Anglican Polity


We are an “episcopal” Church….    From the Greek New Testament word episkopos  (episkopos), which means bishop.


Lambeth Quadrilateral:  Historical document,  pp. 876-78,  Lambeth 1888


1)      Holy Scriptures, canonical, OT & NT, containing all things necessary to salvation.”

2)      Historic Creeds: Nicene and Apostles “as sufficient statement of the Christian faith.”

3)      Two sacraments ordained by Christ – Baptism and Lord’s Supper “ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of Institution and of the elements ordained by Him.”

4)      Historic Episcopate, “locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples..”


Go back in your mind to the early church,  AD 33 – 325.   The time of the “Ancient and undivided church.”


1)      Did not have the NT – canon would not come until 4th century – and imperfect OT canon – used the Septuagint, not the official Jewish canon.

2)      No universal creed, Apostles’ was a local Roman creed, Nicene had not yet been written.

3)      Baptism and Holy Communion were practiced in vastly different ways and vastly different meanings attached… infant baptism, believer’s baptism (Pelagian), immersion, pouring, baptism of the dead, repeated baptism…and the Eucharistic liturgy…  “feeding of the five thousand” used, sometimes no words of institution at all, Sabbath or Sunday, in a meal, after a meal, before a meal, no meal at all.. etc.

4)      Historic episcopate, apostolic succession of the bishops, widespread, not absolutely universal, but nearly…

Ignatius of Antioch, bishop, convicted, preached from the ship that was taking him in chains to Rome,  wrote many letters…. died (martyred) c AD 110.

Clearly reflects the understanding of the early church that the bishops, “all over the world” were successors to the apostles and had apostolic authority…he consistently referred to “the bishop and the council of presbyters…”   “Do nothing without the bishop and the presbyters.”   “Respect the deacons, the bishop and the council of presbyters.”

He reflected a clear understanding of the Bishop in Council as authoritative governors of the Church.


When Christianity was brought to Roman Britain (England) in early 2nd century…

Established the old British/Celtic church in England… persecuted… world rejecting… religious communities under an abbot-bishop.   After the Edict of Milan, 312, Christianity became a legal religion in the Roman Empire and the British Church flourished with popular and governmental support.  (Constantine was first proclaimed emperor in York – called Iboricum – where he commanded a legion.

When Rome was sacked by barbarians, the Roman legions were withdrawn from Britain. Pagan Angles and Saxons invaded.  The Celtic Christians were isolated from Continental Christianity and most of them fled to Wales, Ireland… went as missionaries to Scotland and N. England… Lindisfarne and York.

Later the Roman Pope, Gregory, sent a mission to the Anglo-Saxons  (AD 597)… 

The two Christian traditions collided in England.


Whitby 664, King and Bishops… favored the Latin rite and practices.

Some very important principles… constitutional principles…


Runnymeade 1215, Archbishop, prelates, barons, confronted king… together Magna Carta, an ecclesiastical as well as state document… distributed to cathedrals.


Parliament 1540, Act of Supremacy…  “the Bishop of Rome hath no more authority than any other foreign bishop….”


General Convention 1789… establishment of an autocephaly, an autonomous American church

This was the beginning of the Anglican Communion – first autonomous Episcopal church, offspring of the C of E.   NO INTERNATIONAL AUTHORITY.   

Seemed to suffice…   “far from intending to depart from the C. of E. in matters of doctrine, disciple, and worship.”


The American Church from its beginning was far more democratic than the C of E and remains to this day the most democratic of all the churches of the Anglican Communion.


Prior… our tradition always talked about

            Vincentian Canon --  Vincent of Lerins

            Reception by the faithful of decisions made by bishops and prelates is necessary.

            Sensus fedelium… judgment of the people ultimately trumps


But American Church brought us to the brink of apostasy… by suggesting authority derived from the people

            Democracy vs.




1867 -  creation of the Dominion of Canada, at request of Canadian church Lambeth Conference organized…   informal gathering of bishops… invited by Abp of Canterbury.   The Anglican Communion has no constitution, no canons, no legislature, no judiciary, no budget, and no executive.  


In the Episcopal Church in the USA the highest and final authority is the General Convention, from which there is no appeal.


The General Convention created the dioceses, of which all the parishes are a part.   All of the six dioceses in Texas began as missionary dioceses of the General Convention.  All our early bishops – right down to Quarterman – were elected by the General Convention, not by the diocese.


The General Convention meets triennially.   It is a bicameral body.   The House of Deputies is the Senior House.   It is composed of Deputies, half clergy and half lay, four each from every diocese.   It elects its own presiding officer.   Sometimes the Clerical Order and the Lay Order vote separately, in which case legislation must pass both orders.   The House of Bishops is the Junior House.   The Presiding Bishop presides over the meetings of the House of Bishops.   All legislation must pass both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies.   There is an interim body, called the Executive Council.   However, it can only act within the parameters set for it by the General Convention.


To hold an Episcopal election, a diocese must get the consent of the General Convention.   When a bishop is elected the diocese must abide by the canons of the Episcopal Church that govern Episcopal elections.   When a person is elected bishop by a diocese, the diocese must then get the consent of the majority of the Standing Committees of all the dioceses in the American Church and the approval of the majority of the active sitting bishops.   If an Episcopal election occurs near the time of a General Convention, then this process can be shortened by the action of the Convention and no appeal to the Standing Committees is necessary.   It is only after these “consents” have been received that the Presiding Bishop can “take order” to consecrate a new bishop.   We are the only church in the Anglican Communion that has such an elaborate system for approving the consecration of a bishop.






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Last Updated: July 19, 2006