by Al Maxey

Issue #142 ------- August 23, 2004
The more ignorant men are, the more convinced
are they that their little parish and their little
chapel is an apex to which civilization and
philosophy has painfully struggled up the
pyramid of time from a desert of savagery.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

The Wheat Grain Patternists
If It Ain't Wheat, We Won't Eat

On June 11, 2003 in Issue #47 of my Reflections --- The Lord's Main Meal: Legalistic Wrangling --- I discussed some of the shameful factional feuding of disciples with regard to some rather peculiar perceptions about the Lord's Supper. There is nothing wrong with having an opinion or strong conviction. There is also nothing wrong with a person seeking to order his own life by his own convictions. It becomes a pathetic display of a sectarian spirit, however, when disciples seek to bind their convictions upon others, and when they fracture the fellowship of God's family because others will not submissively bow to their theological whims. In that issue of Reflections we examined a few examples of those who were doing just that, including some who insisted the communion bread must be unprocessed whole grain flour. If the bread had been made from processed flour, then it could not be eaten during the communion without sin! In that article I suggested to the readers, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, "We might carry this even farther and inquire as to which grain God will accept. Must it be wheat only, or will God accept any other grain?" I honestly believed that people would easily perceive the absolute absurdity of such senseless wrangling. But, once again, I greatly underestimated the tendency of militant patternists and legalists to go to war with their brethren over just about anything, no matter how ridiculous.

The matter of which grain has indeed raised its ugly head among rigid religionists. That which I assumed was too absurd to even contemplate, is now the focus of yet another sectarian squabble. How our Father must grieve over these pathetic food fights between His children who are gathered at His Table! The Associated Press, as reported on the Fox News web site on August 19, 2004, discusses the case of an 8-year-old girl (Haley Waldman) in Brielle, New Jersey who is afflicted with a very rare digestive disorder which makes it impossible for her to consume anything with wheat in it. Her system reacts violently to wheat, and thus she must be very careful not to ingest this particular grain, in any form.

This past May, the girl was served her first Holy Communion (she is a member of the Roman Catholic Church), and the priest, in consideration of her condition, substituted a "wheat-free host." When the diocese officials heard about this substitution (the Catholic Church requires the host to be made of wheat, or to at least contain some wheat in its composition, since they believe it was wheat bread Jesus served during the Last Supper), they declared her first Holy Communion to be invalid. The family has now appealed the matter to the Diocese of Trenton, as well as to the Vatican, asking them to make an exception in this very special case. The mother would like to see a rice communion wafer offered to her daughter in this special circumstance. "How does it corrupt the tradition of the Last Supper? It's just rice versus wheat," she said. The last I heard, this case is still pending.

If you think this is just a Catholic issue, and that we Non-Catholics are above such legalistic wrangling, you need to think again!! The above news item from Associated Press was the topic of some rather intense discussion and debate on a very well-known Non-Institutional Church of Christ Internet Bible discussion group during the last several days. This group, which consists of several hundred members of the ultra-conservative NI wing of our faith-heritage, had some within its ranks who actually took the same hard-line, legalistic position as the Roman Catholic Church. Patternism does indeed make for some rather strange and unlikely bed-fellows!

One of the members, who at times can be fairly rational in his thinking, observed, "I find it hard to believe that a church of any type would offer communion bread to someone who is allergic to wheat. Surely another grain could be substituted in such a case. Wheat isn't the only grain! You can make bread from potatoes or rye, if you like. If the heart of the individual is right, I know of no 'holy' formula for the bread, other than it must be unleavened." Needless to say, this drew a quick rebuke from one of the group's leading legalists, who declared, "We need to be careful that we don't offer 'strange fire' as did Nadab and Abihu." Thus, the implication is clearly that if our communion bread is NOT made from wheat, then it constitutes "strange fire" comparable to that which cost the lives of the two sons of Aaron. If the composition of the bread used in the Lord's Supper is this critical, then shouldn't congregations invest some of their funds to purchase the necessary scientific equipment to run tests on the communion bread each week before it is served?!! After all, if ingesting some other grain might send us headlong into the fires of hell, we had better make sure that only WHEAT is being used. Perhaps on our communion tables we can carve this motto: "If it ain't wheat, we don't eat!"

