Church History for Breakfast
Church history is the last thing some people want to think about on any given day. But, you might actually be thinking about church history a whole lot more than you realize at the breakfast table first thing in the morning. My students seem to find history more palatable when they see that they are already familiar with it. So, let’s check out your breakfast menu; it might just whet your appetite for more history.
If you reach for Quaker Oats in your pantry, you’ll find a Quaker man staring back at you from the package label. The corporate creators of the logo who trademarked it in 1877 did not specify the character in Quaker garb as a particular individual. But, he was designed to project the values of honesty, integrity, purity, and strength associated with the Quaker faith. I can’t help but think his image is familiar to that of George Fox (1624-1691), the founder of the Quaker movement. The Quakers, or The Religious Society of Friends developed out of the Church of England in the 1650s. They quickly grew and spread to the new world. William Penn, for whom Pennsylvania is named, remains the most famous Quaker. They emphasized religious sincerity and wholesome living, but removed the preaching of the word from the church. Their theology leaves worshipers spiritually hungry, a bit like a bowl of oatmeal leaves you physically hungry not long after breakfast.
“Fine,” you say, “I can’t stand oatmeal, anyway!” Instead, you grab the Kellogg’s Cornflakes off the pantry shelf – okay, be honest, we know you actually eat the the Frosted Flakes. John Harvey Kellogg (1852-1943) of Battle Creek, Michigan, invented the corn flake and other pre-cooked breakfast cereals. He created these breakfast items to promote the vegetarianism he endorsed as a strict the Seventh Day Adventist. Kellogg was a theological and dietary nut-case who espoused high-fiber vegetarianism to fight constipation and “natural urges.” He is famous for saying: “A housebroken colon is a damaged colon.” On February 19, 1906, his brother, W. K. Kellogg founded the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company; it was later renamed the Kellogg Company. W. K. Kellogg, also a strict Seventh Day Adventist grew the business exponentially. Tony the Tiger says of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes: “They’re grrrrrrrreat!” and you may, too, but please don’t say the same of the beliefs behind their origin.
Before you leave the table, you wash down the corn flakes (still sticking to your teeth) with a glass of Welch’s Grape Juice. Thomas Bramwell Welch (1825-1903), a staunch, teetotaling Methodist pastor from Vineland, New Jersey, perfected the process of pasteurizing grape juice to halt fermentation in 1869. He needed non-alcoholic juice for his local congregation’s Communion services. Though the juice did not catch on immediately, the growing temperance movement in the second half of the nineteenth century demanded non-alcoholic grape juice for use at the Lord’s Table. Welch quickly rose to the challenge by establishing the company bearing his name.
Still can’t relate to church history at the breakfast table? Maybe you just don’t do breakfast at home. Rather, you meet your friends at The Panera Bread Company. Panera is Spanish for “bread box.” Pan is the root of the Latin word panis meaning bread. Your companions (com = with and pan = bread) are those with whom you break bread. With these thoughts rising in your mind as you place your order, you remember that John Wycliffe (1328-1384) taught the doctrine of impanation (later so defined, according to church historian Carl Trueman) over against transubstantiation. Impanation means “embodied in bread.” Wycliffe taught that the body and blood of Christ were put into the bread and wine, but that the body and bread also remain. Wycliffe found himself in greatest trouble with the church for this doctrine. Here, he questioned not only the nature of the sacraments, but more significantly the church’s epistemology and theology. His views of realism and predestination which led to his views on impanation helped lead to the Protestant reformation. You cannot escape church history connections, even at Panera!
Some of you hit the snooze button multiple times, and so you only have time to stop at Starbucks for coffee on the way to work. Starbucks, a great teacher of church history? It is more than you think! You purchase the cappuccino advertised on the board as a tribute to the Capuchin monks of Italy. The Capuchin founders felt that the Franciscans of their day had strayed from the spiritual life originally set forth by Saint Francis of Assisi. They created the Capuchin Order in 1520 as an effort to reclaim the literal observance of the Rule of Saint Francis, which called for a life of poverty. Church historian Dr. David C. Calhoun says that the Capuchin friars were known to wear brown robes with white cassocks and hoods. So, Italians call coffee “cappuccino,” meaning “little Capuchin.” While the Rule of Saint Francis would probably forbid shelling out five dollars for a cup of coffee, at least the cappuccino will perk you up to meditate on God’s mighty acts in history.
A certain percentage of you hit the snooze button one more time. You only have time to grab a handful of pretzels for the road as you breeze out the door to head to class or to work. Though we’re not entirely sure of the origin of the pretzel, authors Bryan Bunch and Alexander Hellemans write that in 610 A.D. “…an Italian monk invents pretzels as a reward to children who learn their prayers. He calls the strips of baked dough, folded to resemble arms crossing the chest, ‘pretiola’ (‘little rewards’).” By now, you realize that you don’t have a prayer of getting away from church history at breakfast, but perhaps the tangled bread in your hands will remind you to pray as you begin your day.
Finally, some of you shrug and say: “None of this applies to me, because I don’t eat breakfast.” Congratulations, you have joined the company of the Desert Fathers of the third and fourth centuries! Their fasting was supposed to lead to holiness, but often led to hallucinations instead. Listen to your mother; eat your breakfast.
Though all of this history is grand, every true Christian historian will ask: “What does the Bible say about breakfast and church history?” Certainly, we could consider the manna provided from heaven each morning in the wilderness or the bread and meat the ravens provided Elijah morning and evening. However, perhaps the most mature revelation on the subject comes in Acts 10 when Peter is sleeping. Peter, asleep in the afternoon on the rooftop, sees a vision of unclean animals being lowered in a sheet from heaven. “And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’” What do we learn? Clearly, we learn that eating breakfast food in the afternoon is appropriate. More significantly, we learn that bacon is God’s good idea, and he prescribed it for breakfast.
As you savor your bacon and rejoice in God’s goodness, the greasy goodness ought to remind you of the still-greater truth the Lord taught Peter. God taught Peter through a breakfast menu that God shows no partiality and that Gentiles, as well as Jews, were to be brought into the church. Church history changed that day as a whole new race was welcomed into the visible body of Christ without the shadowy elements of Old Testament law. Now, bacon, that food freely lowered from heaven, ought to remind you at breakfast of Jesus’ desire that today you too would proclaim the gospel of free grace. People who begin today lost need to be brought in. Church history needs to change again today. Breakfast every morning, with bacon or without it, ought to lead us to give thanks for the history of Jesus church and motivate us to hasten its fulfillment.
Yes, there’s more church history in your breakfast to chew on than you may have realized.