Some do and some don’t. That is the observance of washing one another’s feet. I’m not going to make a distinction of whether you should or shouldn’t but just that this is a very positive experience that we are told of by Jesus. He says in John 13:17, “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” My own stance is that this should be considered as a third ordinance that can be observed with the Lord’s supper or as a stand alone action. I think this not only because the only place to even remotely link foot washing with the Lord’s supper is in John 13, but also for the theological reasons below. Just like baptism and communion, washing the feet of the saints is filled with so many pictures of deep theological truths that make it just to good to pass by.
One the men from our church pointed out that this is the biggest point that stands out to him at church. That it really takes someone humble to wash another’s feet. For me, it is even humbling to allow someone to wash your feet. You can see that even Peter had to humble his prideful understanding of Jesus washing his feet in John 13:8. It has always reminded of the caretakers that have had to bathe a loved one who could no longer do it themselves. It is very humbling indeed but in the same sense it is a very honorable duty that is hard to put into words at times. And in our world that is filled with selfish consumerism and individualism we could use more pictures of humbleness.
This is the character of the Christian leader. A leader who leads by serving those that they lead. Jesus spoke that servant leadership was counter-cultural in Matthew 20:26-28. The fact that pastors and other church leaders are invited to put the servants towel on and wash the feet of those that they serve is indication of the perspective God desires them to have. We become so used to the world philosophy of use or be used, in other words, use people and love things. Jesus encouraged his disciples to wash each others feet because he did it as an example before them (John 13:12-17).
Peter wanted to refuse the Lord Jesus the opportunity of washing his feet. Simply, it was because it was not cultural for the master to wash the servants feet. Notice, the next part of the conversation though.
“8 Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. 9 Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. 10 Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. 11 For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he , Ye are not all clean.” (John 13:8-11).
Baptism is a testifying symbol that signifies that we have crucified with Christ, buried into His death, and raised to new life by His resurrection. Normally, unlike communion, it is a one time ordinance. In a way, it is also understood as the outward symbol of the inward cleansing that takes place in the moment of conversion (cf. Isaiah 1:16-18, Ephesian 5:26). But what we read in John 13, Jesus shares that washing of the feet is also symbolic of cleansing. So, what does this mean? Just as baptism externally testified to an internal cleansing at our conversion, washing of our feet externally testifies to a continuing internal cleansing, or progressive sanctification where the Lord is helping us to keep our hearts undefiled in this world.
Picture it like this. You take a bath (baptism) but then as soon as you step out of the tub and start walking through the world, things start attaching themselves to you. Mostly on the bottom of your feet. Its the part that has the most direct contact with the physical world. The solution then is washing your feet, and by that you feel clean all over again. God has shown us in the washing of the saints feet that He not only has saved us but has grace that keeps working in our life as we pick up some dirt from the world as we walk through it.
In cleansing there is a connection made with foot washing and baptism. With that being said, Jesus makes a remark in Mark 10:38,
“38 But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask : can ye drink of the cup that I drink of ? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with ? 39 And they said unto him, We can . And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of ; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized”
Cup and baptism together? This is the Lord’s supper and the baptism, but with the added thought of suffering. The true cup and baptism is that the disciples and Jesus would go through intense suffering. But the precursor to this was at the Lord’s table. The meal and the washing were the final preparations to be made before departure. Culturally, the meal and washing was shared as guests came in but Jesus used them as preparations for leaving. Communion and foot washing then are beautiful symbols that point us toward our departure. We know that Jesus shared that the next time he took the supper with us would be in heaven (Matthew 26:29). We also know that Johannine community solely out of all the disciples following observed the washing of feet as preparation for its elderly to pass on and for imprisoned believers and their coming martyrdom. Foot washing is preparation for departure from this world. We wash our feet to set out on a new adventure beyond this world.
If this has just peaked your interest in washing the feet of the saints you can check out my short book at the following link.