Anabaptist history: Footwashing


The picture above is from my wedding. I washed my wife’s feet as an act of love and service.

3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

– John 13:3-11 (ESV)

Should footwashing be a sacrament/ordinance? Jesus did it, though it is questionable whether he meant it to be something that was to be repeated throughout time like Baptism and the Eucharist.

A little Anabaptist history according to From Anabaptist Seed, by C.A. Snyder:
The ordinance of foot washing was not practiced in all the earthly Anabaptist congregations. The South German Anabaptist leader Pilgram Marpeck (d. 1556) spoke of foot washing as a church ordinance, but the practice became most widespread in The Netherlands, where it entered the confession that were produced in late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The practice of footwashing was considered to be an “ordinance” primarily because Jesus “instituted and commanded” the practice. Its symbolic meaning relating to humility and continued purification was explained best by Dirk Philips, bishop and co-worker in The Netherlands with Menno Simons. Late in the seventeenth century, the adoption of the Dordrecht Confession by Swiss Brethren included also the adoption of footwashing as an ordinance, and the practice became accepted in the South as well.

We also confess a washing of the feet of the saints . . . as a sign of true humiliation; but yet more particularly as a sign to remind us of the true washing – the washing and purification of the soul in the blood of Christ
– Dordrecht Confession, article XI, 1632

Also, consider 1 Timothy 5:10
9 No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband,a 10 and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.

Should footwashing be (re)instituted as a sacrament/ordinance? Does your church practice it?

Rosie, Pope Benedict did not move the Church backwards

One of Toronto’s local newspapers, The Toronto Star, published a scathing editorial on the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI titled: Pope Benedict XVI pushed the Catholic Church backward. This particular author frustrates me so consistently that I am not sure I should respond out of fear of being uncharitable. She demonstrates a shocking lack of understanding (or even caring) how the Church functions or why it does what it does.

For example, she writes: “[He] has not always played nice with . . . Jews (Benedict lifted the excommunication of a bishop who openly denied the Holocaust)”

Rosie is conflating two unrelated issues here. She links this particular Bishop’s excommunication (Bishop Richard Williamson) with his denial of the holocaust. One had nothing to do with the other. He was excommunicated over 20 years ago for being illicitly made a Bishop without Papal approval. This was declared an act of schism. He is one of four Bishops with the traditionalist group Society of St. Pius X who were similarly censured.

The excommunication was lifted in 2009 in an attempt to bring them back into the fold. Unfortunately, just days prior, Williamson had made a statement on TV denying the holocaust. As unfortunate (and deplorable) as this is, it is unconnected with the reason for his excommunication. At the time, the Vatican clearly stated that:

Williamson’s views were “absolutely indefensible.” But he denied that rehabilitating Williamson implied that the Vatican shared them. “They are his personal ideas … that we certainly don’t share but they have nothing to do with the issue of the excommunication and the removal of the excommunication. . . (1)

I suppose, Rosie thinks only perfect people should be in the Church (by her definition of course). The Church is not a museum for saints, it’s a hospital for sinners. In any case, relations between SSPX and the Vatican are not all sunshine and roses and there still exists a lot of work to be done to regularize them. I do not know if Rosie made that connection out of ignorance or malice. Either way, she is demonstrating her lack of qualification to write this piece.

Someone I knew from Tyndale University, Wayne Veenstra, has penned an excellent rebuttal. Remarkably, Wayne is a Protestant but knows when to call a spade a spade and take a stand for theological correctness. I highly commend the article to your reading.

A (Rare) Protestant Defense of a Catholic Pope

Popes do not teach unpopular things because they’ve become a necessary part of their identity. The absence of divine revelation in her framework for understanding religion is again part of the fundamental worldview clash between a theologically liberal understanding of religion and historic Christianity. The recognition that God had spoken clearly in the Scriptures and through the person and work of Jesus Christ is essential to the Christian faith—both Catholic and Protestant—and so long as this is overlooked there will be very different rubrics for assessing the work of Church leaders.

