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by J. W. McGarvey

Published in
The Christian Informer
August, 2001

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Last updated:
August 1, 2001.

[INTRODUCTION - We have adapted the following writing to help the reader to have a better understanding of the attack on the scriptural practice of God's people using one cup, a common drinking vessel, in the distribution of the fruit of the vine, and one loaf of bread from which all communicants brake and eat in the Lord's supper. The article first appeared in the Christian Standard, March 31, 1900, one-hundred-one years ago. J. W. McGarvey was concerned about a very serious assault on the scriptural practice of using a common-cup in Christian worship. The introduction into the religious world of a "more sanitary manner of worship" is ridiculed by him to show how foolishly inconsistent its advocates are. Brother McGarvey points out that with the invention of the microscope came the discovery of tiny little beings called "microbes". Today we call them "germs" or "micro-organisms". It is hoped that the reader understands that the Lord's supper, the Communion, was instituted just the way Jesus wanted it. The Creator of micro- organisms knows far more about them than a man can ever discover. We are certain that the Lord understood about communicable diseases, including the HIV and AIDS of our day, and he still gave the disciples a cup of fruit of the vine and said, "this do ye" (1 Corinthians 11:25), "drink ye all of it" (Matthew 26:27), and "they all drank of it" (Mark 14:23). Because of this practice the apostle Paul calls it "the communion" (1 Corinthians 10:16). He teaches the disciples to do it just as he delivered the Lord's supper to them, because that's the way he received it from the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:1,23). The communion is a joint- participation in the cup of fruit of the vine symbolizing their participation together as a congregation of Christian worshipers in the shed blood of Jesus which ratified the New Covenant, and their participation together in the sacrificed body of Jesus symbolized as they break and eat of the one loaf. The word "wine" used in the following articles refers to the product or fruit of the vine in the cup. The word, OINOS - "fermented wine" is never employed in connection with the Lord's supper in the New Testament. Sadly, you will read that in about 1915 the new innovation of individual cups caused division in the body of Christ. The NOTE below is written by J. D. Phillips. -R.N.]

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 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. The doctors have warned us not to spit on the sidewalks, lest our microbes, swarming up from the spittle, be swallowed by some passer-by 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. 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 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 a little 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 first thought someone may propose, as a remedy, to dispense with baptisteries, and go to outdoor pools and 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 every 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 angels' 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!

NOTE: In the invention of the radio [and television], science has come to our rescue in an amazing manner since the article on Microbes was written.... They can sit in their own [den] and listen to the [preaching]. Thus they can worship without running the risk of inhaling the microbe-filled air that has been exhaled from the mouths of their neighbors and friends. Dozens of families cannot afford to meet together for worship. The air in the house becomes too unsanitary for that. We cannot afford to take the risk. Paul was a back number when he wrote: "Not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is" (Hebrews 10:25). When he said: "If therefore the whole church be come together in one place" he had not thought of the millions of microbes literally swarming from the mouths of the worshipers. The radio is our means of escape.

But here is something that brother McGarvey seems not to have thought of. It is the danger of a whole family sitting in their parlor and listening [to] the preaching over the radio [or TV]. The air in the [den] gets full of [germs]. Think of the danger of that! Each member of each family must have a room, equipped with a radio, into which he can go when divine service begins. There he can sit alone with his little cup containing a little cube of bread and a little of the fruit of the vine. He can feel that he is free from all danger, for he will be breathing in no one's [germs] and there will be no [germs] on or in the little cup-unless someone touched it while preparing it for him. The preacher can sit in his own [house]-it would be dangerous for him to go to the broadcasting station and there breathe into his nostrils thousands of microbes left there by others-and speak. When he gets ready for his listeners to partake of the Lord's Supper he can offer thanks. Each individual can then partake in all safety. He will need no table to set his little cup on. Have not our preachers learned that the table upon which the loaf and the cup are placed is no part of what Paul calls "the Lord's table"? Or maybe Paul was mistaken anyway. Our scientific friends are doing wonders for us.

Seriously, and truly, kind reader, "one wrong step unavoidably leads to another, and the progress of error is always downhill." Back - back to "that which is written" (1 Corinthians 4:6).