One Cup Call
She called the office last week; some sister from somewhere on the east coast who was coming to Oklahoma with her family this summer and was looking for a faithful-to-the-word-of-God congregation of Christ’s church to worship with. Due to the sad state of affairs in the Lord’s church today as some people decide to deride, deny, over-ride, disrespect, disobey, disregard and discard the Lord’s New Testament pattern and authority when it comes to His one and only blood-bought church, such calls are now, sadly, somewhat of a necessity for the faithful. In fact, I’ve made them myself.
At any rate, as she very gently and respectfully approached the subjects at hand, I decided to “cut to the chase” and save this good sister some time and potential discomfort. I wanted to ease her mind and let her know right up front that we were indeed a faithful to the old paths, God-fearing, Jesus-loving, bible believing, Scripture respecting and practicing congregation. “Let me help you out,” I said. I went on to assure her that if her family came to worship with us, they would not need to worry about experiencing vain worship according to the doctrines and desires of men, but would be amongst humble brethren worshipping in spirit and truth, and hence seeking with all their hearts, minds, souls and strength, to be exactly the kind of worshippers the Father is perpetually seeking (John 4:23-24). As a result, her family would certainly never encounter any females leading songs, leading prayers, preaching sermons, or serving on the Lord’s table in direct violation of the Lord’s divinely-dictated instructions and commandments in 1 Corinthians 14:33-37 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15; and that furthermore, it would be harder to find a musical instrument in our building than it is to find the so-called ‘sinner’s prayer for salvation’ in the Scriptures – absolutely non-existent in both cases!
At that point – although she seemed pleased thus far – she went on to ask if we observed communion each first day of the week (which of course we do in accordance with the Lord’s commandments as well – Acts 20:7). And then she inquired… as to whether we used one cup, or several. She went on to reveal how she and her husband were from a “one cup” congregation, and related how desperately, but fruitlessly to this point, she had searched to find one in Oklahoma for her family to worship with, as the last time they had been in Tulsa they had travelled for five hours, one way, to worship with a “one-cup” congregation in Arkansas! What incredible strength of conviction I thought! I mean, can you even imagine travelling for some five hours, past countless congregations that simply use multiple individual cups for communion, just to walk into a congregation full of total strangers, specifically to all drink from the same, one cup? (Because I must admit, if that were me, I would additionally want to get there early enough to set in the first seat, front row! How can that be considered even remotely sanitary… in today’s society especially?) I certainly admired this good sister’s courage and strength of conviction to say the least!
And so I informed her that I had a “Churches of Christ” directory there in the office which had abbreviations indicating the several different kinds of congregations listed, including the type she was searching for; and that although we in Cleveland weren’t a “one cup” congregation, I would respectfully help her to find one. After several more minutes of very pleasant conversation and supplying this good sister with the contact information for at least four such congregations with similar convictions in and/or around Tulsa, she thanked me for being so ‘helpful’ and voiced how she wished she and her husband could worship with us.
As I hung up the phone, I was suddenly very saddened. Saddened that this good sister and her family could not feel comfortable worshipping with us here in Cleveland. Saddened that the publishers of the so-called “Churches of Christ Directory” we have in the office feels they have to list so many factions, fractions, divisions, separations and abbreviations relative to we who are supposed to be as the one body of Christ (John 17:20-23; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13; Ephesians 4:4-6; Philippians 1:27). Saddened that there are reportedly some brethren out there who consider the use of multiple communion cups as opposed to one, to be the full and final test of fellowship and faithfulness. Saddened that some of my beloved brethren in Christ can seem to somehow believe that those of the rest of us washed in the same blood, and bought at the same price, and made members of the same church as they were, will be spending eternity in hell simply because we use multiple communion cups instead of succumbing to their personal perspective and insistence on everyone’s using only one.
Don’t get me wrong; if this was a biblically-accurate and scripturally-sustainable and defensible point, then I would also be all for it and would defend it to the death… but from everything I’ve ever seen and studied, and with all due respect, humility, and objectivity towards my “one cup” brethren, it’s neither. (And I have actually studied it quite a bit, and even had the privilege of presenting a series of sermons regarding both it and other elements often associated with it. Please listen in and check it out for yourself: http://www.clevelandcoc.com/?p=3942 .
But one of the saddest things associated with phone calls like that for me, lies in regards to what I consider to be one of the very simplest, most elementary, and most transparent and easy to see contradictions in the entire “one cup” perspective. This good sister’s home congregation used one cup… while the Arkansas congregation with whom she and her family worshipped last year – being one that also defends the “one cup” doctrine as well – obviously used a different and additional cup… as all four of the congregations I supplied her with contact information for will use yet more and different, separate cups from either her home congregation, the one in Arkansas, or one another… just as will every other “one cup” congregation in the world! Does anyone else besides me see the bitter irony here?
They all claim to be members of one church. They all believe in and militantly defend the doctrine of Jesus’ disciples all drinking from the same one cup during communion… and yet, at the very same time they defend a doctrine that divides them from those who claim that Jesus disciples can actually take communion from different cups, they actually also use different and multiple cups from one another when they are in congregations in different locations! They have to! It is a physical impossibility for all of Jesus’ disciples today all over the world to use “one cup.” It simply cannot be done. And so, while they defend their “one cup” doctrine to the point of actually dividing the body of Christ, severing and seeing themselves differently from those of their brethren who don’t insist on their particular “one cup” doctrine, they themselves actually use more than one cup every Sunday (from other “one cup” congregating disciples in other locations)! So which way is it? One cup, or several? One cup – no exceptions – as they insist upon in doctrine? Or one cup only when it is a matter of convenience as they actually practice? And how can they condemn the use of more than one communion cup amongst their brethren, when every one of their “one cup” congregation uses a different cup from every other one of them? In other words, when they themselves, while defending “one cup,” actually use multiple cups?
Which do you think is more important to the Lord: Preserving the unity of the one church which Jesus prayed and died and shed His blood for? Or dividing that one church over an absolute insistence on one communion cup and making it a test of fellowship, while at the same time, actually using different – and therefore multiple – cups themselves, from location to location?
And all the while, lost people headed for hell for all eternity drive by all our assemblies, while we sit and seek to strain out a gnat, while swallowing a camel. Sad? Yes; and more than sad to the Savior to be sure…
If you are a member or a congregation of the one body of Christ that wants to continue to hold to the “one cup” practice and perspective in the place where you worship, that is your business – we are all autonomous congregations. I certainly have no problem with how you, as my beloved brethren, conduct your communion service in your particular congregation in that particular regard. But please don’t insist that those who drink from multiple communion cups – just as you yourselves also do under certain circumstances, and in fact, just as you do every Sunday from location to location – are somehow sinning by so doing.
We are supposed to be one in Christ Jesus. When are we going to start acting, worshipping, serving and fellowshipping like it? Because the day we do, maybe we can finally convince the world that the Christ is indeed real, and then just maybe we can start to make the difference Jesus always desired His disciples to make (John 17:20-23; Philippians 1:27)!