Articles 31 through 36 are a mix of theological and practical points of faith. As with the previous Articles on the Church and the Sacraments, the positions here are navigated in between the excesses of Rome and the excesses of the radical reformers. Once again the Anglican tradition proves itself “too catholic” for other Protestants and “too protestant” for other Catholics.
The “Catholic” end of the spectrum is most prominently displayed in Articles 34 and 36, wherein the authority of the Church to enforce traditions (provided they don’t contradict Scripture) is upheld, and the historic three-fold ministry (Bishops, Priests, Deacons) is upheld. While modern Evangelicalism has popularly pursued a highly individualized faith with little room for the Church as an institution, our Articles of Religion keep us bound to an historic Body of believers united invisibly by the Holy Spirit and visibly through traditional liturgical worship and (especially) through the historic “apostolic succession” of Bishops.
The “Protestant” end of the spectrum stands out in Articles 31, 32, and 35. The freedom of the clergy to marry and the binding of clergy to preach from the Books of Homilies (temporarily) were enactments of a distinctly Protestant agenda. Article 31, though, is a particularly theological observation: the self-oblation of Christ on the Cross once for all time is a rejection of the Roman excesses concerning the efficacy of the celebration of Holy Communion. While there has long been a strong theological link between the offering of Christ’s Body and Blood on the Cross and the offering of the same in Holy Communion, and the latter had long been understood to be the Christians’ highest “sacrifice” around which all worship is oriented, the medieval European developments were such that the Communion was in itself a propitiatory sacrifice – a sacrifice that atoned for sins. One of the universal corrections made by all the Reformers was that the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross is uniquely atoning for the sin of the world. The way in which Holy Communion points to or re-presents or re-members Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross would continue to be a debate among Protestants and within the Anglican tradition to this day, but we stand in agreement that the Sacrament derives its grace-giving nature from the Cross, not from its own merit. From this we learn that Anglican ministry is entirely derived from and dependent upon the ministry of Jesus himself.
In the middle stands Article 33, which explains the purpose and procedure concerning people who have been excommunicated. In itself this was not particularly controversial; only the most radical of reformers had no practice of excommunication. Rather, this Article stands to affirm Anglican practice on the subject alongside all other Christians: we too believe in church discipline and care about the members of our flock such that we would pursue them unto the gates of Hell to bring them back to Christ if they stray.