- April 5, 2007 at 11:01 pm #1624
Feet washing or foot washing is a religious rite observed as an ordinance by several Christian denominations. The name, and even the spelling, of this practice is not consistently established, being variously known as feet washing, foot washing, feetwashing, footwashing, washing the saints’ feet, washing of feet, pedilavium, and mandatum.
The foot-washing was an example, a pattern. Many groups throughout church history have practiced literal foot-washing as a church ordinance. However, present culture in many lands does not call for the need to wash dust from the feet of one’s guests. Whereas the Lord’s Supper was practiced by the early church , it apparently did not practice foot-washing as an ordinance in church gatherings .
The root of this practice appears to be found in the hospitality customs of ancient civilizations, especially where sandals were the chief footwear. A host would provide water for guests to wash their feet, serve the guests by washing their feet, or even provide a servant to wash the feet of the guests. This is mentioned in several places in the Old Testament of the Bible (e.g. Genesis 18:4; 19:2; 24:32; 43:24; I Samuel 25:41; et al.), as well as other religious and historical documents. A typical Eastern host might bow, greet, and kiss his guest, then offer water to wash his feet. Though the wearing of sandals might necessitate washing the feet, the water was also offered as a courtesy even when shoes were worn.
Jesus reasoning with PeterChristian denominations that observe feet washing do so on the basis of what they believe is the authoritative example and command of Jesus as found in the Gospel of John 13:1-15:
Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him; Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, 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: and ye are clean, but not all. For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean. So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, 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.
Washing the saints’ feet is also mentioned in I Timothy 5:10.
The rite of feet washing finds its roots in scripture. After the death of the apostles, the practice was gradually lost.
Nevertheless, it appears to have been practiced in the early centuries of post-apostolic Christianity, though the evidence is scant. For example, Tertullian (145-220) mentions the practice in his De Corona, but gives no details as to who practiced it or how it was practiced. It was practiced by the church at Milan (ca. A.D. 380), is mentioned by the Council of Elvira (A.D. 300), and is even referenced by Augustine (ca. A.D. 400). Observance of feet washing at the time of baptism was maintained in Africa, Gaul, Germany, Milan, northern Italy, and Ireland. According to the Mennonite Encyclopedia “St. Benedict’s Rule (A.D. 529) for the Benedictine Order prescribed hospitality feetwashing in addition to a communal feetwashing for humility”; a statement confirmed by the Catholic Encyclopedia. It apparently was established in the Roman church, though not in connection with baptism, by the 8th century. The Albigenses observed feetwashing in connection with communion, and the Waldenses’ custom was to wash the feet of visiting ministers. There is some evidence that it was observed by the early Hussites. The practice was a meaningful part of the 16th century radical reformation. Feet washing was often “rediscovered” or “restored” in revivals of religion in which the participants tried to recreate the faith and practice of the apostolic era.
Roman Catholic practice
In Roman Catholic Church, the ritual washing of feet is now associated with the liturgy of Holy Thursday, the day that celebrates in a special way the Last Supper of Jesus, before which he washed the feet of his twelve apostles.
Evidence for the practice on this day goes back at least to the latter half of the twelfth century, when “the pope washed the feet of twelve sub-deacons after his Mass and of thirteen poor men after his dinner.”
From 1570 to 1955, the Roman Missal printed, after the text of the Holy Thursday Mass, a rite of washing of feet unconnected with the Mass. The 1955 revision by Pope Pius XII inserted it into the Mass. Since then, the rite is celebrated after the homily that follows the reading of the gospel account of how Jesus washed the feet of his twelve apostles (John 13:1-15). Some men who have been selected – usually twelve, but the Roman Missal does not specify the number – are led to chairs prepared in a suitable place. The priest goes to each and, with the help of the ministers, pours water over each one’s feet and dries them.
Feet washing is observed by numerous Protestant and proto-Protestant groups, including Pentecostal and Pietistic groups, some Anabaptists, and some Baptists. Though history shows that feet washing has at times been practiced in connection with baptism, and at times as a separate occasion, by far its most common practice has been in connection with the Lord’s supper service.
The observance of washing the saints’ feet is quite varied, but a typical service follows the partaking of unleavened bread and wine. Deacons (in many cases) place pans of water in front of pews that have been arranged for the service. The men and women participate in separate groups, men washing men’s feet and women washing women’s feet. Each member of the congregation takes a turn washing the feet of another member. Each foot is placed one at a time into the basin of water, is washed by cupping the hand and pouring water over the foot, and is dried with a long towel girded around the waist of the member performing the washing. Most of these services appear to be quite moving to the participants.
Among groups that do not observe feet washing as an ordinance or rite, the example of Jesus is usually held to be symbolic and didactic. Among these groups, feet washing is nevertheless sometimes literally practiced. First, some reserve it to be a practice of hospitality or a work of necessity. Secondly, some present it as a dramatic lesson acted out in front of the congregation.
A few Baptists (and perhaps others) that literally observe the washing of feet scruple to call it a third ordinance and rather refer to it only as an example.
Foot washing rites are also practised by some Anglican, Lutheran and Methodist churches. Within the United Methodist Church foot washing is most often experienced in connection with Maundy Thursday services and, sometimes, at ordination services where the Bishop may wash the feet of those who are to be ordained. The foot washing service is practiced regularly by members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and by Primitive Baptists.
Other Christian Groups
The True Jesus Church includes Footwashing as a scriptural sacrament based on John 13:1-11. Like the other two sacraments, namely Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, members of the church believe that footwashing imparts salvific grace to the recipient — In this case, to have a part with Christ (John 13:
Foot-washing rites are observed in the Oriental Orthodox churches.
Latter-day Saints also practice washing of the feet, but this ordinance is seldom performed today.
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