The Episcopal Church Polity Governance


There are categorically three main church polities which exist in Christendom. They include the Episcopal Church polity, the Presbyterian Church polity, and the Congregational Church polity; meanwhile, this document discusses only the Episcopal Church polity narrowing its discussion on the Catholic Church since such polity predominantly exists in other dominations that of the Episcopal lineage and governance. This document apparently discusses the components of the Episcopal Church polity laying emphasis on the Catholic Church with respect to weaknesses and strengths and at the same time giving biblical injections to ratify, to critique, and to reconcile it (Episcopal polity).


The Episcopal Church polity is church governance comprising of the cardinals, the Presbyterial Council, the Pastor, and the Bishop who serves as the chief authority over the local Christian church assembly. This kind of church polity and structure is contemporarily found often in various churches of the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, other Eastern churches, and Anglican lineage. This kind of ecclesiastical polity deals with how the church functions and how its leadership is structurally established and aligned to carry out the day to day operation of the church ministries in a realistic spiritual and denominational environment. It affects how the leadership functions and how each office interconnects and relates to each other. Hussey writes, “Ecclesiastical polity is the operational and governance structure of a church or Christian denomination. It also denotes the ministerial structure of the church and the authority relationship between churches.”[1]

In an effort to delineate and to discuss the Episcopal Church polity governance as spelt-out in the above thesis statement, the various components which relate to this church polity are discussed on the preceding pages of this research paper by headings.

The Cardinals

In the Episcopal Church polity of the Catholic Church, the cardinals are appointed by the pope to constitute a senate in the church. They are the ones who help elect a pope when another pope dies. Cardinals are next to the pope in the hierarchical structure of the Episcopal polity. They serve as departmental heads, administrators, and representatives to the Episcopal Church polity to lead and to coordinate various offices and functions within the Episcopal governance. They serve to the pope as counselors and watchdogs. Knox writes, “Cardinals are appointed by the pope and constitute a kind of senate of the church, and aid the pope as his chief counselors.”[2] In essence, cardinals are leadership board which comprises of functional leaders in various constituencies as it pertains to the daily running of the church under the Episcopal Church polity. They are administrators who administer specific office function within the Episcopal Church governance. Cardinals are like cabinet ministers who assist the president in discharge of duties. For example, the Cardinal Secretary represents the Vatican to the foreign governments of the world. Other cardinals have various responsibilities who are responsible to overseeing a congregation and other cardinals oversee group of bishops around the world. Dummies writes, “A different cardinal also heads up each of several commissions and councils, as well as three high courts of the Catholic Church: the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Apostolic Signatura, and the Roman Rota, all of which deal with canon law and its application and interpretation.’[3]

            The Apostolic Penitentiary is one of three tribunals of the Roman Curia responsible for issues relating to mercy and sins in the Catholic Church. It has jurisdiction only over matters relating to internal forum concerning the absolution of excommunications reserved to the Holy See, the dispensation of sacramental impediments reserved to the Holy See, and the issuance and governance of indulgences.[4]

            The issues of mercy and sins and governance of indulgences in this Catholic Episcopal Church polity is practically traditional as opposed to the biblical view of how sin is forgiven in the Church. When Christians sin, whom are they required to confess their sins to? Biblically, they are required to confess their sins to God through the name of Jesus Christ; unlike, the Catholic Church of the Episcopal Church polity, they are required to confess their sins to the priests. This is unscriptural and unbiblical regarding how sin is confessed and forgiven. The areas of indulgences whereby people are required to pay certain tokens as a sign of retribution to the sins committed are also purely traditional and unscriptural. Sinners are not saved or forgiven through indulgences as the Catholic Episcopal Church polity encourages. It is a way of making business with the peoples’ lives. The sale of indulgences was the main factor which triggered the reformation in Europe from 1500 to 1700. The birth of denominations was the by-products of the reformations.

            The Apostolic Signatura of the Catholic Episcopal Church is the highest judicial authority apart from the Pope responsible for ecclesiastical judgment who oversees the administration of justice in the Episcopal Church polity of the Catholic Church.[5]

            The Roman Rota is the highest appellate tribunal of the Roman Catholic Church responsible for judicial trials conducted in the Roman Catholic. It is the highest ecclesiastical court constituted by the Holy See. The Holy See is the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome, the Episcopal See of the Pope. It is the central point of reference for the Catholic Church everywhere and the focal point of communion.[6]

            The governance of the Catholic Church polity is practically legal and tends to miss biblical injection. I see hierarchical structure of the polity which has no similarity to biblical leadership recorded in the bible. The spirits of humanism and dogmatism can be seen in the Episcopal Church Polity of the Catholic Church. The pope appears to be the highest authority and tends to replace God. His exercise of authority over the church is an indication of the validity and the exercise of the Papal primacy. If the bishop is the highest authority in the Episcopal Church polity who influences the cardinals, the Presbyterial council, and the pastor, the exercise of the pope’s authority in the Roman Catholic Church is a disconnect to the other Episcopal Church polity in churches other than the Catholic Church. I see different hierarchical structure in the Catholic Church as compared to other churches which have this kind of Church polity.

