Ordinances of Baptism, Communion, and Foot Washing

Ordinances are worship and faith disciplines which have specifically been ordained by Jesus in His instructions to His followers. The ordinances are rich experiences for believers, and that they are symbolic of something that is happening within the believer as a direct act of God’s Spirit. The symbolic act is a witness to an inner reality. These symbols affirm and remind us of what God has done in Christ.[1]

Baptism, by immersion, is a first step for the new believer. The term “baptism” comes from the Greek word “baptizo,” which means “to immerse.” Immersion of believers is the only form of baptism that is indicated in the New Testament. Through baptism, which symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, the new believer witnesses to the world that there is a new spiritual dimension in his or her life.[2] Baptism is also a witness to the Church that the new believer is a part of its fellowship and work, and to family and friends that he or she is now an active participant in the Christian community.[3]

The Lord’s Supper, often called Communion, is an affirmation of oneness in Christ. In sacramental congregations it is often called the Eucharist, a reference to the thanks offered over the bread and the cup.[4] We are instructed to frequently share the elements of the Lord’s Supper.[5] The bread and the cup are symbolic of the grace experienced in the life of the believer.[6]  In most Church of God congregations, grape juice and unleavened communion bread are used in this observance.

Foot Washing is an ordinance commonly practiced by the Church of God and modeled by Christ at the Last Supper.[7] It is an act symbolizing the servant ministry of all Christians to each other and to the world. Men assemble in one room and women in another, and even children are encouraged to participate. Persons wash each other’s feet, sing hymns, and give personal testimonies of God’s blessing on their lives. Participation is not considered a “test of faith.” Rather, it is a spiritual experience which Christians are encouraged to observe and join. While a physical act, washing the feet of a fellow believer is a remarkable spiritual blessing, echoing the words of Jesus Himself: “If you know these things, blessed [or happy] are you if you do them.”[8]

[1] Pastor Chris Keeton from Westwood Church of God in Ashland, Kentucky was a major source of my content. He has a very helpful “FAQ” section at his church’s website – http://westwoodchurchofgod.org/faq

[2] Mark 1:1-11; Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:38

[3] Acts 2:42-47

[4] 1 Corinthians 10:16

[5] 1 Corinthians 11:20

[6] 1 Corinthians 10:16

[7]  John 13:1-17

[8] John 13:17


One thought on “Ordinances of Baptism, Communion, and Foot Washing

  1. Good job on on these. You have a clear demonstration of our heritage in your definitions. Here are a few questions:
    1. If baptism is a first step of a new believer, how soon should it be done? Do you need a level of knowledge, faith, or maturity before you are baptized?
    2. How is baptism similar and different to initiation?
    3. In communion, what do the elements specifically relate to? Is there a connection to the idea of covenant?
    4. Why do we partake of “juice and unleavened bread” as our habit? Is there some significance to these particular forms?
    5. Why is foot washing not recognized by other denominational groups as an ordinance of the church?
    6. Our practice of foot washing is often associated with personal relationships on a peer-to-peer level, yet Jesus washes the feet of his followers. Could it be that this act was more of a commissioning of his disciples as apostles? How could this perspective change our practice of the act?
    7. Working with the notion that foot washing is a modeling of servanthood, how can 21st Century Americans more clearly understand the significance of foot washing? Is there a modern day parallel to the daily act of a servant washing the home-owners/master’s feet when he or she entered from their journey?
    8. What about re-baptism?

    I’m sure these are bigger cans of worms than you want to dive into, but I think they deserve some reflection. I don’t want to be seen as a thorn in the side, but I think some of our heritage needs to be tweaked into alignment with the larger church as well as the story of scripture.

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