved rapidly towards unification with the black churches. By 1996, all the AFM churches were united in a single multi-racial church.The constitution of the AFM blends at the national level the elements of a presbyterian polity with an episcopal polity. Decentralization is a major feature of its constitution, which allows local churches to develop their own policies. The Apostolic Faith Mission displays a variety of identities and ministry philosophies, including seeker-sensitive, Word of Faith, Presbyterian, and classical Pentecostal.

Assembly of God Bethlehem Ministry

The Assembly of God Bethlehem Ministry is a Pentecostal organization within the Brazilian Assembleias de Deus. It is a 'ministry', a non-territorial episcopal polity-organization with subordinate churches and congregations in different parts of Brazil and the World

Bible church

Bible church is a type of Christian church which emphasizes the Bible as its standard, and focuses on the original inerrancy of scripture. It is typically a sort of non-denominational, evangelical Protestant church.

Because Bible Churches are typically non-denominational, there is no unifying doctrine among these churches. Each Bible Church is independent and is therefore not committed to any particular catechism or Statement of Faith aside from their own. Nevertheless, many Bible Churches hold to a few commonalities.

Most Bible Churches are elder rule, or under a type of presbyterian polity (not to be confused with Presbyterianism) as opposed to episcopal polity or congregationalist polity. This means that a board of elders, either elected by the congregation or appointed by the church staff, governs the local body rather than the congregation ruling itself, or a single pastor/bishop governing the body.

In general, Bible Churches are committed to expository preaching, often by teaching verse-by-verse through an entire book of the Bible. This practice, fueled by the belief that the Bible is inerrant, God-breathed, and sufficient (born from the Reformation teaching of Sola Scriptura), is central to the essence of most Bible Churches, and is the source of their name.

Bible Churches almost universally hold to the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone in Christ Alone, which is also born out of the Reformation (Sola fide). See also: Five solae

In addition, many, though not all, Bible Churches are premillennial dispensationalists, as the Bible Church movement has largely been attributed to Dallas Theological Seminary, which is a leading dispensationalist institution.

Bishop (Methodism)

A Bishop is a senior role in many Methodist denominations that have an episcopal polity

Congregationalist polity

Congregationalist polity, or congregational polity, often known as congregationalism, is a system of ecclesiastical polity in which every local church congregation is independent, ecclesiastically sovereign, or "autonomous". Its first articulation in writing is the Cambridge Platform of 1648 in New England. Among those major Protestant Christian traditions that employ congregationalism are those Congregational churches known by the Congregationalist name that descended from the Independent Reformed wing of the Anglo-American Puritan movement of the 17th century, Quakerism, the Baptist churches, as well as the Congregational Methodist Church. More recent generations have witnessed also a growing number of non-denominational churches, which are most often congregationalist in their governance.Congregationalism is distinguished from episcopal polity which is governance by a hierarchy of bishop, and is distinct from presbyterian polity in which higher assemblies of congregational representatives can exercise considerable authority over individual congregations.

Congregationalism is not limited only to organization of Christian church congregations. The principles of congregationalism have been inherited by the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Canadian Unitarian Council. Most Jewish synagogues, many Sikh Gurdwaras and most Islamic mosques in the US operate under congregational government, with no hierarchies.


Connexionalism, also spelled connectionalism, is the theological understanding and foundation of Methodist ecclesiastical polity, as practised in the Methodist Church in Britain, Methodist Church in Ireland, United Methodist Church, Free Methodist Church, African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Bible Methodist Connection of Churches, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, and many of the countries where Methodism was established by missionaries sent out from these churches. The United Methodist Church defines connection as the principle that "all leaders and congregations are connected in a network of loyalties and commitments that support, yet supersede, local concerns." Accordingly, the primary decision-making bodies in Methodism are conferences, which serve to gather together representatives of various levels of church hierarchy.

In the United Methodist Church and Free Methodist Church, where bishops provide church leadership, connexionalism is a variety of episcopal polity. Many Methodist churches, such as the British Methodist Church, do not have bishops. In world Methodism, a given connexion (that is, denomination) is usually autonomous.

Ecclesiastical polity

Ecclesiastical polity is the operational and governance structure of a church or of a Christian denomination. It also denotes the ministerial structure of a church and the authority relationships between churches. Polity relates closely to ecclesiology, the study of doctrine and theology relating to church organization.