            The view of the primacy by the Orthodox Churches is the belief that authority like law is needed as long as human lives in the flesh and blood and therefore believes that all authority originates from God.

            Murray writes, “The Orthodox view of primacy is better understood in my opinion, against the background of the Orthodox views of authority. Thus, Orthodox churches believe that authority like law is obviously needed only as long as man lives in the flesh and blood. The Orthodox tradition, however, has an apophatic understanding of authority, that is, all authority originates from God and there is no authority that is not first given by God.”[7]

The Bishop

According to the Episcopal Church polity of the Catholic Church, bishops are chief priests over diocese responsible for pastoral care. Bishops are usually pastors or priests in essence who control district under the pastoral care. Because they control district under pastoral care contrary to pastor who controls parish or congregation, they are called chief priests or bishops. There is a disconnection between bishops and pastors with respect to the level and multiplicity of functions and number of congregants and districts under their control.

Bishops have been recognized during the second century to have presided over the church assembly. It is scriptural that bishops are elders or overseers according to the New Testament writing. They have the responsibility to oversee or look after people’s souls. The Greek word (“ἐπίσκοπος, epískopos, “overseer”, “guardian”) is an ordained or consecrated member of the church assembly.[8] I Timothy 3:1, 3:2, and Acts 20:17-30 discuss the bishops or elders and their characteristics and job descriptions.

Senn writes, “The church was an assembly which gathered on a “fixed day,” the Lord’s Day, according to Justin Martyr, to read the scriptures, to listen to preaching, pray for all, and share the Lord’s Supper. There is no record of who presided over the early liturgical assemblies, but by the beginning of the second century, it is quite certain that this was the bishop’s role.”[9] Bishop’s role in the New Testament is clearly spelt-out to authenticate that bishops are those whom God has placed in the local church assembly to look after the souls of men. They are also called elders or pastors in the New Testament. I Peter 2:25 states, “For ye were going astray like sheep, but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishops of your souls.”[10] Philippians 1:1 states, “Paul and Timotheus, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.”[11] Acts 20:28 states, “Take heed unto you, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Ghost hath made you bishops, to feed the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood.”[12] The role of bishops is spelt-out in the New Testament to be overseers or shepherds who take care of believers. Similarly in the Episcopal polity of the Catholic Church governance, bishops overseer a collection of local parishes or congregations. Becoming a bishop in the Catholic Church is the third and fullest level of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. This means that a bishop offers sacramental material items to parishes during divine services of the Christian assemblies. Bishops are usually appointed by the Pope of the Episcopal polity of the Catholic Church. Bishops can move to the level of cardinals without ordination once handpicked by the Pope. He is required to visit the Holy Father every five years to give a report regarding the particular diocese he controls. In his life time, bishop goes around the diocese to perform the sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Orders. He makes visits to the parishes and discusses matters pertaining to the staff. In the New Testament philosophy of bishops, bishops are spiritually referred to Christ who is the Head Shepherd of our souls as compared to the Episcopal Church polity of the Catholic Church. No human being can truly be bishops of souls except Christ. The placing of humans as spiritual head and ascribing even worship to him is contemporary in the Episcopal Church polity of the Catholic Church. It is true that humans are called bishops; however, Christ should be considered as the chief bishop of our souls. Every human bishop must recognize that he is the representative of Christ while Christ must remain exalted. Hulteen writes, “An instrumental expression of this image in United Church of Christ covenantal polity is that governance is fundamentally committed to Jesus Christ as the sole Head of the Church.”[13] In the ecclesiastical church polity, Jesus should be the head of every hierarchical structure; in so doing, the church recognizes that without God or Jesus, the entity becomes an organization instead of an organism. Where human is placed in an exalted glory like the pope in the Catholic Church, the probability of the worship of idols becomes the reality. Instead of the congregants worshipping God, they will eventually worship men ignorantly because men have placed himself in the place of God. Such church polity becomes humanly motivated. Dogmatism and tradition become the order of the day and scriptures are nullified in the process based on the practices. In the Episcopal Church polity of the Catholic Church, human is highly exalted instead of the divine as per doctrinal misunderstanding and traditional practices. In term of the papal primacy with respect to the exercise of the pope authority, this is clearly demonstrated.

