The Impact Of Opposition To Cups and Classes

By Elmer Moore

One thing about those who are members of the Lord’s church is that they will speak out against things they believe to be wrong. This is because they believe something. They are people who claim to have respect for Bible authority, who believe that we must have authority for everything we preach and practice. This indeed is a commendable trait. People who stand for nothing fall for anything.

Be assured that anytime there is opposition to a practice that it will have an impact (make an impression) on God’s people. As is the case of so many things that happen, an impact or impression may be either good or bad, or may sometimes be both. I believe that opposition to “cups” and “classes” had and still does have an impact for good and bad. You ask how can this be?

An impact for bad is seen in the fact that contention resulted from both practices. Good is seen in two areas: First, that such contention will serve to identify “they that are approved” (1 Cor. 11:19). Secondly, I am convinced that the worship and work of the church is made more effective by the use of “cups” and “classes.”

We need to establish clearly what we are writing about. By “cups,” I mean the use of individual containers in serving the fruit of the vine in the Lord’s Supper. By “classes,” I mean the practice of arranging students in groups to be taught, either by age or experience.

I shall endeavor to show that opposition to individual containers and the use of group teaching is without scriptural foundation, and that there is scriptural justification for both.

Cups and classes constitute two separate issues, that are not necessarily related. There are those who contend for one while opposing the other. However, I believe that opposition to both practices is the result of the same mistake, the inability to properly understand and apply Bible authority.

I am convinced that classes (group teaching) and cups (individual containers) were utilized in the first century church. I will, however, address my remarks to the problems that were encountered by those endeavoring to restore New Testament Christianity.

Be assured that the introduction of classes, by the “Disciples of Christ,” was met with aggressive opposition. They were denied the use of the “Sunday School” on the basis of “the close ties between the Sunday School and denominationalism.”(1) Among those who occupied a position of opposition was Alexander Campbell. In 1824 he wrote, “I have for sometime viewed both ‘Bible Societies’ and ‘Sunday Schools,’ as a sort of recruiting establishment to fill up the ranks of those sects which take the lead in them.”(2) It should be noted that in 1847 Campbell wrote, “I have never had but one objection to the administration of the system never one to the system itself. That objection was simply to the sectarian abuses.”(3) On the other side of the issue, Jesse P. Sewell in his 1919 lecture introduced a threefold rationale to support his premise that the church is essentially an educational institution. He reasoned that, “Christianity is preeminently a teaching religion, that the extension of the church depends entirely upon teaching, and that Christians are at liberty to teach the word of God at anytime and any place.”(4)This is not to imply that no one objected to the “Sunday School” from a scriptural standpoint; there were many who did.(5) Limited space will not allow us to pursue this further.

Concerning cups, individual containers, there were those who opposed their use and still do. Efforts to introduce multiple containers met with much opposition. The Christian Standard was active in opposing their use. An article appeared in that paper, March 1893, concerning the “movement1to have a separate cup for each communicant.”(6) A reply to the article previously referred to occurred in the Christian Standard charging such practices as “being an absurdity.”(7) G.C. Brewer is credited, by the “one cup” advocates, as introducing a plurality of containers in the “non-organ” churches.(8) Concerning this matter, brother Brewer wrote, “I think I was the first preacher to advocate the use of individual communion cups and the first church in the state of Tennessee that adopted it was the church for which I was preaching, the Central church of Christ at Chattanooga, Tennessee.”(9)

Classes And Cups: Arguments Viewed

I am convinced that opposition to cups and classes are both a result of an improper attitude toward the Scriptures, a failure to properly understand how to determine when a practice is right!


One of the basic mistakes of those opposing classes and cups is to demand an example (record of action) of the early church engaging in such practice. Even a casual investigation of their writings and debating will reveal that I have not misrepresented them. They demand an example of our practice while refusing to produce one for theirs.

The fallacy must be obvious. A practice may be authorized without being exemplified. The right to act may be determined implicitly (capable of being understood from something else though unexpressed) as well as explicitly (clearly developed with all its elements apparent). A practice authorized, either explicitly or implicitly, does not have to be exemplified. These objectors indict themselves of the guilt of special pleading (unwilling to apply the same criteria to their practice that they apply to others) by refusing to produce an example for all that they do (cf. Rom. 2:21).

Is Their Practice-Safe?

Another mistake of these brethren is seen in their efforts to prove others wrong because they claim to be doing that which is safe. This is something that merits investigation. I deny that their practice is safe! One’s practice involves what he teaches as well as what he does. Their teaching is not see! It is never safe to make something essential that the Bible indicates is incidental. When men do this they become lawmakers. It is just as bad to make laws as it is to ignore them. When we make a law where God has not, we become lawmakers, and assume a position that belongs only to God (Jas. 4:11-12). To do this is to “sit in the temple of God” (2 Thess. 2:9). It was safe to circumcise males; it was not essential to being a Christian (Gal. 5:6). So long as it was viewed in this light no problems resulted. When some determined to make it necessary, Paul disputed with them (Acts 15:1-2), refusing to give “place in the way of subjection no, not for an hour” (Gal. 2:5).

