Dressed for success...

Our Clearnote Pastors College theology of worship class has been discussing the question of whether or not ministers should wear liturgical vestments in (as well as out of) Divine Service, and if so on what grounds? Our readings have ranged from the gushingly “for” to the violently “against.” Perhaps the most interesting and helpful writer we've encountered on the subject has been Dutch polymath, Abraham Kuyper.

Recently published for the first time in English, Kuyper’s Onze Eeredienst (Our Worship) is a rare, matter-of-fact treatment of biblical worship—the topic Scottish luminary James Bannerman declared to contain ecclesiology's most interesting and difficult questions. Having ventured out beyond my depth in the turgid waters of worship theology, Kuyper’s frank, level-headed approach is a welcome gulp of fresh air, even where I disagree with him. He has a way of demystifying things. And today, worship theology needs demystifying. 

On the issue of vestments, Kuyper makes two historical claims I want to summarize for our readers to discuss. 

He begins with the suggestion that if a preacher from one of the New Testament churches—say, Ephesus, Colossae, Athens, or Rome—were suddenly to appear today, people would think he looked...

more like a priest than a preacher: 

…in the time of the apostles, the basic middle-class clothes of the Greeks and Romans looked much more like the attire of the Roman Catholic clergy today than like our own fashion. The clerical vestment prescribed by the Catholic Church is not a brand-new invention, but basically a costume that was partly adopted from the Roman times, and was further developed and adapted for its particular purpose (pg. 58).

In other words, early church pastors donned the uniform, not of an officiant, but of the average middle class citizen. And though it might appear to our situated eyes as priestly, in their day the garb stood for nothing more than mere submission to societal norms of decorum. As fashions changed in society, however, they didn’t in the church. The church was stodgy and the old manner of dress was retained, later being elevated to the place of sacred symbol.

He then looks to the next great genesis in church history, the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation was characterized by a rejection of the idolatries of Rome with all its symbols in an attempt to restore the Church to her New Testament simplicity. To what form of dress did the Reformers turn at that pivotal moment?

When the Reformation came and the ministers naturally could no longer wear the costume of the Catholic Church, they predictably chose academic dress, not to assume a learned appearance, but because it was the nearest alternative. Hence we see all the Reformers and the first ministers pictured in the vestments that were in use at that time. We can hardly imagine Luther and Calvin not dressed in that robe. But that robe was not a clerical costume, not an ecclesiastical gown, but a very simple robe that every educated person then wore. The customary clothing of the educated classes became a clerical robe. That robe too gradually disappeared from the Reformed churches when the garment disappeared from common use. It was worn as long as the academics wore it in public, but they gave it up when it disappeared from the street. This indicates that the robe in our Reformed churches was never a vestment of office (pg. 59).

Arguments in favor of symbolic dress generally depend upon two things: first, the assumption that the ceremonial garments of the Old Covenant (or some similarly symbolic attire) are legitimately retained by liturgical leaders in the absence of a clear New Covenant prohibition; and second, that the preponderance of liturgical garb in church history greatly proves this point. 

If Kuyper’s right in his assessment of the origins of vestments, though, the second of these pillars is removed while the first seems to be more Lutheran than Reformed. As in the Lutheran "what's not prohibited is permitted" versus the Reformed "what's not commanded is prohibited." High-minded arguments for the symbolic importance of vestments seem to be the blowing of smoke.

One interesting tidbit I hope will encourage the subset of our readers who wear robes (you know who you are): Kuyper says, in light of the symbolism of the book of Revelation, perhaps it would be legitimate for the entire congregation together to decide to wear ceremonial vestments—this is not a serious proposal of his, I don’t think, but one he momentarily entertains—and if they did, unquestionably the color of these should be…

Clerical clothing has been fashionable in many colors. But it is noteworthy that the early Christians, if they did wear “church clothes,” chose the color white, to express what Scripture says about “the white robes of the saints.” Whenever clothing of holiness is mentioned in Scripture, it is always white. There is no doubt, therefore, that if one were to use symbolic clothing for believers, it would not be black but white (pg. 63).

Jody Killingsworth

Jody serves as worship pastor at Clearnote Church in Bloomington, Indiana. He is a lecturer at Clearnote Pastors College and frontman for the Good Shepherd Band. You can find many of his musical contributions to the church over on the Clearnote Songbook.

