The idea of foot washings in Christian churches comes
from Jesus' washing of His disciples' feet after their last supper together,
prior to his trial and crucifixion. "So when He had washed their feet, taken
His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, Do you know what I have
done to you? 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. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I
have done to you" (John 13:12-15).
As we see in the passage, Jesus explained that as He
washed his disciples feet, they were to do likewise to one another. Some
churches take this to mean that He gave a command to literally wash the feet
of our brethren, as an "ordinance," similar to observances as Water Baptism
or the Lord's Supper. Other churches view Jesus' foot washing only as a
metaphor of how believers need to humble themselves as servants toward each
In New Testament times, foot washing was a common duty
for low-ranking servants. When travelers would visit an affluent home, it
was the custom for the host to have their guests feet washed. It was
considered a degrading task for any servant, and would be especially
humbling and disgusting for the cleanliness-minded Jew to remove the sandals
and wash filthy, road-stenched feet. Jesus showed that the only way to
follow Him, and the only path to spiritual greatness, is to humble ourselves
before our brethren with the heart of a loving servant.
Foot washing was certainly meant as an illustration of a desired attitude for every believer, but it also appears that its literal practice has beneficial results. Foot washing has often helped to inspire humility and forgiveness between dissenting brethren — it has been known to break up rigid tradition, hardness of heart and pride. And many a story has been told of church revivals which began from the contrition aroused in old fashioned foot washing services. The observance may seem strange or silly to some, but we're reminded that God routinely chooses what seem to be the foolish things of this world to confound the wise. Whether or not it is viewed as a regular ordinance, foot washing remains an accepted Biblical tradition in many churches.