why do we use unleavened bread for communion
It is commonly agreed that the bread Jesus broke and gave his disciples on the night he was betrayed was unleavened. He was instituting what we practice as the Lord s Supper during a celebration of the Jewish Passover, which required unleavened bread. At times the question has been raised, then, whether or not Christians should use unleavened bread in the Lord s Supper in order to follow Christ s example and to be fully biblical. Evidence from Church History While evidence as to the early church s practice isn t abundant, ordinary leavened bread seems to have been the norm. A difference gradually developed between East and West, though, with the East continuing to use leavened bread while the West adopted unleavened bread a distinction between Orthodox and Roman Catholics that endures today. Biblical scholar Robert Letham
for the Roman Catholic position: Since the leavened bread was more likely to crumble and so fragment the body of Christ, Rome required the use of unleavened bread. During the Reformation, leavened bread was generally used among Protestants, though the Church of England continued using unleavened bread for a time before allowing both. John Calvin considered the type of bread used an : Whether the bread is leavened or unleavened, the wine red or white it makes no difference. These things are indifferent, and left at the church s discretion. (On a related note, see Don Carson s recent Themelios editorial. ) What Did Jesus Do? Arguments against the use of leavened bread have centered around Jesus s practice. It s not what Jesus used, proponents contend, and moreover, leaven is used to represent sin and evil in the Bible. But, as Letham , the Greek word used for bread in the New Testament (in relation to the Lord s Supper) is not azymos, the term for unleavened bread, but artos, the word for a small round loaf of ordinary bread.
The word Jesus used does not require unleavened bread. Nor is leaven always a symbol for sin and evil in the Bible. In the parable in Matthew 13:33, for example, leaven seems to represent the kingdom of heaven. So the arguments against leavened bread are not persuasive. What If Bread Is Unavailable? Though not noted in discussions of the elements I ve found, I think we should question the very idea that bread is required. The church has been planted all around the world, including areas where bread is unknown. Where bread is available, I don t think congregations should switch from it, even if bread is unusual and even if a switch could make the worshipers feel at home in the liturgy and. demonstrate the relevance of Christianity to everyday life in its local forms, an argument but rejects. To insist on bread where bread is unknown and wheat isn t even grown would seem to hinder Christianity from ever taking on an indigenous form in such cultures. I guess Christian missionaries could teach new Christians how to grow wheat and make bread, but would that not communicate that Christianity is a foreign religion, and make of an indifferent thing a barrier to the gospel taking root? For example, you are planting a church in Papua New Guinea; they have never seen wheat or eaten bread. After a congregation of believers gather, you want to introduce them to the Lord s Supper. What do you do? Import bread? Teach the nationals to grow wheat and make bread? In such contexts I d recommend using any common staple food that can be broken to fit the symbolism of Christ s body broken for us. Essential or Incidental? I can agree with Wainwright and that using bread is supported by New Testament example and the legacy of church history. But to insist on the necessity of bread is to confuse what s essential to the meaning of the Supper with what s incidental.
I further agree with Wainwright and Allison (both of whom argue for the retention of bread, if possible) that we shouldn t switch from the traditional elements purely for the sake of novelty. That would show a lack of respect for the seriousness of the Lord s Supper and the value of tradition. In the final analysis, though, I think the nature of the elements remains an indifferent matter. And for what it s worth, I d say the same in response to rather than grape juice. This too I regard as something not essential to the meaning of the Supper another indifferent matter. There are numerous other debated issues surrounding the Lord s Supper and baptism that I seek to answer in (Kregel, 2015). Q. Are churches required to use bread without yeast in observing the LordБs Table? A. Churches use a variety of elements in Communion bread, but those who insist on unleavened bread maintain two primary reasons for doing so. Let me enumerate, with opposite perspectives. 1. Christ used unleavened bread at the Last Supper. Did He? Matthew 26:26 states, БAnd as they were eating, Jesus took bread. Б The Greek word for bread here is artos, which generally indicates a loaf of common leavened bread. The word for unleavened bread is, in contrast, azumos, found in other New Testament passages, like Matthew 26:17. The Last Supper took place during the Jewish Feast of Unleavened Bread, so Jesus and the disciples may have eaten that easily accessible, plentiful unleavened bread that night. But whether or not this use would indicate a requirement for Communion in our day is in question. Nowhere in the New Testament are we specifically commanded to use unleavened bread. Also, the Feast of Unleavened Bread was a Jewish observance.
Should we be bound to something in the Dispensation of the Church that might compare with other Jewish ceremonial customs and laws we do not observe? There seems to be no account of the early New Testament church where unleavened bread mattered. The Jews observed the Passover to remember how God delivered His people from Egyptian bondage; the Children of Israel used unleavened bread because there was no time to put yeast into the bread dough before they swiftly left Egypt. We have no indication that New Testament church believers are asked to remember this Old Testament event. The Last Supper took place at the Passover time, but this does not necessarily mean that all the details of this meal drive our New Testament ordinance of the LordБs Supper. We are required to remember the work of Christ on the cross for us through observing the Table. Could using unleavened bread mean returning to Old Testament shadows instead of reality (Passover vs. ChristБs atonement)? We donБt want to observe the wrong thing at CommunionБthe Passover, rather than Christ and His work on the cross for us. 2. Leaven (yeast) represents sin. Leaven often stands for sin in the Bible, but in other places it does not. In the Old Testament, GodБs people were commanded to use leavened bread as they worshiped (Leviticus 7:13; 23:16,б 17). In the New Testament, we find leaven to stand for the gospel and GodБs kingdom, while Бleaven of the PhariseesБ and others spoke of their false teaching (Matthew 13:33; 16:11, 12). But there does not appear to be any Scripture that tells New Testament believers to avoid leaven of bread, to say nothing about the need to observe the Passover. Spurgeon said, БIt is very clear that our Divine Lord broke the bread. We scarcely know what kind of bread was used on that occasion; it was probably the thin Passover cake of the Jews; but there is nothing said in Scripture about the use of leavened or unleavened bread, and therefore it matters not which we use.
Where there is no ordinance, there is no obligation; and we are, therefore, left free to use the bread which it is our custom to eat. Б The Бbreaking of breadБ is used for the LordБs Table in the New Testament church. The word artos, the language of ordinary meals is used, which would suggest ordinary bread. Another thought to consider is that Romans 14:17Б19 teaches that the things of God are Бnot eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. Б The application of this passage might be twofold: first, an emphasis on food is more descriptive of Old Testament laws and shadows than of the New Testament. Second, we are to emphasize what is beyond things like the elements used in Communion. Some people make such an issue of them that they commit the greater sin, such as refusing to partake of the LordБs Supper if these elements are not what they think they should be, or to even cause divisiveness over them. Having noted the above, I would say that we must be careful to make our remembrance of the LordБs Table rightfully solemn. If a church desires unleavened bread, it is bread, so it is certainly acceptable. But we should be careful not to use elements other than bread. Examples of sloppiness do exist. We must not create a contest out of who makes the best-tasting bread either. We should also keep the ordinances within the auspices of the local church.
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