Communion & Feet Washing
By Elder Ira Lawson Gunter 1880s
God in all ages of the world has been pleased to reveal himself to, and deal with his people by way of dispensations, revealing and commanding all the ceremonies and ritual as the rule by which they were to serve him.
We have first the Antedeluvian dispensation with its direct personal revelations, 2nd The Patriarchal, with its alters and peculiar forms. 3rd The Mosaic; in which God was pleased for the first time to organize his chosen people Israel into a specific form of theocratic, ecclesiastical and typical government and gave to them through Moses a very elaborate and definite form of ritual by which they as a people were to worship and serve him in an organized capacity. And these rules and ceremonies were so definite and specific that nothing could be omitted or added without incurring rebellion, and vitiating the service itself and was rejected by the Lord as true service to himself – leaving no room for the introduction of human tradition, or amending by the varying suggestions of human prudence.
Hence the public sanctuary, – the tabernacle first and afterwards the temple, was set up and the priests and Levites consecrated and ordained as public and official functionaries to administer in holy things. All of which while it lasted was not only the sole rule of public and organic worship, but was typical in its offices, sacrifices and in some respects, in its ceremonies of the gospel dispensation, which was to end and succeed it. And as under the peculiar and specific forms of services required in the Mosaic dispensation, God’s chosen people were contradistinguished and separate from all other nations and peoples, who were debarred by the law of the Lord from a participation in this service; and not only they, but even Israelites themselves, if subject to certain named disqualifications: so under the gospel dispensation, God has been pleased for their good and His glory to arrange for the organization of his regenerate people (spiritual Israel). And has prescribed in the New Testament, not only the specific and definite principles upon which they are to be organized, to which nothing can be lawfully added nor nothing omitted; but also the ordinances and ceremonies according to which they are to worship and serve him in a public, or official and organic capacity. And these ceremonies and ordinances of organic service are not applicable to, nor required of His people in their individual or family relations, separate or apart from such official organization. Among these public and official ordinances are: Baptism, The Lord’s Supper, and Washing the Saints feet; the two last joined together as they are in the New Testament constitute what is generally denominated the “Communion.” And the organization to whom they have been committed, and only by whose authority they can be lawfully executed and administered is the church of Jesus Christ on earth. And if this be true, and it is true, it is evident that no other authority or organization can administer them legally, nor can such administrations, even though they may not lack anything as to form, be regarded as valid any more than the administration of the Jewish ordinances by the Philistines or Canaanites could have been so regarded.
When we go to the New Testament for information on this subject, we find that our blessed Savior called out from among the many believers who had been baptized by John the Baptist, twelve men, investing them with special official relation to himself, and giving them in that special official and organized relation and capacity, legal authority to act in His name and to execute the laws and ordinances according to His commands, of His kingdom. And this authority and function was not given to them or to any others though they might be true believers, in their individual capacity or relations, but only as an organized body. All truly regenerated persons have a spiritual relation to Christ by faith, outside and independent of, and defined nor effected by any church relation or authority whatever. But the relation of the twelve as thus called out and organized was purely organic and official and was not determined alone by their spiritual relation to Him. Otherwise Judas would not and could not have been chosen and invested with equal official relation with the rest. These twelve men thus called out and thus organized and invested with official function and authority was the only authoritative official body our blessed Savior ever organized on earth. And from these scripture facts we learn: 1st That we have here in this organization the church of Christ in fact and verity which is to be continued in like form in spite of the gates of hell until the gospel dispensation shall close, 2nd That the church of Christ has purely and only an official relation to Christ, and 3rdly That this organic body only can act legally and officially in the name of Christ.
Now with these twelve men only thus called out and thus invested with official relation to himself, our blessed Savior instituted the ordinance of the supper and feet washing and commanded them in that capacity and not as unorganized individual Christians; to continue the same in the same capacity, saying “as oft as ye do this, do it in remembrance of me.” Hence the act in both branches of it is an organic and official act, and can only be administered by and to those who have an organized and official relation to Christ as His church, and as members of the same. Hence while there were no doubt a great many true believers in and around Jerusalem who had been legally baptized by John, and had by the new birth spiritual relation to Christ, none were invited or admitted to a participation in this first most solemn and impressive administration of the ordinance, but the twelve. And here is the primary and most potent argument in defense of restricted or “close communion.” An official act or ceremony can only be executed by those officially authorized and only to these officially authorized to receive it. The church therefore cannot go beyond the specific command and the plainly illustrated example of her Lord and only lawgiver without transcending her authority. For after giving her His command specifically defining her duty and showing her how it was to be done as a whole, He said unto them “For I have given you an example that as I have done unto you so ye should do to one another. And if ye know these things,” (not this thing) as I have taught them to you both by precept and example, “happy are ye if ye do them.”
