Why Do Seventh-Day Adventists wash feet?
Why Do Seventh-Day Adventists wash feet?
The Ordinance of Foot Washing
The practise of foot-washing has never gained prominence in Christianity. The majority of contemporary Christians bypass this rite. When rightly understood, however, the ordinance of foot washing is ideal preparation for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, as it was in the upper room.
New Testament Basis
Foot washing repeatedly appears in the Bible as a hospitable act on the part of a host who thus shows honour to his guests. Of the eight Old Testament (OT) references to foot washing, six refer to this customary act (Gen. 18:4; 19:2; 24:32; 43:24; Judges 19:21; 1 Sam. 25:41); one relates to humiliation (Ps. 58:10), and one seems to be simply a matter of cleanliness (Cant. 5:3). In the New Testament, foot washing as a mark of gracious hospitality appears in Luke 7:44 and 1 Timothy 5:10.
The only biblical reference to foot washing as an ordinance is found in John 13:1–20. In this passage, Jesus set an example of humility and true servanthood by washing the feet of His disciples. The disciples took this action very seriously, and Peter even objected to Christ’s washing his feet. In verse John 13:14 Jesus invited His disciples to follow His example and to continue this practice, saying, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
John 13:1–20 not only narrates the first foot washing but also deals with the meaning of this rite for the church at large.
The key that unlocks the meaning of the rite of foot washing lies in the conversation between Jesus and Peter. The first of the symbolic overtones appears in verse 7, where Jesus speaks of the disciples’ later understanding of the ordinance of foot washing. Without this cleansing, a disciple loses his heritage with Jesus (verse 8): “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.”
Because of its structure, this passage is parallel to the “new commandment” of love in 13:34. Jesus’ love for the disciples in life and even more in death here becomes the norm to follow (see 15:12; 1 John 2:6; 3:3, 7; 4:17).
These words transcend the literal meaning of removing the dust from someone’s feet. While Peter and his brethren had been washed from sin and uncleanness in the “fountain opened for the house of David … to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness” (Zech. 13:1), they were still subject to temptation and evil. Thus, they needed a higher cleansing that would wash away “the alienation, jealousy, and pride from their hearts” (DA 646).
“To have part with someone” (see John 13:8) means to have a share or a place with that person. In Matthew 24:51, the unfaithful servant is condemned to having a “part” with the hypocrites. In 2 Corinthians 6:15, a Christian has no “part” with unbelieving heathen. The meaning of this phrase can be understood better in the light of Jesus’ promise to His disciples. If faithful, they would share in the life He was to gain (John 14:19). They would also be where He was (John 12:26; 14:3; 17:24) and would therefore share in His glory (see John 17:22, 24). The full love of Jesus and the Father would be revealed to them (John 14:21, 23). In John 13:14, Jesus gave an example, whose meaning transcends the narrow circle of the twelve. “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you [plural] also ought [opheilete] to wash one another’s feet.”
The verb opheilō has both a literal and a figurative meaning. In the first it means “to owe,” as in having a debt; in the second it means to have an obligation, with the idea of “ought” or “must,” and is followed by a second verb that shows what one is obligated to do (cf. Luke 17:10 where the servant’s duty to his master is in view). Here the obligation is to wash each other’s feet. The word expresses a moral obligation, something that needs to be done. The verbal tense indicates continued or repeated action rather than a one-time duty. Jesus clearly intended that the disciples should continue to discharge this obligation, following the example He had given them: “For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15).
Finally, in John 13:17, Jesus calls for action on the part of the Christian community. “If you know these things, blessed, are you if you do them.” Jesus blends action together with coming to a knowledge of the truth (cf. John 3:21; 7:17; 8:31).
The rites of the Lord’s Supper and foot washing were introduced to the small circle of the twelve apostles. After the resurrection of Jesus, however, Christian congregations celebrated the Lord’s Supper (cf. Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 11). The Lord’s Supper became a significant part of corporate worship. Although the biblical record gives no additional account of the practice of foot washing, in the light of John 13, there is reason to believe that the ordinance was observed.
Significance of Foot Washing
Frequently foot washing is dismissed as an ancient Near Eastern custom without meaning in today’s society. It is not seen as a valid mandate of Christ for His followers. However, by ignoring foot washing, modern Christians miss its deep theological meaning.
Foot washing, according to Jesus’ words in John 13:10, does not replace baptism. “He who has bathed [Gr. louō, to take a bath] does not need to wash [Gr. niptō, wash something or a part of the body], except for his feet.” Once a person has been baptized (bathed), there is no need for undergoing baptism anew each time a sin is committed, or a desire for spiritual cleansing is awakened. Unless a believer lapses into open apostasy, no need exists for a complete bath (baptism), only for the washing of feet in the representation of the removal of sin, following sincere repentance and confession.
The understanding of foot washing as representing forgiveness of post-baptismal sin is partly due to the occurrence of the word katharos in this verse. A cognate of this term also appears in 1 John 1:7, 9 with explicit reference to forgiveness of sin through the blood of Jesus. Even though sin is not explicitly mentioned in verse 10, its presence is implied. The idea of the forgiveness of post-baptismal sin fits well with Jesus’ emphatic language in verse 8, where Peter is told that he would have no part with Jesus because of post-baptismal sin that had not been removed by cleansing.
Also represented in the washing of feet is Jesus’ giving of Himself, in life and death, to save human beings. The ordinance of foot washing memorializes Christ’s humiliation in His incarnation (DA 650).
The Impact of Foot Washing on Christian Experience
In preparation for the Lord’s Supper, the practice of foot-washing leads the believer to a deeper appreciation of Christ’s love, humility, and the meaning of genuine discipleship in terms of servanthood. The purpose of this ordinance is not merely the removal of dust from one’s feet. This rite is a type of a higher cleansing of the heart, which is the source of alienation, jealousy, and pride. As believers stoop to wash each other’s feet, all thoughts of self-aggrandizement, pride, and selfishness are to give way to the spirit of love, humility, and fellowship. In this spirit, one experiences union with God and with one another and is thus prepared to meet with the Lord in the celebration of His Supper.
The believer’s desire to participate actively in the life and ordinances of the church is related to spiritual maturity. Lack of regular participation in the ordinances for a time should not be interpreted as a breach of covenant with the Lord. On the other hand, willful and lasting resistance to the ordinance of foot washing may be symptomatic of spiritual problems in a believer’s life.
In the light of John 13:10, it is clear that the rite of foot washing is not to replace baptism, which is washing of the entire person from sin and defilement. The purpose of the ordinance of foot washing is to wash away post-baptismal sins. It is symbolic of a higher cleansing that washes away all feelings of pride, selfishness, and self-aggrandizement. Thus, it is ideal preparation for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
From John 13:14, it is clear also that Christ has imposed a moral obligation upon His disciples, both of His immediate apostles and the broader circle of the church, to wash each other’s feet. The symbolic act of foot washing should be an expression of a believer’s sacrificial love toward fellow members. Persistent, willful nonparticipation may be interpreted as a voluntary severance from Christ (13:8).