What is sacrament of footwashing?
The following is a sermon transcription that will hopefully help you to understand from the Bible the importance of the sacrament of footwashing.
(adapted from a sermon by Pr Chin Aun Quek)
Footwashing is one of the three sacraments in True Jesus Church. In most other churches, baptism and Holy Communion are practiced, but not footwashing.
Why do we practice the Sacrament of Footwashing?
We believe that it was an instruction from Jesus Christ for the church to perform and that it has to do with salvation. Most churches do not practice footwashing because they think it is not related to salvation, that it is just a Jewish custom. Since we are not Jews, there is no need to practice the custom.
Churches that have the practice of washing each other’s feet do so to signify their humility in serving each other and to demonstrate their forgiveness for one another. They do not believe that footwashing should be a sacrament and that it has anything to do with salvation at all.
So is footwashing merely a Jewish custom? Does it only teach
forgiveness and humility?
In John 13:6-9, we see the exchange between Jesus and Peter on footwashing. Peter, who was initially resistant, changed his mind after Jesus answered, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in Me.” Is it such a severe issue, that Peter who has given up everything to follow Jesus, will have no part in Him unless he accepts the footwashing of Jesus Christ? Unless we do not believe His words are commands and think that He was only joking, we would see that this is a very important statement. Jesus Christ’s words are not jokes, for He says, “My words are spirit and truth. Those who believe and hear to them will be saved.”
The change in Peter’s reaction shows us that he understood the significance of footwashing after hearing those words. His initial rejection was out of a sense of custom and common practice, where footwashing was a job for servants, not masters. Even if Jesus had wanted to demonstrate humility by washing His disciples’ feet, Peter rejected it and saw it as his duty to wash Jesus Christ’s feet instead. However, after hearing Jesus say “If I do not wash you, you have no part in Me”, he believed and saw that footwashing served a purpose. He realized that it was not just a custom or common practice because customs or common practices will not allow us to have a part in Jesus. He knew it was an act of grave importance and hence, anxiously replied, “Not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.”
Through his reaction, we see that he understood the significance of footwashing – to have a part in Jesus. This is the reason why we abide by the teaching of the bible and have footwashing as a sacrament in the church. We do not follow it as a mere Jewish custom; this is done so we have a part in Him. It has to do with salvation.
Why do some say this is only a teaching? They ask how is it that we only read the first but not the second part?
In the latter verses, Jesus Christ says that this is a teaching (Jn 13:12-15). If we have read it, we will realize that it is indeed on teachings concerning footwashing. Jesus reminds His disciples, “You also ought to wash one another’s feet, especially when you see Me being a teacher, and the Lord is washing your feet. How is it you remain so lofty and arrogant and refuse to wash one another’s feet? You ought to humble yourselves and wash one another’s feet.” This is a very good and important teaching to be willing to serve, willing to forgive, and willing to do lowly work. We do not reject nor deny these teachings. The teaching concerning footwashing demonstrates forgiveness when we have done wrong against one another. In other churches, they hold the footwashing ceremony when members have conflicts but have made peace with one another. They do not see it as a sacrament. But just because footwashing involves a teaching, doesn’t mean it cannot be performed as a sacrament.
In the first part, Jesus talks about the washing of feet in relation to having a part in Him; this is not just a common teaching of humility. If what Jesus Christ referred to in verse 8 was so, then He could have told Peter to go wash the other’s feet. He would have said that if Peter did not do so, he would have disobeyed Jesus’ instruction and teaching and hence have nothing to do with Him. However, that was not what Jesus said. Jesus said that “If I do not wash you, you have no part in Me.” We need to understand that this is the washing of Jesus Christ, that only this washing of feet allows people to have a part in Jesus. If it is merely about forgiveness, then by washing your feet, I only show that I have forgiven you or served you. I will not be able to allow you to have a part in Jesus.
In True Jesus Church, when preachers and ministers perform footwashing on believers, it is not to show their humility or service. They are performing this sacrament of footwashing on behalf of Jesus, to allow us to have a part in Jesus. This is not to be performed by just anybody; it must be performed by a preacher or an ordained minister of the Lord.
In John 13: 16-17, the word “servant” doesn’t refer to the common believer/servant. In its original language, the word refers to those who are sent, the apostles. They are sent to perform footwashing on behalf of Jesus, for this is not something common believers are able to do.
We believe that while there are good teachings behind the act of footwashing, the sacrament of footwashing is one performed by the Lord. When Jesus says, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in Me”, we obey His instructions because “truly, truly I say to you a servant is not greater than his master, if you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” So we perform the footwashing of the Lord so believers have a part in Him and in our daily life, we practice the spirit and teachings behind footwashing.
