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Monday, April 2, 2012

The Lost Art of Foot Washing

~ Foot Washing ~

John 13:13-15 KJV
"Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you."

Foot washing is a nearly forgotten ceremony of days gone by. Few today have ever witnessed this occasion, let alone participated in it.

~ Biblical History of Foot Washing ~

Foot washing, also known as the 'Ordinance of Humility' has been done for millenniums. In ancient civilizations many cultures considered this an act of hospitality. A visitor would either get his feet washed by his host or by one of his host's servants.

This courtesy is even mentioned several times in the Old Testament of the Bible. When the Lord visited Abraham out on the plains of Mamre we see the Patriarch offer to fetch water for the washing of His feet.

Genesis 18:4 KJV
"Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree"
In the next chapter of the book of Genesis we find Abraham's nephew, Lot extending the same offer of hospitality to the two men who had just accompanied the Lord out on the plains of Mamre where Abraham dwelt.

Genesis 19:2 KJV
"And he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant's house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night".

In Genesis 24:32 we read of Abraham's servant visiting another nephew of Abraham's named Laban. Laban is also one who extends water to wash feet as a sign of hospitality as well.

Genesis 24:32 KJV
"And the man came into the house: and he ungirded his camels, and gave straw and provender for the camels, and water to wash his feet, and the men's feet that were with him".

And later we see Abraham's grandson, Joseph making sure visitors to Egypt are given water to wash their feet.

Genesis 43:24 KJV
"And the man brought the men into Joseph's house, and gave them water, and they washed their feet; and he gave their asses provender".

There are other references to foot washing in the scriptures as well, but without a doubt the history of this symbolic gesture of humility in modern day churches has its roots in the New Testament. In the 13th chapter of the book of John, the Apostle describes what would become an ordinance for the followers of Christ.

John relays the events that took place at the Last Supper. Jesus and his disciples entered the upper room where the Passover meal was ready to eat. The customary way of eating at this time was not as da Vinci pictured in his 'The Last Supper'.

~ Let's Look At This In Story ~

As you remember when the Israelites first ate the Passover meal in the land of Egypt they ate it standing. During Christ's day the customary way to eat the meal was to lie down. So the disciples reclined.

As was often the case they each wanted to be the most important. You can see Judas pushing to get close to Christ so he's reclined to Christ's left. John, the beloved, is to his right. The others are all reclined around the meal in a circle.

And that's when they notice something is wrong. Something is missing. There before them is the evening meal. Before they partook of the meal they must first have their feet washed. And there over on a table set out nicely was a pitcher of water, a basin to place their feet in, and a towel to dry off their feet. However, one small detail had been forgotten. There was no servant to wash their feet!

Judas probably looked at Peter as if Peter should be the one. Judas had a rather high opinion of himself even on this night. Peter probably looked at John as if he should be the one to wash their feet. After all he was the youngest.

And Jesus probably looked into the hearts of all his men gathered around that table. He probably looked for some gleam, some glimmer of selflessness. After all for 3 years hadn't he shown each one of these guys what his kingdom in Heaven is really all about. Oh, how he longed to show them, how he longed to give them one last lesson in putting ourselves last and others first before his life was taken.

Jesus then arose from where he had been reclining and removed his outer robe. Then he tied the long towel around his waist. I can imagine at this point the disciples began to cringe, because each in his inmost soul knew that it shouldn't be Jesus performing this duty. They each knew that they themselves should have been attending to this cleansing.

Jesus then poured some of the water into the basin. Let's just say he started with Judas and washed his feet. Judas had such a high opinion of himself that I'm sure he didn't think Christ was doing too much for him. Then one by one Jesus went around the circle. As the men were reclined with their feet outward it made it easier for the Servant of servants to wash each one's feet.

Finally, he came to Peter. Peter's conscience was smitten quite severely as Christ came to him. In my mind I can sort of see Peter tucking his feet up out of the way as he refused to let Jesus wash his feet.

"Lord, dost Thou wash my feet?" Peter was incredulous. Jesus responded, "What I do, thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter."

Peter was severely humiliated to think that his Lord would condescend to this. In opposition Peter responded, "Thou shalt never wash my feet."
Jesus then stated, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me."

Immediately Peter realized that the type of cleansing Christ was doing was a shadow of a higher cleansing. Jesus was making himself available to wash not just the feet, but to rid the stain of sin from the heart. Peter saw that in his refusal to have Christ wash his feet he was in a sense rejecting his Lord.

Sensing his great need Peter responded, "Not my feet only," he said, "but also my hands and my head. Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit."

The disciples had all been baptized. None needed to be baptized again.
And on this day all had most likely had a bath. But as those sandaled feet walked the streets of old Jerusalem where camels, donkeys, horses traveled the streets, where enormous herds of sheep not to mention many other animals had been driven, there on the filthy streets of Jerusalem feet became dirty once again.

The disciples of old and we ourselves today have come to Jesus. We've been cleansed, but like them we are occasionally tempted. Perhaps, just like the disciples we're filled with prejudice, jealousy, pride.

For all their lives Christ's Apostles had participated in the Passover. At the Last Supper Christ instituted a new memorial service, the Communion.
But these men were so focused on alienation, jealousy, envy, and pride that they were not ready for communion. Through the humility they experienced in having Christ wash their feet they each partook of the ordinances of the grape juice and the bread in a more thoughtful and open hearted manner. Through the rest of the disciples lives they would contemplate with greater insight the meaning of the washing of the feet and the symbols of the unleavened bread and the juice of the vine.

Having performed this service Jesus then stated, "I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you."

