When I was a pastor with the Seventh-day Adventist denomination we practiced foot washing along with the Lord’s Supper. Once a quarter an SDA church holds a communion service that included, what was called, the “Ordinance of Humility” or foot washing.
The reason SDA churches practiced foot washing, was because they believed that when Jesus said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15 NIV), He was instructing all believers to practice foot washing.
I do not believe that was what Jesus was referring to when He said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15 NIV) and I will explain why.
The practice of foot washing was typical in Jesus’ times because when guests were welcomed into a home, their feet were often dusty, dirty, or muddy from walking on dirt roads and paths in their sandals. There were no pavement, concrete, or shoes as we know today. There were some stone roads and paths but most were dirt subject to the weather and environment.
It was the job of a servant to wash the guest’s feet, using a basin, some water, and a towel. It was considered a lowly job. If you didn’t have a servant to do it, you likely would tell your guests where they could find the tools so they could do it themselves. No one wanted to do this task.
When Jesus did this for the disciples, He was showing them “no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him” (John 13:16 NIV). The “example” that Jesus is speaking of in John 13:15 is not the act of foot washing but the willingness to be a servant.
Foot washing is a completely obsolete practice in our day. If Jesus was bringing us this lesson today, it is likely that instead of foot washing He would polish our shoes or wash our car or mow our lawn or scoop up the dog poop in the back yard.
The “example” or the lesson or the requirement set forth by Jesus in John 13:13-17 is not the practice of washing someone’s feet, it is the practice of humbly becoming a servant for others. Therefore, in my understanding of Scripture, I do not think the practice of foot washing with the Lord’s Supper is necessary.
The practice of foot washing, maybe periodically or at special occasions, may help as an illustrative point to Jesus’ lesson of humility of servant hood, otherwise its regularly scheduled mandated practice today makes it a formality and a mere religious ritual.