Want to get in touch? Send Jody an email!

Comments

I have great appreciation for Kuyper.
Does he address the fact of Jehovah's design of special and required clothing for the Levitical priests?

Great post, Jody. But we've gone from white choir robes to darker burgundy robes because I thought the white robes made the men look a little "femmy." How's that for deep theological consideration?

Dear Laurence,

He does, and sees these garments as prophetic and ceremonial, fulfilled and done away with in the coming of Christ.

It is true that one finds in the Word of God one finds symbolic and prophetic worship in the old Testament that pointed to the coming Christ. In that worship every vestment and each part of the vestment were prescribed, with a designation of the spiritual meaning hidden in every part. However, in the New Testament one finds that announcement that in Christ the symbolic had become reality, and that thus the ceremonial service lapsed and in fact could not be maintained without denying its fulfillment in Christ. In the Old Testament one also finds a special generation of priests in the family of Aaron and the whole tribe of Levi, but in the New Testament there is no mention of such a class.

Love,
Jody

Dear Dan,

Now, who would have thought you could save a man's masculinity just by changing the color of his dress? Good save, brother. 😜

Love,

Now please don't anyone panic that hell has frozen over, but I'm pretty sure I'm finding myself seriously rethinking something because of something I read on the inter webs. Eerie, isn't it?

Thanks Jody

What do you consider the strongest argument found in your present study for clerical clothing?

What do you consider the strongest argument, found in your present study, for clerical clothing?

Dear Laurence,

I would have said symbolism, until I read Kuyper. What would you say?

Love,

If we are talking about Reformation vestments then by far the most common clerical uniform was a white surplus, with hood and scarf, like an Anglican clergyman taking Morning Prayer. The Anglican and Lutheran churches were by far the largest Reformed churches, and they wore those things, so that was far and away the usual look of the Reformation. Calvin's Geneva had a white surplus, belted, and a hat, so they followed suit in wearing white.

The wearing of black academic robes is a little odd because of the association of that colour with death.

The argument for a clerical uniform comes in principle from the priestly robes in the OT, which were twofold: To make them look good; and that the people would respect them. God therefore wants his officers to dress well, look good, and command respect by their clothing.

The OT robes were garishly coloured by our standards, but beautiful in their own right.

Hooker would argue for continuing with the white surplus because one should not break with tradition except for a very good reason so as to avoid unnecessary trouble. In your particular situation he would argue for going with what the people know and like, while observing the biblical principles of looking good and gaining respect.

Jody,

What source(s), in your recent study (perhaps those who 'gushed'), mentioned symbolism?

Laurence

BTW Jody,

Why do you think that worship today needs to be demystified?
For me, that was the most curious statement of your original post.

Warmly,

Laurence

As one who wears a robe in a largely non-robe wearing community of Baptists, Mennonites, and assorted Independent churches, when asked why I wear a robe I give the following reasons:
1) Pride -- to hide my belly!
2) Humility -- to preclude the inevitable fashion discussions of the preacher's wardrobe. It's too easy to dress for the folk -- whether that be the faded jeans and untucked shirt or the $800 suit with the $300 tie or anywhere in between. (Guess I should add "beyond" to the possibilities.)
3) Faithfulness -- to remind myself and those in attendance that I do not speak for myself, but am a called preacher of the Word. Just as judges wear robes to indicate they speak not their own opinions, but what the law tells them to speak, so do I desire to speak what the Lord Jesus directs rather than simply my opinions. Would that all judges and preachers (including myself) were more faithful to their charge.

Dear John,

I like that third reason a lot. Especially the connection to judges. 

Love,
Jody

Brothers,

I put this up expecting someone to engage Kuyper's assessment of history, because, as I said, if Christ's ministers from the first have not worn garments of office, then that significantly affects the discussion. 

Notice I'm sympathetic to arguments for symbolism. But in the absence of New Testament direction, the example of history matters a great deal. 

Isn't anyone willing to take Kuyper to task? Our silence on this point makes me wonder if history's support hasn't been simply assumed in arguments for vestments.

Love,
Jody

To fully discuss this along Kuyperian thought all parties would have to be privy to the same source material. Having never read Onze Eredienst i wouldn't be playing with a full hand.

