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The Wanderer

Should Footwashing Be Practiced As a Means of Grace Within the Church?

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The Wanderer
Quote

From time to time some Christian groups have practiced a ceremony of washing one another’s feet at a public meeting of the church. They have based this practice on Jesus’s command, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).

Those who advocate footwashing consider it a ceremony that Jesus commanded, similar to the ceremonies of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. However, there are several reasons why we should not think that in John 13:14 Jesus was establishing another ceremony for the church in addition to baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

(1) Baptism and the Lord’s Supper explicitly symbolize the greatest event in the history of redemption, Christ’s death and resurrection for us, but footwashing symbolizes no such redemptive-historical event.

(2) Baptism and the Lord’s Supper were clearly symbolic actions, but when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet it was clearly functional, not merely symbolic, in that it met an ordinary human need of the day (dirty feet).

(3) Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are appropriate symbols of beginning and continuing in the Christian life,17 but no such symbolism attaches to footwashing.

(4) To make footwashing an ordinance like baptism and the Lord’s Supper reduces it to a symbol — and if it is a symbol, then Jesus’ words command us only to perform a symbol, and the real force of Jesus’ command (to act in humility and love) is lost.

(5) Whereas the epistles give evidence that baptism and the Lord’s Supper were continuing ordinances observed by the New Testament churches, there is no evidence that the apostles or the early church observed footwashing as an ordinance.

(6) There is a simple and straightforward explanation for Jesus’ command: he is telling his disciples to take lowly tasks in serving one another. But if this is what the text means (and the vast majority of the church through history has understood it this way), then we need not look for an additional meaning (that Jesus is also instituting a new ceremony). By contrast, the New Testament texts about baptism and the Lord’s Supper cannot be understood to command something other than a ceremony. Therefore, while all Christians would profit from pondering the application of Jesus’ statement about footwashing to their present patterns of life, none should think that Jesus is encouraging them to practice a ceremony of footwashing.

(taken from Grudem, Wayne A.. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (p. 962). Zondervan. Kindle Edition).

The practice of foot washing has been a real thorn in my side, for somewhat personal reasons. I have severe deformity of one of my feet, relating to burn injury from years ago, and I do NOT like having to show that to people. When I did try to do it a couple of times; it made me feel so rotten that I did not enjoy anything else in the service at all! Although I was sometimes told that we "don't have to" do the foot washing; but it often turned out that I was frowned severely upon, and critisized as not having "enough faith," etc; especially when I was in leadership roles, for not wanting to do the foot washing part. It seems that I was apparently being "unholy," and "rebelling;" or that I could not be "trusted" as a leader when I insisted on me not doing the foot washing. The above quote from a systematic theology volume I have been reading seems to lend support for not being obligated today to partake of the foot washing part of the Adventist communion service. What think ye?

 

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phkrause

I have not felt like it was a thorn in my side, but I've not partaken in this part because of some other reasons which also have to do with the way my feet/toes look and do feel shy about letting others look at them. When I have participated, it has usually been with my wife.

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JoeMo

I dreaded footwashing when I first became an Adventist; but now - 40 years later - I look forward to it.  I usually purposely team up with someone I don't know or someone I have an issue with.  It never fails - I either make a new friend or share mutual forgiveness and reunion with a brother.

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rudywoofs (Pam)

I've always despised footwashing.... I'll wash anyone else's feet, but I'll be darned if I'm going to get my feet damp, then put shoes back on.  And besides that, I'll wager very few people wash their hands afterwards, and then go in for communion and grub all over the crackers.

 

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The Wanderer
11 hours ago, JoeMo said:

I dreaded footwashing when I first became an Adventist; but now - 40 years later - I look forward to it.  I usually purposely team up with someone I don't know or someone I have an issue with.  It never fails - I either make a new friend or share mutual forgiveness and reunion with a brother.

