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Shadows of Divine Things

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Location: Texas, United States

This site is devoted to theological and philosophical investigations of the spiritual meanings of life, current events, music, spiritual growth, nature, and learning to be attuned to listening to the 'language of God.' The name of this blog comes from one of Jonathan Edwards's journals which he called 'Shadows of Divine Things,' and later renamed 'Images of Divine Things.' As a Christian I am continously on a spiritual journey to grow more into the image of Christ, to understand what it means to be crucified with Christ. To seek the truths of the Christian Faith is of upmost importance, and to know that any truths that are found outside of Christianity are present there because they ultimately point to God. I have an M.A. in theology and apologetics and I completed one year of graduate studies in Philosophy at Marquette University.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Eucharist

Since my wife and I have been visiting so many various churches in our search to find a church home, we have actually seen a lot of various styles of worship, various creeds and confessions sited during worship, and various styles of music. Also, there is one thing that has varied from church to church and at certain times I have taken issue with this one thing, and that is the elements being offered during the sacrament of Lord’s Table (the Eucharist).

It seems quite clear, based upon Scripture and Church Tradition, that God consecrated unleavened bread and wine for the elements of the Eucharist. That being the case, why would any church congregation use anything else but these elements in the Eucharist of their worship service? Why use grape juice or a loaf of bread (leavened) when these things were clearly not consecrated? For some reason, when a loaf of bread is used, or grape juice is used it tends to bother me, and I wonder if this being bothered is unnecessary.

Am I simply being too picky about this? I am actually wondering if, perhaps, my fundamentalist upbringing and background has caused me to be too rigid about this issue. What do you think? Am I being too rigid, is the use of grape juice and leavened bread appropriate? I would greatly appreciate anyone's feedback, thoughts, suggested readings, etc. on this issue.

15 Comments:

Blogger Alastair said...

Grape juice in communion? Never. Grape juice badly messes up the symbolism.

Leavened bread in communion? Yes, but not solely. Sometimes leavened bread is important for the symbolism (the Eastern Church is right here, over against the Western Church), sometimes unleavened bread is important for the symbolism. Unfortunately, if people are ignorant of the Levitical system they won't get the symbolism.

I have some prozymite tendencies and believe that there are good biblical principles underlying the use of leavened bread (at least from time to time) in communion.

In the OT sacrificial system both leavened and unleavened bread were associated with particular celebrations in the liturgical calendar. Celebrating the Eucharist at Pentecost with unleavened bread would be a real error in my opinion.

James Jordan writes:

'Should leavened or unleavened bread be used? Both were used in the sacrificial system. Unleavened bread means you have cut off the old growth of the previous week and are beginning anew in Christ. Leavened bread means that you are in continuity with the One Pentecostal Loaf that began on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. If it were up to me, I would alternate between them, and explain the significance of each.'

I am of much the same opinion. Peter Leithart has some interesting thoughts on the question at the bottom of this page.

4:25 PM, May 14, 2006  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

Alastair,

Thanks for the response, you provided some good links and helpful information. The grape juice issue has not actually disturbed me as much as the leavened bread issue, reason being is that grape juice is as least made from grape, as is wine (although I still prefer wine).

However, the Eucharist is a passover meal that the Church practices based on the passover meal in the upper room account. And, of course, thge Passover meal had specific guidelines about the bread (must be unleavened). Thus, for this reason, when leavened bread is served, it always bothers me.

All that being said, I have not actually spent a whole bunch of time researching the issue, so I am not as well versed ion the various opinions as I would like to be. I am curious though about a practice that has been going on in the Eucharist for well over 800 years now and that is for the participant to abstain from the common cup and partake in only the bread.

Do you know anything about this practice? I know during Luther's day, this practice was enforced for certain reasons (only the priest would take the wine) and Luther, of course, condemned any priest who practice such things.

We actually visited a church that offered my wife that option since she does not like to wine at all.

9:50 PM, May 14, 2006  
Blogger Kjetil Kringlebotten said...

According to the Orthodox church, leavened bread is to be used in communion, because the time of the last supper, the Feast of Unleavened Bread wan't begun.

Best,

5:15 AM, May 15, 2006  
Blogger Alastair said...

As regards the Passover/unleavened bread issue, it is important to remember that the Eucharist is not merely a development out of the Passover meal. It is also a development of the tribute/memorial sacrifice, the tithe feasts and other such rituals. Also, in the NT, the background for the Eucharist is to be seen, not just in the Last Supper, but in the post-resurrection meals (as Oscar Cullman argues, for example).

Furthermore, the meaning of the Eucharist is to be found largely in the manner in which it differs from and develops previous rites. One of the significant variations, IMHO, is that the Eucharist need not be celebrated without leaven. The new leaven of the kingdom of God was introduced at Pentecost and for that reason we have cause to celebrate with leaven.

As regards the denial of communion under both kinds, this seems to have been a development that resulted from a very high doctrine of the real presence. If the wine was spilled a number of rites would be required. However, the Church taught that Christ entire was received under either element. For this reason the cup was held back from the laity.

It seems to be that this practice, along with the practice of intinction, for example, undermines the fact that the Eucharist is a two part rite.

5:27 AM, May 15, 2006  
Blogger Ben Myers said...

Referring to churches that use grape juice instead of wine, Robert Jenson remarks that these churches "are more pious than God". That pretty much says it all!

8:22 AM, May 15, 2006  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

Alastair,

once again, thanks for the feedback, it has been very helpful. I cannot even describe how "messed up" the whole Eucharist situations is in American churches. At least 95% of all the churches we visit use grape juice, and many of those use nothing but leavened bread every time they participate in the Lord's Table (my wife and I ask since it is important in our church decision). I intend to research the issue in great detail, so any books you (or anyone else reading this) could recommend would be appreciated.

Ben,

Great response about the grape juice - love the remark from Jenson!

7:55 PM, May 15, 2006  
Blogger Alastair said...

Unfortunately, I have yet to come across a book that treats this subject to my satisfaction. I would recommend studying up on the place that wine, bread and leaven have within the system of OT symbolism. IMHO, this is essential background that needs to be given far more attention.

You could also search online for comments on the East/West prozymite/azymite debate.

9:10 AM, May 16, 2006  
Blogger Patrik said...

I think to get anywere with this question you have to ask yourself why this is an important question. If you really believe it makes a difference for the validity of the sacrament, then that is one thing (that's being more pious than any church I know).

A far more importan question IMO than what is correct is what is sensible. I mean, the fact that the alcohol in the wine is a very real problem for sober alcoholics is a very serious problem.

In the end I think what one should focus on is not what the elements are made up of, but what they represent within the eucharistic ritual.

1:55 PM, May 17, 2006  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

Hey Patrik,

Welcome to my blog. I appreciate the remarks, and can see what you are getting at within the content of the eucharist itself and what it represents.

However, when you declare, "In the end I think what one should focus on is not what the elements are made up of, but what they represent within the eucharistic ritual," . . . my immediate question becomes then why don't we all simplky use Soda and muffins as the elements?

Not to be crass or rude (please don't take my response as an attempt to be sarcastic), but it seems to me that the actual elements are in fact quite important. Albiet what they reperesent, as you emphasised, is quite important as well, surely what the elements are actually made up of is important, since they play a vital part in the representation. I hope that makes sense, and thank you again for your imput on the issue.

7:14 PM, May 17, 2006  
Blogger Alastair said...

Patrik,

You write: 'I think what one should focus on is not what the elements are made up of, but what they represent within the eucharistic ritual.'

The language of representation is quite loaded terminology. It suggests that the bread and the wine picture some reality external to them. This in turn suggests that the elements are primarily there to be looked at or meditated upon.

The Supper is primarily an action or rite, not a picture. The elements are not merely there to be looked at or meditated upon. The elements are there to be offered, broken, shared, eaten and drunk. By speaking of the bread and wine as 'representing' something we start to operate in terms of a misleading metaphor, a metaphor that detaches the elements from the ritual actions in which they find their meanings.

The meaning of the bread and wine is to be seen in what they are intended to do in the rite, not in some meaning that they have in themselves when abstracted from the rite.

Alcoholic wine is important because it brings man into a certain set of symbolic relationships that grape juice cannot (see the post that I link to above). Those who remove alcohol from the celebration of the Eucharist undermine the meaning of the rite. The wine that we drink should be potentially intoxicating. Leavened and unleavened bread are also significant for similar reasons.

Your statement also suggests that symbol and reality are extrinsic to each other, rather than the Eucharistic symbols serving as the epiphany of the reality to which they relate, bearing an intrinsic connection to it.

7:48 AM, May 18, 2006  
Blogger C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Not only is grapejuice unhealthy, it is unorthodox and the plastic cups used to dispense the grape juice are in a word "Plastic" in the sense that term was used in the classic film "The Graduate"

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.