It is not therefore, because we do not have Christian love and fellowship for outside Christians or Christians of other orders that we do not commune with them or invite them to commune with us; but because we cannot regard them as having placed themselves in that official relation to the church and her authority that entitles them thereto, or authorizes the church to administer it to them. Before they can do this they must make a credible profession of their faith before the bar of the church, be received by her voice into her fellowship and receive the ordinance of baptism at her hands. But we must not fall into the mistaken idea that legal and valid baptism alone entitles [one] to the communion. It is not enough that one is a professed believer and has been legally baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity, by competent authority: but they must also be accredited and accepted members of the church, thus having scripturally recognized official relation to her and through her to Christ, before they can be entitled to her ordinances, privileges and official duties; and this only entitles to both ordinances, the one (baptism) only required by the law to precede the other, and both required to be administered by the same authority (the church). And as the ordinance is not an individual, social or family ceremony but a church rite; and as God’s word is our only rule of faith and practice, we cannot remove the restrictions thus thrown around them without rebellion to the Master; since to do just what He says do and just in the way He says do it is of infinitely more importance, than the exercise of any charity that would vaunt itself over the Bible while professing to reverence and love it. Hence if some Christians are debarred from the communion, it is not because the Master has restricted its administrations to a certain specified class, but because they have failed or refused to place themselves within the category of that class; and they should not blame the true church for refusing them the rite so much as themselves for not doing that which would scripturally entitle them thereto.
We remark in the next place that, – that part of the ordinance embracing the supper proper is purely commemorative and has Christ’s body and blood as broken and shed for us as its only relation and emblematical end. “Do this, said he, as oft as ye do it, in remembrance of me.” “For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup ye do shew the Lord’s death till He come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread and drink this cup 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 (condemnation) to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body,” all clearly showing that Christ’s broken body and shed blood is that alone to which it points and symbolizes. Therefore it is given to the church as a symbolical rite by which she as a church (the body of Christ) and each communicant in a church relation as a member of that body, is to remember Christ alone as their Redeemer and Savior and her only head and lawgiver; furnishing a beautiful emblematical testimony of what the church and each member thinks of Christ. It is not therefore a communion of saints with each other in the common acceptation of that term; nor a test of their Christian fellowship one for another, and hence the claims of open communionists on that basis must fall to the ground because we may and do have Christian fellowship for many to whom we cannot apply this test, because of their scriptural ineligibility. But it is purely and only a communion of the church and of saints in that relation with Christ; – a test of our fellowship for him, and a symbolic illustration of our feelings as his church and as recognized members of the same toward him as the head of the church and the glorious redeemer and Savior of her members.
Hence when we come to the Lord’s table, everything in heaven and earth should be, as far as possible shut out from our spiritual vision except the Lord Christ on the cross who should fill and cover the whole field of our spiritual thought and emotion and faith in all his most ravishing and gracious saving relations and power. It is not my worldly interests, my wife, my children, neighbors, nor friends, no not even my beloved brethren and sisters in the Lord nor my relations to any of those that are symbolized and represented here; but my blessed Savior on the cross and His relations to me and mine to Him. Then stand aside all things else, while I eat and drink and view and adore! Oh blessed place Oh blessed rite! that brings again and again to my remembrance my blessed Savior, where I can by faith see afresh thy mangled and suffering body hanging on the accursed tree in untold agony and blood; and while my poor heart goes out in unutterable sympathy, and grieves over thy incomprehensible sufferings and sorrows, rejoice with joy unspeakable, that all this was for me; that there my sins my grievous sins more completely expiated and put away forever; that there the blood was shed that cleanses my poor polluted soul from every stain, and shall make me at last as pure and spotless as thou art. Remember thee! Yes let me ever remember thee as my Redeemer, my Savior, my Lord and my God; my all and in all. And to this end let me lose no legal and valid opportunity to meet around thy blessed table. And let me ever be guarded and guided by thy Spirit and grace so that I may never be debarred the blessed privilege.
But the communion is not here complete. There is not only a communion between Christ and the church and between the saints in the church and Christ direct; but there is also a communion between themselves. [emphasis mine] The saints not only have fellowship with Christ, but also fellowship with each other in Christ. And as the church as a whole has organic and official relation to Christ, so her accredited and orderly members have, by virtue of their membership, organic and official unity in her and union with and fellowship for each other so as to constitute her one body in Christ, and they members one of another. They also have a spiritual unity with and relation to each other, as redeemed by the same sacrifice and born of the same Spirit. Now none of these blessed relations to each other is symbolized, nor was intended to be symbolized, only incidentally by the bread and wine; that having direct and exclusive reference to Christ as its sole object and emblematical end: being a test of our fellowship for Him only and an organic and official, as well as personal communion with Him exclusively, symbolizing only His relation to them and theirs to Him.
