First of all, not all “Christian” churches keep the Passover. Wikipedia states the following (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Footwashing ): “Washing of the Feet is a religious rite observed by several Christian denominations. John 13:1–17 mentions Jesus performing this act. As such, many denominations (including Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Roman Catholics) observe the washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday of Holy Week. Moreover, for some denominations, foot-washing was an example, a pattern. Many groups throughout Church history and many modern denominations have practiced foot washing as a church ordinance including the Adventists, Anabaptists, Baptists, and Pentecostals.”
Wikipedia also states that “The Eucharist (also called Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, and other names) is a rite considered by most Christian churches to be a sacrament. According to some New Testament books, it was instituted by Jesus Christ during his Last Supper.”
In a Church of God article some years ago, the following was noted: “Jude tells us in verse 4 that certain ungodly men crept into the church, during the second half of the first century A.D. and began teaching that obedience to God’s law was unnecessary. They forsook observing God’s Holy days. However, in order to deceive, they used familiar terms such as Passover and Pentecost to refer to new festivals preserving the outward form long after the spiritual substance disappeared. To this day, the Roman Catholic Church uses the term ‘Paschal season’ to refer to the time of their Easter observance. Paschal is derived from the Latin word for Passover. Latin-based languages, such as French and Spanish, still use the word for Passover to refer to the Easter celebration.
“There was this desire to get away from the fact that the symbols introduced by Jesus Christ on the night of His final Passover were to be observed annually by true Christians. To accomplish this, alternate terms for the observance of the Passover symbols were introduced. By the beginning of the second century, terms such as ‘communion’ or ‘eucharist’ were being used.
“However, by using names that focus total emphasis on the symbols of bread and wine, the footwashing part of the service was easily and quickly obscured. Also veiled was the fact that partaking of these symbols was part of an annual observance, a fact made clear by the use of the Biblical term Passover.”
This is yet another example of the confusion that exists in many areas of biblical understanding. The Passover became Holy Communion in many mainstream Christian churches and is now taken whenever a church desires rather than the annual practice of Passover, and footwashing is generally no longer practiced as part of this service.
It is worth looking briefly at some of the objections that are raised about doing this as Jesus Christ clearly instructed His disciples to do. We can see the conclusions that can be established when not being obedient to living by “every word” of God (compare Matthew 4:4). We hasten to add, however, that the entire Passover service is only for properly baptized true Christians who have received the Holy Spirit. Those who have not been baptized in accordance with Scripture should not participate in the annual Passover service. An upcoming Q&A will discuss this important issue in more detail.
One website source addressed the question of footwashing as part of the Passover service as follows:
“It should be observed first of all that just because Christ gave a command to someone, at some time, during his ministry, does not mean that that same command was required of all people for all time. One must look at the nature of the command, to whom it was given, the purpose thereof (if stated), and whether or not it initially applied in a limited way, or whether it was for every person throughout history.
“For example, the Lord once commanded a man, ‘take up your bed and walk’ (John. 5:8). Surely it is not difficult to understand that this particular injunction was not universal in its application. To another he said, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (John. 9:7). That requirement applied to no one but the man to whom it was given. To the apostles Jesus said, ‘Wait in the city [of Jerusalem], until you are clothed with power from on high’ (Luke 24:49). That command was for the apostles exclusively.”
The man who was healed was told to take up his bed and walk and it was specific to one individual and Christ did not say that everyone had to do this; likewise the one in the pool of Siloam. The apostles were certainly told to wait for what we know was the day of Pentecost to receive the Holy Spirit, and it was a unique event. As we will see later, the Passover was to be kept by all of the disciples then and down through the ages.
This same writer then states: “In order to appreciate the situation that occurred during the Passover supper, one has to have some ‘background’ knowledge in a couple of areas – pertaining to the customary act of feet-washing itself, and that of the events that led up to the ‘supper’ incident. Notice first that Jesus washed the feet of all the disciples. If one is going to bind precisely this ‘example’ as a church ordinance, as a few small religious groups have done, then the feet of everyone present will have to be cleansed. Further, everyone who washes the feet of others will need to have his own feet bathed by everyone else. If there should be a group of several hundred people, this ‘ceremony’ would consume the better part of a day – or even longer.”
