Washing Of Feet: Is It Relevant In Today’s Church?
‘If Pastor Enoch Adeboye Were To Wash His Followers’ Feet, He Will Spend All His Life Washing Everybody’s Feet’
To demonstrate humility and exemplary service expected of genuine Christians, especially Church leaders, Jesus Christ once stooped down to wash the feet of His disciples before His earthly departure. This particular occurrence was recorded in John 13:1-17. From whichever perspective, this is a great act worthy of emulation. But today, it appears to be not so popular, as only a few churches now observe it. Why is this so? Is it that today’s church leaders feel it is beneath them? Should such a practice still be relevant in today’s Christianity? Why is it not being embraced by all? CHRIS IREKAMBA reports.
‘We Observe Washing Of Feet But Essence Is Humility’
(Anthony Olubunmi Cardinal Okogie, Archbishop Emeritus of Lagos
CHRIST’S demonstration teaches us the essence of humility, especially in the light of what happened, when two of His disciples— James and John — were seeking for permission to sit on the right and left side of Him, which is pride. Jesus wanted to show them that they have to be humble and serve one another in love. Jesus told them that the lords of this world always suppress and oppress people, but that shouldn’t be so among the disciples. That is what led to that event.
He was agonising and as He was about leaving them, He used that occasion to show them that as the leader, ‘I am among you as one that serveth, and you should also do likewise.’ He was trying to tell them that ‘what I am doing, which was against the customs of the land because in the Jewish customs and traditions, a big man doesn’t stoop down to wash the slave’s feet but see, I am doing it. So, if you want to enter God’s kingdom, then you must lower and humble yourself.’ Hence he showed them this example.
Remember that Peter said ‘how can you wash my feet,’ and Jesus said, ‘if I don’t wash your feet, then you will not have part in the kingdom.’ So, Peter quickly changed his mind and said ‘don’t wash my feet, in fact, wash all the parts of my body.’ He used that to teach His disciples about humility first and then service. If you are a big man, then you should serve other people in humility. It is still relevant in the sense that during the Thursday leading to Holy Week, in which Christ was crucified, the priest, who is also the celebrant pick about 12 people and wash their feet. Some do it and some don’t.
The lesson we derive from that is that as disciples, church leader, or politician you should be humble and serve other people. What Jesus Christ thereby demonstrated to us Christians and church leaders is selfless service. Leadership, they say, means service. For instance, Muhammadu Buhari, in his capacity as the president should be serving the people. The same thing applies to the Senate and new ministers. That is the significance, and that is what really matters and not the action. Christ’s example is a lesson for all of us, including politicians, who make promises and don’t fulfil them. Christ is telling them that the position they are occupying today should be used to better the lives of the people and not to enrich themselves at the expense of poor Nigerians. It is not only for Catholics alone, it is for everybody. In all His actions, He was always stressing on humility and service, love for one another as He loved all. He didn’t tell you to go and marry another wife, just because the poor woman at home offended you. Or that you should divorce her on that account. Aren’t we all sinners? Remember the woman that was caught in adultery and she was brought before Jesus. He said: ‘if you don’t have any sin, cast the first stone at her.’ And what happened? The elders among them started going away. That is telling you that it is the big men that are destroying the society. Those of us who claim to be leaders are the ones to give others good example. They are talking about corruption, but who are the most corrupt in Nigeria today? Just like today’s religious leaders, some of them are busy acquiring private jets. Is that the kind of leadership Jesus Christ came to establish?
If everybody can do just those two things, this country will be a better place for all of us. Service means humility, and anyone not humble enough can’t serve. Jesus told them “I’m going to die, and you call me Master but look at what I’m doing for you.’ So, the significance of that injunction is that we should be ready to serve, love and at the same time be humble.
‘Washing Of Feet Is Like The Holy Communion’
(Dr. Sunday Ola Makinde, Prelate Emeritus, Methodist Church Nigeria (MCN)
THE lesson we are drawing from there is servanthood. He was the Head and Servant Master. What He did was very symbolic. It is also to remind all Christians that Christ was very humble, a leader and a servant and we should emulate Him. Washing of feet is like the Holy Communion that we take. Jesus did it many years ago and we have been doing it in the Methodist Church.
As politicians and church leaders among others, we should not lord it over others. Just like in Nigeria today, our political leaders should be servants of the people. But they are civil lords, instead of being civil servants. That is why we call pastors ministers of the gospel. We minister to people and not lord it over them. When you see a pastor, he/she is a minister, ministering to the needs of the people and coming down to their level. Our leaders don’t submit to the level of the people. How many of these leaders have their children here in Nigeria? How many of their children are in Nigeria’s public schools? That is the problem we are having. We are teaching our members and at the same time reviving their faith and reminding them of Christ’s life in a practical way. We wash the feet of everybody, whether poor or rich. In the church, we are all equal before God. In any place of worship, even the Pope, archbishop and primate, we are all equal when you get into the church. During the Holy Communion, we drink from the same cup. You wouldn’t say because you are a prelate or archbishop and therefore, you are entitled to drink more, or eat more bread than others.
