How did the Presbyterians and the Episcopals come by their names?


Recently we studied the qualifications of elders and I mentioned the Greek words, Presbuterous (elder, presbyter) and Episkopos (bishop, overseer), and one of the members here asked if this is how the Presbyterian and Episcopal churches came up with their names for identifying their churches. I did some research and have been unsuccessful in finding satisfactory information to answer his question.  Can you help me out with this?


"Presbyterianism in a wide sense is the system of church government by representative assemblies called presbyteries, in opposition to government by bishops (episcopal system), or by congregations (congregationalism)" ["History of the Church," Presbyterian Historical Society].

In the Presbyterian Church, each congregation is operated by a session. "The session is made up of the elders and the pastor, who is also the moderator, or chairman. The session cares for all the religious or strictly churchly matters" ["Presbyterian, Church Government",]. Each congregation then elects a few elders to represent them at a presbytery. The presbytery also has all the preachers in the region as members. This body has all the religious, financial, and legal authority over the member congregations.

The Anglican Church (or Church of England) placed heavy emphasis on the idea of apostolic succession; that is, that there is an unbroken line of leaders in the church, going all the way back to the apostles.  These leaders in the church are called "bishops." The Episcopal Church defines apostolic succession as "The belief that bishops are the successors to the apostles and that episcopal authority is derived from the apostles by an unbroken succession in the ministry" ["Apostolic Succession," The Episcopal Church].

When the United States was first being settled, the Anglican Church was present. However, the Revolutionary War caused a problem because the bishops all swore allegiance to the archbishop in the Church of England. This nearly wiped out the Anglican Church in the United States and led to the churches in the United States severing their ties to the Anglican Church, Since each bishop in the Anglican Church presided over an episcopate, and a body of bishops was also called an episcopate, the group in the United States formed an independent episcopate and called it the Episcopal Church.

Therefore, both the Presbyterians and Episcopals named their respective denominations after the form of government used in their denominations.


Got it. This information will be helpful. Thank you.

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