It seems as if everything is gluten-free these days. I guess we're headed toward a gluten-free society -- a Utopian dream, judging by the latest ads in the food magazines and health food stores. Reading them made me wonder how I'd lived this long without knowing about this destructive ingredient in my diet!
Not wanting to appear unenlightened, I thought I'd try a gluten-free bagel. I mean, there's nothing quite like a warm, chewy bagel fresh out of the oven. Imagine a bagel without the detrimental effects of that gastronomical goblin called gluten! It looked like a real bagel. I could hardly wait to get out of the store to bite into my prize.
As the first bite broke free too easily, and too quickly turned to mush in my mouth, my hopeful anticipation evaporated. Yuck! Each subsequent bite eroded away my vision for a gluten-free diet. What was so bad about gluten, anyway? I decided to take a closer look.
I was amazed to learn about the journey of a kernel of wheat from its origins in the ripe head of wheat to its destiny in a fresh-baked loaf of bread, and the role that gluten plays in producing that result. Of course, in these days of mechanization, most of this journey is hidden from the human eye until identical loaves of bread in plastic bags arrive magically on the shelves. So it is far more interesting to follow the journey as it went in days of old.
First the field of ripe, golden wheat, with its heavy heads of grain bowing humbly to the reapers with sickles in hand, was cut and bound in sheaves, then stacked together in "stooks" to dry. After a week or so, the sheaves were brought to the threshing floor where they were trodden underfoot by a team of oxen dragging a heavy threshing sledge. The hooves of the oxen, as well as the weight and rough underbelly of the sledge, would separate the heads of wheat from the stalks.
Next came the winnowing process, to separate the kernels from the chaff. In the late afternoon, when the wind began to blow, the farmer would take his winnowing fan (like a wooden pitchfork) and toss the mixture of chaff and grain high into the air. The wind would blow away the light chaff, and the heavier kernels of wheat would fall back to the winnower's feet. It took a long time, and countless tossings, to get rid of all the chaff. Eventually all that remained on the threshing floor was a sea of golden brown kernels. Then the women would come and sift the grain into baskets to be stored in a cool, dry place.
As beautiful as they are to the eye, and as pleasant to the touch, baskets of wheat kernels do not a loaf of bread make. The life-giving potency of each kernel is locked up within the its hard shell. It must first be made into flour. No single kernel can retain its own identity, but must lose itself in the vortex and be ground up.
The mill consisted of two round, flat stones stacked one on top of the other. The bottom one was stationary, but the upper one would spin. Radial grooves were cut into the facing surfaces of the two stones. The wheat kernels were funneled into the hole in the center of the top stone as it spun -- this was the vortex, drawing the kernels down and spinning them out into the grooves so that they would be ground between the stones. As the grinding continued, the finest flour began to drop from the outer edges of the millstones into the tray beneath the mill.
Finally it was possible to begin making bread! Here is where the miracle of gluten happens. When you put the flour in a bowl and add water, oil, and salt, and then begin to kneed it into dough, gluten is formed from proteins in the flour that link together to form a stretchy network. It's actually the "glue" that holds the dough together. Gluten also traps the gases released from the working of leaven, causing the bread to rise rather than simply break apart. When the bread is baked, the gluten hardens, giving the loaf its firm structure. Without gluten, what we know as "bread" would never have come into existence. It's really amazing stuff!
So why all the rage to get rid of gluten? And what does gluten have to do with Christianity?
Well, a few people (less than 1 percent) are actually allergic to gluten because of a rare disease, and many others have jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon largely because it's the latest health fad. And as for Christianity, well, it all has to do with what happens when you try to make bread without gluten.
Let's consider an analogy that comes from the Bible:
"Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life...' " (John 6:35)
"And He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, 'This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.' " (Luke 22:19)
The Messiah, the Son of God, whom we call by His original Hebrew name, Yahshua, chose bread as a metaphor to identify Himself as the One who gives and sustains spiritual life. He said that the loaf He broke and shared with His disciples on the night before He was crucified represented His body. Then the Apostle Paul carried the analogy a step further, stating that the church was Yahshua's body on earth:
"And He is the head of the body, that is, the church..." (Colossians 1:18)
So it follows that the church also, being His body, can be characterized as a loaf. In fact, the Apostle Paul firmly warned the church in Corinth that it was a grave sin to eat the communion bread without "discerning the body,"1 for the one loaf represented the Body of Messiah, which is one, yet they were divided from one another.2
Evidently, they were lacking the spiritual "gluten" that binds the loaf together. That "gluten" is self-denying, self-sacrificing love. To see where this love comes from, we have to go back to the wheat kernels, and what it took to make them into one loaf.
Each of the disciples that make up the Body of Messiah can be likened to a kernel of wheat:
"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a kernel of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone would serve Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there will My servant be also. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him. (John 12:24-26)
Those who are ripe for salvation, because they hate their life in this world, are cut out of the world by a sharp sickle -- the so-called "hard words" of the gospel3 -- and gathered together on the "threshing floor" of the community. The "church" described in the Bible was a community, where "all who believed were together and shared all things in common."4 That community is where Yahshua is, where His Spirit dwells in those who serve Him. There, through the difficult circumstances of their life together, the chaff is separated from the wheat kernels.
As the Apostle Paul said in Acts 14:22, "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." The word tribulation actually comes from the Latin word tribulum, which is a threshing sledge! Therefore it is no coincidence that John the Baptist prophesied, speaking of Yahshua:
His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. (Matthew 3:12)
This "chaff" -- whether people or things -- is whatever is gathered in with the wheat, but has no weight, no glory, no substance, but is blown away by the winds of adversity. But the true wheat kernels always fall back down at the Winnower's feet. They are those who utterly surrender their lives,5 their independent existence, by diving into the vortex of the salvation process. They fall on the Stone6 so as to be ground up together into fine flour as they do the deeds prepared for them to build up the Body of Messiah.7
These surrendered lives, as they are saturated with the water of Yahshua's word, the oil of the Holy Spirit,8 and kneaded together with a little salt by the loving hands of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers,9 are formed into one loaf -- the very Body of Messiah on earth. The combination of these essential elements releases the spiritual gluten -- the self-sacrificing love10 that binds everything together in unity.11 If any one of these elements is missing, everything soon falls apart.
That explains the 45,000 denominations of Christianity, a gluten-free religion. [See: http://www.gordonconwell.edu/resources/documents/StatusOfGlobalMission.pdf]