By Elmer Moore
RESOLVED: The Scriptures teach that a congregation may use a plurality of containers in the distribution of the fruit of the vine in partaking of the Lord’s Supper.
(Editor’s Note: We are pleased to publish this debate on multiple containers for the Lord’s Supper between Elmer Moore and Ronny Wade. Both men are representative men, recognized as well-qualified by those brethren believing both points of view. Each man presses his points, as is understandable; I am confident that our readers will learn from reading this discussion. This debate is published with a view of learning the truth on a subject over which brethren are divided. Believing the truth shines in the crucible of controversy, this debate was arranged and is published.)
The proposition is indeed a simple one and needs very little definition. However, I will give a brief explanation of what I mean by it. There are at least two words in the proposition that need to be clarified. First, the word teach: by “teach,” I do not mean that I can read verbatim about a plurality of drinking vessels being used in distributing the fruit of the vine. If I could do this it would not be a debatable proposition. I do not believe that such is necessary for a practice to be scriptural. The Bible teaches us “explicitly,” i.e., clearly developed with all its elements apparent,” and also “implicitly,” i.e., “capable of being understood from something else though unexpressed. ” Secondly, the word may: this word suggests the right or liberty to do a thing. Hence, our proposition simply stated is: The Scriptures give Christians the right or liberty to use a plurality of drinking vessels in serving the fruit of the vine. To this end I obligate myself. If our brother should want further clarification, I will be glad to oblige.
Passages That Discuss The Lord’s Supper
(Matt. 26:26-29; Mk. 14:22-25; Lk. 22:17-21; Acts 2:42; 20:7-11; 1 Cor. 10:16; 11:23-24)
Because of limited space I will not write out these passages. However, I urge the reader to note them where the particular point of issue will be considered.
The Real Issue
Many times side issues cloud the real issue in a discussion. I hope to avoid this by stating what I believe to be the real issue. The issue actually involves two basic questions. First, is the number of drinking vessels significant or is the number essential or merely incidental? Secondly, does the drinking vessel signify anything pertaining to the design or purpose of the Lord’s Supper?
The Design or Purpose of the Lord’s Supper
The New Testament declares that the purpose of the Lord’s Supper is that of a memorial. Jesus said, “This do in remembrance of me” (Lk. 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24). The Lord’s Supper is a memorial, a remembrance of the death of our Lord till He comes again. Allow me to state what I believe is a fundamental principle that I don’t believe my brother will deny. Whatever is essential to the keeping of this memorial must have some specific bearing on the design or purpose of that memorial. Thus the “bread” which is a fair representation of the body of our Lord, and the “cup -the fruit of the vine” which is a fair representation of the blood of the Lord, have a definite bearing on the design of that memorial, and are thus essential. However, the drinking vessel has no significance whatever to the death of our Lord any more than the “table” upon which the elements were placed and the plate used to serve the bread.
Further Arguments on the Design or Purpose of the Supper
Let’s look more closely at the purpose of the supper and its relationship to the drinking vessels. Remember that Jesus said, “This do in remembrance of me” (Lk. 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24). W. E. Vine, in his word studies (p. 956), states, “not in ‘memory of’ but in an affectionate calling of the Person Himself to mind.” Hence, those things that are essential to the proper eating of the Lord’s Supper must accomplish this design or purpose. I can readily see how the bread, representing His body, and the fruit of the vine, representing His blood, do in fact accomplish the “affectionate calling of the Person Himself to mind.” But, ladies and gentlemen, I fail to see how a drinking vessel can in any way accomplish “an affectionate calling of the Person Himself to mind.” The drinking vessel no more does this than does the “table,” the “plate,” or the “place” where the supper was instituted.
How Many Elements of Significance?
The Bible indicates that there are only two elements of significance in the Lord’s Supper. The record declares, “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it; and he gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took a cup, and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I shall not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:26-29). First allow me to give a brief explanation of this statement. Jesus declared that the bread was a fair representation of His body, and the-cup, which He identified as the fruit of the vine (v. 29), was a fair representation of His blood that served to ratify the New Testament.