This is fairly inline with official Adventist beliefs:

Quote

The Lord's Supper is a participation in the emblems of the body and blood of Jesus as an expression of faith in Him, our Lord and Saviour. In this experience of communion Christ is present to meet and strengthen His people. As we partake, we joyfully proclaim the Lord's death until He comes again. Preparation for the Supper includes self-examination, repentance, and confession. The Master ordained the service of foot washing to signify renewed cleansing, to express a willingness to serve one another in Christlike humility, and to unite our hearts in love. The communion service is open to all believing Christians.-Fundamental Beliefs, 16

Does anyone have any thoughts about the following taken from the OP?

21 hours ago, The Wanderer said:

However, there are several reasons why we should not think that in John 13:14 Jesus was establishing another ceremony for the church in addition to baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

(1) Baptism and the Lord’s Supper explicitly symbolize the greatest event in the history of redemption, Christ’s death and resurrection for us, but footwashing symbolizes no such redemptive-historical event.

(2) Baptism and the Lord’s Supper were clearly symbolic actions, but when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet it was clearly functional, not merely symbolic, in that it met an ordinary human need of the day (dirty feet).

(3) Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are appropriate symbols of beginning and continuing in the Christian life,17 but no such symbolism attaches to footwashing.

(4) To make footwashing an ordinance like baptism and the Lord’s Supper reduces it to a symbol — and if it is a symbol, then Jesus’ words command us only to perform a symbol, and the real force of Jesus’ command (to act in humility and love) is lost.

(5) Whereas the epistles give evidence that baptism and the Lord’s Supper were continuing ordinances observed by the New Testament churches, there is no evidence that the apostles or the early church observed footwashing as an ordinance.

(6) There is a simple and straightforward explanation for Jesus’ command: he is telling his disciples to take lowly tasks in serving one another. But if this is what the text means (and the vast majority of the church through history has understood it this way), then we need not look for an additional meaning (that Jesus is also instituting a new ceremony). By contrast, the New Testament texts about baptism and the Lord’s Supper cannot be understood to command something other than a ceremony. Therefore, while all Christians would profit from pondering the application of Jesus’ statement about footwashing to their present patterns of life, none should think that Jesus is encouraging them to practice a ceremony of footwashing.

(taken from Grudem, Wayne A.. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (p. 962). Zondervan. Kindle Edition).

 

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pierrepaul

I agree with Wayne Grudem's position. The footwashing seems to be akin to "bear one anothers' burdens" and "the first shall be last, and a servant". I do however think there is value in the ceremony in that it reminds one to be humble in a practical way. I don't believe there is any "sacramental" value to the ceremony.

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B/W Photodude
On 1/20/2019 at 1:05 PM, The Wanderer said:

Wanderer actually quoted!

(2) Baptism and the Lord’s Supper were clearly symbolic actions, but when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet it was clearly functional, not merely symbolic, in that it met an ordinary human need of the day (dirty feet).

(3) Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are appropriate symbols of beginning and continuing in the Christian life,17 but no such symbolism attaches to footwashing.

(taken from Grudem, Wayne A.. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (p. 962). Zondervan. Kindle Edition).

Jesus set us the example and told us to do as He had done to us. I saw that the example of Christ should be as exactly followed as possible. (Material related to inter-gender foot washing deleted) EGW Letters & Manuscripts: vol. 1, p396

I would disagree that there is no symbolic meaning to the foot washing. One of my favorite preachers to listen to described the Lord's supper and the events leading up to it. He noted that the "towel" Jesus girded himself with to wipe the feet of the disciples was actually a part of his garment he was wearing. So, as he washed their feet, he was actually wiping the dirt off of their feet onto himself. Symbolically, he compared this to Jesus actually taking our sins and our dirt onto himself. Part of the shame that he despised. 

We are fortunate that most people come to church with relatively clean feet. I have never gone to foot washing and found someone's feet to be dirty. But consider Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. They are said to have worn sandal like footwear and walked long distances during the day over dusty roads. Imagine the dirt on their feet!