But I would venture that the OT priests were set apart by anointing and then given an empirical designation as was the Tabernacle and then the Temple, all the furniture, the order of worship, etc. i would think that the aesthetic remains when it comes to designations, clothing, architecture, music, ceremony, etc.
Otherwise our ideas and practices come from….?

>i would think that the aesthetic remains when it comes to designations, clothing, architecture, music, ceremony, etc. 

So we should be employing bells, pomegranates, altars, cherubim, shewbread, breastplates, head pieces, urim and thummin, incense, symbolic dimensions, gradations of space, etc.?  I should have thought these were all typologically fulfilled in Jesus, and gone the way of the divinely torn veil. 

It's one thing to recognize and appreciate a basic covenantal pattern of approach running throughout Scripture and to reflect that in our order of service. But to confuse this with the Old Covenant ceremonial seems off. 

Love,

And now I really hope nobody asks me to defend our use of musical instruments on that basis. Sheesh.

>To fully discuss this along Kuyperian thought all parties would have to be privy to the same source material. Having never read Onze Eredienst i wouldn't be playing with a full hand.

That's quite a bit more than I'm proposing. There's a discrete question here. That is, can anyone give us reason to doubt Kuyper's historical assertions as quoted above?

I have three thoughts on the original question about historical practice. First, the first churches were entirely Jewish, and they met in synagogues and houses. Do we believe that they abandoned their traditional forms of public worship, even though they regarded themselves as the true Israel, and that they had no special clothes for it? We know that they were liturgical because we have many period Jewish set prayers, so do we think that they were liturgical in prayer but not in dress?

Second, why do you want an exclusive NT warrant? If God expressed a desire for the OT religious leaders to be "beautiful" in dress and respected for their clothing, why do we think that God has changed his mind about that? I would suggest that such principles found in the OT are timeless, and express the "equity" that remains of the Mosaic Law.

Third, you have the freedom in Christ to make up your own minds. However, it would be prudent to respect the traditions of the church that have been handed down through the millennia out of respect for our fathers, and to express our continuity with them in dress and practice.

Roger, regarding your first point, I can't imagine that normal, non-Levitical Jews would ever dream of wearing priestly garments. The garments were directly tied to the office. So, what special worship clothing are you pointing to? Beyond that, we have to think of the Gentile churches. Are we to assume that they adopted Jewish priestly garments? 

Hopefully not O/T: there could also be an interesting discussion to have as to whether a certain form of dress is also enjoined on the worshipping community as well as its leaders. One Fundamentalist commentator I follow bemoans the lack of respect for God's house shown in the sloppy way, as he sees it, that many people dress for church, and the man may well have a point.

I grew up in a Pentecostal faith community which at the time shared with the SBC an understanding that you 'dressed up' for church, which for the men meant suit and tie. I was once heard to quip that the Pentecostal ministers of the time had their own 'vestments': navy suit, white shirt, brown shoes, and truly disgusting tie.

More seriously, perhaps, I think it important that ministers dress in a fashion appropriate to their setting - but that that will vary according to the setting. Thots?

There is a story told about Paul Austin Wolfe, who was pastor of the Brick Presbyterian Church in N.Y. city back when John Foster Dulles was a member in the 1950's. Wolfe wore the whole Scots rig: cassock, gown, & bands, I think with also an academic hood. In addition, he had a soft hat, much like the ones we see in pictures of Calvin et al. When asked why he wore this, he alluded to the authoritative example of the Reformer. Someone pointed out to him, however, that Calvin wore a hat because St. Pierre's building, in Geneva, had two features notably missing from the edifice of the Brick Church: drafts & pigeons!

Dear Roger,

Thanks for your comment. 

As for your first point, turns out it is quite reasonable to conclude, not only that the early Christian ministers went unvested, but also that the synagogue practice of vesting was rather different from what you’re positing.

In his book Ecclesiastical Vestments: Their Development and History, Irish Archeologist R. A. S. Macalister engages with the historical record concerning vesting, and concludes much the same as Kuyper. Allow me to summarize a few of the salient points from his chapter, “The Genesis of Ecclesiastical Vestments”:

  • Though no explicit Scriptural injunction can be found, the Talmud, for its part, states that ‘He who wears the vestments of the priest outside the temple does a thing forbidden,’ thus indicating that Levitical vestments were not worn at synagogue. 
     