Our Lord used metaphorical language, declaring that “one thing is another” (see Dungan’s Hermeneutics, p. 253, and Bullinger’s Figures of Speech, pp. 738-741). Note the language; He took bread and said, “Take eat; this (bread) is my body.” He took a cup and said take and drink, for “this (cup) is my blood of the covenant” represented by the fruit of the vine. Friends, if you can see that the word “this” in v. 26 refers back to “bread” in the same passage, why do you have difficulty in seeing that the word “this” in v. 28 refers back to “cup” in v. 27? Note also how Jesus explained His own metaphor by declaring what the “cup” was. He said, “I say unto you I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine (my emp.). . . ” (v. 29). Our Lord identified the cup. He said it was the fruit of the vine, and that it was a fair representation of His blood. Please note the following chart:
He took and said eat – This bread is my body.
He took and said drink – This cup is my blood.
Friends, read the passage! Jesus, in this and parallel passages in Mark and Luke, identifies two elements of emphasis: One, the bread which He declares is a fair representation of His body; and two, the cup (the fruit of the vine), which He declares was a fair representation of His blood. In I Corinthians 10: 16 the writer declares, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ?” Dear reader how many elements do you see emphasized in this passage? You see the “cup of blessing” which is “a communion of the blood of Christ” and the “bread” which is “a communion of the body of Christ.” The rhetorical expression “is it not” in the text is the equivalent of saying that it is! Hence, the inspired writer identifies two elements of significance, which are the bread which represents His body and the cup, the fruit of the vine, which represents His blood.
The Drinking Vessel Signifies Nothing
That a vessel or container is necessary to contain liquid is not denied. However, the number is immaterial. The drinking vessel has no greater significance than does “the table” (Lk. 22:21) upon which the elements were placed, or the upper room where the supper was instituted and later observed (Lk. 22:12; Acts 20:8). We must exercise caution that we do not emphasize a matter that the Lord does not emphasize. This is just as bad as failing to make a matter important that the Lord had made important! Brethren, we must realize that it is as bad to bind where the Lord has not bound as it is to loose where He has not loosed. Either extreme is wrong, and the one as bad as the other.
Bible Authority for A Plurality of Drinking Vessels
In establishing authority for a plurality of drinking vessels in serving the fruit of the vine, let me preface my argument by suggesting a fundamental principle recognized by Bible students, that: when the Lord authorizes an act to be performed, whatever is necessary to carry out that direction, and whatever is expedient, is contained in the authorized action, unless what we do violates other principles of Bible teaching. The Lord does not detail every incidental in carrying out His directions. Let me illustrate what I mean. The Lord authorizes us to sing praises. In order to do this there is the necessity of using words. However, whether these words are in a book or memorized by those singing is a matter of judgment. I don’t know of any place in the New Testament where the Lord has mentioned a song book; however I believe such is authorized. In exactly the same way, then, the Lord directed that we drink the fruit of the vine and eat the bread. Since fruit of the vine is a liquid, we must have some kind of container for it. However, the particular kind or number of container(s) is a matter of judgment. The drinking vessel is implicit in the command to drink. The number is incidental. Hence, every passage that teaches the obligation to drink the fruit of the vine is a passage that authorizes a plurality of drinking vessels (Lk. 22:19).
Essentials and Incidentals
Brethren, we must avoid making an incidental into an essential. God’s people must exercise caution not to bind where the Lord has not bound or loose where He has not loosed. Concerning incidentals, I call attention to Matthew 28:18-20, where the Lord authorizes us to baptize. There are certain things that are essential to scriptural baptism that my brother will not fault; hence, there must be a proper subject, action, element, and purpose. However, it is incidental whether we baptize in running water or a baptistry. In the same way that a baptistry is included in baptism, a plurality of drinking vessels is included in the command to drink the fruit of the vine.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 5, pp. 141-142
March 5, 1987