The Leaven Hidden in the Flour
In the forth parable in Matthew 13, Jesus said,
“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened” (Matt. 13:33).
The church should be like unleavened bread, which is flat and chewy. Once leaven is added, it will result in bread that is raised, full of air, and easy to eat. In other words, it changes the appearance of the church, making it easier for people to take. A leavened church is no longer a true church because it no longer bears the name of Jesus before people. Its testimony has been damaged. The Bible always refers to leaven as a corrupting influence that should be avoided and, if found, purged (see Matt. 16:6; 1 Cor. 5:6–8).
The woman who hid this leaven in the three pecks of flour is understood by most Protestant theologians as the great harlot of Revelation 17:1, who represents the Roman Catholic Church. I agree with this understanding.
When I was in school, my professors were all Catholic fathers. They were trained from their youth to be professors and scholars. I was never comfortable around them because of their uniforms. It seemed unnatural to wear such heavy clothes when it was so hot. One day I told one of them that I was a Christian. He suddenly got all upset, saying, “Without you Christians, the whole earth would be conquered by the Catholic Church already! You Protestants caused all the problems!” This may be true, but supposed they had conquered the whole earth. Would the Lord have been happy? No, because that is not what He is after.
Three Pecks of Flour
The Lord told His disciples,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
– John 12:24
The “much fruit” are those who believe. They become the grains that can be ground into fine flour. This can only be produced through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. It has nothing to do with how grand or successful our work is. Even if our work were as big as the Catholic Church, we would still have to ask, “Where is Christ?” This is against our way of thinking. We may try everything to be successful and gain a few, but instead, we should try everything to gain Christ.
The Roman Catholic Church, according to the parable in Matthew 13, mingled the three pecks of flour with leaven from various earthly religions and cultures. Throughout their history, they felt free to bring anything in, as long as they thought it would make it easier for people to join them. To them, the end justified the means. If they wanted to gain people from a given culture, they would do whatever it took. This caused them to add all kinds of pagen theology and teaching to their worship.
Hiding the Leaven
For example, when the Catholics came to China, they looked for a way to bring the Chinese people into the Catholic Church. They discovered that the Chinese had an image of a woman named Quanyin, a goddess of mercy, and so they made their image of Mary to look like her, only with an added baby boy. If these two images were displayed side by side, we could all see how alike they are. This made it so easy for the Chinese to become Catholic, because the mother of Jesus looked Chinese, but it also made Jesus no longer crucial.
Many heathen cultures worshipped the birth of the sun god during the winter solstice in late December. This is the shortest day of the year, after which the days start to grow longer. The Catholics, desiring to convert these people, made this the date for the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, and people have celebrated Christmas ever since. They made the birth of the Son match the birth of the sun, thus making it easy for the heathen to relate to the Catholic faith. But there is no way Jesus could have been born in December because Luke tells us that the shepherds were with their sheep out in the fields, which would never happen at that time of year. This falsehood helped some heathen people convert to Catholicism, but the preaching of Christ crucified became secondary.
The Catholic Church has acted for years like a political party that buys votes with empty promises. They will say or do anything as long as they win people to their side. With fallen politics, such behavior has become acceptable. With the church of God it should not. This is to add leaven to the three pecks of flour until the whole is leavened.
Daughters of the Harlot
The Catholic Church is not the only one to act this way. According to Revelation 17, she is “the great harlot…the mother of harlots” (vv. 1, 5), which means she has many daughters who act just like she does. Just about every Christian group, including us, will gladly add a little leaven if it will bring people in.
Those Christians who think this way are like the harlot’s daughters. They are not the harlot herself, the big institution, but they want to be related to her by acting like her. They do things and add things that they think will help the gospel. But by simply putting on a display that makes people feel good, all they are doing is mixing a little more leaven into the flour. What we add must be spiritual.
There was an area in China in which Christian churches had erected many crosses, so the government ordered that they all be taken down. They did not tell the congregations not to meet, that they couldn’t preach the gospel, or to stop reading the Bible, so to me there was no problem. One pastor of a large church came to me all upset, and was shocked when I told him to care for the reality of Christ and not his cross. Eventually the government turned off the electricity to his church so the cross would not stay lit. The pastor said excitedly, “Brother Chu, do you know what happened? When they cut off the electricity, a big light appeared on top of the cross!” It is hard to believe this kind of thing. There are two possibilities. Either someone thought they saw something, and the more they talked about it the bigger it became, or, even worse, they had a generator that came on and they didn’t let anyone know. Christians are funny. They care for everything but not necessarily for Christ.
How about us? Haven’t we tried many things to bring people In? Many groups have used good music to attract people, and so we have tried the same. We use all kinds of instruments and good singers for this purpose. We have some very talented musicians, and their playing helps us all to enjoy the hymns more by elevating our feeling, but for some reason it does not attract new ones. It may work for other groups, but it seems God does not want people to join us for the music. He is jealous to be the unique attraction to draw people in. If some believe in the Lord because they love the music, how can they love Him? If people come for the music, they will leave for better music, but if they come for Christ, they will stay.
It seems the more a congregation is void of Christ, the more using outward things to attract people works. With us, it never works. We can complain to the Lord that He is not fair, that He blesses others but not us. He would answer that those other groups have nothing but outward activities, so there is nothing else for Him to bless. If God were to bless us like that, we should not rejoice; rather, we should weep. We have Christ, and He wants to be the attraction. If He were to bless these lesser things with us, He would be making Himself low.
Suppose I have two children, one who is very talented and one who is limited and struggles with everything. I would not treat them the same. I would be hard on the talented one to push him to his limit, but I would be much more relaxed with the one who struggles. To make the same demands on both would be foolish and in the long run hurtful. The Lord is the same with us.
Christ as the Gospel
How people get saved makes a big difference in how they love the Lord and follow Him. If their experience of salvation is high, their whole Christian life will be high. If their initial experience is low, it will be hard for them to love the Lord absolutely. They will love the Lord, but in a way that is always mixed with something else. A little leaven lowers the standard for everyone. There is nothing wrong with having good music, but nothing should ever replace the Lord as our center.
Those who present Christ only as the Savior can do anything. People can come to Him for all the wrong reasons and still get saved. His grace is more than sufficient and He only requires that we believe. But He is much richer than this. We want those we bring to Christ to experience His “much more” salvation (Rom. 5:10). We want them to know Him as the unique one that is worth giving their whole lives to. For this we must preach nothing but Christ.
The apostle Paul told the Corinthians,
Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness.
– 1 Corinthians 1:22–23
He did not give the Jews or Greeks the leaven of signs and wisdom that they wanted. That might have been attractive to some and brought in a large number. Instead he gave them only Christ crucified, knowing that such a gospel would be a stumbling block and foolishness to many. He went on to say, “but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (v. 24). How much higher was this! How readily would those who responded to this gospel give themselves to love and follow such a Christ absolutely!
If we use leaven to make the gospel easy to take, people may get saved, but the church will have lost her testimony and those who respond will likely not last long. But if they come because they discover that Christ is the power and wisdom of God, they will love Him and belong to Him forever.