Washing of the feet is done once in a year, the night when Jesus was arrested. His message is “I have washed your feet, also do unto others, help others as I have helped you. Be a servant of others and not their lord.” And immediately Peter heard that he said, “don’t wash only my feet, wash my entire body.” Initially, Peter was trying to tell Jesus, ‘look, you can’t wash my feet because you are my boss.’ But Jesus said: “If I don’t wash your feet, then you don’t have any part in Me.” Peter then submitted. Jesus said: “I’m among you as one who serves.” How many of our political leaders, including the President and Senators that can say, ‘I am among you as one who serves?’ Because they are lords. Civil servants are supposed to be the people’s servants, but what do we see today? Even to move your file from one office to the other, you have to grease their palms. We give Holy Communion to show that Christ has set His body, as well as give His body for us. And that is what helps our faith. Washing of feet is still relevant today because Christ is teaching us a big lesson in humility and servanthood; that we should be our brother’s keeper and not killer.
‘Christ Gave Us An Example, Not A Church Ordinance’
(Brother Godwin Ifeacho, Chairman, Executive Board, God’s Kingdom Society (GKS)
OUR Lord Jesus Christ gave a practical demonstration of His humility on the occasion He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, wiping them with the towel He tied round himself (John 13:5-10). Among the Jews, the work of washing the feet of visitors was assigned to the meanest slaves. This would explain why St. Peter initially objected to having his feet washed by the Lord.
When He had finished washing their feet and had put on His robe, He said to 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.” Verses 12-17. By washing the feet of His disciples, He demonstrated humility. The lesson is that he who would be greatest must be always ready to serve others in a spirit of humility and self-sacrifice. Said He: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest upon your souls” (Matthew 11: 29).
That the washing of feet referred to service, is explained in other parts of the Holy Bible. For instance, when David sent word to Abigail, that he wanted her as a wife “…she arose, and bowed herself on her face to the earth, and said, Behold, let thine handmaid be a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord”. (1 Samuel 25:41) Again, the instruction St. Paul gave to Timothy in regard to widows, who were eligible for assistance by the church states, “Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, 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.” (1Timothy 5:9,10).
The washing of the saints’ feet means serving or attending to the needs of the disciples, just as other faithful women of old ministered to Christ, as stated in Luke 8:3. We should follow the example of humility, self-denial, and service to others, which our Lord has laid down. It is pertinent to recall that there was a time the disciples disputed among themselves as to who should be the greatest in the kingdom of God. And Jesus said unto them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? Is not he that sitteth at meat? But I am among you as he that serveth” (Luke 22:24-27).
However, some people today believe the Saviour was instituting a church ceremonial, rather than teaching us a practical, spiritual lesson. But what Christ gave us was an example, not a church ordinance or ceremonial event. Hence, there is no record of such ordinance in the New Testament. Washing of the disciples feet was a symbolic act of sanctification of the apostles, hence Christ told Peter, “…If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me” (John 13:8).
‘Some Doctrines Do Not Apply To Us Today’
(Rev. (Dr.) Paul Udemba)
THE root of feet washing practice appears to be found in the hospitality customs of ancient civilisations, especially where sandals were the chief footwear, and their feet were always dusty. The host would provide water for guests to wash their feet, provide a servant to wash guests’ feet or even serve the guests by washing their feet. This is mentioned in several places in Genesis 18:4; 19: 2; 24: 32; 43: 24; I Samuel 25: 41.
Jesus gave this as an example, and He said that His followers ‘ought’ to do this. (Jn. 13:15) 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 Christian. Not every doctrine helps our salvation because some of them came out of situations that do not apply to us today.
Jesus washing the feet of the disciples (John 13:1-17) occurred in the upper room, just prior to the Last Supper and has significance in three ways: for Jesus, it was the display of His humility and His servanthood; for the disciples, the washing of their feet was in direct contrast to their heart attitudes at that time; and for us, washing of feet is symbolic of our role in the body of Christ. When Jesus rose from the table and began to wash the disciples’ feet (John 13:4), He was doing the work of the lowliest of servants.
The disciples must have been stunned at this act of humility and condescension, that Christ, their Lord and Master, showed by washing the feet of His disciples, when it was their proper work to have washed His. He revealed in Matthew 20:28, He came “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The humility expressed by His act with towel and basin foreshadowed His ultimate act of humility and love for His disciples. Jesus’ attitude of servanthood was in direct contrast to that of the disciples, who had recently been arguing among themselves as to which of them, was the greatest (Luke 22: 24). Since there was no servant present to wash their feet, it would never have occurred to them to wash one another’s feet. When the Lord Himself stooped to this lowly task, they were stunned into silence.
Peter was profoundly uncomfortable with the Lord washing his feet, and he protested, “You shall never wash my feet!” Then Jesus said: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me” (John 13:8), prompting Peter to request a complete washing. Then Jesus explained the true meaning of being washed by Him. Jesus teachings were characterised by symbols, proverbs and figures. By washing their feet, it means that we should lead with humility, be sensitive to the feelings of the sheep by looking out for them, recognising the fact that we are His servants and our job is to serve and take care of the sheep He has put in our care by showing them good examples as He did.