"Blessed are the stained glass, window pane glass
Blessed is the church service, makes me nervous"
Paul Simon

11:05 PM, May 18, 2006  
Blogger Steve Scott said...

I'm not quite sure the answer to this question, and it is a good one, but personally I would prefer unleavened bread and real wine. I once read some interesting history (I wish I could remember where) about how grape juice gained popularity in American pietistic circles (I don't know if it's true), but a well-known large grape juice company supposedly bribed lots of churches amidst a national temperance movement in the 19th century.

Now for a communion blooper. Once, the person at my church that usually prepared the elements was out of town for a funeral, and a communication breakdown resulted in no elements. A mad scramble produced chunks of bagels and grapefruit punch. When the pastor bit into the bread, his face went into shock - his particular bagel chunk was torn from a jalapeno bagel! He always avoided spicy food. I'll never forget the look on his face.

1:31 AM, May 22, 2006  
Blogger Gage Browning said...

Todd,
Interesting... My church offers juice and wine- not wanting to offend anyone who doesn't want to drink...ie..(recovering alcoholics etc or recovering baptists;)

I did some digging on what the early Church did.

Justin Martyr - 2 century A.D. - First Apology, ch. 66 “Of The Eucharist,” he speaks of the Supper as not merely being “common bread and common drink.” Assumption: they were using common bread and common wine which made it look like a common meal.

Rob Rayburn, “In early Christianity, the bread and wine used in the sacrament [were] brought by the people out of their own pantries. It was, thus, ordinary bread and ordinary wine.” (Revising the Practice of the Lord’s Supper at Faith Presbyterian Church No. 6: The Bread of the Lord’s Supper)

John Calvin, Institutes,“History relates that leavened and ordinary bread was used before the time of Alexander the Bishop of Rome [second century], who was the first that was delighted with unleavened bread: for what reason I see not, unless it was to draw the wondering eyes of the populace by the novelty of the spectacle, more than to train them in sound religion.” (4.17.43)

Francis Turretin, seventeenth century Reformed scholastic: “... in the whole ancient church no traces appear of the common use of unleavened bread in the Eucharist before the ninth or tenth century. Yea, it is evident that the Eucharistic symbols were formerly taken from the offerings of bread and wine made by believers, which were undoubtedly of ordinary and fermented bread (as Jesuit James Sirmondus, “Disquisitio de Asymo,” Opera Varia [1696], 4:513-30, candidly acknowledges and solidly confirms by many arguments).” (3:430f.)

Side Note: The thing that makes leaven or unleaven a non-issue for me is the idea that the Lord’s Supper is not exclusively a fulfillment of Passover. The Supper is the culmination of all the feasts. They are all fulfilled in this one. It seems to me that to limit the Supper to the regulations of Passover fails to recognize how all of revelation is summed up in Christ, and, thus, in the Supper. If the Supper should be regulated by the rules of the Passover, then no one does it right... (:

3:33 PM, May 22, 2006  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

Steve,
I think, at least at this stage in my thinking I agree with you, I prefer unleavened bread and wine. However, with recent research and reading (as well as remarks made here) I can see where leavened bread is not mandatory. Thanks for the feedback.

Gage,

Hmmm . . . the comments you leave from J.Martyr seem very Epicopal. You remark, "The thing that makes leaven or unleaven a non-issue for me is the idea that the Lord’s Supper is not exclusively a fulfillment of Passover." This seems to be what I have been uncovering in my research, which is why I am still uncertain about the unleavened bread issue.

You also state: "The Supper is the culmination of all the feasts. They are all fulfilled in this one. It seems to me that to limit the Supper to the regulations of Passover fails to recognize how all of revelation is summed up in Christ, and, thus, in the Supper."

I think that is a good point, along the lines of what Alastair said above - "it is important to remember that the Eucharist is not merely a development out of the Passover meal." I am beginning to see this as certainly the case. Thanks for your thoughts.

btw - I never liked the fact that APC used only grapejuice in their eucharist, that always bothered me but I never said anything to anyone about it - except Clint, perhaps.

7:58 PM, May 22, 2006  
Blogger Gage Browning said...

Todd-
It never bothered me that some folks at APC did not want wine as a matter of conscience. It just bothered me that their conscience was substituted for mine, and thus no wine. That's why I like the option for both wine and juice.

I know you may have never said anything to anyone, but I did, however, obviously, to no avail.

8:40 AM, May 23, 2006  

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