WHY WE BELIEVE AND PRACTICE THESE THINGS # 11

Tommy Thornhill

In closing the last issue, I presented some quotes from the Ante Nicene Fathers (Christian apologists of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd centuries AD) showing the Christians of their time used more than one cup (container) in partaking of the Lord’s Supper. I stated that these quotations were not from the Bible but were used to demonstrate the practice of using a plurality of drinking vessels in serving the Lord’s Supper was not something invented by people in our modern age. These quotes strongly suggested each participant had his own container even when Christ instituted His memorial Supper. The idea of the container having spiritual significance was unheard of prior to 1894 after Dr.J G Thomas introduced a tray to handle the containers being used.

Opposition developed over the use of the communion tray holding individual cups and this is when the argument was developed against the use of individual containers by connecting the tray to the containers. About 1915, a preacher by the name of G.C. Brewer is credited with introducing the communion tray with multiple cups (containers) into the church of Christ. This is borne out in a book he later wrote, “Forty Years on the Firing Line.” In his book he writes, “I think I was the first preacher to advocate the use of the individual communion cup and the first church in the state of Tennessee that adopted it was the church for which I was preaching, the Central Church of Christ at Chattanooga, Tennessee… My next work was with the church in Colombia, Tennessee, and after a long struggle, I got the individual communion service into that congregation.”

Some challenge me to “find one place in the NT where Christians ever used a plurality of cups in partaking of the Lord’s Supper.” I readily admit there is no such passage. But don’t be too hasty. Can we find one scripture in the NT where Christians ever used a communion table, song books, a church owned meeting house with air conditioning, padded pews, lights, indoor restrooms, etc.? All of these things are authorized, not because they are specifically mentioned, but because they fall within the general authority to assemble and worship. They are expedients, used in carrying out the things required by their use. They violate no principle of NT teaching. 

Some have advanced the argument that in every passage of scripture where the phrase “one cup” is used, it is always singular and never plural. Think with me. Note 1.Cor.10:16. Paul writes to the Corinthians from Ephesus. When Christians in both places blessed the cup, was it the same cup? YES, IF the meaning of “the cup” applied to the contents of the cup and what it symbolized and not to the container. If using only one cup was a common NT practice, there were at least two literal containers, one in Ephesus and one in Corinth. Two makes a plurality, doesn’t it? Paul said, “the cup of blessing which we bless.” The thing blessed was the contents (representing Christ’s death) and not the container. So, each congregation was observing the same thing, remembering the death of Christ. When we come to realize that “the cup of the Lord” is not the literal container, but the contents of the cup that can be blessed, divided and drank by all, symbolizing the blood of Christ of the NT; then we can scripturally say that all saints, everywhere, on the first day of the week, partake of the “one cup.”

Another mistake made by those contending for “only one container” in serving the fruit of the vine in the Lord’s Supper is the claim it is a safe practice. I deny that. One’s practice involves what one teaches as well as one does so it is NOT safe to make something essential that the Bible indicates is an incidental. When people do this, it makes them lawmakers. It is just as bad to make laws as it is to ignore them. No one has the right to sit in God’s law seat Jas.4:11-12. After the law of Christ was established, it was safe to circumcise male babies, but it was not essential to become a Christian Gal.6:5. As long as circumcision was viewed in this light there was no problem. But when some determined to make it necessary, Paul disputed with them, refusing to submit “even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you” Gal.2:5.

As with any other practice, the scriptural authority for the observance of the Lord’s Supper is derived from the normal way of establishing any Biblical practice, i.e., command or statement (tell), approve example (show) or necessary inference (implication inferred),  drawn from a scripture to complete the understanding of the passage). Incidental and expedient elements are not expressly specified in the scriptures, including multiple containers, fall within the scope of general authority where one has a choice in how to execute the precept or command of God. A plurality of cups is no more a “man-made” innovation than songbooks, microphones, videos, divided Bible classes and the like.

This concludes my series on the subject of “Why We Believe And Practice These Things.” What I have written is what I understand the truth to be on these matters. I do not consider myself in any way to be the final authority on these matters. I am certain others disagree with my conclusions and that is normal. We all do not think alike, and this means that others see things in a different light. All I ask is that people study and give a proper examination of the things about which I have written and draw their own conclusions.

A woodpecker owes his success to the fact he uses his head and keeps pecking away until he finishes the job he started. That goes with our search for the truth. We keep pecking away at the scriptures until we find the truth 2.Tim.2:15.  

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