I was having dinner with a clergy friend recently when the question arose, “What do Episcopalians believe?” He said that were he answering that question for someone from his denomination, he could point to their Augsburg Confession of faith. Episcopalians, unlike the Lutheran Church and the Reformed Churches, do not have a formal confessional statement of what the church, its congregations, and its members believe. Nor do we have official teachings, like in the Roman Catholic church, about what one must believe in order to be saved. For Episcopalians, there is no one definitive set of statements or set of teachings by which we can say “This agrees with Episcopalianism, but that does not.” That, however, does not mean Episcopalians either believe nothing in particular or, on the other hand, that Episcopalians believe everything. Rather, it means that the Episcopal tradition and the Anglican tradition of which it is part has not held to the practice of saying what each of its members must confess in order to be a member of the church. No one is required, for example, to profess a belief in the virgin birth of Jesus or that the bread and wine of communion is in real substance the actual flesh and blood of Jesus.
So, what do we believe? Episcopalians have looked to the early undivided church and the early church councils for providing a variety of statements of what Episcopalians believe. You can find the results of that investigation in our current Book of Common Prayer. On page 845, you will find the Outline of the Faith which is a set of questions and answers about what the church believes. In several locations in the Prayer Book you will find the ancient creeds of the church which are compact statements of our basic beliefs about God. In worship, we use two of those creeds: The Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. Our Eucharistic prayers also convey what we believe in their accounts of creation, sin and our redemption by the grace of God through the ministry of Jesus Christ. Among the Historical Documents section of the Prayer Book, you will find both the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and a statement from the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1886 and 1888. These documents clarify where the Episcopal tradition differs from others churches but also where we seek to find common ground. I suggest to you that you read or re-read the Prayer Book with an eye for what it says about what we believe. It is simply not the case that Episcopalians believe everything that might be believed about God and the Church.
In Christ’s service,