Hence the institution of the second branch of the same ordinance, the organic and official washing of each others feet, to illustrate and symbolize this grand organic and spiritual unity and fellowship they have for each other in Christ and in His body, the church. This part of the ordinance having no symbolical reference to Christ only incidentally but directly to each other as members of the church; and is an authorized official test or symbol of our feeling toward and fellowship for each other in Christ and in the church. For He that would have the church by an ordinance of His own appointment, officially remember Him in His redeeming and saving relation to them, would also, by an ordinance of His own appointing, have the members of the church, at the same time in the same capacity officially remember each other as equally interested in that redemption and salvation. And thus symbolize the mutual love and fellowship they must have for each other. “For he that loveth Him that begat, loveth also him that is begotten of him.” Hence He that took bread and blessed and break it and said, “Take eat this is my body” likewise the cup and said, “Drink ye all of it, this is my blood which is shed for you. This do in remembrance of me.” Also at the same time and in the same connection rose from the table (from supper), laid aside his garment (typical of the flesh), girded himself with a towel and pouring water into a basin washed the disciples feet. Not because they were dirty and needed washing nor to comply with an old Jewish custom as some suppose, but to show forth their interdependence organically, and their spiritual unity and relation upon and with each other; and said, “If I your Lord and Master have washed your feet ye ought also to wash one another’s feet.” But how, Lord, and when shall we do this? Just at the same time and in the same connection and capacity that I have just now done it; For I have given you an example that ye should do as I have done unto you. 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. If ye know these things (not this thing) happy are ye if ye do them.”
Hence in the first branch of the ordinance (the supper) we show our love and fellowship for and faith in Christ. In the second branch of the ordinance (the feet washing) we show our love and fellowship for each other. Next to the joy and comfort we have in realizing God’s grace and mercy in our own salvation is that sweet delight and love we find filling and moving our hearts toward those when we can in the Spirit fellowship as the redeemed family of our God, heirs together with us of the same grace, children of the same father; partakers of the same blessings and heirs of the same glory. Thus while I commune with my blessed Jesus in the typical bread and wine; and my faith shutting all things else beholds His mangled body on the cross in agony and blood and realizes in hope the amazing love of God in thus expiating and putting away forever all my grievous sins, and filling my soul with inexpressible love to my redeeming Lord. I see my brother filled with the same joy and feasting upon the same fountain of heavenly grace and my whole heart spontaneously flows out to him in untold union and love and I long for some authorized and ordained symbol by which I may express to him what words cannot convey. And this our dying Lord has graciously furnished us in the blessed ordinance of feet washing. Hence I gladly, yea rejoicingly, lay aside my garment (all my fleshly and carnal pride) and wash my brother’s feet literally, according to the command and example of my Lord to symbolize my love and fellowship for him as my brother in Christ. Then, and not until then could I feel that the full rite had been performed, or the communion complete. The experience and observation of the humble writer has been, that where the ordinance of the supper alone is celebrated, the ceremony is most generally dry, perfunctory and spiritless. But where both are celebrated in connection as Christ the Lord has joined them: they almost always experience a glorious and joyful witnessing of the Holy Spirit in their own souls, and the church a refreshing from the presence of the Lord not otherwise enjoyed.
Christ the head and body joined
In holy union stands
The church in His righteousness shines
And as he her love commands
And as the family of Christ
Their Lord and Savior loves
They love each other with delight
And joy their love to prove
Didst thou dear Jesus love thine own
And loved them to the end
Then let me from my inmost soul
Love these as thou loved them
As thou ordained the bread and wine
To show our love to thee
So by thy holy word we find
Feet washing ordained, too.
The one to symbolize in type
Our dead and risen Lord
Thy children’s vital food and life
That makes them live to God
The other was designed to show
Our union in the Lord
Our love and fellowship for those
Who love our Savior God
As thou didst stoop to wash their feet
Oh let me wash them too
And rejoice in the thought complete
That thus I do to thee.
To thy example let me yield
To thy command pay heed
Remember thee – thy body – blood
Around thy table Lord
Then with delight and joy most sweet
According to thy word
Oh let me wash thy children’s feet
In the church of my God.
Elder Ira Lawson Gunter
[transcribed digitally by great granddaughter Hattie Caroline Moseley Latimer and great great grandson Jim W. Latimer, 2010, from Ira’s original handwritten ledger pages 110-124, original held by Asa Colvin Moseley.]