Dear Brother Moses,
It is always a joy to receive your email, especially this one regarding children taking part in the communion service and whether or not footwashing should actually be a part of the communion service.
1. The matter of washing of the feet prior to the communion meal has always been a point of discussion among those conservative Christian groups who sincerely want to follow the word of God as closely as they possibly can. We certainly do not want to add anything or take away anything which was committed to the body of believers by our Lord. There are sincere honest Christian believers who wish to practice the footwashing prior to communion and there are sincere honest Christian believers who believe that the Lord was speaking figuratively when He told the disciples to wash one another's feet. What I am about to write is my opinion on the matter, but each Christian should come to his own conclusion on the matter. I will try to be as gentle as I can regarding this very sensitive subject. Many have very strong opinions regarding footwashing. Here are a few texts from the Old Testament and New Testament which show the customs of the time:
Genesis 18:3-4 And said, My Lord, if now I have found favor in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant: 4 Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree:
Genesis 19:2 And he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant's house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night.
Genesis 24:32 And the man came into the house: and he ungirded his camels, and gave straw and provender for the camels, and water to wash his feet, and the men's feet that were with him.
Genesis 43:24 And the man brought the men into Joseph's house, and gave them water, and they washed their feet; and he gave their asses provender.
Judges 19:20-21 And the old man said, Peace be with thee; howsoever let all thy wants lie upon me; only lodge not in the street. 21 So he brought him into his house, and gave provender unto the asses: and they washed their feet, and did eat and drink.
1 Samuel 25:41 And 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.
2 Samuel 11:8 And David said to Uriah, Go down to thy house, and wash thy feet. And Uriah departed out of the king's house, and there followed him a mess of meat from the king.
Luke 7:30-50 But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him. 31 And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like? 32 They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept. 33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil. 34 The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners! 35 But wisdom is justified of all her children.
36 And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee's house, and sat down to meat. 37 And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, 38 And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.
39 Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spoke within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. 40 And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. 41 There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. 42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? 43 Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.
44 And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. 45 Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. 48 And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. 49 And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? 50 And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.
1 Timothy 5:9-10 Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, 10 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.
A very careful reading about the account of the Last Supper in the gospels reveals some very interesting things which we should not overlook as we decide whether the Lord was speaking literally or figuratively. We should not forget that the disciples were convinced that the Lord was about to establish His earthly kingdom even though He had told them that He was about to die at the hands of the Romans and the leaders of the Jewish people. Thus, the disciples were continually arguing among themselves as to who would be the greatest among them and who would sit at the right and left hand closest to the Lord on His throne. And so on the night before His death the Lord did an amazing thing which truly shocked the twelve and which only the Apostle John mentions in his account of the Last Supper.
It was a very important custom in the Palestine area among the Jewish people to have a menial servant of the household to wash the feet of anyone who entered the home of an Israelite. "Cleanliness" truly was "next to godliness" to the people of this culture and only the most menial and lowly of the culture were supposed to perform this important act of cleansing prior to entering the home. The disciples were very cognizant of the fact that no one had washed their feet when they entered the room. The custom of washing before eating was very important to any good Jewish person lest he become ceremonially unclean by not washing the feet and hands before eating. The problem was that there was no menial servant there in the room who could offer to wash their feet and give them a bowl to wash their hands. The meal was over and the disciples were feeling very unwashed in that these very important washing customs had been neglected.
Kneeling down before another person was considered to be an absolutely humiliating experience and one which only the lowest of the low in the society would be willing to do. It is with all of this pride and prejudice in the hearts of His followers that the Lord Himself undertook to humble Himself to kneel before his disciples to wash their feet. Here was the sinless all-powerful Creator and Redeemer of the world kneeling down at the feet of His sinful selfish disciples. They were truly embarrassed by their Lord's actions in doing this act. The Lord could not have stooped any lower in the eyes of the disciples. This was probably the "straw that broke the camel's back" for Judas and he went out and betrayed the Lord to the Jewish authorities. Peter objected most strenuously to the Lord's act of humility. It is in the setting of all of this cultural prejudice that we find the culturally shocking account in the gospel of John:
John 13:1-4 KJV Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. 2 And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him; 3 Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; 4 He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. 5 After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.
6 Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? 7 Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. 8 Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. 9 Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. 10 Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. (Editor: here the Lord is speaking of spiritual cleanness, not about the cleanliness of their feet).
11 For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean. 12 So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? 13 Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. 16 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. 17 If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.
18 I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me. 19 Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am he. 20 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.
21 When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. 22 Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom he spake. 23 Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. 24 Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake. 25 He then lying on Jesus' breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it? 26 Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. 27 And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly. 28 Now no man at the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him. 29 For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, Buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor. 30 He then having received the sop went immediately out: and it was night.