Murray writes, “For the Roman Catholic Church, the primacy of the Roman Pontiff is a matter of doctrine. He is the successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ, “a permanent and visible source and foundation of the church unity of faith and communion. For other churches the authority that Roman Catholicism asserts as inherent to this primacy, even if not necessary the primacy per se, is one of the greatest stumbling block.”[14]

            This is one of the conflicts the Episcopal Church polity of the Catholic Church faces because humans are highly exalted as the divine; as the result, there are practices of idolatry within the Episcopal Church polity of the Catholic Church. For example the worship of Mary, the mother of Jesus is an example of humanistic worship. In this passage, Peter is highly exalted contemporary to Christ as the visible source and foundation of the Church unity of faith and community. Murray writes, “If a man does not hold fast to this oneness of Peter, does he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he deserts the chair of Peter upon whom the church was built, he has still confidence that he is the church?”[15] In the Episcopal polity of the Catholic Church, Peter is considered to be the foundation on which the Church was built instead of Jesus. This is highly emphasized in the Catholic Church doctrinally taking the scripture out of context as recorded in the bible. They strongly believe that the Church was built on Peter instead of Jesus Christ. The manner in which doctrine is taught can also have impact on church polity as well. Church polity and leadership are being borrowed from local cultures and transformed them into church use today. Every church polity and leadership structure is a hybrid of another type of church polity motivated by traditional and cultural practices passed down from generations to generations.

            Zschelle writes, “The polity of the Christian church is always contextual. From the early church adaptation to leadership roles from the first-century synagogue, to the incorporation of Roman models of office into the Constantinian church, to Calvin’s use of the assembly system in Reformed Geneva, Christians have always taken organizational and leadership structures from local cultures and transformed them for church use.”[16]

The Presbyterial Council

In the Episcopal Polity of the Catholic Church, the Presbyterial Councils are priests who advise the diocese bishop in matter of pastoral care. It is the principal consultative body mandated by the Code of Canon Law to advise the diocesan bishop in matters of pastoral governance. It consists of bishops and priests serving the diocese. It is understood that diocese is a district controlled by bishops while a priest controls local congregations or parishes. If the priests and the bishops serve on this council; then, this council serves as the evangelistic and mission body as well as consultative body to the bishops of the diocese. The quest for foreign mission evangelism to cross geographical boundaries of the residence country is contingent. In the Episcopal Church polity, the mission paradigm is to extend the church’s geographical domain into foreign lands as to effect evangelism and mission works. This is the mandate of scriptural call and obedience is necessary to execute the Great Commission mentioned in Matthew 28:16-20.

Zschelle wrties, “The underlying mission paradigm of the Episcopal polity is a Christendom expansion or colonial model – that is, mission is primarily understood as extending the church’s geographical domain into foreign lands.”[17] If the church of Jesus Christ is politicized in this manner regarding mission evangelism, the biblical mandate regarding evangelism can be truly carried out in commensuration of the obedience of the Great Commission. This kind of church polity can enhance biblical obedience and pleases God our Father.

The Pastor

The pastor is the priest in charge of a parish or congregation and he is responsible for the administration of the sacraments, instructing the congregation in the doctrine of the Church, and other services to the people of the parish. He is the under Shepherd according to scriptures.[18]

Abrams writes, “In a proper church where the pastor and the members are spiritual there will be a sense of unity. The pastor leads not as the boss, but a loving shepherd who wants the best for the sheep and leads them carefully. 2. The good under shepherd is discerning of the state of maturity of each of his members and with God’s help, teaching the word helps them to grow spiritually in their relationship with the Lord and in their every day lives.”[19]

            Spirituality in the pastoral or church ministry is the bedrock where both the pastor and members can be guided when it comes to running a successful and viable assembly. True spirituality develops a sense of unity among believers. There can be disagreements sometimes in leadership; notwithstanding, the presence of spirituality wherein everyone has Godly fears guides the thinking and the emotionality of leadership board when it comes to making decision that will affect the body of believers. As people become spiritual, they grow into maturity as the pastor continues to teach God’s word. The tendency or the ability for the pastor to discern what kind of spiritual food the membership needs makes him or her to teach or preach topics that the congregants need at the time. This indicates that the pastor with a discerning spirit prepares good spiritual food for the flock. The human pastor is the under shepherd; therefore, the head pastor will eventually be God or Jesus. Knight writes, “Jesus Christ is Lord and Head of the church which is his body. He rules over the church by his word and Spirit. Through the work of the Spirit he gives to his church men as officers to equip believers for service, which the church may more faithfully serve Christ in maturity and love.”[20] God has set able ministers of the New Testament for the perfecting of the saints so that they can reach unto maturity and no longer be infants tossed by every wind of doctrines.[21] The church physically is an institution and spiritually is an organism. The physicality and the spirituality of the church cannot be ignored for the fact that human being is a psychological, physical, and spiritual being. He is a psychological being because he can think through his mind. He is a physical being because he has a body and he can be touched. He is a spiritual being because he has soul and spirit. In church operation, these aspects of humanity cannot be ignored. Jesus did not only teach the word, but he also fed the people with food; therefore, ministry is not only didactic, but it is also holistic. Considering these aspects based on my opinion, church is not only a spiritual institution, but it is also a social institution which requires the teaching of God’s word and other educative and informative teaching that gives information to membership regarding the current situation in the world. For example, the teaching on sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, hepatic D is good. for health reason.

