Footwashing is a sacrament of the True Jesus Church. The following is a sermon transcription that will hopefully help you to understand from the Bible the importance of footwashing and why we keep this sacrament.
(adapted from a sermon by Pr Chin Aun Quek)
Why do we practice the sacrament of Footwashing?
Most churches do not practice footwashing because they believe it is just a Jewish custom. Thus they say there is no need to practice it. The few churches that do practice footwashing do so to demonstrate forgiveness and humility in serving one another. They do not believe that footwashing is a sacrament and that it pertains to salvation.
We however, believe Jesus Christ clearly instructed His church to perform footwashing and that it is necessary for salvation.
So is Footwashing merely a Jewish custom? Is it just about forgiveness and humility?
John 13:6-9 shows us how Peter was initially resistant to the idea of Jesus washing his feet but changed his mind after Jesus answered, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in Me.” Was it such a severe issue, that Peter would have no part in Jesus unless his feet were washed?
The change in Peter’s reaction shows us that he understood the significance of Jesus’ footwashing. His initial rejection was out of a sense of custom as footwashing was normally performed by servants, not masters. Had Jesus merely wanted to demonstrate humility by washing His disciples’ feet, Peter would still have rejected it. However, upon hearing the words “If I do not wash you, you have no part in Me”, he understood the purpose of footwashing. It was not merely a custom but an act of grave importance. Thus he anxiously replied, “Not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.”
The significance of footwashing is to have a part in Jesus. This is the reason why footwashing is a sacrament in the True Jesus Church: it pertains to our 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?
There are indeed teachings to be learnt from footwashing (John 13:12-15). To be willing to serve, forgive, and do lowly work are no doubt important lessons. We neither reject nor deny them. In other churches (which do not see footwashing as a sacrament), the footwashing ceremony is held when conflicts have arisen, but members have since made peace with one another. However, just because footwashing involves certain teachings, it does not mean that it is not a sacrament. We conduct the footwashing so believers have a part in Jesus and in our daily life, we practice the spirit and teachings behind footwashing.
When Jesus spoke about footwashing(John 13:8), it was not just to teach humility and forgiveness. If it were so, He should have said that if Peter did not wash the feet of others (that is to forgive), he would have disobeyed Jesus’ teaching and hence have nothing to do with Him. However, that was not what Jesus said. He said, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in Me.” We need to understand that this is the special washing of Jesus Christ which allows people to have a part in Him. If it is merely about forgiveness, then by washing one another’s feet, we only show that we have forgiven one another. It cannot allow one to have a part in Jesus.
The sacrament of footwashing is one performed by the Lord. In the True Jesus Church only preachers or ministers can wash the feet of the believers. They perform the sacrament on behalf of Jesus. In John 13: 16-17, the word “servant” does not refer to the common believer or servant. In the original language, the word refers to those who are sent – the apostles. They are sent to perform the footwashing on behalf of Jesus, for this is not something common believers are permitted to do. This also shows this sacrament has a deeper spiritual significance and not just a custom between believers of the church.
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.” (John 13:16-17)
Many may still question the significance of Footwashing because in the Book of Acts while there are many accounts of how the apostles either performed or preached baptism, there are none of Footwashing. It may seem strange that something so important and related to salvation is not mentioned anywhere else.
However, this is because these two sacraments are linked together and performed one after another (footwashing immediately after baptism). In the TJC, 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. Footwashing is understood to come together with Baptism.
Some others may ask: if this sacrament was so important, how is it that its institution is not recorded in the other gospel books? We can answer this with another question. Do we see these words as the instructions of Jesus Christ? Unless we believe He was only joking, we would see the importance of these commands. His words are not in jest, for He says, “The words that I speak to you are spirit and they are life.”(John 6:63) Those who believe and hear them will be saved (John 5:24). Therefore even if it is mentioned just once in the bible, we should not be so hasty to disregard them!
Are there historical records of the Apostolic Church having carried out Footwashing?
Historical artifacts and archaeological findings allow us to know what the church was like in the past. There is more than sufficient evidence to show us that footwashing 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 was performed after baptism and usually conducted by the bishops. These historical references show us that footwashing was indeed practiced in Antioch and Milan.
Sadly records point to the fact that after the apostolic era, churches stopped performing footwashing. Its status as a sacrament was abolished by the Roman church in the 4th century because they doubted that it was a prerequisite for salvation. Over many discussions and debates, it was decided that footwashing was merely a teaching and did not concern salvation. 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. This was the truth passed down from the apostles and the churches in Rome had strayed from 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 there were churches performing footwashing after baptism as a sacrament. In the year 306 AD, the church in Spain held their first council 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 which still performed footwashing ceased from doing so. Historical references on footwashing ended there. Research shows records of footwashing in 11th century Ireland, but no further references about footwashing as a sacrament could be found after the 12th century.
From this evidence, it shows that footwashing was performed as a sacrament in the apostolic era and for a period after.
Does it mean that the sacrament of footwashing should no longer be performed? It was discontinued for several centuries until the emergence of the True Jesus Church in China in the 20th century. The True Jesus Church has the mandate of reviving the apostolic church because she has received from Jesus Christ the same promised Holy Spirit as the apostles. More importantly, she has 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 instructed by Jesus Christ to His disciples and we do not dare add nor take away from His words.
After His resurrection Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth…” 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). The command to obey and observe all that Jesus instructed was given to churches of all generations.
Let us obey Him. He commanded us to be baptized, 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 walk according to His instructions and only then will we truly know that the Lord is with us.