‘Servicing People In Humility Is The Physical Washing Of Feet’
(Apostle Alexander Bamgbola, CAN Chairman, Lagos State chapter)
THE act is figurative and is still relevant, but it was supposed to be a deep teaching and not the physical washing of feet. Although anybody can choose to interpret the word of God the way he/she likes, what Jesus is teaching us is humility, as leaders. He was trying to tell us that humility is necessary, as we do the Lord’s work. Remember, was it last year or so, when Pope Francis was shown washing the feet of a prisoner or so, but how many people can he wash their feet?
For instance, if Pastor Enoch Adeboye were to wash his followers’ feet, how many of them can he wash, as large as the church is? I think he will spend all his life washing everybody’s feet. Washing the feet of disciples is what somebody like Pastor Adeboye is already doing, by doing the work of the Lord in humility and serving the people. This is why many people are following him. Whoever is chosen to be a leader is supposed to be humble before God and to his followers because it is a call unto service. He is a servant to those he is leading, so when we are humbly servicing the people that is the physical washing of the feet.
If you have a congregation of about 20 or 50 people, you can be washing their feet every time you want to do so. But when you have a congregation of about 2, 000, it means you are going to spend the whole time washing their feet. Jesus wants us to service Him with all humility and also serve the people put in our charge. But whether Christian leaders obey Christ’s injunction to the fullest is entirely another issue. If we humbly and sincerely service one another, as Jesus Christ demonstrated, then we wouldn’t see pride and arrogance that negate the teachings of Christ.
Unfortunately, that is the reality on ground, but then every one of us will give account of his or her stewardship to God. The emphasis is that we have been chosen by God to serve Him and the people He has given to us to lead.
‘Christ Commandment Is Still Relevant Today’
(Most Rev. Adebayo Akinde, Archbishop of Lagos Ecclesiastical Province (Anglican Communion) and Bishop of the Diocese of Lagos Mainland)
THE Bible is the inspired written word of God, that is what the Bible is and every word of the Bible is beyond time. If it was relevant the moment Jesus gave that commandment, then it is still relevant today. Not even time, race or tribe can change God’s statement. And that is the concept of servant leadership. Jesus Christ was the leader of His disciples, Saviour of mankind, and by washing His disciples’ feet; He was setting standard, a new commandment. What we have in human leadership and in secular society is that the bigger we are, the higher our place. But Jesus told His disciples it should not be so amongst you. He said he, who wants to be the greatest, must learn not to just enjoy all the goodies, while their followers languish in poverty.
Every injunction given by God must be observed but various reasons make it difficult to put these things into practice. But we must strive to be obedient, and even if we fail today, there should be no excuse. We must strive as Christians to uphold that which is divine and so on. We observe this injunction often times, when members of our church are sleeping, but we are awake and agonising in prayer on their behalf. There is no way we can even let our members know the effort and the time we spend in praying for their wellbeing, so that they will be successful and be completely out of danger. But we don’t have to tell them. Of course, it is part of the washing of feet, when my members are sleeping at night enjoying the comfort of their home and though I’m tired, but I still wake up — my wife and I every Wednesday at 12midnight to pray for them. We still remind ourselves to pray for every congregation in the diocese and that is why we are shepherd. We must pray and commit them to God, to keep them from evil and disasters and so on.
This injunction is symbolic. During Jesus’ time, there were no cars or motorbikes; people trekked. On the night Jesus was about to be betrayed, He washed His disciples’ feet. It is a symbolism of being clean and He said to them that that was an example, a ‘new commandment I give you. He who wants to be the greatest must learn to be the servant.’ If the One they called Lord had washed their feet, then they ought to show good example. So, washing of feet is no more a cultural thing, but the labours that we offer on behalf of our members also constitute washing of feet. These include prayer, undertakings and such labours that will benefit our members; that will build them up in their most holy faith; those are things we should do. Praying, counselling and all those things are part of these. If we do not seek the comfort of our members then, it becomes easier for Satan to lure them into errors and we don’t want that. These are the things that constitute washing of feet. It’s not only prayers and should not be perceived from the physical point.
For example, on Mondays and Thursdays in any of our churches, when we commemorate the inauguration of the Holy Communion, many worshippers come for the service. Here in our Cathedral, the attendance may be about 700. So, how many clergy would be engaged to wash about 700 people’s feet? What we usually do is to get two or three clergy with a bucket of water, a kettle of water and a towel to wash the feet of the people in each row. This they do maybe for half of the church and by the time they get to the middle, they stop. It’s going to take eternity for you to start washing the feet of every one, but it is an illustration. And when you do that, you are not only going to wash someone’s feet without kneeling down it is some sort of reverence, but it also implies humility.
Therefore, Christian leaders are reminded to be humble in servicing the people. It is part of our lifestyle. Every Christian leader is to pray for the wellbeing, comfort, progress and protection of his member, which is a sort of service to the congregation. Every spiritual leader must know the word of God so that you can transmit it to the people of God, which is another service.