            Cartagenas writes, “Church social teaching contends that institutions of governance, “on which public authority depends and through which it functions and pursues its end should be provided with such structures and efficacy that they can lead to the common good by ways and methods which are suitably adapted to various contingencies.”[22]

            The pastor of the local congregation must create governance and put institutions into place as to affect the lives of believers in various domains (social, emotional, cognitive, physical, and spiritual). The pastor is encouraged to create structures such as teaching, leadership, or activities or services which will help believers to grow in these domains. The spiritual health of an individual Christian is tied to the social, emotional, cognitive, and the physical. Any deficiency in these areas will proportionally affect the spiritual aspect of the individual Christian.

            In conclusion, church polity such as the Episcopal polity predominantly exists in other dominations; notwithstanding, this document narrows its discussion to the Catholic Church and discusses the various components such as the Cardinals, the Bishop, the Presbyterial Council, and the Pastor who are the key groups that make up the church polity in the Episcopal arena.


Abrams, Cooper. Under Shepherd, Oct. 2008.

Cartagenas, Aloysius Lopez. Religion and Polities in the Philippines: The Public Role of the Roman Catholic Church in the Democratization of the Filipino Polity, 11 no 6 D 2010.

Hussey, Ian. A Theology of the Church Engagement: A Reflection on the Practice of the Early Church, 44 no 2 N 2012.

Hulteen, William Arthur. United Church of Christ Covenantal Polity, 12 no 2 Fall 1997.

Knight, George W. Two Offices (Elders or Bishops and Deacons and two Orders of Elders (Preaching or Teaching Elders and Rulling /Elders): A New Testament Study, 2009.

Knox, Alan. Church Polity – Episcopal, Oct. 12, 2010.

Murray, Russel. Assessing the Primacy: A Contemporary Contribution from the Writing of St. Cyprian of Carthage, 47 no 1 Wint. 2012.

Murray, Russel. You are Peter: A Critical Analysis of the Orthodox View of Papal Primacy in View of an Alternative Way of Exercising Papal Primacy, 45 no 1 Wint. 2010.

Senn, Frank C. Liturgy Polity in the Ancient and Medieval Church: Lessons from History fro a Church Renewed, 12 no 4 Ag 1985.

Zschelle, Dwight J. A More True “Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society”: Toward a Missional Polity for the Episcopal Church, 56 no Ag 2010.

[1]Ian Hussey, A Theology of the Church Engagement: A Reflection on the Practice of the Early Church, 44 no 2 N 2012, p 208-225.

[2]Alan Knox, Church Polity – Episcopal, Oct, 12, 2010.





[7]Russel Murray, You are Peter: A Critical Analysis of the Orthodox View of Papal Primacy in View of an Alternative Way of Exercising Papal Primacy, 45 no 1 Wint. 2010, P 113-133.


[9]Frank C. Senn, Liturgy Polity in the Ancient and Medieval Church: Lessons from History fro a Church Renewed, 12 no 4 Ag 1985, p 220-231.

[10]I Peter 2:25.

[11]Phil. 1:1.

[12]Acts 20:28.

[13]William Arthur Hulteen, United Church of Christ Covenantal Polity, 12 no 2 Fall 1997, p 43-53.

[14]Russel Murray, Assessing the Primacy: A Contemporary Contribution from the Writing of St. Cyprian of Carthage, 47 no 1 Wint. 2012, p 41-63.


 [16] Dwight J. Zschelle, A More True “/Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society”: Toward a Missional Polity for the Episcopal Church, 5 no 1-2 Spr-Fall 2006, p 149-186.

[17]Dwight J Zschelle, A More True “Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society”: Toward a Missional Polity for the Episcopal Church, 56 no Ag 2010, p 34-40.

[18]I Peter 5:1-4.

[19]Cooper Abrams, Under Shepherd, Oct. 2008.

[20]George W. Knight, Two Offices (Elders or Bishops and Deacons and two Orders of Elders (Preaching or Teaching Elders and Rulling /Elders): A New Testament Study, 11 no 1 Spr. 1985, p 1-2.

[21]Ephesians 4:11-13.

[22]Aloysiius Lopez Cartagenas, Religion and Polities in the Philippines: The Public Role of the Roman Catholic Church in the Democratization of the Filipino Polity, 11 no 6 D 2010, p 846-872.