Summary: Footwashing was an EXAMPLE for believers to follow, not a ritual to observe like the Lord’s Table!
FOOT WASHING - EXAMPLE OR RITUAL?
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The Bible does NOT command New Testament believers to observe foot washing as a Church ritual.
1. The washing of the apostles’ feet by Jesus is mentioned only once in the entire New Testament (John 13:3-17).
3. All three of these gospels command the Lord’s Table as a ritual we should follow, but while prescribing the Lord’s Table, do not command foot washing (Matt. 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:19-20).
4. Foot washing is mentioned in the only gospel account that does not command the Lord’s Table (John chapters 13-17).
5. It is not commanded nor even mentioned in any New Testament epistle to the Church.
6. It is not mentioned in the only epistle that commands the Lord’s Table (1 Cor. 11:23-32).
7. It is not mentioned in the New Testament as a ritual practiced by the early Church (Acts).
8. Jesus refers to what He did as an "example" of how the disciples should serve one another (John 13:15).
There is no Biblical rationale for treating foot washing as a ritual for Church-Age believers to follow. As a general rule of objective Biblical interpretation, you don’t build a major Church doctrine, ritual, or practice upon an incident that is only mentioned once in all of Scripture. It is clear that this was a unique event directed to the apostles as a visual example of an attitude that Jesus wants believers to have toward serving one another:
1. Jesus did it for practical reasons necessary in that culture at that time. He did it to meet real needs, not just as a ritual to prove a point;
2. Jesus did it as an example (Jesus’ own word) of the humility and servant attitude disciples should have for one another (John 13:12-17);
3. Comparable acts of humility to help others in today’s culture might include things like:
a) cleaning the homes (basements, kitchens, bathrooms) of an elderly person;
b) taking care of someone who is bedridden (such as feeding and bathing them);
c) helping a mother care for an infant (changing diapers, preparing formula);
d) food shopping for those persons who have difficulty doing so;
e) giving people rides to the store, to work, or to medical appointments.
Observing a ritual such as "footwashing" in a church setting may even have the effect of allowing believers to ignore real needs around us like some of the prior examples. Such actual needs are oftentimes far more humbling, time-consuming, and harder. They are things which we would rather not do. Observing an easier ritual in a church setting may relieve us from feelings of obligation or guilt if we ignore such harder practical needs.
And by the way, even if it were a valid practice for the Church, then that would raise this question. Where does the Bible say that "men only wash men’s feet", and "women only wash women’s feet", as is the custom observed in churches who perform this ritual? In Luke 7:37-38, a WOMAN washed the feet of JESUS with her tears and hair, then anointed them with perfume, acts that were far more personal than the ritual in today's churches.
To practice foot washing as a Church ritual is to remove it from its cultural and Biblical context, ignores the fact that it is never mentioned when the Lord’s Supper is commanded, and ignores the fact that it is never mentioned nor commanded in any New Testament epistle to the Church, even when the Lord’s Table is prescribed. Furthermore, the Bible does not mention it as a practice of the early Church. However, Jesus is certainly giving us an example we should follow by doing humbling acts of kindness to help other people around us with real needs.
Copyright (c) 2000, Frank J. Gallagher
Abiding In The Word
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