Friday, July 13, 2007

What is the significance of foot washing?

I found the following on Heritage Baptist Bible Church (Walnut Grove, MN) web site, written by Max D. Younce, Pastor. Younce and the church do not hold the literal practice of feet washing, but I thought his presentations of the lessons from Jesus washing His disciples' feet made some good points. The entire article can be found here.

"Christ’s Incarnation, Humility, and Resurrection. (V.4) 'He (Christ) riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.' Supper represents fellowship, such as Christ had at the Throne of God and with all the heavenly host of Heaven--perfect peace, perfect love, and perfect fellowship! He arose from the throne of His glory, laying aside His garments of glory, and came to this stench-filled earth. 'He took a towel and girded himself,' illustrates to us that He was 'God manifest in the flesh.' (I Timothy 3:16), clothing Himself with the garment of human flesh and becoming a servant, humbling Himself even unto the death of the cross...

"In Verse 12, after washing the disciples’ feet, we are told that He 'had taken his garments.' In Verse 4, He had “laid aside his garments,” which represented His heavenly glory. Now, after His crucifixion, He takes back His garments, that is His glory, by His resurrected body. Philippians 3:20,21 explains, “…We look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body” (i.e., His resurrected body)...

"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.' You will recall in Verse 4 that Christ 'laid aside his garments' which represented leaving His glory in Heaven and coming to this earth, clothed with sinless human flesh (the Virgin Birth) to pay for the sins of the world. Christ’s last word on the cross were, '…It is finished: and he bowed his head and gave up the ghost (i.e. spirit).' (John 19:30). After three days and three nights he clothed Himself with his resurrected body and walked 40 days (Acts l:3; I Corinthians 15:3-8) as living proof He had conquered and has taken away the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14.15)...

"Christ’s humbling Himself to wash the disciples’ feet was a two-fold lesson: practical and prophetic. Prophetically, it is described in Philippians 2:7,8, “But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” (V.7). 'And being found in fashion as a man, he HUMBLED himself, and became obedient unto death, even the DEATH OF THE CROSS.' (V.8). The practical example for every Christian today, is that we humble ourselves by exhibiting friendliness, kindness, hospitality, etc.; so that we may witness to the salvation that Jesus Christ has provided for all who believe."


Anonymous said...

I agree with the principle of humility, but disagree with the method. For someone to wash my feet in a public service would not be humility. It would be stupidity!

We don't live in the same cultural circumstances as did Jesus, and washing of feet just would not have the same significance. We don't go barefoot and sandals, and live in deserts. I just don't get it at all.



R. L. Vaughn said...

Jim, I know if I post on this every once in awhile, I can get some objection posts. :-)

Actually, I was surprised by the objection in this case. Like you and many others, Pastor Younce doesn't advocate the literal practice for today but drew lessons from the actions of Jesus in washing His disciples' feet. These lessons seem valid to me, but I'd like to hear what others think.

RSR said...

I partly agree with Younce, but partly disagree.

The obvious significance of the practice is to instill humility and a spirit of servanthood. I don't disagree, either, that there is a prophetic significance.

Yet the text also seems to me to add another significance: the reminder for the continual need of forgiveness. When Jesus said "The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean," it seems to be to be a reminder of the continuing sanctification of the Christian and the need for continual washing from the everyday sins that we accumulate.

I come to this discussion from a background devoid of foot washing; I have never been a member of a church that practiced it either as an ordinance or a rite.

Yet I am more and more convinced that it is still relevant. Partly this is because of the emphasis John, as opposed to the other Gospels, places upon foot washing. John practically ignores the institution of the Last Supper, but he does see fit to describe foot washing in detail.

While I understand the objection that foot washing was a cultural norm that no longer should be emulated, I'm not sure it holds water.

You could make the same claim about baptism; people have their own baths and showers today, so why should there be a need for a ceremonial cleansing by immersion. The practice had been borrowed from the Jewish mikvah, and the Greco-Roman culture that Paul was surrounded by certainly knew of public baths. Yet the command to be baptized stands.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Hello, Elmo. Welcome to the "Seeking the Old Paths" blog. Thanks for your comments. It seems that it is not so much that you disagree with Younce as you add something he didn't mention. I believe you bring up a valid point about the need of sanctification/continued washing by Christ.

I also believe that feet washing is still relevant, and feel that the cultural argument against feet washing doesn't really hold water. Your point about baptism is well made. It would probably be meaningless in our culture if we didn't have a Christian heritage. A similar argument could be made against communion, I suppose -- if we're not Jewish with a cultural background in the Passover, couldn't communion for today be argued against on cultural grounds? I think this all rises and falls on the commands of Christ, not cultural arguments.