Does the type of bread used for communion matter?

Discussion in 'Church Order' started by Ben Zartman, Apr 5, 2019.

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  1. Ben Zartman

    Ben Zartman Puritan Board Sophomore

    I have perused several threads, recent and older, in which the use of wine is debated. Some say any sort of juice will do; others that anything extracted from a grape; others that if fermented wine is not used, nothing has happened.
    Not wishing to discuss that here, just setting up my question: does the type of bread matter to anyone? Would anyone regard communion as not celebrated if a gluten-free cracker were used? Does anyone care if the little round wafers commonly used are manufactured by papist monks (this is a claim I've heard regarding one brand of them)? What about oyster crackers? What about the minister visibly breaking a loaf in the sight of the congregation?
    I won't have time to interact minute-by-minute, but will log in morning and evening as time allows to read replies.
    Also, this is not a burning question for me--I'm pretty well settled on the lees of my sacramentology :) just wondering where other people are.
  2. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Professor

    The operative (elemental) word is "bread" be it leaved, unleaved, stale, fresh, or whatever. :)
  3. G

    G Puritan Board Junior


    Personally I like the breaking and distribution of unleavened bread, including the biblical case made for such. However, I find it acceptable so long as a plain bread is used. So maybe I am a “common bread” advocate. In other words, "just get a plain loaf and break it would ya!"

    @Ben Zartman : what is your :2cents:
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2019
  4. Jake

    Jake Puritan Board Junior

    The funny thing is, I'm willing to say the same about the fruit of the vine. I may prefer and think one is better, but I will commune with any fruit of the vine, whether it is sweet or sour [wine], alcoholic or non-alcoholic, etc.

    Back to the bread
    At the time of the Great Schism in 1054 that the Western church used unleavened bread and that the Eastern church used leavened bread in the eucharist. Michael I Cerularius (Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople at the time) raised the issue of the West's use of unleavened bread in the eucharist as a major area of declension.

    I think most historians agree that leavened bread is the general historical practice.
  5. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

  6. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Bread and wine were staple foods. Bread was the food staple; wine the drink staple. Therefore, I don't think we need to be too picky about the type of bread or wine.

    Manna was called the bread from heaven, and we know that manna was not truly bread. "Give us this day our daily bread" can still be prayed truthfully by our gluten-intolerant friends who do not eat bread.

    Jesus also speaks of his "meat" (food) being to do the will of the Father, and he multiplied fish at one point, so why not use meat or fish in the communion? And Jesus is the Lamb of God, so why not eat mutton for communion? I think because even the poorest could afford some kind of bread and wine in their culture, and bread was seen as the most basic staple food available.

    It is for these reasons I believe that if one can afford it, dark blood-like wine and unleavened bread fit best. But if in a remote area or the foods are unavailable, you should use the nearest equivalents that are available and not be overly scrupulous on this point, lest we make the teachings of the bible to be culturally-specific only and not fit universally for all the peoples of the world.

    If a permissible close-substitute is not available, then you have to decide whether it is a greater evil to forego the ordinances or to celebrate the ordinances with "faulty" or inexact elements.
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2019
  7. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Professor

    So what about watermelon juice? :)
  8. G

    G Puritan Board Junior

  9. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    Is it a sin to NOT take the supper if the elements are not available?
  10. lynnie

    lynnie Puritan Board Graduate

    It was the Passover. The bread was unleavened. If you advocate for wine only I don't see how you can eat leavened bread.
  11. G

    G Puritan Board Junior

    The case has been made biblically (seen from a review of older PB threads).
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2019
  12. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    I have on my website (somewhere) where the argument of wine is based on grapes and alcohol (those are the two components that make the distinction) and for bread, as long as it is made up of wheat-it matters not whether leavened or unleavened. So, wheat and fermented grapes.
  13. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    ‘Second, the association of the Lord’s Supper with a meal is strongly evidenced by the food and drink distributed and enjoyed in it. The signs of bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper have no more been arbitrary or accidentally chosen than the water in Baptism. In the sacrifices of the Old Testament, flesh and blood were of primary importance, since they typologically pointed to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Yet the Lord’s Supper itself is not a sacrifice, but a memorial of the sacrifice made on the cross, and expresses the communion of believers with that sacrifice. For that reason, Christ did not choose flesh and blood but bread and wine as food and drink in the Lord’s Supper, to indicate thereby that it is not a sacrifice but a meal-a meal on the basis of , in memory of, and as an exercise of communion with, the crucified Christ. To that end, the signs of bread and wine are eminently suited. In the east, they were regular constituents of a meal. Everywhere and at all times even now they are easy to obtain. They are the chief means for strengthening and rejoicing the human heart (Psalm 104:15) and a graphic symbol of the communion of believers with Christ and one another. In this connection, it is immaterial whether the bread is made of wheat, rye or barley and whether the wine is red or white; Whether the bread is leavened or unleavened; and whether the wine is unmixed, or mixed with water. In none of these points has Christ specifically laid down or prescribed anything. The Reformed did not even hesitate to say that in the event bread or wine were definitely lacking, another food and drink, say rice or nutritious food, could be used as sign in the Lord’s Supper. This is not to say, however, that any arbitrary departure from the institution of Christ is permissible. Just as in or time, so in the early centuries there were some Christians (Tatians, Severians, Gnostics, Manichees, Aquarii) who prompted by an ascetic principle, substituted water for wine at the Lord’s Supper. But we must not be wiser than Christ, who expressly designated wine as the sign of His blood and whose command in this matter has at all times been followed by the Christian church.”

