COMMUNION LEAVEN

MY PICTURE SM

COMMUNION >LEAVEN=

James C. Guy

 

Many churches are now baking their own communion bread.  Because we have used commercially produced Matzos for so long, it has obtain somewhat of an >official= status in the minds of some, causing some questions as to whether or not the homemade bread is >scriptural.=  I have heard similar concerns over using any other >fruit of the vine= except the purple Welch=s, including questions about using red, white, generic, reconstituted, and even that which is sold in plastic bottles.  While we should try to know and do what the Bible says in all matters, we must also be careful not to bind where God has not bound (Matthew 15:9), nor become legalistic in matters we call Atruth@ (Luke 11:52; Matthew 15:3; Colossians 2:20-22).  Jesus spoke stronger, and more often against binding where God had not than He did against not keeping what is required. 

 

Most concerns over the bread  are more related to what is in the bread, than making it ourselves.  I doubt that either the Israelites or the first century church bought Manichevitz Matzos nor Welch=s concord grape juice from a bookstore or grocery store.  In fact, we know they prepared and baked their own bread at the Passover which is the foundation for the Christian Communion.  Of particular concern to some are the inclusion of ingredients such as salt, fats or oils, honey or sugar, and eggs.  Because we are so accustomed to using the bland Matzos, we tend to think that if the communion bread actually tastes good, there must be something wrong in it.  Of course, this is not the case.

 

Salt, for example, acts as a preservative by inhibiting the growth of harmful micro-organisms, while allowing the growth of certain >good= ones used in the fermentation process (a part of the leaving process).  However, salt, itself, is not a leaving and has no leaving properties.  It only assists in the leaving process where there is leaving present by preventing the harmful bacteria from spoiling the good.  In fact, it slows the leavening process of yeast in bread to prevent it from rising too fast.  That is why it is important in yeast breads to get the right amount of salt in the dough.  Even baking soda (which contain a lot of sodium) itself has no leavening properties unless combined with some sort of acid ingredient.  According to the scriptures, the Israelites were not to have leaven in their offering before God, but they were REQUIRED to have salt in them.  Leviticus 2:13  `And every offering of your grain offering you shall season with salt; you shall not allow the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking from your grain offering. With all your offerings you shall offer salt.   Though this was not specifically the Passover feast, it does show us that God did not understand salt to be a leaven (see also Exodus 34:25; Leviticus 7:12). 

 

Egg whites do not have leavening properties in themselves, though they will cause an angel food cake to rise through an expansion process that some may consider leavening.  But, it is not a leavening agent in itself, and an angel food cake, though it expands, is not really leavened.

 

Fats, oils, and sugars or honey have no leavening properties either.  They are used for taste and texture primarily.  Though sugars do help >feed= some types of leavening such as yeast, they are not leaven themselves.  We also know that God did not see fats and oils as leavening ingredients.  Like the salt, they were told to add fats at times to unleavened bread.  For example, Exodus 29:2  says, Aand unleavened bread, unleavened cakes mixed with oil...@ ; Leviticus 2:4 says, A...it shall be unleavened cakes of fine flour mixed with oil...@; and Leviticus 6:21, speaking of unleavened bread, says, AIt shall be made in a pan with oil@ (see also Numbers 28:20).

 

Leavening was a natural process involving TIME for micro-organisms to grow.  They did not have commercially available yeast during the Old Testament times as we do today, nor did they likely have baking power or baking soda.  They probably used an ancient >starter= process similar to what is used to make sourdough bread today, for the purpose of leavening.  Unleavened bread recipes would have varied, except they would have all lacked this starter used for leaven.  There are some bakeries who still use such a natural, >starter= process today in making speciality, natural breads (e.g. Red Hen Baking Company, Duxbury, VT).  

 

Leavening and fermentation produces carbon dioxide bubbles or air pockets that are mixed with the dough and change its properties.  That is why leavened bread has little pockets in it making it course.  Unleavened bread is a dense bread that, though it does have air that needs to be released, it does not come from the leavening process, nor is it distributed throughout the dough.  It comes from the water or moisture in the dough that creates steam when baking.  That is why unleavened bread is usually pricked to allow for the release of steam, and to keep the dough from puffing up in layers.


 

Flour itself has leavening properties when mixed with water.  The protein gluten in the flour when wet, starts a leavening process over time.  Though the ingredients are an important part of leavening, there must also be sufficient time for the leavening to develop and grow (see Hosea 7:4).  This is a part of how the >starter= process would have been done.   In fact, the Matzos that are usually used for communion are not made to the strict (though human made) standards that the Jews require of the unleavened bread they use today.  There is a separate Matzos designated AFor Passover Use@ that is used, primarily because of the strict standards of time (maximum of 7 minutes) from mixing to baking.  However, the Israelites were told not to add leavening.  They were not given any specification of time from mixing to baking.  Exodus 12:33-39 shows that the bread they used for the first Passover was mixed in Egypt, but not baked until they had left Egypt which would have been several hours later (certainly more than 7 minutes). 

 

In the scriptures, there is no specific recipe for unleavened bread.  The Israelites were told not to add any leaven.  They were not told to make the bread taste like cardboard.  The fact that the bread was used as a part of a meal would suggest they could have very well contained honey, eggs, oil, animal fats, or a host of other ingredients, including salt, and still have unleavened bread.  Again, because of our modern practice of taking a small pinch of bland Matzos during the worship service, we tend to forget the origin of the unleavened bread was a FEAST of unleavened bread at Passover celebrating the salvation that God was giving the Jews.  It was eaten as a celebration meal.  This same idea was portrayed by Christ when He instituted what we call AThe Lord=s Supper@ to celebrate and commemorate the salvation we have (or would have) through Him.  That is not to say that we are wrong for not using it as a meal, but we should be careful not to allow our modern practice to become ritualistic or legalistic either.

 

Another assumption we make is that the New Testament specifies unleavened bread in Christian Communion.  But, the truth is, that it does not (see Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19 I Corinthians 11:23-24).  We do know that Jesus would have used unleavened bread because He instituted the ALord=s Supper@ at the end of the Passover meal.  The Israelites were told to use unleavened bread at the Passover (Exodus 34:25), and Jesus never violated scripture which would have been sin (I Peter 2:22).  But, though the New Testament does not specify what we are to use, we can make a good case for unleavened bread because Jesus used it at the Passover, and because leaven can be representative of sin (Matthew 16:6; I Corinthians 5:6-8).  However, Jesus also used it as a positive illustration of the kingdom (Matthew 13:33),   Since we are celebrating freedom from sin, we may decide to use unleavened bread, even if we did decide it is not required.  But, we should remember that when God commanded the Israelites to use no leaven, it was not because it represented sin, but because God was delivering them swiftly and they did not have time to add leaven (Exodus 12:34; 12:39; 13:6-9).  This, again, is connected in a positive sense to the salvation of God. 

 

But, what we really need to remember is the focus of the Lord=s Supper is not the taste of the bread, the specific ingredients, whether it is store bought or homemade, or how it is eaten.  Rather, we need to remember its purpose.  The early church seems to have shared the communion at a meal, much like when Jesus first instituted it.  However, the Corinthian church had made a farce out of it by focusing on the meal itself, rather than the intended meaning of the Lord=s Supper.  Some were >pigging out= and not leaving any for others, and they were not using the elements of the Lord=s Supper as they were intended to be used (I Corinthians 11:20-29).  We too should be careful to remember the purpose of the Communion.  Regardless of what bread or juice we use, how we eat it, how much we eat,  whether we buy or make it, how it tastes, or what ingredients we use, we need to remember that the purpose is to commemorate the death of Jesus as our victory over sin.  That is what THE BIBLE SAYS.

(c) Copyright 2004-2007: James C. Guy - all publication rights reserved. Permission is granted for use in church bulletins and similar free publications, sermons, Bible classes, and other related uses.


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