The Observance of Feet Washing

How often should the ordinance of feet washing be observed?

Jesus taught the disciples in John 13 that they should follow His example and do as He had done to them. Jesus gave no guidelines as to how often the ordinance should be observed. An ordinance, by its very nature, is symbolic of something spiritual. If it were observed daily, weekly, or possibly even monthly, it might begin to lose its significance and become a ritualistic practice.

Many of the saints have a special ordinance service during an annual meeting. Some congregations have a practice of washing the saints’ feet around the time of year that Jesus celebrated the Passover.

Jesus washed the disciples’ feet at Passover and then instituted the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, or communion. This is a time to remember His death and crucifixion. Hence, the ordinance of feet washing is often observed in the same service as partaking of the Lord’s Supper. What is more important than how often it is observed is that it IS observed.

Is it appropriate for men and women to wash each other’s feet?

The scripture records an instance in Luke 7:37-39 where a woman washed the feet of Jesus with her tears. While criticized by the self-righteous, this was a special act of worship and honor to the Lord Jesus. This was not a precedent-setting event for a general ordinance service.

There is a respect and barrier that belongs between men and women which is not wise to break down under the pretense of a spiritual act of worship in a formal, organized observation of the feet-washing ordinance. There are some cultures where it is customary for the woman of the house to wash the feet of an honored guest in the presence of the household. This is a custom that is more similar to the incident that Christ experienced. This cultural custom is likewise not the same as the general observance of the saint’s feet washing.

While not specifically addressing this issue, 1 Corinthians 14:40 states, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” In keeping with the spirit of modesty and propriety, this scripture has relevance. It is right and appropriate for men and women to separate for this ordinance and for the men to wash the men’s feet and for the women to wash the women’s feet.

In a feet-washing ordinance service, should each person wash the feet of everyone present?

In setting an example, Jesus washed the feet of all his disciples. He then told them to “wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14b). It would be nigh impossible for one person to wash everyone’s feet in a large group. The importance was placed on the physical and spiritual act of humility in kneeling down and washing someone’s feet.

If one person washes the feet of someone else, and that person washes a different person’s feet, when all have done this, everyone will have washed and been washed. Hence, they have “washed one another’s feet.”
-mws