    Bavinck’s Dogmatics
    Vol 4; page 563-564
  14. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    "But I come back to your interrogatories. You say, “The bread which our Savior brake, was surely unleavened. No other was in existence among the Jews on the Passover day. How do you justify the use of leavened bread at our sacramental table?”

    I justify it on the ground that the use of unleavened bread belonged peculiarly to the Jewish economy; and as that dispensation has passed away, this, among other of its peculiarities, has passed away with it. You remember that the question how far the Gentile converts were bound to Jewish observances, once actually came up, and was referred for decision to an apostolic council. And the decision was that they were bound to observe nothing, even then, except what was enjoined in the letter from Jerusalem, which contained no allusion to unleavened bread. It cannot reasonably be questioned that the Corinthian church, in celebrating the ordinance, used the bread which was in common use among them; and as Corinth was a Gentile city, it was of course leavened bread. Is there nothing to this to “justify the use of” the same “at our sacramental table?”

    You go on to remark, “We do not know whether the bread employed by Christ and his disciples was wheat, or millet, or spelt. Yet the Savior says, `This do in remembrance of me.’ Note the word THIS. Reasoning as you do, now, I am not able to see why the letter of this command is not to be taken; nor what authority you find for administering the Lord’s supper anywhere but in an upper chamber at night, the guests lying down around a triclinium, the dress and wine and furniture and bread in all respects the same as originally; in a word, this is to be literally construed, and literally complied with. To depart from such an obedience in any one respect, is to give up the principle in question.”

    I utterly deny that any position taken in my sermon even remotely implies an obligation on our part to a literal imitation of our Savior and his disciples, in respect to all the minute circumstances which attended the first celebration of the supper. For what is the great point which it is the design of the sermon to establish? Is it that Port wine, or Madeira wine, or some other particular kind of wine in distinction from all others, is essential to the validity of the ordinance? No such thing; if it had been, I might undoubtedly have been called upon, and with some reason, to show whether the bread which was employed was made of wheat, or barley, or millet, or spelt. But the position of the sermon is, that wine was originally used in the supper, and that it ought therefore to be used still; without attempting to decide anything in respect to the kind of wine, other than that it should be “the fruit of the vine.” Now all that this position requires me to prove in respect to the other element, is that it should be bread — the kind of bread, if you please, that happens to be in use in the country where the ordinance is celebrated."

    William B. Sprague
    Danger of
    Being Over Wise

    Copyright © 1997 Naphtali Press

    Danger of Being Over Wise : A Sermon Preached June 7th, 1835, in the Second Presbyterian Church in Albany.
    Thanks to C. Coldwell for this. :)
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  15. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    Christ was very specific when he instituted the Supper... specifically broad in the words he chose. "Bread" is a broad word that encompasses much. It is not specific to the type of grain nor the baking method nor the leavened/unleavened question. It fits all cultures. It is a staple food. We should not be insisting on a sort of bread that fits our specific culture nor one that seeks to mimic a Jewish Passover. Any bread is good.

    If I had to pick, I would say leavened bread best fits our times, living in the fullness of Christ's finished work and with our eyes firmly on the feast to come. Plus, unleavened bread is often proposed in an attempt to recreate the conditions of the meal where Jesus instituted the Supper, which is not really the right principle to be following. Nowhere does Scripture tell us to do this, nor provide us with the recipes and baking instructions. For good reason.
  16. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    I really like that Bavinck quote above posted by Scott and I'd love a link to the whole Sprague sermon he quoted. Fine stuff.
  17. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

  18. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Funny anecdote: I once had a person say that ANY fruit of the vine would do because the Jews made wine out of raisins and not grapes.

    While I granted him the point that in remote regions we ought to exercise charity, I did have to ask him what raisins were made out of... "ummm.....oooohhh...OHH!" was the slow response.
  19. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Senior

    I read somewhere that the Passover took place around the time of the barley harvest and that it is therefore most likely that barley, rather than wheat, was the grain used for the bread.
  20. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    In the koine ἄρτος is the main word for bread. Hippocr. Acut., 37 still distinguished ἄρτος (white bread) from μᾶζα (barley-bread). Philo Spec. Leg., I, 173: ἄρτος ἐραστῇ σοφίας διαρκῆς τροφή.

