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Home The Light Articles from 1999 J. W. McGarvey's Opposition to Individual Cups

J. W. McGarvey's Opposition to Individual Cups

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J. W. McGarvey's Opposition to Individual Cups

John William McGarvey (1829-1911) was a giant of the restoration movement. He was contemporary with many of the great names in the beginning of this endeavor. He is, even today, a highly respected Christian writer of the past. He acquired such a knowledge of the Holy Scriptures that he is esteemed by some as the greatest Biblical scholar of modern times. At his death, The London Times lauded bro. McGarvey as "without doubt the greatest Bible scholar on earth." Writing for the Christian Standard, bro. McGarvey con-ducted Biblical Criticism from 1900 until his death in 1911. Hear him as he writes of individual cups.

The fresh and verdant fad of the individual communion cups, which is all the rage now with church members who care more for "keeping up with the procession" than for following the example of our Lord, has received a black eye recently from two sources. A Methodist bishop has refused to use them when brought forward where he was to officiate, and the General Conference of the Methodist Church, North, has forbidden the use of them to Methodist churches. See the clipping below which we take from the Western Recorder:

"Recently in the meeting of the New Hampshire Conference, Bishop Foster, of the Methodist Church, refused to have the communion administered in the individual commu-nion cups which had been brought forth. He refused to consider the innovation on the custom of the churches from the days of the Lord to the present time a matter of indifference. The Methodist General Conference voted down overwhelmingly a motion to allow the use of the individual communion cups in their churches."

Whatever may be the special pleading in excuse for this innovation, it is perfectly clear that it aims to avoid that which the Lord enjoined in instituting the Supper; that is, the use of the same cup by a number of individuals. He could have directed each of the twelve to drink from his own cup, had he adjudged that to be the better way. But he did not, and we shall be far more likely to please him by doing what he did than by doing what he avoided. If it is wrong to change in the slightest degree the ordinance of baptism, it is still worse, if possible, to change the ordinance of the Lord's Supper. Do you plead the danger of contracting disease? Then you adopt a plan which you have indignantly rejected when it is applied to immersion. The legs of the lame are not equal. (June 25, 1904)3

The Sanitary Feature

The "sanitary feature," as brother Keeler styles it, is proven to be a pretense by the fact that though the use of cups in common has been practiced for nearly two thousand years, not a single instance has been produced of persons contracting contagious diseases from it. And if there had been a few instances, or a few thousand among the multiplied millions, what is that compared with the strict observance of an ordinance appointed by the Lord Jesus Christ? Shall we dare to change or modify such an ordinance for fear that one of us may prove to be the one out of millions who shall thus suffer? The "sanitary fea-

ture," as everybody knows, has been arrayed with great pertinacity against the ordinance of baptism as it was instituted by Christ, and it has been paraded as a justification of those who modify this ordinance. The shallowness of the reasoning in both instances forces the suspicion that want of faith, and not real fear of disease and death, lies at the bottom of it. If there is danger of swallowing microbes by drinking from the same cup with consumptives, what about being baptized in the same pool of water? Shall we have the baptistery emptied, washed and chemically disinfected after every baptism? If not, shall we always resort to a running stream in which a dead dog may be floating some distance above us? Or shall we abandon baptism altogether, for the sake of keeping our immaculate persons from coming in contact with the invisible bugs which exude from our neighbors? Some people are too nice for this world. They ought to carry a smelling-bottle all the days of their lives and pray the Lord to take them as soon as possible to a healthier country. It is my opinion that when the Lord instituted the Supper he knew as much about microbes as does any modern medical alarmist. (July 4, 1903)


The early Christians were not aware that among the manifold objects of God's cre-ation and providential care there was a countless host of the little bugs that now pass under the name of microbes. This fact was left, like destructive criticism, to be discovered in our own scientific age. Now the microbes are as well known as gnats and mosquitoes. It is known, too, that they are widespread and are exceedingly dangerous; for they float in the air, they swim in the water, and we drink them in with our mother's milk. When they once get in us they begin to eat our vitals, and they bring on all diseases. If we could only keep them out, we might live forever, unless somebody kills us...

Under these circumstances, it ought not to surprise anybody that some among us, who think that religion ought to keep pace with scientific discoveries, have become dreadfully alarmed over some of our ancient religious customs which originated before the discovery of microbes. For example, the custom of passing the same cup of wine to a large number of persons when observing the Lord's Supper. We have always been a little squeamish about drinking out of the same cup with certain persons that we could name and now, seeing that by doing so there is a risk of our swallowing some of their microbes, the practice has become intolerable. It is true that our Lord appointed it this way; but then he may have forgotten, just at the moment, that he had made all these microbes, and that they were such awful things; or else he thought that, as in the case of our new criticism, the age in which he lived was not prepared for a revelation on the subject, and so he left matters as he found them. Perhaps he reflected that the many millions who were destined to premature graves by swallowing these microbes at the Lord's Supper, would die in a good cause, and he therefore left them to their fate until an enlightened age would correct the evil. We have now reached that enlightened age, for the Spirit is still leading us into the new truth; and we propose to stop that needless waste of human life by having individual cups.

Upon further reflection about these microbes, we have been forced to observe that there is just as much danger of swallowing other people's microbes when we pinch a piece from the same bread from which they have pinched, as when we drink from the same cup. Microbes come from the tips of the fingers when they are a little soiled or a little sweaty, and we are not going to run the risk of eating any of these. We haven't yet completed our plans for avoiding this imminent peril to our lives; but, as we have already secured the manufacture of tiny little individual cups, we shall probably have the bread cut up into nice little cubes, which will be dropped into the little cups, so that we can swallow both at once. This device will charmingly harmonize with the timesaving device, which some of us who hate long services have already adopted, of passing bread and wine both at once... Progress is the law of religion as well as of nature, and we cannot doubt that in the progress of religious evolution all defects will finally be removed and the fittest will survive. Good-bye to the old conceit of restoring primitive Christianity! (March 31, 1900)

A Question and Observation

A brother in Pensacola, Florida asks me: "What authority have we for using the single cup in the communion service, as has been the custom of the Christian churches, other than that it is implied in the narratives of the three gospels?"—We have none. But that is enough. On the other hand, we have no authority for doing otherwise. Every divinely appointed ordinance should be observed precisely as divine wisdom appointed it.

"I have been a member of the church for forty-three years, and it has been my good fortune to be acquainted with several of our most learned and influential ministers, Alex-ander Campbell among them, and it seems strange to me that they did not find a necessity for the individual cup."

It is not at all strange, for such a necessity has not even yet been discovered. The desire for it has originated in the squeamishness of certain women with weak stomachs, and it is supported by the new fad among physicians about BACTERIA, those little bugs which hang on the lips of the next participant, and thence descend into the stomach of the latter, seize upon his vital organs, and eat away on them till some fatal disease ensues.

I don't know how many people have died from this cause since the Lord estab-lished this ordinance, but I guess he knew what would be the consequences and he assumed the responsibility. If any of our doctors have treated such cases as are supposed, I have never heard of them; and I am willing to risk the promise, poor as I am, to bury, as long as I live, all the dead who shall die from this cause. All such will die at their post, and will deserve a decent burial. (February 26, 1910)

—The foregoing are excerpts from Biblical Criticism

Conducted by J. W. McGarvey

Christian Standard, 1900-1910.



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