Well said Wayne. Blessings.

(1) Pope lifts excommunication of 4 bishops

Papal Roundup

Hi all,

Three things that Pope Benedict XVI’s retirement shows me:

  1. The timing of the retirement, just before the Lenten/Easter season, seems to show that he felt great urgency to step aside. Perhaps his health is worse than is known.
  2. The high respect for the office he holds. I can only imagine how gruelling that job must be. His abdication demonstrates that rather than continue in a job he feels he can’t do to full effectiveness, it is better to make way for God to install someone better able.
  3. The manner in which both John Paul II and Benedict XVI’s Pontificate’s ended is/was inspiring and they serve as good examples, especially to those of us in any form of Church leadership. John Paul II chose to run the church as spiritual leader, leading through suffering, and this was greatly inspiring. But, the manner of Benedict XVI’s abdication demonstrates great humility and courage. How many world leaders knowingly step aside and give up power and status?

Also, he has one more encyclical in the works. It will apparently still be released but not as a Papal encyclical.

Here’s a roundup of some articles from around web. Some from Catholics, many not.

Pope Benedict XVI set to retire



I’m sure you’ve heard this already, but I thought it worth posting about. The text of his statement is here:

“Dear Brothers,

I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.”

Here’s the full article from one of Canada’s National Newspapers.

Not gonna lie… I love a good conclave.

Clarifying Purgatory

My friend Ryan who blogs over at has written a great article on the various definitions of words that you need to know when discussing Hell. He divides the definitions into four categories: ‘The Purpose of Hell’, ‘Who Goes to Hell’, ‘Who Decides Who Goes to Hell’, and ‘The Nature of the Soul’.

I just wanted to make a quick addition to the discussion to hopefully prevent some confusion surrounding one idea. Under ‘The Purpose of Hell’ Ryan lists three common purposes: “Torture, Extinction, and Purification/Purgatory”.

Under Purification/Purgatory, Ryan provides the following explanation:

Purification/Purgatory: This understanding comes largely from Scripture’s fire metaphor almost always being about purification. It’s painful purification, but the end-result is to be shaped into something better, much like suffering in this life can shape us into something better if we let it.

My main concern here is the notion of equating purgatory with an understanding of hell. I venture to say that when most people hear the word “purgatory” they think of the Catholic Church. In the Catholic understanding purgatory is not a substitute for Hell, nor is it a place per se. It is a process, an intermediate state of being between the now and heaven – the holy car wash. It is where purification takes place, but the only people who are eligible to enter purgatory are those already destined for Heaven. Hell still very much exists but this is not it. Purgatory then is not understood to be a replacement for Hell, nor is it Limbo (a holding place for souls with no known destination – originally conceived of to deal with the question of children who died before they were baptized. This theology was dumped years ago and the word does not appear in the Catechism).

With regards to Purgatory paragraph 1030-1031 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

1030 All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.

Does it hurt? As Pope Benedict XVI explains in his Encyclical Spe Salvi, yes, but it’s pain with a purpose:

His gaze, the touch of his heart, heals us through an undeniably painful transformation ‘as through fire.’ But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. In this way the interrelation between justice and grace also becomes clear: The way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us forever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth, and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ’s Passion. At the moment of judgment we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy.

So, in the Catholic understanding it would be untrue to connect purgatory with Hell except that those in purgatory aren’t going there. Hell still very much exists as the place where those who do not die in God’s grace go.

As the Catechism states:

1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

This is not an argument against Ryan’s fine article (nor an affirmation of purgatory), but a point of clarification. Purgatory is a contentious issue for non-Catholics and is often misunderstood. It is important to know what something is if we are going to discuss it. If you haven’t yet, go read Ryan’s original article, it’s great for giving us a common language from which to have discussion.