  • While certainly vestments were commonplace in the church by this date, we find in the writings of the fathers no attempt to connect their dress to the vesting of the Levitical priesthood until approx. 850 AD. 
     
  • The early Christians borrowed many things liturgical from the Jews around them. However, these they took, not from the antiquated temple worship, but from the synagogue. The garments ‘for glory and for beauty’ described in Exodus were bound up exclusively with the temple ritual, whereas no vestments were at any time or by any authority assigned to the synagogue.
     
  • There are several passages in the writings of Jerome and the liturgy of St. Clement that have been suggested to prove the practice of vesting in their day. However, these are vague and don’t hold up under scrutiny. Of particular note is how the Greek word employed is often not that which is used to refer to specific vestures, implying a figurative meaning on the part of the author.
     
  • In the few surviving primitive frescoes and mosaics that depict ecclesiastics, the apostles, and our Lord Himself, we find them habited in the tunic and toga or pallium of Roman everyday life.
     
  • Conclusion: From the first, no vestments were definitely set apart for the exclusive use of the clergy who officiated at Divine service. Clergy and people wore the same style of vesture both in church and out. Fashions change, but devotees of religion are by nature conservative of their doctrines and observances. In the case of early Christians, who wore Roman civil dress both in and out of service, the worshipers hung on to their original style of dress as cultural forms changed around them. These garments, once retained, became the basis for the religious/symbolic vestments to be developed by later generations. 

As for why we would want a New Covenant warrant for vesting, well, I’ll merely say again it’s because these O/T priestly garments ‘for glory and for beauty’ were associated with the ceremonial/typological temple service, fulfilled in Christ, and gone the way of the Divinely torn veil. As for the “equity” of the Law, this idea seems more properly to apply to the Moral Law than to the ceremonials.

Lastly, as for the duty to honor our fathers by expressing continuity with them in dress and practice, I should think that's pretty difficult here, seeing as they don't seem at all to agree on either the garments they wore or their reasons for wearing them. In such cases my strong preference is always with the ancient and especially the Reformed fathers, both of whom wore some form or other of common dress. 

Love,

Dear Jody

I seem to be failing spectacularly in my attempts to communicate. I am by no means drawing a direct link to the Mosaic priesthood. I am pointing out a general principle that I see in the Bible from the command that the OT priests dress for glory and honour. The general principle is that God likes dress that glorifies and honours the religious leaders. Why do you think that God has changed his mind about that? Those specific vestments have passed away and rightly so, but the fact that God has expressed an opinion on dress establishes the principle, to my mind at least. God wishes his leaders to dress well, and to gain the respect of their people by so doing.

The link that I actually am attempting to make is with the synagogue worship, which was liturgical. If they had liturgical prayers, why would they not have liturgical clothes, even if it was the dress of the middle and upper classes?

The mosaics that depict Jesus and others in Roman garb actually supports this point, for it is the dress of the prominent members of that society. I do not believe that the ordinary Christians dressed that like as a matter of course, since there were not many rich, not many noble, not many powerful among them.

I agree that no specific vestments are set apart in the NT, for the reason that the church is no longer under age, and God is treating us as adults. We as a group are free to make up our own rules, or not. Nevertheless, God has expressed an opinion about dress, and it should be taken into account.

There is an argument from common courtesy as well. No-one would dream of attending the Queen of England in a T-shirt and scuffed jeans, although she would be too polite to comment on it. Without exception you would wear something appropriate, namely, your very best according to prevailing norms and traditions. Why would you attend the King of Kings dressed differently in public?

Private worship is another matter entirely, but we are not discussing that.

As for the vestments worn by the Reformed Fathers, I have said that the white surplus was universally worn in the largest Protestant churches, including Geneva!

When certain Puritans began to say that the clergy should in principle wear the same clothes as the common people, it was met with wide disbelief across the spectrum of English and Scottish society. I would urge you to remember that the Civil War here was fought not only on religious grounds, as it was mainly about certain principles of egalitarianism and the abolition of the office of King. "No king but Christ" is still inscribed upon the tomb of General Monck in St. Margaret's (?), the church alongside Westminster Abbey.

In any case, the Puritans adopted the dress of the academy, not everyday wear.

When the English Commonwealth had run its course the Puritans had so alienated the English people that there was no option but to recall Charles II and make him king, which led to the re-establishment of the Reformed Church of England, surplus and all.

But Roger, I fear you're mistaken about the vesting practices of Geneva, and the continental Reformed Churches in general. As far as I can tell from the histories, the surplice was abandoned by Calvin, Beza, Bullinger, and Peter Martyr (I suspect also Bucer, does anybody know?). Yes, Calvin and Bullinger both wrote to Hooper in Fleet Prison to submit to ordination to the bishopric against his conscience on the matter of vestments. This shows that they saw vesting as a secondary issue and not a hill worth dying on. But still their own practice was to abandon all such ornamentation in their churches. 

The simple black gowns they did wear were not so much ecclesiastical as professional, being the general dress of the educated class (i.e. "white collar"—no pun intended). And while I don't think anybody here wants to excuse pastors for appearing casual or slovenly in public, I suspect you'll be hard pressed to find Calvin or the Puritans arguing in favor of their professionalism on the basis of Exodus 28:2; 40. 

Your earlier argument for common courtesy is good, but it applies uniformly to all who attend service and can't be limited to ministers. Here and elsewhere I find you making persuasive arguments for the duty of all Christians to dress smartly for church (as appropriate to their station in life), but not for distinct ministerial vesting, per se. 

Love,

This has been a helpful discussion. My conclusion: Pastors make their livings, not with their hands, but with their tongues (and by extension, pens). Thus, in keeping with the practice of the early church and the original Reformed churches, and simply for the sake of honesty in dress, they should adorn themselves in basic uniformity with others in society who likewise earn their living with words. For us in America that would mean some form or other of professionalism. 

No-one would dream of attending the Queen of England in a T-shirt and scuffed jeans, although she would be too polite to comment on it. Without exception you would wear something appropriate, namely, your very best according to prevailing norms and traditions. Why would you attend the King of Kings dressed differently in public?

Private worship is another matter entirely, but we are not discussing that.

Roger, may I ask on what basis your principle applies to public but not to private worship?

I find you making persuasive arguments for the duty of all Christians to dress smartly for church

Jody, are you saying that jeans and a T-shirt is not ok? The logical end of your argument seems to be that we should go back to suits, since that is most peoples smartest garb, no?

Anyone who dresses better for their earthly president or king than for the real King has their priorities out of whack.

The church has never confused corporate worship with private worship. The public proclamation of the preached Word and the sacraments are for corporate worship.

>The church has never confused corporate worship with private worship.

Sadly, she often does today. But I know your meaning. 

>The public proclamation of the preached Word and the sacraments are for corporate worship.

True dat.

> Why do you think that worship today needs to be demystified?

Dear Laurance, 

What I meant is illustrated by Kuyper's simple and illuminating assessment of history, but especially Dan Reuter's humorous anecdote about Paul Austin Wolfe. I recognize my and others'  tendency in theologizing about worship to be high-minded (and at times heavy-handed) in our advocacy of tradition. I find it refreshing whenever a practical man manages to come along and pop a few balloons. 

And on that note, I give you the grandaddy of all balloon poppers, Charles H. Spurgeon:

A good horse cannot be a bad color, and a really good preacher can wear what he likes, and none will care much about it; but though you cannot know wine by the barrel, a good appearance is a letter of recommendation even to a plowman. Wise men neither fall into love nor take a dislike at first sight, but still the first impression is always a great thing even with them; and as to those weaker brethren who are not wise, a good appearance is half the battle.

What is a good appearance? Well, it's not being pompous and starchy, and making one's self high and mighty among the people, for proud looks lose hearts, and gentle words win them. It's not wearing fine clothes either, for foppish dress usually means a foul house within and the doorstep without fresh white wash. Such dressing tells the world that the outside is the best part of the puppet. When a man is proud as a peacock, all strut and show, he needs converting himself before he sets up to preach to others. The preacher who measures himself by his mirror may please a few silly girls, but neither God nor man will long put up with him. The man who owes his greatness to his tailor will find that needle and thread cannot long hold a fool in a pulpit. A gentleman should have more in his pocket than on his back, and a minister should have more in his inner man than on his outer man. I would say, if I might, to young ministers, do not preach in gloves, for cats in mittens catch no mice; don't curl and oil your hair like dandies, for nobody cares to hear a peacock's voice; don't have your own pretty self in your mind at all, or nobody else will mind you. Away with gold rings, and chains, and jewelry; why should the pulpit become a goldsmith's shop? Forever away with surplices and gowns and all those nursery doll dresses men should put away childish things. A cross on the back is the sign of a devil in the heart; those who do as Rome does should go to Rome and show heir colors. If priests suppose that they get the respect of honest men by their fine ornamental dresses, they are much mistaken, for it is commonly said, "Fine feathers make fine birds," and "An ape is never so like an ape as when he wears a Popish cape."

Among us dissenters the preacher claims no priestly powers and therefore should never wear a peculiar dress. Let fools wear fools' caps and fools' dresses, but men who make no claim to be fools should not put on fools' clothes. None but a very silly sheep would wear wolfs clothing. It is a singular taste which makes honest men covet the rags of thieves. Besides, where's the good of such finery? Except a duck in pattens, no creature looks more stupid than a dissenting preacher in a gown which is of no manner of use to him. I could laugh till I held my sides when I see our doctors in gowns and bands, puffed out with their silks, and touched up with their little bibs, for they put me so much in mind of our old turkey when his temper is up, and he swells to his biggest. They must be weak folks indeed who want a man to dress like a woman before they can enjoy his sermon, and he who cannot preach without such milliner's tawdry finery may be a man among geese, but he is a goose among men.

---------------------------

From Ch. 3 of John Ploughman's Talk

Come on now, brothers, laugh. Don't care what you think, that's just down right funny.

"I could laugh till I held my sides when I see our doctors in gowns and bands, puffed out with their silks, and touched up with their little bibs, for they put me so much in mind of our old turkey when his temper is up, and he swells to his biggest."

Oh yeah--that is good comedy there.

Lawrence--thanks for the uber-cool postcard--it was great to hang out w/you and all at the "EWRW" conference.

For me and my house, as it were, we tend to dress as if we are going somewhere important, but not somewhere in which we need to impress anyone. So I end up looking like a 60's hipster in the winter (suit jacket, turtleneck, and slacks), and a normal old-dude hipster in the summer (suit jacket, knit shirt, and slacks).

Good discussion. Other than Jody's summary of the Irish archaeologist, the comment I liked the best was Dan's about the pigeons. It reminds me of a story about monkeys over here …

Hello Henry. These principles are found in the regulations for public worship in the Bible. I have not so far found anything about dress for individual worship.

Jody, I wear a white English surplus with hood and scarf, and no-one to date has thought that it looks like a turkey full of puff. I wonder if Spurgeon would have found the OT vestments ridiculous, and I suspect that he would have, even though they were specifically commanded by God. I admire him for his strong defence of the doctrines of grace, but there is much else that I would have liked to have had a little chat about.

Remember that in the end we are talking about cloth. It is absurd to create divisions among the Reformed for such things.

A major point that needs to be made is that the choice of vestments is not an individual one, but a corporate one. If your church community has ruled that the clergy wear certain pieces of cloth, or not, you must obey without murmuring. An individual man may not rebel against his church's rulers in these matters without sinning. He may make an argument in a synod for his position in order to change the policy, but he must submit peaceably and happily. Every church group has authority to rule on such matters, and are bound in heaven as well as on earth.

Dear Roger,

> I admire him for his strong defence of the doctrines of grace, but there is much else that I would have liked to have had a little chat about.

You're a braver man than me, then. Knowing Spurgeon's wit, don't know if I'd have dared ever to lock horns with him!

> If your church community has ruled that the clergy wear certain pieces of cloth, or not, you must obey without murmuring. 

I'm sure we all respect you for this, brother. It's just that in America the situation's rather different, as you know.

Love,

David said, "Anyone who dresses better for their earthly president or king than for the real King has their priorities out of whack"

I think a few questions need to be answered. Is it possible to dress better with external clothes for the real King than for the president? How does the real King tell us to think about these things? Is the real King concerned or impressed by our dress? If there are external standards of dress imposed explicitly or implicitly on the congregation what does that do for the poor, who every week would be reminded of the gulf between their financial situation and other people in the congregation? I believe in dealing with this topic and these questions we need to interact with the following, Matthew 6:25-50, 23:25-28 1Peter 5:5, 1Timothy 2:9 1Samuel 16:7

I think we need to be careful not to argue like gnostics, that externals are unimportant. And I've bought clothes from Goodwill and Salvation Army in my day, including jackets I've worn for church. Poverty is not a compelling argument for most Americans. And if you are wearing your best for church then you won't be dressing better for a mere President. Too much gnosticism in our worship.