Many may still question the importance of footwashing because while the apostles always spoke of baptism, they did not mention footwashing. In the Book of Acts, there are many accounts of how the apostles performed baptism for the forgiveness of sin wherever they preached, but there are none on footwashing. It may seem strange that something so important and related to salvation is not mentioned anywhere else.
However, there is nothing strange because baptism is linked to footwashing; it is performed after baptism. When we talk about baptism, we usually do not mention footwashing. In our church, we emphasize on footwashing, but if you were to read our articles or listen to the testimonies of believers, usually they will not mention footwashing. Why? Because these two sacraments are linked together and performed one after another.
Some others may question why if this sacrament was so important, it was only mentioned once in the bible. How is it that the other gospel books do not record Jesus speaking of it? The question here is how many times does it take for us to believe in what Jesus said? Does it take once or many times before we believe that these are His words? The question then is…
Do we see these as the words and instructions of Jesus Christ?
Another important question comes from the lack of records that footwashing has ever been performed in the apostolic church. Historical artifacts and archaeological findings allow us to know what the church was like in the past. All records seem to point to the fact that after the apostolic era, churches stopped performing footwashing. If the apostolic churches had indeed performed footwashing as a sacrament, there must have been some traces or records of the act. The fact that there are currently none, suggests two things: 1. they didn’t perform footwashing so there are no records to be found. 2. There is not so much a lack of evidence as the fact that it hasn’t been discovered yet.
Yet, there are many artifacts and historian references to footwashing that allows us to know that it was indeed performed. A theologian who specialized in research on footwashing said that the apostles understood the relationship between baptism and footwashing. When the gospel was preached in Antioch, they practiced footwashing. In Milan, there was an article concerning baptism which includes a particular statement on how footwashing is an integral part of baptism; it is performed after baptism and usually this is carried out by the bishops. This historical references show us that footwashing was practiced in Antioch and Milan. It was abolished as a sacrament by the Roman church in the 4th century because they doubted that footwashing had anything to do with salvation. Over many discussions and debates, it was decided that footwashing was merely a teaching and had nothing to do with salvation, hence churches such as that in Milan, were affected.
Do we continue with the sacrament of footwashing or stop?
The archbishop of a church in Milan then had insisted that all churches in the region of Milan continue with the sacrament of footwashing, that this was the truth passed down from the apostles and that the churches in Rome had gone against these teachings. Another historian testified to this. He went to Milan in an attempt to understand the situation and part of the congregation supported footwashing, but there were also some within the congregation who supported the church in Rome and stopped footwashing. There were others who decoupled footwashing from baptism, in order not to stir up misunderstandings. Still, this proved that even in the 4th century, there were people in the church who performed footwashing after baptism as a sacrament. In the year 306 AD, the church in Spain held their first counsel meeting, in which a final resolution concerning footwashing as a sacrament was made. Their conclusion clearly stated that bishops were forbidden from performing footwashing as a sacrament. It was only then that the church in Spain officially stopped the practice of footwashing; churches in other regions continued to perform footwashing up until the 8th/9th century, when the leaders of the Roman Catholic church made a command that all Roman Catholic churches had to abide. Due to the formality of the command, churches that were still performing footwashing had to stop. Historical references on footwashing ended then. According to some research, in 11th century Ireland, records of footwashing could be found but no further references about footwashing as a sacrament could be found after the 12th century.
From these evidence, it would seem that even after the apostolic era, churches continue to perform footwashing as a sacrament. Many churches went against the instructions of the Roman church and continue with the sacrament up until the 4th century. Number of churches which performed this decreased, until there was no record of this sacrament by the 12th century. It then not a fact that footwashing wasn’t performed in the apostolic era and after.
Does it mean that the sacrament of footwashing has since ended? It was stopped for several centuries until the 20th century, with the emergence of the True Jesus Church in China. True Jesus Church had the mandate of reviving the church of the apostolic era because they have received the promised Holy Spirit of the apostolic era from Jesus Christ. They speak in tongues, in the same manner as the apostles did during their time. More importantly, they revived the truth preached by the apostles then, which was once and for all handed to the church by Jesus Christ. The True Jesus Church abides totally by the truth as instructed by Jesus Christ to His disciples; we do not dare add nor take away from His words.
This is a very important matter, for the command Jesus Christ gave after His resurrection: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” And by this authority, He has instructed His disciples to go and preach the gospel, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Mt 28:18-20), “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The command to obey and observe all that Jesus Christ commanded was given to churches of all generations.
So let us obey the teachings and instructions of Jesus Christ – He commanded us to be baptized (sacrament of baptism), to have our feet washed (sacrament of footwashing), to remember His death (Holy Communion), and to pray for the promised Holy Spirit. We have to listen to His words because His words are commands and more importantly, they are life. Those who observe His words shall receive eternal life. Not only must we call out “Lord, Lord”, we must also go according to His instructions and only then will we truly know that the Lord is with us.