This probably all seems rather "silly" to most disciples, but this is serious to the patternists. Indeed, it is a matter of life and death! These are salvation issues. According to the hardcore patternists, such a godless act as eating unleavened bread NOT made from wheat could cause one to be tortured in the fires of hell for zillions and zillions and zillions of years by our loving, merciful, gracious Father. "Get the wrong grain, and you're in for some pain!"

One has to wonder what possible biblical justification one would have for such a doctrine and practice. Where does one come up with such a view? There is obviously NO passage in the New Covenant writings that even hints at the composition of the bread in the Lord's Supper. Thus, this is largely an appeal to the Old Covenant laws (to which patternists are normally averse, but they seem to make exceptions when it suits their own purpose, although they forbid anyone else to do so). Jesus, as He observed that final Passover meal with His disciples, would most likely have used the traditional bread prescribed for this meal, which was "unleavened bread." Nowhere in the Bible, either in the OT or NT writings, however, are we told the exact composition of this unleavened bread used in the Passover meal. We may infer it was wheat, since that was the grain of choice for most people who could afford it, but such is purely conjecture at best.

Several grains were common to the people of Israel at that time. Among them were wheat, barley, oats, and millet, just to name a few. Wheat certainly tended to produce a much finer flour, and thus was preferred. It also tended to be more expensive, and thus barley was often the grain of choice among the poorer people of the land. "Its growing season is shorter than that of wheat, and its harvest commences in April, coinciding with the festival of Passover" (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p. 150). We know they used barley flour to make bread (Judges 7:13) and other baked goods (Ezekiel 4:12), and also as offerings unto God (Numbers 5:15). The land of promise, unto which the Jews delivered from Egyptian bondage journeyed, was "a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees" (Deut. 8:8). It was barley bread Jesus used to feed the five thousand (John 6:9, 13). Since our Lord and His disciples were not wealthy, and since barley was the grain of the poor, and since the barley harvest coincided with the Passover, and since the grain to be used in the Passover bread is nowhere specified in Scripture, it is not inconceivable that Jesus might have employed this grain in the making of the unleavened bread for the Passover meal. The reality is -- we just don't know.

The Patternists appeal to Exodus 29:2 in an attempt to justify their "wheat only" pattern. In the ceremony consecrating Aaron and his sons as priests before God, various types of unleavened bread were to be baked and presented as part of the offering to God. "Now this is what you shall do to them to consecrate them to minister as priests to Me: take one young bull and two rams without blemish, and unleavened bread and unleavened cakes mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers spread with oil; you shall make them of fine wheat flour. And you shall put them in one basket, and present them in the basket along with the bull and the two rams" (vs. 1-3, NASB). Patternists will admit that this passage has nothing to do with the Passover bread, much less the bread in the Lord's Supper, but the member of the NI Internet group mentioned above stated, "not every detail is always given, yet we can piece together the essentials by necessary inference." And what is this "essential" knowledge that is "pieced together" by human assumption? That the ONLY flour that can be used in the bread of the Passover meal is WHEAT, and therefore the ONLY bread that can be used in the Lord's Supper is bread made from WHEAT. Even though the Bible never says this, it is still considered LAW because a group of men inferred it. This is simply authority by assumption, the tendentious trademark of the infamous CENI hermeneutic. If human deductions are to be regarded as equal to, and just as binding as, divine decree, then anything goes!