Why December 25th? [reblog]

A great article from the website of Biblical Archaeology Magazine: How December 25 Became Christmas

The Bible offers few clues: Celebrations of Jesus’ Nativity are not mentioned in the Gospels or Acts; the date is not given, not even the time of year. The biblical reference to shepherds tending their flocks at night when they hear the news of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:8) might suggest the spring lambing season; in the cold month of December, on the other hand, sheep might well have been corralled. Yet most scholars would urge caution about extracting such a precise but incidental detail from a narrative whose focus is theological rather than calendrical.

A good reminder: we need to be careful not to look for details that presumably were left out on purpose.

Separation of Church and State [reblog]

An article collecting Scripture passages relating to the separation of church and state. He’s looking for feedback and you can directly join the conversation here at the TheoGeeks group on Google+.

The topic of the separation of church and state is a pretty interesting one. I would think it would’ve been more popular back when states actually controlled religion or were mainly composed of one particular religion, instead of today’s “everything but nothing” stance. What I mean by that is, the United States tends to promote its “we accept all religions” value, while at the same time saying no religion has a place in the sphere of government.

But is that true? Are the state and religion meant to be completely separate? What does the Bible say about the issue, if anything at all? What about logic and reason – which stance seems more appropriate in our modern day?

Admit the treasure is tarnished.

One of the unfortunate and lingering effects of the reformation is that we are too easily prone to major on the minors as well as the majors, treating everything as equally important. This necessarily leads to increased schism within the church. As the old saying goes when everything is important, nothing is important. Whether it’s baptism, eucharist, marriage, divorce, same-sex attraction, abortion, Jesus’ divinity, God’s foreknowledge, peace, Just War, Church vs. State, or any number of other issues, we tend to treat everything as equally vital for salvation. If we can’t acknowledge what is of ultimate importance we will never achieve unity. Now, some don’t have a problem with this, but I do. I especially get upset when I hear a Christian leader, particularly one with a large microphone, make schismatic comments that are unnecessary and ultimately untrue. The idea for writing this article was a statement made by Greg Boyd over the summer.

Before I address the issue in earnest, though, let me first say that I like Greg and his church Woodland Hills. He’s a super smart guy who is always pushing the body of Christ to ask itself tough questions. I disagree with some things he says and agree with others. Rarely though does he say something that really makes me mad. This is about one of those things that makes me mad – really mad. Ultimately though this isn’t about Greg, it’s about a point of view.

Woodland Hills is non-denominational, but they trace their lineage back to several streams of thought: Christ as their foundation, Lutheran, Pietist, Charismatic, and the Anabaptist traditions. In a summer sermon series Greg preached on the influence each of these has had on their church. One of the major pieces that Anabaptists bring to the table is the peace position (in contrast to just-war theology) and Greg is very strong in his alignment with this doctrine. Unfortunately, the depth of his allegiance seems to have led him to make a critical error in his understanding of history, which encourages schism within the church.

It may well be asked what the markers of an Anabaptist are and how do we understand them in a historical context? Specifically, how do we identify which Christians were Anabaptist at the time of the reformation? For many the primary marker was a Christian who was and believed in re-baptism (which is where the title “Anabaptist” comes from). Because baptism was seen as a sign of citizenship, being rebaptized was a sign of rebellion. Anabaptists believed that baptism first required a profession of faith and that infant baptism’s were invalid. In contrast, Greg’s definition of anabaptism limits membership to those who held to the peace position and that anyone who didn’t display this particular mark is not an Anabaptist. I suppose that’s one way to look at things, but I’m not convinced its true or helpful. While it is certainly true that a pacifist theology developed within the Anabaptist communities, it cannot be reasonably asserted that it was universally accepted in the beginning.

During his sermon on the Anabaptists, while speaking on the peace position, he seems to imply that all 16th Century Anabaptists have believed and practiced non-violence: “It’s the only tradition without blood on its hands.” His words are included in the wonderful book Naked Anabaptist and go even further: “This [Anabaptism] is the only tradition that consistently refused political power and violence . . . It is the only tradition that isn’t soaked in blood and the only tradition that looks remotely like Jesus” (168).

