What makes Episcopalians (also called Anglicans) different from other churches? The Episcopal Church has the distinction of being both catholic and protestant. It is catholic in its faith tradition, liturgy, and sacramental life while being protestant in some of its polity, or governance. Toward the end of the 16th century, an Anglican priest named Richard Hooker wrote a book called The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, which remains influential today. In it, Hooker said that Christians should look for guidance not from the pope or only from the Bible but from the ‘three-legged stool’ of tradition, scripture and reason.
It is this and “experience” informed by reason that sets us apart. Hooker argued that while the Scriptures are to be the primary source of authority, they are not to be isolated from reason and tradition. These three sources of authority don’t exist independently, but comprise a single authority of thee intersecting sources, the Holy Scriptures being the normative authority, with reason and tradition being necessary interpretative authoritative tools.
The poet and priest John Donne called the Episcopal path a “middle way,” steering a course between the extremes in his day between Roman Catholicism (no reform) and the new Protestantism (extreme reform). This middle way has sometimes been misunderstood as fence sitting. Actually, the intent is to achieve a comprehensive and balanced approach that draws wisdom from every side and includes the insights of others.
Thus the Episcopal community is a “big tent” where everyone’s views are welcome and we often agree to disagree, looking to the example of Christ’s love as the tie that binds us all together.