I also find it almost amusing, and certainly very puzzling, that these patternists have appealed to Old Testament LAW as the basis of their "authority" for New Covenant practice! If they may do so, may we?! Why not allow us to make the same appeal with respect to clapping? Incense? Instrumental Music? Clerical robes? What's good for the goose should be good for the gander, right?! Appealing to the OT writings for NT authority is anathema to the legalists and patternists. They scream bloody murder when anyone attempts it .... and then turn around and do so themselves! Consistency ... thy name is most certainly NOT conservatism.

The patternism of the ultra-conservative legalists is a "pick and choose" affair. They will latch onto a few aspects of some example, but will totally ignore a great many other aspects of that same example. This is just another inconsistency in the application of their CENI hermeneutic. We have seen, for example, how some have gone to great lengths to try and prove the absolute necessity of preparing the communion bread ONLY from wheat. Indeed, it was even suggested that to use some other grain would constitute the "strange fire" of Nadab and Abihu. And they come to this conclusion based solely on assumptions. They can't even point to a single example of wheat bread ever being used in either the Lord's Supper OR the Passover meal. Not one single example! It is pure assumption ... and yet it is elevated to a salvation issue! So what about other aspects of "the pattern" where there ARE examples in the Scriptures? The time of day that the Lord's Supper was celebrated, for instance? EVERY example is an EVENING observance. In fact, the Passover was an EVENING observance. When the Lord instituted the Lord's Supper, it was in the EVENING. So, WHY are these rigid religionists partaking of the Lord's Supper on Sunday MORNING?!! Is this not a violation of the "pattern" they believe to be so sacred? Is this not a clear violation of EVERY example in Scripture (both OT and NT)? Are we all going to burn forever in hell for eating the Lord's Supper in the morning? If not, why not?!! If barley unleavened bread will send us to hell, why not morning observance of the Lord's Supper? I would sincerely like to hear a patternist address this inconsistency! .... but I won't hold my breath waiting!!

Let's face it, brethren .... this quest for patternistic LAW is sheer lunacy! Are there certain "patterns" contained in the inspired writings of the Bible that we need to perceive and practice? Absolutely! And the greatest of these is JESUS. I have dealt with valid and invalid patternism in Issue #130 -- Pondering Patternism: Creating Copy Cat Christianity. I would suggest the readers examine that article again. Legitimate patterns (clearly specified by deity) are a far cry from legalistic patterns (assumed by fallible men). I will conclude this current issue by quoting my final paragraph from the above article:

Reflections from Readers

From a Reader in California:

We are a Church of Christ group of believers who are currently engaged in a study of the Lord's Supper. Our congregation is looking to return to the 1st century style of observing the Lord's Supper, and the elders have asked us to study it. We may start meeting in homes after services to have a meal (love feast) followed by the Lord's Supper. I have been having difficulties with separating to do this, but am keeping an open mind. Anyway, I just want to thank you for your great writings on this subject. I found your website through a Yahoo! search. I was so pleased when I went to your home page and saw that you are a member of the Church of Christ ... and a Vietnam vet to boot!! Again, thanks so much for your work and also thanks for your service to our country!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Thanks for your latest Reflections. "Yeast From The Beast" was great! It is amazing how the Patternists demand we follow the "pattern," but do not follow it themselves. They demand that the Lord's Supper be followed "correctly," but absolutely have willing amnesia when it comes to the pattern of fasting (Acts 13:2-3)! "Hypocrites! Blind fools!" (Matt. 23:17). Hear me, Patternists -- Stop binding law on us when you don't keep it yourselves!

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, your article Yeast From The Beast is another excellent teaching on sectarianism. I am in total agreement with what you wrote. Many of the folk that this article is directed toward, and at one time I was one of them, will interpret the yeast from a different perspective. Their cataracts will only allow them to see through blurred vision. They cannot see through their flawed CENI hermeneutic. My wife and I will be visiting Carlsbad and Cloudcroft, New Mexico on Labor Day weekend and hope to gather with the saints in Alamogordo that Sunday. Hopefully, we can meet you and your wife at that time. Thanks again, and may God continue to bless your efforts with wisdom.