Ecclesiastical polity is defined as both the subject of ecclesiastical government in the abstract and the particular system of government of a specific Christian organization. The phrase sometimes is used in civil law.


Episcopal may refer to:

Of or relating to a bishop, an overseer in the Christian church

Episcopate, the see of a bishop – a diocese

Episcopal Church (disambiguation), any church with "Episcopal" in its name

Episcopal Church (United States), an affiliate of Anglicanism based in the United States

Episcopal conference, an official assembly of bishops in a territory of the Roman Catholic Church

Episcopal polity, the church united under the oversight of bishops

Episcopal see, the official seat of a bishop, often applied to the area over which he exercises authority

Historical episcopate, dioceses established according to apostolic succession

Episcopal Baptists

Although most Baptist groups are congregationalist in polity, some have different ecclesiastical organization and adopt an episcopal polity governance. In those churches the local congregation has less autonomy and the bishop oversees them, assigning pastors and distributing funds.

Episcopal Church

Episcopal Church may refer to various churches in the Anglican, Methodist, and Open Episcopal traditions.

An episcopal church has bishops in its organisational structure (see episcopal polity). Episcopalian is a synonym for Anglican in the United States, Scotland, and several other locations.

Hochkirchliche Vereinigung Augsburgischen Bekenntnisses

Hochkirchliche Vereinigung Augsburgischen Bekenntnisses (High Church Union of the Augsburg Confession) is a Lutheran High Church organisation in Germany. It was founded in Berlin, October 1918, inspired by High Church theses Stimuli et Clavi 1917 by Heinrich Hansen. Later it has been greatly influenced by Evangelical Catholic theology of professor Friedrich Heiler.

Hochkirchliche Vereinigung seeks not only to restore, but also carry through the full catholicity of Augsburg Confession, which has coherently never happened in the history of Lutheran Church. It has also been able to make many High Church practises legitimate in Evangelical Church in Germany and has been involved in Liturgical Movement.

Hochkirchliche Vereinigung considers episcopal polity essential to Church and seeks to restore apostolic succession through Hochkirchliche St. Johannes-Bruderschaft. Within Hochkirchliche Vereinigung exists also Lutheran Franciscan third order (Evangelische Franziskaner-Tertiaren).

List of Unitarian bishops

This is a list of Unitarian bishops. Traditionally Unitarians of Magyar origins since their inception with Bishop Ferenc Dávid maintain an episcopal polity.

Methodist Episcopal Church

The Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC) was the oldest and largest Methodist denomination in the United States from its founding in 1784 until 1939. It was also the first religious denomination in the US to organize itself on a national basis. In 1939, the MEC reunited with two breakaway Methodist denominations (the Methodist Protestant Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South) to form the Methodist Church. In 1968, the Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical United Brethren Church to form the United Methodist Church.

The MEC's origins lie in the First Great Awakening when Methodism emerged as an evangelical revival movement within the Church of England that stressed the necessity of being born again and the possibility of attaining Christian perfection. By the 1760s, Methodism had spread to the Thirteen Colonies, and Methodist societies were formed under the oversight of John Wesley. As in England, American Methodists remained affiliated with the Church of England, but this state of affairs became untenable after the American Revolution. In response, Wesley ordained the first Methodist elders for America in 1784. Under the leadership of its first bishops, Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury, the Methodist Episcopal Church adopted episcopal polity and an itinerant model of ministry that saw circuit riders provide for the religious needs of a widespread and mobile population.

Early Methodism was countercultural in that it was anti-elitist and anti-slavery, appealing especially to African Americans and women. While critics derided Methodists as fanatics, the Methodist Episcopal Church continued to grow, especially during the Second Great Awakening in which Methodist revivalism and camp meetings left its imprint on American culture. In the early 19th century, the MEC became the largest and most influential religious denomination in the United States. With growth came greater institutionalization and respectability, and this led some within the church to complain that Methodism was losing its vitality and commitment to Wesleyan teachings, such as the belief in Christian perfection and opposition to slavery.