31 Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you. 34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
Now notice the additional dialogue which took place after the supper which is not mentioned by John but is found in the gospel of Luke. This additional dialogue gives us some insight as to why our Lord washed the feet of His disciples:
Here the Lord is clearly telling them that they are all to be servants and all be equal in the kingdom of God. In telling them this He is also telling us all that we will all equally sit down in His kingdom judging the world. Equality was a totally new concept to these people. Their thinking was completely distorted by the social customs of the times in which they lived. Servant-hood and equality was totally foreign to their thinking. It is with all of this in mind that we now come to the question as to whether our Lord has placed the footwashing ceremony in His church to be observed whenever we observe the Lord's supper. If we look over the other texts in the New Testament which refer to the Lord's Supper we find no reference to this custom of the believers having to literally wash one another's feet prior to or following after the Supper.
Luke 22:24-30 24 And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. 25 And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. 26 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 . 27 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. 28 Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations. 29 And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; 30 That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
After reading the account of our Lord's washing of His disciples feet in the cultural context of the Last Supper, His question to the disciples might well be addressed to all of us: "Do you understand what I am doing?" He is not telling us to continue to practice a footwashing ceremony which has no real cultural significance to us today, but rather He is telling us to serve one another in all humility, as equals who all partake of that one body and blood shed for the remission of sins. We are to follow His example, not in literally washing one another's feet, but rather in heeding His example of humility and servitude of spirit... "For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. 16 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. 17 If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." .... 34 "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another."
1 Corinthians 10:16-17 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion (Greek: sharing in fellowship) of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion (Greek: sharing in fellowship) of the body of Christ? 17 For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread .
1 Corinthians 11:25-30 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. 26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show (Greek: proclaim publicly) the Lord's death till he come. 27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. 29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. 30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.
Luke 22:15-20 And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer: 16 For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. 17 And he took the cup , and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: 18 For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come. 19 And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. 20 Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.
Matthew 26:26-30 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. 27 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; 28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. 29 But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom. 30 And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.
Jesus said, "I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you." The example of which He was speaking was His example of humble service, which had taken the form of washing the feet of His disciples. He was not instituting another act of worship, as He had done with the Lord's Supper, but was giving them an object lesson in humility and service. Jesus warned His followers that the path to greatness in His kingdom is the path of service. "Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:26-28). We should keep His example of service always before us!2. Now regarding the question of children also partaking of the Supper, here is a text which is very often misunderstood which can give us some important insight into the significance of the Lord's Supper.
"For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep." 1 Cor. 11:26
The apostle Paul is not saying that there is either saving or damning significance to the Lord's supper. The problem Paul is addressing is that many were living in sin and willful disregard for godly living then they were coming unrepentantly to the church meeting and hypocritically partaking of the Lord's Supper while living in willful sin. Their hypocrisy was what was causing spiritual weakness, spiritual sickness and spiritual sleep or death. He is not saying that sinners were actually becoming physically sick and actually dying because they did not discern that the Supper ceremony was so "holy" that their ignorance of the real meaning and significance of the Lord's Supper was making them literally sick and causing literal death.
This kind of thinking is bordering on Roman Catholic sacramentalism. Damnation comes only to those who sin willfully in an unrepentant high-handed disregard for the commandments of God and then pretend to be godly people honoring the symbols of Christ's atoning death by observing this symbolic ritual. Each of us should examine our lives for open willful sin and ought to repent of all of our sins before partaking of any Christian ordinance or ritual like the ceremony of the Supper. I would not wish to attribute "special spiritual properties" to the ceremony itself as if this memorial service were mystically holy in and of itself and could cause the literal death of someone who did not fully appreciate these mystical "properties" somehow supposedly inherent in the bread and the wine.
For children to take the symbols of the Gospel is not going to bring God's condemnation upon them or their parents because they may not fully understand the meaning of Christ's death. Only unrepented of sin and hypocrisy can condemn anyone. Children who are old enough to understand the spoken language are old enough to understand that the symbols of the bread and new wine "proclaim the Lord's death till He comes". The simple solemn ceremony of partaking of the Lord's Supper makes a strong impression in the minds of the little ones as to the meaning of the broken body and shed blood of our Lord on Calvary for their sins and the sins of all the world. This is a very special ceremony for all the congregation which should be reverently observed by all old enough to hear the word of the gospel. The symbols of the Christian faith are all symbols of faith. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. The Lord's Supper proclaims the gospel and invites all to drink of the same spiritual cup and eat the same spiritual body broken for the sins of the world on Calvary.
God bless all of you this coming Sabbath as you remember the Lord's death.
Your brother in the holy faith of Jesus Christ,
Bill Diehl www.PresentTruthMag.org
Fallbrook, Ca. USA
See also this brief article regarding this subject