Christ's example of washing feet then became a consecrated ordinance. From then on it was to be observed by Christ's disciples to the very end of time that we might always contemplate this lesson in humility and service.
And Christ would have his followers to know that humility is not something that is tethered to this religious service. Being willing to humble ourself means more that just removing the dust of travel from a person's feet. It is more than simply being hospitable. Christ would have each of us to always look for ways to serve others.

The Ordinance of Humility, as it is sometimes called is Christ's preparation for the sacramental service of Communion. With pride, envy, and strife in the heart we are not prepared to enter into the fellowship of Christ. It would then be a mockery to receive the emblems that commemorate His blood and His body for us to cling to our sins. That is why this memorial of humiliation was appointed by Christ before we partake of the emblems.

~More Scripture related to Feet ~

Luke 1:79 
"To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace".

Rom 10:15 
"How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace"

Eph 6:15 
"and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;

Heb 12:13 
"and make straight paths for your feet"

Matt 3:3
"Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight"

Should you decide to partake of this ordinance; contemplate what Jesus said concerning it:

"Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call Me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them."

There is in all of us a tendency to think more of ourselves than others, to seek the best, to do things for self. These tendencies often give rise to evil thoughts and bitterness of spirit. This ordinance preceding the Lord's Supper helps humble these thoughts in our heart as we serve and are served by our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Whatever Happened to Foot Washing?

All of us have made some adjustments and some changes in our lives. Perhaps when we were young we didn't eat peas or spinach. But over the years things changed.

The same has been the experience with churches over the years. Early Christians went to church on Saturday just like the Jews. Now most churches have their services on Sunday. Early Catholic churches baptized by immersion. Their ancient churches still have baptisteries. Now the Catholic church sprinkles. And early churches observed foot washing.

The Christian author, Tertullian, noted that foot washing took place in his work, De Corona. Tertullian lived between 145-220 A.D. Foot washing was practiced by the church of Milan in 380 A.D. It was mentioned in the Council of Elvira in A.D. 300. Augustine mentioned there being foot washing in 400 A.D. There's considerable evidence that foot washing was done in Africa, Gaul, Germany, Milan, Italy, and Ireland.

Several churches of old practiced foot washing at various times. Catholics, Albigenses, Waldenses, and Hussites all participated in foot washing for various occasions.

After the Reformation in the 1500's there were many other churches that practiced this 'Ordinance of Humility'. However in recent times most churches have allowed this practice to cease in their congregations. Some of the groups that still practice foot washing today are as follows:

Some Church Groups Still Practicing Foot Washing Today
 Grace Brethren
Church of the Brethren
Brethren Church
Old German Baptist Brethren
Dunkard Brethren
Some Baptist groups
Separate Baptists in Christianity
General Association of Baptists
Free Will Baptists
Primitive Baptists
Union Baptists
Old Regular Baptist
Christian Baptist Church of God
Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee)
Church of God (7th Day)
Brethren in Christ
Seventh-day Adventist Church

Occasionally, foot washing is practiced by some congregations in the following churches as well

United Baptist
General Baptist
Independent Baptist
True Jesus Church

So What Happens in a Foot Washing Service?

In general most churches have the men wash other men's feet and the women washer other women's feet. Occasionally, husbands and wives wash each other's feet in some churches.

When the time comes for this event to take place generally people pair up and wash one another's feet in the following manner:

One person generally sits in a chair and removes their socks and shoes. Women are encouraged to not wear nylons on this day. In the event a woman is wearing nylons she generally leaves her nylons on and the person washing her just washes over the nylon with the water.

The person getting the water generally gets in a line and then gets a towel and a wash basin. Then they dip some water with a dipper from a bucket into their basin. The first person washing then positions himself at the feet of the person sitting in the chair. It is generally at this point when one or the other will have a prayer of consecration for the two of them. The person washing then sets one of the other person's feet into the water and uses their own hands to symbolically remove the dirt. Then they use the towel and dry the foot. They then do the other foot as well.

After this the person who just did the washing takes the dirty towel and the pan back to the water. There they dump the dirty water into a separate container and use the dirty towel to wipe out the pan. While their partner is getting their shoes back on they then pour more water into the basin and grab another towel. This their partner will use on them.

Oftentimes at the end of the second person getting their feet washed the other person will have a prayer for the two of them as well. When everyone is finished the group usually starts singing hymns. This signifies to the other gender that they are ready for the Communion Service.

What About You?

Some do this on a weekly basis, just like they do their communions. Others feel that makes the communion and the Ordinance of Humility too commonplace and so they only practice this four times a year. Others only practice this ordinance at special times and during special events. Frankly; I am of the opinion that any time the Holy Spirit places the desire in you then you should follow His direction. This is between you and the Lord so just go with your heart.

If you have never participated in a foot washing ceremony and think you might like to give it a try or if you think you might like to watch it, you may call one of the churches above. I'm sure any of them would love to have you.

I am all for hosting your own foot washing ceremony among your friends. Invite them in, serve them some refreshments and have each take turns in the foot washing. You would be amazed at how wonderful this experience is to share together and it will no doubt become a bonding experience. But; whatever you prefer is fine just as long as you give it a try. I believe that it will soon become one of your more favorite of the Christian experiences.

O Lord, let us try to follow your commands, including Your command for us to wash each other's feet. Open our minds and our hearts to see the beauty of such a simple gesture extended to another. Please be with now and forever as we demonstrate our love for you and for one another in the washing of the feet. As You have loved us and shown us the beautiful example of those. It is in your Holy Name Jesus we pray, Amen.

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