“They Did – We Can – We Must”

Another fallacy is to find that in the New Testament something was done in a certain way and arbitrarily decide that. it must be done only in that manner. I believe that an example (record of action) may obligate us to that precise action (Phil. 4:9). However, there are some very definite rules that we must respect in determining when an example is requiring us to do something.(10) At this point those who object to classes and cups demonstrate their inconsistency. They realize there are some examples that only illustrate a liberty, what we may do. They realize this without being able to cite the criteria for determining that some examples require and some only allow.

Classes And The Command To Teach

We are authorized to teach the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). In order to teach, there are some things that are inherent. There must be a teacher, a student, material, time, place, and some kind of an arrangement. Whatever God has bound in these matters must be respected. However where He has loosed anything we had better not bind it. God has bound the teacher, Christians, whether individually (2 Tim. 2:2) or collectively (1 Tim. 3:15). He has bound the material, the gospel (Gal. 1:8,9). He has bound the students, aliens in conversion and saints in edification (Mk. 16:15; Eph. 4:15,16). But you will search in vain to find where God has bound the time, place and arrangement. We are to teach “in season and out” (2 Tim. 4:2), in public places, private places and dwelling places (Acts 20:20; 28:30, 31). The New Testament reveals the arrangement of didactic discourse was used (Acts 20:7); the arrangement of debates was used (Acts 15:1-2); and also the group arrangement (Acts 20:17; Gal. 2:2). For men to bind an arrangement is for them to bind where God did not.

“Cups” Arguments Viewed

In an effort to prove that only one cup (container) can be used, brethren argue that Jesus used only one cup in instituting the Lord’s Supper, and that we must follow His example. It is well to note that these brethren cannot prove that Jesus only used one container. The Passover Feast, that they were observing, provided that each participant have his own container.” These brethren assume that there was only one container and that Jesus used only one. Even if they could prove that Jesus used only one container, this would not prove that we are obliged to follow that any more than we are obliged to take the supper in an upper room because He instituted the supper in one (Luke 22:12).

Their entire contention is based on the idea that the expression “the cup” cannot mean more than one container. In the first place, “the cup” is obviously talking about the fruit of the vine and not the container. Matthew and Mark use a metaphor (one thing is said to be another), while Luke and Paul use metonomy (where one thing is named to suggest something that relates to it), the cup for the contents. However, the expression, “the cup” occurs in 1 Corinthians 10:16, and in this passage Paul states, “the cup of blessing which we bless . . . .” Paul was at Ephesus and writing to the church at Corinth and he used the singular expression “the cup.” If they only used one container at each place, the expression “the cup” meant more than one. It must be obvious that the expression “the cup” does not necessarily mean one container.

“Three Elements – Not Two”

The concept of the “one cup” advocates is more than just one container. These brethren believe that there are three elements of significance. (1) The “‘cup” represents the New Testament. (2) The bread represents Jesus’ body. (3) The fruit of the vine represents His blood. Their contention that the “cup” represents the New Testament is based on the structure of Luke 22:20, and 1 Corinthians 11:25, which states, “this cup is the New Covenant in my blood, whereas Matthew 26:28 and Mark 14:24, render it “my blood of the New Covenant.” These brethren deny that these four statement are parallel. However they admit that Luke and Paul are using the figure of speech that names the cup for its contents. Surely all can see that in whatever sense the “cup” is the New Covenant it is the contents and not the container, which is spoken about. The truth of the matter is that the reversal of the terms does not change the meaning whatever. The order of faith and confession is so reversed in Romans 10:9, 10. All four passages declare that the cup (contents) is a fair representation of Jesus’ blood that ratified the New Covenant. In 1 Corinthians 10:16 the inspired writer identified two elements of importance, i.e. “The cup of blessing which we bless. . . The bread which we break.” No, my friends the container holds no significance whatever.

The Elements Of Communion

The brethren also contend that the elements in communion include the assembly and Christ. If they should drop the container, break it and spill the contents while half through serving the communion, they would obtain another container and serve the whole assembly. They contend that no one has actually communed until all have. This is just not sol The elements of communion are the Christian and Christ. Paul declares, “Let a man examine himself and so let him eat. . . ” (1 Cor. 11:28-29). The personal pronouns show this to be individual, just as surely as they do in James 1:27, and John 15:1-6.


If brethren do not want to use group teaching that is their business. However, when they begin to teach and condemn all others who will not follow this “practice,” then problems arise. If brethren want to use only one container in distributing the fruit of the vine that is their business. However, when they begin to teach and condemn all others who will not follow their “practice,” then problems arise. I firmly believe that they are judging brethren to be unfaithful by their own law and in so doing are judging God’s law to be inadequate. This is the very thing that James is condemning in James 4:11-12.


1. Mirror of a Movement, Banowsky, p. 232.

2. Ibid., p. 233.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid., p. 235.

5. Ibid.

6. The One Cup, Victor Knowles, p. 67.

7. Ibid., p. 68.

8. Those Individual Cups, J.D. Phillips, pp. 9, 10.

9. Forty Years On The Firing Line, G.C. Brewer, pp. 12,13.

10. The Jewish Encyclopedia, p. 144.

Guardian of Truth XXX: 1, pp. 19-21
January 2, 1986