The assembled children of God drinking fruit of the vine from one cup was clearly commanded and exemplified by Jesus in the institution of communion (Matt. 26:27; Mark 14:23; 1 Cor. 11:25). After taking a cup of fruit of the vine and giving it to the disciples, He commanded, “Drink of it, all of you…” (ESV, Matt. 26:27) He also said, “This cup is the new Testament in my blood…” (1 Cor. 11:25). Thus we have His command and His pattern. Drinking from individual cups is not the communion—it is a different observance, just as much as sprinkling is not baptism. One of the most illogical arguments in favor of individual cups is the notion that because there are many cups worldwide by means of many congregations, many cups in one assembly must therefore be permitted. The late Guy N. Woods amazingly offered this clearly flawed line of thinking in his book, Questions and Answers – Open Forum:
“How are all the churches of Christ, through the world, to use but ‘one cup’ (container) in the observance of the Lord’s Supper? Such is obviously impossible. The difficulty is not removed by conceding to each congregation one container; in this case, there is not one cup but many—as many cups as congregations. …to contend for ‘one cup’ and then to justify as many cups as there are congregations is to abandon the argument as well as to be guilty of gross inconsistency” (V.I, p. 209, 1976).
Kevin Pendergrass, another advocate of multi-cup communion, echoed the same reasoning in the Pendergrass-Elmore Debate on June 5th, 2009, saying:
“To argue that each congregation is to have its own ‘cup of the Lord’ is to argue for more than one cup of the Lord – as many cups as congregations. To contend for only one container and then justify as many containers as there are congregations is to abandon the argument for having only one container to begin with” (1st Speech, 19:47).
One more example would be that of James Oldfield, host of the North Carolina television program, A Word from the Lord, who said:
“If the cup of the Lord can be represented by one individual cup in each congregation, and thus you have multiple cups representing this cup, why can’t you have multiple cups in the congregation?” (Communion: How Many Cups? 32:00)
This is really quite simple. Whatever is commanded or forbidden in the communion by the commands and pattern of Jesus can only be bound on each congregation individually, since it is only ever observed by individual, autonomous congregations! Let me repeat that: the Lord’s supper is only ever observed by individual, congregations, so it should be understood that whatever is commanded by Christ can only apply to such.
I’ll say it like this: the communion is observed on a congregational level. A Christian does not keep it privately, alone, by his or her self, nor does the universal church come together in one super congregation (such is not even possible). The first century church was instructed and led by the inspired apostles (Luke 11:49; Acts 2:37, 42; 4:35; 8:18; 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 2:20; 2 Pet. 3:2; Jude 1:17), and under their divine guidance the Lord’s supper was observed by a gathered assembly (the apostles themselves were gathered together when Christ taught it to them). Therefore, the proper manner in which it is kept—in harmony with Jesus’ example—applies to the assembly gathered to observe it. So I’ll say it again (and plenty more times before we’re finished)—that which is required in the observance of communion (all drinking from the same cup) applies to the assembly observing it, because, in the Lord’s church, that is the only situation in which it is ever observed!
That each congregation is autonomous (independent) from another is a fact of which Woods was well aware. The other two gentlemen are aware of it just as much. Every congregation’s observance is independent from another congregation’s observance, and each one of those observances must conform to the Lord’s instructions and pattern. Let’s explore this fact:
THE PASSOVER LAMB
The Israelites were commanded to have one lamb per house (Ex. 12:3), yet there were many houses throughout the nation. Is it reasonable to believe that to argue for one lamb per house is to argue for more than one lamb because there are as many lambs as houses? Nope. Not by a long shot. This requirement for celebrating the Passover (the use of one lamb) pertained to the households individually (“a lamb for a house”), not the nation as a whole. It was observed on a household level—not a national one. According to the reasoning of Woods, Pendergrass, and Oldfield, each house could surely have had multiple lambs during the Passover because there were multiple lambs nationwide, but we see how such logic is flawed. Since the command “a lamb for a house” existed, each house would still be required to use just one, regardless of whatever the situation was nationwide. Make sure to make a mental note of that and go back and read their quotes again! Since Christ’s pattern (all drinking from the same cup of fruit of the vine) and command exist, then each individual congregation is required to obey, no matter what results from it on a worldwide scale.
Consider also that when there are simultaneous assemblies worldwide, consequentially, there are simultaneous speakers worldwide, but simultaneous speaking in one assembly is forbidden (1 Cor. 14:29-33). Also, while there are simultaneous assemblies, there may be multiple songs offered to the Lord. One assembly might be singing “I Must Tell Jesus,” while another congregation is singing “Wonderful Words of Life” at the same time, but would it be acceptable to sing multiple songs at the same time in one assembly? Would it? The point is, just because something occurs on a worldwide scale by means of multiple assemblies (e.g., multiple cups, simultaneous speakers, different songs sung simultaneously, etc.,) does not mean that such is permitted to occur in a single assembly.
Now I would like to address all three of their comments one by one:
Guy Woods said:
“How are all the churches of Christ, through the world, to use but “one cup” (container) in the observance of the Lord’s Supper?”
Did Guy Woods really believe anyone was saying this? Did he really think this was the issue—that the whole church the world over had to use one physical cup? There are only two options: either he did believe this was what people were contending for, or he was using sophistry. If this is what he believed, then what is it worth to anyone to consider any thing the scholar has to say on the issue since his whole understanding of it is rooted in obvious error? Whatever may be the case with him, let’s make sure we understand that the church of Christ as a whole does not have to use one cup, and nobody is saying they do. Multiple cups of fruit of the vine by means of multiple congregations are fine, reasonable, permissible, acceptable, scriptural, authorized, right, expected, and justifiable. Multiple cups in a single observance are not.
“The difficulty is not removed by conceding to each congregation one container; in this case, there is not one cup but many—as many cups as congregations.”
The difficulty of which he speaks is the concept he stated before about the church as a whole using one cup, but this difficulty does not need to be removed, nor is it really a difficulty—it is not the issue. Many cups of fruit of the vine worldwide are permissible. Individual Christians in one assembly each drinking from their own cup is sinful. The use of individual cups is disobedient to the command of Christ and a change of His pattern. Whose pattern should we follow? Man’s or Christ’s?
Kevin Pendergrass said:
“To contend for only one container and then justify as many containers as there are congregations is to abandon the argument for having only one container to begin with.”
I used the Passover example earlier to refute this. Pendergrass might as well be saying, “To contend for only one lamb and then justify as many lambs as there are houses is to abandon the argument for having only one lamb to being with.”
The whole argument here is nothing but an assertion. There is no explanation as to why the contention of the one is abandoned by the other. All they have ever established with this argument is that there cannot be one container worldwide, which nobody ever denied in the first place! This assertion requires the premise that all observances of the Lord’s supper on the first day of the week constitute as one single observance—that there is no such thing as multiple observances or individual observances. I say it again: for the argument to even be considered, it must be assumed that all observances of communion somehow merge as one single observance. Kevin Pendergrass should affirm or deny that each congregation’s observance is independent from another’s. If he affirms, at the very moment his argument falls.
Along the same line, James Oldfield said:
“If the cup of the Lord can be represented by one individual cup in each congregation, and thus you have multiple cups representing this cup, why can’t you have multiple cups in the congregation?”
Because multiple cups in the congregation are prohibited by, and contrary to, the divine pattern command of Jesus. Enough said. To all those who keep the Lord ’s Supper in an unrighteous manner, including these three gentlemen, I plead with you to repent. Let us remember the Lord in the way He intended. Consider it. Pray on it. May the love of God be shed abroad in our hearts.
Article by Andrew Richarson