From a Minister in Washington:

"Better safe than sorry." That is a reason I have most often received for why people believe clapping is something they do not prefer. They would not bind that on me, but then they won't let their children go to youth events with clapping, which hurts my youth ministry and also the youth group's bond. Thus, it is bound upon me in a 'round about way. My response is always this -- If your Christianity, your relationship with Jesus and your faith is "safe," then it's not much of a faith. I don't see anywhere in the Bible where people wanted to have a "safe" faith. Hebrews 11 points out many people who followed God, and who are counted among the righteous; people who did daring things. They wanted their faith to be the most present thing in their lives. Jesus showed us boldness. Paul was killed for his faith, raised from the dead, and kept right on preaching Jesus (Acts 14:19f). Thanks for the article on clapping.

From a Minister in Mississippi:

Clapping to praise songs just makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. (It's hard to teach a old dog new tricks.) It seems rather "showy" and none too spontaneous -- at least as I have observed it. On the other hand, spontaneous applause over the works of God and the salvation of a sinner seems the most "natural" of occurrences. I love to applaud then! Do I seem conflicted? I don't know. There seems to be a difference between "spontaneous joy" and "orchestrated applause" -- but maybe it's just me. Admittedly, it is a very subjective call. One that would have to be determined on a congregational level, I think. To a body of believers that has always clapped to songs it would be natural. To a congregation of old timers, clapping to praise songs can come across as rather "in your face." I believe this is a matter of scriptural liberty that an eldership must deal with -- keeping in mind the flock's spiritual maturity, and not the personal preferences of a few, not even of the elders. In this, and in all matters, may we strive to grow in maturity while never losing sight of our call to love one another. As always, I appreciate the way you handle such prickly matters.

From a Minister in Texas:

I can tell by what I've read of your writings that you must read and study a lot. You don't come to those conclusions by blindly accepting what's been handed down to you. You have to take it upon yourself to study deeply, which you obviously do. On your dual role of minister/elder -- I've seen that situation in two churches, and both men were right for that combination. It seems wise to have a trusted minister of the Word as one of the elders. We are sometimes too "cautious" for our own good. May He bless you as you serve Him.

From a Reader in Oregon:

Wow, I'm amazed at the number of responses from brethren commenting on your Applause in the Assembly article. It appears that those making a big issue of the practice are the ones that simply don't like it. The comments from your reader from Hawaii caused me to reflect upon my own childhood, and even more inconsistencies of the patternists. Did you ever think about the following transition? --- From the toddlers class through elementary grades, VBS, and special singing events for kids, we teach children to "enjoy" their own assembly time by singing "This Little Light of Mine," "Wee Little Man," "Build Your House Upon the Rock," etc. using "unauthorized" hand motions, clapping, shouts, gestures, etc. to express joy, add emphasis, and any other reason to justify the practice. By the time they reach the Junior High level, we start the suppression, but still "tolerate" free discussion of ideas and some "unauthorized expressions." By the time they are in High School, we become a little more rigid in the indoctrination of Church of Christ traditional thought, with little room for discussion when these thinking kids question the inconsistencies. And by the time you reach the auditorium, varied expressions of joy, questioning traditions, etc., are prohibited and we are limited to the prescribed, approved, and otherwise "authorized" forms. It seems to me if we truly want to "teach a child in the way he should go" and bring him up in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord," we should start teaching them at a young age to be very quiet, stoic, formal, traditional, etc., rather than changing our message and practice with their age. I realize some would argue "maturity" as the reason, but the Scriptures seem to give direction to adults regarding joy, praise, rejoicing, etc., without placing specific limitations on the individual expression of these attributes in or out of the assembly. Thanks again for providing great teaching and encouragement by letting us see that there are others in Christ who share in a quest for unity and an abhorrence of legalism.

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