 The historical event he has to get around is the event known as the “Massacre at Munster”. Munster was a town in Germany that was taken over by Anabaptist radicals during the reformation. They were apocalyptic, believing that God’s return was imminent, and the saw Munster as a new Jerusalem. They needed to return Munster to a pure state so that Jesus would return. They imposed harsh Old Testament style laws, even executing people for swearing. And they believed in re-baptism. Most historians I have read and most Anabaptists I have asked about this issue agree that the radicals that took over Munster were indeed Anabaptists, albeit misguided ones. In fact, it seems that the events at Munster were responsible for highlighting the importance of taking the Sermon on the Mount literally and promoted a more rapid adoption of the peace position. So, while those early Anabaptists may not have believed or acted in a way consistent with contemporary Anabaptists, we should see it as an early formative period that led directly to the acceptance of the peace position.

Regardless of how you view Munster, the claim that Anabaptists “don’t have blood on their hands” simply demonstrates an incomplete knowledge of history. On this point I don’t fault Greg, since much of what is shameful about Anabaptist history is not well known. But it has been demonstrated that during World War II, Anabaptists who resided near concentration camps were complicit in the use of slave labour, took no action to oppose what was going on and even served in the S.S. After the war Mennonites who were certified as such by the Mennonite Central Committee were allowed to repatriate to Canada without any vetting as to their wartime activity. This allowed war criminals to enter Canada without any questions being asked. Even after they had been allowed into Canada, their churches failed to impose the ban on these men and seem to have swept it under the carpet.

For anyone to claim that simply being a member of the Anabaptist tradition gives them any moral superiority on the issue of ethics in war time or on violence at all is simply wrong. We are warned against this sort of arrogant talk in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in the Gospel of Luke 18:9-14:

9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”


I certainly don’t deny that God has and is using Anabaptists to spread the message of peace to the world and most importantly into the church. I praise God for their witness of peace and for every good thing they offer the universal church. But when we put our tradition on a moral pedestal, who are we more like, the Pharisee or the Tax Collector? The real danger here is not the pride or the hypocritical nature of the belief, but rather that it can only lead to schism. It’s putting us in one camp and them in another. It is calling others to repent and acting as if we have nothing similar to repent of. All denominations and churches have warts and they are not all pretty to look at or just minor annoyances. If a Church is not preaching the Gospel, yes, point that out. If there have been errors in church history that have injured our witness, we need to repent of that. It is one history, not a million histories. If you call yourself a Christian you are baptized into the full history of the church, not just the history of your particular denomination. To pretend otherwise is to stick your head in the sand. The church is the church warts and all.

We all have violence in our pasts, we all have blood in our hands. In His high priestly prayer, Jesus’ prayed that his church “may all be one, just as you, Father are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21). We don’t need more schism in the church. The shameful disaster that is the fractured body of Christ is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to others accepting our faith. In an ironic twist, when the radicals took over Munster the Catholics and the Protestants merged their armies to oust the radicals: for a brief moment we united most of the church back together (said very much tongue in cheek). To once gain quote Greg Boyd, he writes “This tradition is a treasure to be cherished” (168). It is indeed, but only if we Anabaptists can rid ourselves of these false notions of history, admit our faults and repent of them, then maybe Anabaptists once again can have a real role in church unity so that we may all be one in Christ. To continue to live in these lies is to damage the very peace witness we claim to uphold as one of our most cherished values.

Resource: Naked Anabaptist by Stuart Murray (978-0-8361-9517-0)

The need for Christian community

My co-worker Heather Weir, Phd who blogs over at The Backlist, has written a great article that succinctly argues why those who argue against the need for Christians to exist in community are illogical, unbiblical, and unhelpful.

You cannot be a Christian alone. It just doesn’t work. Read lots of books that other Christians write, even if you don’t agree with them. See that they love Jesus and are connected to you as fellow members of the body of Christ. Enjoy the messy diversity which is the Church.

Read the full article here: