by Robert Grossmann
[The Rev. Dr. Robert T. Grossmann addressed the following remarks to the RCUS Bulletin Board in answer to a question on whether or not unleavened bread should be used in the Lord’s Supper.]
Should we be so easily blown about by every wind of doctrine? Have the thousands of Reformed theologians of the past 480 years (beginning with our good friend Ulrich Zwingli) just been fools for rejecting the Catholic use of unleavened bread in the Mass, which many of them thought about very carefully, so that we can toss out their teaching and practice by “local option”?
What do we do in the face of such a question? Go back to the Bible, of course, where we find the following.
- In all three Gospels what Jesus gave the disciples is “artos,” meaning simply “bread.” It is striking that He is not said to have given them “azumos” or “azuma” which are the proper words for unleavened bread,” AND which are clearly available since they are used in each of the Gospels in the context to refer to the Passover. In other words, the use of “artos” by Matthew, Mark and Luke to tell us what Jesus gave the disciples makes the fact that this may have been unleavened bread of NO importance. At the same time we also must recognize that because the Scripture NOWHERE calls it “unleavened bread,” we cannot at all be sure that it was (throughout the NT “artos” is used for common or leavened bread). We simply may not base our teaching on the silence of Scripture because then we are really basing our teaching on a human conjecture. So, the fundamental argument, “Jesus used unleavened bread, therefore we should too,” is in fundamental error. This should close the case, but there is more.
- To use unleavened bread in the Lord’s Supper is to commemorate the wrong thing. The purpose of unleavened bread in the Passover is to commemorate the haste with which Israel left Egypt; there was not even enough time to put yeast into the bread dough. In the Lord’s Supper we are NOT commemorating the Exodus from Egypt where unleavened bread makes sense. In the Lord’s Supper we are commemorating the sacrifice of Christ for our sins. In the Supper the bread is broken to recall Christ’s suffering and death, the breaking of His body.In the Supper the bread is eaten, to show the unity of Christians with Christ in His sufferings, as well as their unity with Christ and each other since what we eat becomes are part of our bodies. The bread is also eaten to signify to us “nourishment and growth in Christ” (Reformed formula for the Supper).
Other things could be said, but there is nothing in unleavening the bread of the Supper that would commemorate anything in the death of Christ that is taught in Scripture (unless we really let our imaginations run loose here – and then we are back to conjecture).
- Thus using unleavened bread in the Supper is an unwarranted return to Old Testament shadows (commemorating the Passover instead of Christ’s death) and therefore ought to be resisted. The historic Reformed characterization of the Mass as a return to OT shadows of pictorial ceremonialism is common and fits here.
- “The kingdom of heaven is not food and drink, but righteousness and joy and peace in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 10). This teaches us that an emphasis on a detail of food is not characteristic of the New Testament, quite in contrast with the Old. Thus the insistence on unleavened bread in the Supper is more typical of an OT ceremony than an NT one. Ah, you say, this also applies to the wine. Indeed it does. None, I hope, would claim that those who use grape juice are celebrating something else than the Lord’s Supper.Nevertheless there is a positive argument to use wine in Christ’s words found in all three Gospels, “I will not eat of this fruit of the vine from now on, until I eat it new with you in the Kingdom of God.” The proper understanding of this “fruit of the vine” is wine. So we drink wine, looking forward to the heavenly supper in Christ’s presence where He will drink it with us.
- Another old Reformed argument is that if Christ used unleavened bread, he was using the bread at hand in the Passover not out of symbolism but out of convenience. He did not go out of the way to obtain leavened bread. In the same way, runs the argument, we too should use our common bread (which IS leavened) and not go out of our way to obtain something special. This argument stands alongside one that says that in order to preserve the meaning of the Supper that we are nourished spiritually by Christ’s body, we should use the bread that we ordinarily use to nourish our bodies, and that would, of course, be leavened bread. These are theological arguments, not directly biblical, but I do think that they do carry the analogy of Scripture, especially in light of the very biblical fact that the kingdom of God is NOT details of food, as we noted above.
- 1 Cor. 5:8 is not talking about WHAT we eat, but HOW we eat the Lord’s supper. It speaks of unleavened people, not about going back to replaying the Passover with its use of unleavened bread. The unleavened bread in the Passover reflects the haste with which Israel left Egypt, without time to even put yeast into their bread. The Lord’s supper reflects not on a hasty exit from Egypt, but on the death of Christ for our sins, which makes HIM “our passover.” The bread represents the body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, unleavening the bread in the Supper has no significance with respect to Christ’s sacrifice. Thus using unleavened bread would, as mentioned above, be going back to the OT Passover as though we were still celebrating the Exodus from Egypt in the Supper, rather than Christ’s sacrifice for our sins.
- In the rest of the New Testament the Lord’s Supper is often called “breaking bread,” the same language that is used for ordinary meals (Acts 2:42 for example is most likely speaking of fellowship in a meal rather than the Lord’s Supper because in the immediate context they “ate their bread from house to house.”) In any case, the word “artos” is used for what is broken. There is never a description of the Supper in the NT in which that which is broken or eaten is called anything but “artos.” This argues quite strongly against requiring unleavened bread in the Supper because “artos” in a general use would simply mean ordinary bread.
- Calvin argues that the early Church used leavened bread and that it was Pope Alexander who introduced unleavened bread probably “to draw the wondering eyes of the populace by the novelty of the spectacle, more than to train them in sound religion” (Institutes Book 4, Chapter 17, Section 43).