This is a ridiculous answer. All the disciples had their feet washed. The same happens in the Passover services today of the Church of the Eternal God and its affiliates, the Church of God, a Christian Fellowship and the Global Church of God. The Bible doesn’t say that “the feet of others will need to have his own feet bathed by everyone else” and is a complete misunderstanding of what is written. A baptised member of the church will have his feet washed and wash another one’s feet and that is sufficient to fulfill the instruction by Christ.
The writer then states: “That Jesus was not washing the disciples’ feet as a literal act to be required henceforth is very clear from what happened in the meantime, and how the Lord responded. Peter knew that Jesus was about to wash his feet (in a literal sense), but Christ says, ‘You do not know what I’m doing.’ Obviously, it was not the act of washing feet per se that was the point; rather, it was the lesson to be conveyed. And so, in a mild rebuke, Jesus told his apostle (if we may paraphrase), ‘If you do not learn the lesson I am attempting to demonstrate, you will have “no part” in my ministry’ (v. 8).”
A further assertion by this same writer is that “The Son of God was demonstrating an attitude, not requiring a literal act. The error, then, on the part of some religious people, is in not discerning the difference between what the Lord was doing literally, and the symbolic significance of the act.”
This is a further ludicrous answer to try and circumnavigate what Jesus was clearly teaching. The lesson was about humility and not having a self-serving attitude. Jesus said what they (and we today) have to DO – “you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). That takes action and is, therefore, a literal act. Jesus demonstrated a literal act by doing the footwashing – doing means action and it takes effort. And, in addition to, not in place of this, we demonstrate an attitude of service to others. It is an instruction that has two facets to it.
Let us review what the Bible instructs on this matter; after all, this is what matters, not some human explanation that can employ mental gymnastics to show that what the Bible teaches is not necessarily so.
When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, He told them: “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). His disciples then and as His followers today, we are to emulate that same example as instructed. When we wash one another’s feet we serve one another as we should do in humility, lowliness of heart and mind, not seeking our own way but looking to help and encourage each other in humility and love. So many today seek pre-eminence which Christ clearly condemned (as an example, see Matthew 23 for Christ’s condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees and their approach to many matters).
In Mark 9:33-37, Jesus answered the disciples who were disputing about who was the greatest amongst them when he said: “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all” (v 35). In Mark 10:42-44, we read: “But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, ‘You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.’”
We have seen some of the arguments that are propounded to claim that Christ was merely teaching the disciples about humility and that He did not establish a ceremony for the Church to practice in the future, believing that it is only the attitude that counts and the performance of the physical act of footwashing today is unnecessary. However, the correct understanding of what the Bible states is clear; physical action is needed.
Jesus Himself clearly explained the primary lesson of foot-washing: “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:13-14). He added in John 13:17: “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” In Matthew 28:20, Jesus described the responsibility of the church as “‘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.’ Amen.”
In our Statement of Fundamental Beliefs we state the following about keeping the Passover and the annual Holy Days:
“The Passover once a year in the evening by engaging in a footwashing service as an example of humility in accordance with Christ’s example, and partaking of the unleavened bread and wine, symbolizing physical and spiritual healing and forgiveness of sin. The entire service symbolizes a remembrance of Christ’s death (Leviticus 23:5, Luke 22:14-20; John 13:1-5; 1 Corinthians 11:20-29).”
By simple deduction and correct biblical understanding, we see that Jesus Christ was willing to humbly and unconditionally serve the disciples in doing such a menial task and baptized members of the Body of Christ are instructed to follow His example in the matter of footwashing and ignore those who, erroneously, deem it unnecessary.
Lead Writer: Brian Gale (United Kingdom)