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Feet Washing

Author: Allen Daniels
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Washing of the Saints Feet


April 14, 2013


By:  Elder Allen Daniels


Washing of the Saints feet is not an ordinance, but it is an example set forth by our Lord Jesus Christ; however, it is a very strong example. There are some Primitive Baptist Churches which do not believe that this should be a literal practice, but is only a symbolic example of humility. Historically speaking, feet washing has not been made a test of fellowship in our churches; nevertheless, the question still remains, how can any serious minded student of the Bible fail to understand the plain words of Scripture as spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ?


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.”  John 13:12-17.


My question to those who oppose this practice is how can one follow the Lord’s example without a pan of water and a towel?  Jesus said, “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.


In most all Primitive Baptist Articles of Faith we find similar language as this: “We believe that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances of Jesus Christ, and that feet washing is an example, a duty, connected with the supper, and that true believers are the only subjects of either and should be practiced by the churches; and that baptism by immersion is the apostolic mode”.


I have been asked this question, “If you were at a Primitive Baptist Church and it was communion time and you knew they did not wash feet would you commune?”  It is my firm conviction that this example of humility should be followed, but if we do not believe it is an ordinance nor a test of fellowship, are we not making it such if we refuse to commune with those who do not practice it?  There are several good Primitive Baptist Churches that do not wash feet.  I have been invited to be in their communion services several times (and have accepted).  I have to personally admit that there is an empty feeling (something missing) by not continuing in the feet washing service, but in reality, the loss is in those who do not do it.  Jesus said, “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.”


There are also some Primitive Baptist Churches who make washing of the saint’s feet an ordinance, and consequently, a test of fellowship.  I would never say they are wrong in refusing to communion with those who do not practice feet washing, but if we do not believe it is an ordinance and not a test of fellowship, then why not accept the invitation and use it as an opportunity to teach the weak in a better way?


Objections to Feet Washing in the Church


Objection #1: It is only mentioned once by Jesus in the 13 Chapter of John.  If it was to be practiced by the New Testament Church, then why did not Matthew, Mark, or Luke also mention it?”


My answer:


How many times does our Lord and Master have to tell one of His disciples that they ought or should do a thing.  These two words (ought and should) when spoken by our Lord carry a very heavy weight.  When I was a boy and my dad told me I should/ought to do a certain thing, my not doing it very often carried severe consequences. How much more should/ought we to obey our Lord’s commandments.  In the Greek, these words are very similar in meaning. The Greek word for ought is opheileo (of-i-leh’-o) and means to owe a debt, figuratively, to be under moral obligation, or behoove, must, should, duty.  The word should in the context of John 13:15 is linked to the word do (ye should do as I have done to you) and is the single Greek word poieo ( poy-eh’-o) which carries the meaning to commit or perform without any delay.  Therefore, to put it in the context of John 13:14-15, the passage could be rendered, “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also are under moral obligation to follow my example and to perform your duty without any delay to wash one another’s feet.”


Objection #2: Most will agree that feet-washing was practiced by certain NT believers, but not by the church in conjunction with the Lord’s Supper.  It was just an old Jewish custom practiced in the homes.


My answer:


I think the Apostle Paul answers this objection in his instruction to Timothy as to the responsibility of the Church concerning widows (see 1Timothy 5:3-10).  Notice verse 3, “Honour widows that are widows indeed.” In the verses following, Paul identifies those widows.  First he identified those who do not qualify for care by the Church, Verse 4, “But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God.” In this verse, he sets forth a principle that has been much neglected in today’s society, that is, it is the responsibility of children to the third generation (children, grandchildren, and nephews) to take care of the aged widows.  He magnifies this responsibility in verse 8, “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than as infidel.”


Now please notice verses 9 and 10, “Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, (10) Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work”. In the context of this passage the phrase “taken into the number” means the Church.  This point is further verified by verse 16: “If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed.” The “widows indeed” are clearly identified as the responsibility of the Church.


My point here is this, if the washing of the feet here is referring only to an old Jewish custom practiced in the homes to clean the dirty feet of their guests, then please answer me the following questions:


  • Why did Paul make it a responsibility of the Church to take care of “widows indeed”?
  • Why would this “common custom” make her any different than any other widow?
  • Why would Paul identify those feet that were being washed as “the saints’ feet“?
  • Does not the “the saints’ feet” identify them as Church members?
  • Does not this imply that “washed of the saints’ feet” is a practice (custom) of the church in following the Lord’s example set forth in John 13?
  • If feet washing was only an old Jewish custom, then why did Peter (himself being a Jew) reply thusly to Jesus? “Thou shalt never wash my feet.
  • Do Primitive Baptist women wash the feet of saints who visit in their home?
  • Shouldn’t disciples of Jesus Christ desire to follow the Lord’s example? “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.”


In conclusion, this was not to be merely symbolic, because Jesus didn’t say, “you ought to be humble before one another,” but He said, “you ought to wash one another’s feet.”  I think it is significant in 1 Timothy 5:10 that Paul uses the words ” brought up children, lodged strangers, and relieved the afflicted ” for the other activities, and then uses the word “saints” for the washing of the feet?   It is my opinion, that his using the word “saints” instead of “guests” implies that the widow has been an active church member in her younger days, participating in communion and feet-washing, and her long and humble service of love to the saints in the church should now provoke the younger saints to honor and care for her.  This should not be considered by them as a matter of compensation, but of dutiful love.  If one who names Jesus as his Lord and Master is objecting and resisting this practice simply because it is an old out dated tradition of the Primitive Baptist, then his objection is to the inspired Word of God.


Published: 2013-04-14 by WAD


larry heldman  

Elder James Compton (1905 - 2007)
Elder James Compton was the original founder of the 'Gospel of Grace Tape Supply.' His collection of tapes began as he traveled to Church meetings and Associations recording sermons on Reel to Reel. He has maintained this library of sermons faithfully over the years and are now the foundation of PB Sermons. org. This web site is dedicated to Elder James Compton (1905 - 2007)