What we believe about Feetwashing (July 2013)

We believe in the ordinance of feetwashing as a celebration of the incarnation.[i]

We remember in this ordinance that Jesus Christ is the Word, which became flesh to dwell among us (John 1:14). In describing what happened in the upper room, John affirmed the incarnation (John 13:3-4). We understand this ordinance to represent his giving up his heavenly glory to become a human being, and his willingness to take the form of a servant (Philippians 2:7-8).

There is an incarnational aspect of all believers as well. We believe that when a person is born again that he is filled with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (1 John 4:4).

We believe the service of feetwashing reminds us of our calling to be servants.

As Christians, we are called to empty ourselves and be servants with our servant Lord. In this ordinance we commemorate the meaning of Christian life as a life of service. Jesus made this clear in the upper room when he washed his disciples’ feet (John 13:12-16).

Speaking to disciples anxious for position and power, who equated greatness with rank and authority, Jesus told them that he who would be the first must be the servant of all just as he came to serve and lay down his life for others (Mark 10:43-45).

Paul counseled the Church to keep perspective and follow Christ’s example (Philippians 2:1-8). Whatever our position in society, washing one another’s feet reminds Christians of their calling to serve one another as brothers and sisters in Christ on equal footing with one another.

We believe this ordinance is an expression of our love for one another.

When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet in the upper room, John declares this act to be an expression of the Master’s love which even included Judas – the deceiver and betrayer (John 13:1).

After Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, he gave them the new commandment to love one another just as he loved them by laying down his life for them, so that the world would know that they are his disciples (John 13:34-35). This Christ-like love for one another is essential to the life and witness of the Church.

We believe this ordinance reminds us of our need to minister and to be ministered to.

The Christian life is a pilgrimage[ii] (Hebrews 13:14). As we move toward the heavenly city,[iii] we need each other and have the privilege and responsibility to serve one another (Galatians 6:2). We also need to allow others to bear our burdens. It is sometimes more difficult in the Church to allow ourselves to be ministered to than to minister.

In life we hurt and get hurt. Sometimes we fail, and other times we are victims of others’ wrongdoing. We need to be forgiven and we need to forgive, to minister, and to be ministered to. We are called to be like Christ to each other. This ordinance reminds us of our continuing ministry as Christians, a ministry both given and received. This ordinance is a beautiful symbol of our care for one another.

We believe this ordinance helps us prepare for the Lord’s supper.

The ordinance of feetwashing is generally observed in conjunction[iv] with the ordinance of the Lord’s supper. It can help us come to the Lord’s table properly prepared, in right relationship with God and with our brothers and sisters in Christ (Matthew 5:23-24). However, the ordinance of feetwashing is effective whether or not in company with the Lord’s supper. The celebration of the incarnation, the reminder that the Christian is called to be a servant, the need to express our Christian love and affection, and the opportunity to minister and be ministered to are all present whenever we observe this ordinance.

[i] Incarnation – the event of God taking on flesh (human form and nature).

[ii] Pilgrimage – a long journey; a way of living in which everything is evaluated by reaching the goal.

[iii] Heavenly city – the destination of every follower of Christ; heaven.

[iv] Conjunction – when two or more events or things occur together.