    Johannes Behm, “Ἄρτος,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 477.
  21. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Senior

    That is interesting. My source was wrong, perhaps. Unfortunately I can't remember which source it was!
  22. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    While I agree that wine is normative for the Lord's Supper and that, except in rare cases of allergy, it should always be the element, I do not believe that any of your articles demonstrate that grape juice is considered something different than the fruit of the vine. Price's article is laudable for defeating the arguments of the Baptist teetotalers, but, while there may have been a distinction (which should not be surprising) between fermented and unfermented grape juice, we must bear in mind that these were just different steps in the process of producing a single beverage: wine. As there was no pasteurization to prevent grape juice from fermenting, it never was a common beverage and only existed as the immediate result of pressing grapes for wine production--as part of the must as we would say today. To say that a few weeks in a jar marks a categorical difference between grape juice and the "fruit of the vine" seems far-fetched to me. Interestingly enough, Sprague in the article linked admits that both fermented and unfermented wine are "fruit of the vine." Of course, he wrote before Welch invented modern grape juice and the distinction became a substantial practical issue.

    I have no qualms of conscience in taking grape juice if no wine is offered. I would consider it improper, similar to distribution of the elements by laymen. It's not appropriate but not so deviant as to render the elements no elements at all. As Bavinck notes, in unusual times of scarcity Reformed divines even allowed other things entirely to be used for the elements and yet held that the Lord's Supper was still celebrated truly.
  23. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    To answer the OP, in a word "no."
  24. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    That analysis is a very helpful break down of the issues. Thanks.
  25. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    I appreciate your post and if I was Greek and Hebrew scholar, I would surely take Price's work apart, at least to validate it in my own eyes; but as u said, what he does present is 'laudable' and hard to disregard.

    One of the ideas I have been endeavoring to get a better handle on is fermentation in biblical times. It is my understanding that as soon as grapes are crushed, the process begins. I may be wrong; I am not a chemist. What think ye on the matter?

    Providential hinderances aside, wine & bread should be used. In our society, the issue is not availability, but liberalism. The world is defining what the church uses; for example, a PCA church I was previously a member at used a gluten free pancake for the supper. I will side with Luther on the matter, better to not partake than abuse.

    Taking into consideration Bavinck and Sprague, I am sure they would tell u that these considerations, used irresponsibly, would be a preconceived break in the RPW; sidestepping the principle only opens the door to greater things. By fencing the supper with wine alone, it creates a barrier so as allowances in many things cannot even be considered.
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2019
  26. hammondjones

    hammondjones Puritan Board Sophomore

  27. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    It would be wrong to say that any of this means that "nothing happens," or that the Supper is not celebrated. If wine is not used, or something other than a common loaf of bread is used, the Supper is celebrated--but it's celebrated in a way that does not conform to Christ's appointment. It would be like offering a sacrifice without pouring out the blood first, or offering strange fire, or letting the whole sin offering burn up instead of eating it. It's not that the ordinance isn't observed--it's that it's corrupted (see Lev. 10).

    As far as the bread goes, we are to use a common loaf that can be broken and distributed. If there is no breaking of the bead, the symbolism is lost and the commandment ("this do") is violated.

    I've never seen someone break one of the crackers and pass around the crumbs.
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2019
  28. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    Yes, traditionally the fermentation agent used was the yeast already, naturally, present on the skin of the grapes such that as soon as the grapes were crushed the yeast was mixing with the juice and the process had begun. Thus unfermented grape juice, to be drank as such, needed to be separated and enjoyed immediately or it would ferment. Unfermented grape juice didn't exist as a beverage in ancient times apart, perhaps, from an occasional treat for winemakers and their associates enjoyed during pressing time.

    I think that a distinction needs to be maintained between an irregularly in administration and an essential error such that administration is nullified. The Roman Mass is so severe an error that the Supper is no Lord's Supper at all, but, indeed, to sit and dine with Antichrist. Private, lay communions such as practiced in small groups in some evangelical churches are also no Supper at all, as it is neither joined to the preached Word nor administered by one ordained to the ministry of Word and sacrament. These sorts of errors the Reformed did not allow even in unusual circumstances.

    Reasonable substitutions for bread and fermented wine, however, are not of this sort of error or else they would not have been acknowledged as legitimate in cases of scarcity. Rather, they would have sided with Luther, as you put it, and argued it is better not to abuse and instead to forgo the Supper rather than to partake with elements that are no elements at all. Furthermore, as a communicant at a church that serves only irregular elements, you are placed in that position of scarcity for which such exceptions were made by Bavinck et al. It does not remove the guilt of the church leadership for the impropriety, but I find no guilt in partaking. If you can, as you have done, make arrangements to be served the proper elements, then that is great. But if such arrangements are not granted or possible I believe that it is better to partake. This is not to encourage any reader to transgress their own conscience in the matter if they are so convicted, but it is why our family partook of grape juice in a previous PCA church we were members at despite believing that fermented wine is the only proper element in ordinary circumstances to be served alongside bread.
  29. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    I don't believe that they meant 'scarcity' in the way u are interpreting them.

    'Lacking', meaning none at all! What we are addressing in this country, is 'arbitrary departure' and that is the difference.

    How many other things can we approach in the same manner? Psalms vs hymns?
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2019
  30. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    Did you mean the bread used by United Airlines or American Airlines? On this side of the globe it would be the bread used by Air New Zealand :)
    Yes I thought that where Grant would source his bread was funny too :) :)
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