As Methodism took hold in the Southern United States, church leaders became less willing to condemn the practice of slavery or to grant African American preachers and congregations the same privileges as their white counterparts. A number of black churches were formed as African Americans withdrew from the MEC, including the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. By the 1830s, however, a renewed abolitionist movement within the MEC made keeping a neutral position on slavery impossible. Ultimately, the church divided along regional lines in 1844 when pro-slavery Methodists in the South formed their own Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Around the same time, the holiness movement took shape as a renewal movement within the MEC focused on the experience of Christian perfection, but it eventually led a number of splinter groups to break away from the church. Due to large-scale immigration of Catholics, the Catholic Church displaced the MEC as the largest US denomination by the end of the 19th century.

Metropolitan bishop

In Christian churches with episcopal polity, the rank of metropolitan bishop, or simply metropolitan, pertains to the diocesan bishop or archbishop of a metropolis.

Originally, the term referred to the bishop of the chief city of a historical Roman province, whose authority in relation to the other bishops of the province was recognized by the First Council of Nicaea (AD 325). The bishop of the provincial capital, the metropolitan, enjoyed certain rights over other bishops in the province, later called suffragan bishops.The term is applied in a similar sense to the bishop of the chief episcopal see (the "metropolitan see") of an ecclesiastical province. The head of such a metropolitan see has the rank of archbishop and is therefore called the metropolitan archbishop of the ecclesiastical province. Metropolitan (arch)bishops preside over synods of the bishops of their ecclesiastical province, and are granted special privileges by canon law and tradition.

In some churches, such as the Church of Greece, a metropolis is a rank granted to all episcopal sees. Their bishops are all called metropolitans, the title of archbishop being reserved for the primate.

Parish in the Catholic Church

In the Roman Catholic Church, a parish (Latin: parochia) is a stable community of the faithful within a particular church, whose pastoral care has been entrusted to a parish priest (Latin: parochus), under the authority of the diocesan bishop. It is the lowest ecclesiastical subdivision in the Catholic episcopal polity, and the primary constituent unit of a diocese. In the 1983 Code of Canon Law, parishes are constituted under cc. 515–552, entitled "Parishes, Pastors, and Parochial Vicars."

Porvoo Communion

The Porvoo Communion is a communion of 15 predominantly northern European, with a couple of far-southwestern European (in the Iberian Peninsula) Anglican and Evangelical Lutheran church bodies. It was established in 1992 by a theological agreement entitled the Porvoo Common Statement which establishes full communion between and among these churches. The agreement was negotiated in the town of Järvenpää in Finland, but the communion's name comes from the nearby city of Porvoo where there was a joint celebration of the Eucharist (or Holy Communion) in Porvoo Cathedral after the formal signing in Järvenpää.

In 1938, the Archbishop of Canterbury, symbolic head of the Anglican Communion in London, invited the representatives of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church and Latvian Lutheran Church to the Lambeth Palace in London in order to reach "altar and pulpit fellowship" between the Anglican and three Baltic Lutheran churches. This process came to a formal conclusion with the establishment of the much wider Porvoo Communion in 1992. The churches involved are the several Anglican churches of the British Isles (headed by the founding Church of England) and the other Evangelical Lutheran churches of the Northern European countries. Later negotiations brought the small Anglican churches of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) into the agreement. These churches all share episcopal polity of church organization with the three-fold ministry of bishops, priests (or pastors) and deacons within the historical episcopate with apostolic succession (only bishops ordaining clergy or other bishops, priests and deacons). This is based on the original ministry of the early church.

The Porvoo Communion has no central office or overseer. Each member church has a contact person and these form a contact group which meets each year. Two bishops, one Lutheran and the other Anglican, are co-moderators of the contact group, and there are two co-secretaries also drawn from each tradition. Both are members of the Lutheran World Federation and the Anglican Communion. There are also various conferences and meetings organized to discuss issues of concern to the entire Communion.

Te Pīhopatanga o Te Tai Tokerau

Te Pīhopatanga o Te Tai Tokerau (the bishopric of the North coast; aka Te Hui Amorangi..., lit. the synod...) is an Episcopal polity (or Diocese) of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. Te Pīhopatanga extends from the Bombay Hills south of Auckland through to Te Rerenga Wairua (the North Cape). According to the 2001 census there are approximately 25000 Māori Anglicans within this area. Te Tai Tokerau is one of 5 pīhopatanga (episcopal units) that comprise Te Pīhopatanga o Aotearoa, the Māori Anglican Church in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

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