I guess one of the reasons it does not bother me is that after a long career of caring for people, some of whom were scraped up off the street in skid row and brought to the hospital. Sometimes, when cleaning them up, I would remove their socks, which would literally fall apart as they came off, and then wash their feet which probably had not seen light or open air for weeks!

I suspicion that most people do not really keep a running memory of what the feet of their foot washing ceremony partner looked like. I see no reason really for being ashamed of what your feet look like. Everyone has seen someone with some condition they were glad they did not have and everyone knows that it happens. I imagine if there was a current medical situation that only doing one foot or even stepping out that one day would be acceptable. But I would also say to not worry what others will think of your feet. I had an aunt once who would never go to communion because she thought her feet were too big!

Personally, I would not do foot washing with my wife. Somehow it seems like cheating!

 

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JoeMo
4 hours ago, B/W Photodude said:

Personally, I would not do foot washing with my wife. Somehow it seems like cheating!

In general, I would hesitate to do foot-washing with another woman besides my wife. Somehow that would feel like cheating. To me, it's kind of intimate.

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The Wanderer
1 minute ago, JoeMo said:

In general, I would hesitate to do foot-washing with another woman besides my wife. Somehow that would feel like cheating. To me, it's kind of intimate.

in most churches where I saw it or participated; it was supposed to be like that. men and women aways went to separate rooms for that part.

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JoeMo
6 minutes ago, The Wanderer said:

in most churches where I saw it or participated; it was supposed to be like that. men and women aways went to separate rooms for that part.

Things have changed since last you went to church (at least where I live).  At all the churches I have been to recently, there is a room for men only, women only, and families/visitors and others who aren't that gender conscious.

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The Wanderer
9 hours ago, B/W Photodude said:

I would disagree that there is no symbolic meaning to the foot washing. One of my favorite preachers to listen to described the Lord's supper and the events leading up to it. He noted that the "towel" Jesus girded himself with to wipe the feet of the disciples was actually a part of his garment he was wearing. So, as he washed their feet, he was actually wiping the dirt off of their feet onto himself. Symbolically, he compared this to Jesus actually taking our sins and our dirt onto himself. Part of the shame that he despised. 

Theologically; I would agree with you on this point. Definitely. This is a good example that just because something is called "Systematic Theology" it does not follow that we are getting the correct picture. Here is a portion from the 28 beliefs book that does make sense:
 

Quote

 

The Lord's Supper

WITH DUSTY FEET THEY ARRIVED at the upper room for the Passover. Someone had provided a pitcher of water, a basin, and a towel for the customary footwashing, but no one wanted to perform the menial task.

Aware of His impending death, Jesus said sorrowfully, "'With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God'" (Luk_22:15-16).

The jealousy the disciples harbored against one another filled Jesus' heart with sadness. He realized they were still contending as to who should be considered the greatest in His kingdom (Luk_22:24; Mat_18:1; Mat_20:21). It was their maneuvering for position, their pride and self-esteem, that prevented the disciples from humbling themselves, from substituting for the servant and washing the feet of the others. Would they ever learn that in God's kingdom true greatness is revealed by humility and loving service?

"During supper" (Joh_13:2, Joh_13:4, RSV)1 Jesus quietly arose, took the servant's towel, poured water into the basin, knelt down, and began to wash the disciples' feet. The Master as servant! Understanding the unspoken rebuke, the disciples were filled with shame. When He had completed His work and returned to His place, He said, "'If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them'" (Joh_13:14-17, RSV).

 

As I mentioned in the OP and as others have also said it, there are LEGITIMATE cultural or personal reasons why some are very uncomfortable participating in this part of "The Lord's Supper."  There is a cognitive dissonance of sorts which can result in such cases, and the attitudes of some church members who dont respond well to that when people feel they need to pass on the foot washing part doesn't help. As far as the clean feet idea goes; I dont think anyone's feet would really be "clean" after wearing "church shoes" with socks for a couple of hours. :D I also worked in nursing for over 14 years, but more in long term care, and palliative. pretty sure no one on the forum wants to hear my "clean or not clean feet stories. lol

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The Wanderer
4 hours ago, JoeMo said:

In general, I would hesitate to do foot-washing with another woman besides my wife. Somehow that would feel like cheating. To me, it's kind of intimate.

well yea, I mean what about women who wear nylons and such, or guys with toenail polish on?  Real life stuff I have seen. Ill have to dig up a church manual and see what it says about the foot washing and how one's choice on this may effect on the idea of  "member of the church in good standing." I have encountered some nasty reactions in the past when I chose to pass.

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B/W Photodude
14 minutes ago, The Wanderer said:

I also worked in nursing for over 14 years, but more in long term care, and palliative. pretty sure no one on the forum wants to hear my "clean or not clean feet stories. lol

Well, like they say, never go to lunch with a bunch of nurses!

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B/W Photodude
26 minutes ago, The Wanderer said:

As far as the clean feet idea goes; I dont think anyone's feet would really be "clean" after wearing "church shoes" with socks for a couple of hours.

Clean does get to a really interesting topic and people have really strange ideas about what clean really is. I won't go into what people think is clean and what is dirty, but there are many that are really strange, so the foot washing does not worry me. People have no idea sometimes how dirty the environment really is.

The nylons shouldn't be an issue, since I don't goes to the ladies footwash, until I happen to be in a church where the transvestites go to the right room! Nail polish, no big deal but strange on a guy.

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pierrepaul
9 hours ago, The Wanderer said:

This is a good example that just because something is called "Systematic Theology" it does not follow that we are getting the correct picture.

I like Wayne Grudum's book. It's well written, well researched, well referenced. But he's a Calvinist through and through. And for smug "we have it all figured out" attitudes of certainty, Adventists have nothing on the 5-point Calvinists.

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Gregory Matthews

Did you know that the Pope participates in a foot washing service once a year?

 

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Gregory Matthews

As to women wearing nylons:  They are not required to remove them in order to participate in the foot washing, the idea being the same that allows people wearing clothing to be baptized in their clothing.

 

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phkrause
1 hour ago, Gregory Matthews said:

As to women wearing nylons:  They are not required to remove them in order to participate in the foot washing, the idea being the same that allows people wearing clothing to be baptized in their clothing.

My wife used to leave her nylons on and so did all the other woman in the churches that I've gone to.

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Gregory Matthews

I am reminded of a man who once told me that women, if needed, should have a special pair of nylons, which were not panty-hose, that they could wear to Communion so that they could remove them for the foot washing.   My suggestion to such:  If we can baptize a person wearing some clothing, we ought to be able to allow them to wear nylons for the foot washing.

I think that the principle is the same for both.

 

 

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Gregory Matthews

Yes, today many SDA congregations have 3-sections for foot washing:  males, females and family.

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The Wanderer
2 hours ago, pierrepaul said:

I like Wayne Grudum's book.

I agree; its a really good book. The biggest reason I initially posted this topic was because his theology on this really surprised me, in light of how well he did the rest.

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The Wanderer
On 1/21/2019 at 12:17 PM, B/W Photodude said:

(Material related to inter-gender foot washing deleted)

pardon my profound ignorance, but what is this about?

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The Wanderer
On 1/21/2019 at 12:17 PM, B/W Photodude said:

I see no reason really for being ashamed of what your feet look like.

Maybe thats because you dont ask; and actually dont know anything about that? Some people have good reasons. I see no reason for faulting them in any way.

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The Wanderer
16 hours ago, Gregory Matthews said:

As to women wearing nylons:  They are not required to remove them in order to participate in the foot washing, the idea being the same that allows people wearing clothing to be baptized in their clothing.

 

so they are stuck with doing the rest of the service with wet "socks?" Maybe, theres stuff I dont know about nylons...I guess thats ok.

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Gregory Matthews

Yes, there is stuff you do not know.  It is evident that you have never had your feet washed while you were  wearing nylons.

 

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