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J.W. McGarvey

A brother in Pensacola, Fla. asks me:

1. “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.

2. If a person believed that the adoption of the individual cup would or might prevent some soul from coming into the church, would he do wrong to join in that service?”

It is very difficult often to determine to what extent the perversion of a Scriptural ordinance must be carried in order to justify one in neglecting it.

3. “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 – Alexander 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 people, stick to the communion cup, then cling to 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 established 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.  [J. W. McGarvey, Christian Standard, February 26, 1910]



J.W. McGarvey

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 communion 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 detail 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.

[From Biblical Criticism, Conducted by J. W. McGarvey, Christian Standard, June 25, 1904]



J.W. McGarvey

The early Christians were not aware that among the manifold objects of God’s creation 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 the 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 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. The doctors have warned us not to spit on the sidewalks, lest our microbes, swarming up from the spittle, be swallowed by some passerby to the utter ruin of his constitution; and they object to horses and other animals being allowed on the streets, unless we sweep up after them with great care.

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. Is it true that our Lord appointed it this way; but then he may have forgotten, just at that moment, that he had made all those microbes, and 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 from which to drink the wine. If any man cries out against it as being unscriptural, exclusive or finicky, or anything of that sort, we will call him a legalist, a literalist, a Pharisee, a back number, a last year’s almanac, and a whole lot of things that we use to silence croakers with.

This is not all. Revolutions, we have learned, never go backward. When the wheels of progress once get up steam behind them, they are going to roll on, and the man who gets in the way will be run over. 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 soiled or a little sweaty, and we are not going to run the risk of eating any of these. We have not 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 time-saving device, which some of us who hate long services have already adopted, of passing bread and wine both at once.

Don’t be alarmed and cry out “innovation,” “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” “heretic,” or anything of that nature, till you hear us a little further. It is a fact, a very alarming fact, strangely overlooked hitherto, that there is a great deal more danger of these microbes when we were baptized in the same water with other people; and we are bound, in all honor and consistency, as well as by a supreme regard to life and health, to put a stop to that.

Here we shall encounter some difficulties; but difficulties are made to be overcome, and we must meet them courageously. At the thought someone may propose, as a remedy, to dispense with baptisteries, and go to outdoor pools or streams; but it only requires a moment’s consideration to be reminded that dead dogs, dead cats, and other things are constantly thrown into these outdoor waters, and that the very worst of microbes emanate from these. Moreover, frogs, tadpoles and snakes frequent these waters, while horses, cows and hogs go there to drink, and we might get some microbes if we are baptized in such places. The remedy seems to be, to retain the baptistery, but to have it washed, rinsed and scoured and fumigated after very individual baptism. This can be done very easily in some of our churches, especially where the preacher is a scientific critic whose cases of baptism, like angel’s visits, are few and far between.

There is another imminent peril to which church people are exposed, and for which science, in God’s own good time, has furnished a remedy. It is the peril consequent on a large number of persons being shut up together for an hour or two in the same room and breathing the same air. On such occasions a swarm of these mischievous microbes keeps rushing out of every man’s mouth with every breath he exhales, and the air gets SO full of them that sometimes we can smell them. This is far more perilous than drinking of the same cup, breaking pieces from the same loaf of bread, or being baptized in the same water. This must be remedied; and the heaven-sent remedy to which I have made reference is the telephone. We will supply every family with one of these instruments, so that they can assemble in their own parlors at the appointed hour and listen while the preacher, alone in his parlor – for we shall need no meeting house then–stands in the middle of the floor and talks into the other end of these instruments.

There may be some defects in this scheme as yet; for all schemes, even those invented by inspired men and by Christ himself, are found by experience to need improvement as men become more enlightened; but 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!

 [From Biblical Criticism, Conducted by J. W. McGarvey, Christian Standard, March 31, 1900]



J.W. McGarvey

About two years ago, I think, I published an article under the head of “Microbes”, in which I ridiculed in the manner I thought it deserved, the pretense by which the use of individual cups in the Lord’s Supper is defended. 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 universally 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 feature”, 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 into 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 their days 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.”   [From Biblical Criticism, Conducted by J. W. McGarvey, Christian Standard.]

[FINAL NOTE:  The “one cup, one loaf’ practice can be traced back to Christ’s institution of the Supper (Matthew 26:26-29; 1 Cor.11:23-26). Even extra-biblical references as far back as Ignatius verify the use of one cup in first century congregations.  He wrote the following probably during the latter part of the first century: 

“For there is one flesh of the Lord Jesus Christ, and his blood which is shed for us is one. One loaf is broken for all, and one cup is distributed among them all.”(Anti-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, Page 81). 

As McGarvey states, those who use individual cups are bidding “goodbye to the old conceit of restoring primitive Christianity.” Let us abandon this innovation introduced into the Lord’s church by G.C. Brewer in 1915, and ask for the old paths and walk therein – P.M.]

 Recommended articles:

Introducing the Church of Christ – Ronny Wade

God’s Sevenfold Unity – Jerry Cutter

Repentance – J. W. McGarvey


The Ancient Faith website is a thematic collection of scholarly yet simple Bible essays and sermons, many of which were composed by Restoration preachers such as J.W. McGarvey, Moses Lard, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Campbell. These courageous men of faith through hours of Bible investigation studied themselves out of denominationalism, asking for “the old paths” (Jer. 6:16) and seeking to return to “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). We hope you will join with these men in their fervent plea to restore “the ancient order,” “the ancient gospel” or, as it was sometimes called, “the ancient faith.”