Anyone who dresses better for their earthly president or king than for the real King has their priorities out of whack.

David I have to ask what attire you wear to private worship? Statements like this harden me in my unpersuaded-ness.

And if you reply by saying your next line was about not confusing public with private worship I am going to ask why you should dress smartly if the queen came to visit your house but not when God visits you in your prayer closet.

I think that is an argument which should be eternally abandoned.

I would also like to point out that David did not interact with the verses I mentioned. He merely cautioned against Gnostic tendencies. As if the danger of Gnosticism strips those verses of application to our current topic.

John,

Why would I interact with those verses? You didn't. You waved them as a totem.

>>>David I have to ask what attire you wear to private worship?

A not perceptive question. As you wisely anticipated I differentiate between public corporate worship and private worship which is potentially all of life. Just as I differentiate going hunting with the President on my property, where I'd wear camouflage and a formal public event with the president where I would wear a tie.

>>>Statements like this harden me in my unpersuaded-ness.

Rebellion hardens for many reasons.

>>>And if you reply by saying your next line was about not confusing public with private worship I am going to ask why you should dress smartly if the queen came to visit your house but not when God visits you in your prayer closet.

The Reformers wisely and biblically taught that God while God is omnipresent He is particularly present in corporate worship in a special way that he is not otherwise. They were right. And see above for a further help.

>>>I think that is an argument which should be eternally abandoned.

I think you'll be happy with heaven even if the argument rings for all eternity.

The following passage from James always comes to mind when the issue of church clothing comes up, being one of the only passages in the New Testament that actually addresses it specifically.

James 2:1-7

“My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, 'You sit here in a good place,' and you say to the poor man, 'You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,' have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?” 

It is clear that our tendency to favor the well-dressed man is evil. And yet, we claim that God does in fact favor the well-dressed man. One might respond by saying that this passage simply condemns our favoritism based on clothing and wealth, but says nothing about God's preference for well-dressed men. One might say that God does, in fact, pay special attention to the one who is wearing fine clothes. But, honestly now, brothers, doesn't that do violence to everything James says? And no, this is not the bugbear of Gnosticism, unless James was a Gnostic. 

The other passage that speaks to clothing in worship is 1 Timothy 2:9, 10:

“Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.” 

(For the context of public worship, see verses 1, 8, 11, 12.) Women in worship are specifically commanded to not wear "gold or pearls or costly garments." How does the "God-wants-us-to-wear-our-nicest-clothes-in-worship" view make sense of this?

“Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.”
'(For the context of public worship, see verses 1, 8, 11, 12.) Women in worship are specifically commanded to not wear "gold or pearls or costly garments." How does the "God-wants-us-to-wear-our-nicest-clothes-in-worship" view make sense of this?'

Now there you've done it Pastor Baker, I need to ask my husband to buy me a new wedding ring that is not made of gold or maybe just not wear one.

Sorry, Bev, but my name is Stephen, not Paul.

Stephen,

I am a bit stunned at that attempt to interpret James. It is not warning us to dress down or to be suspicious of people who don't wear their play clothes to church. It is a clear warning against favoring the rich, powerful and prominent. Which ironically is who Presbyterians (and Baptists) are highly prone to turn to for leadership in the church. And that is just as true and just as evil when those rich, powerful, prominent people wear their play clothes to church. How you take that as a warning against formal clothing in corporate public worship is beyond me. Beware elevating people within the church because of their prominence outside the church. Because it is the natural sinful tendency whether those people dress properly or in their play clothes. James is no gnostic.

Regarding the Timothy passage I think I agree with Calvin that the context is broader than just public corporate worship and the warning is against extravagance and ostentation. Dressing in proper formal dress for worship doesn't require those things just as a man can wear a shirt and tie without wearing a tuxedo.

On the other hand I'm sure that those who dress down to make those with limited incomes feel comfortable also make sure to drive a beater car or van to church so when those of us driving old worn vehicles will not feel oppressed when we enter the church parking lot.

The fact is any man who wants to, pretty much, in this society can wear a shirt and tie and almost no expense. The choice not to has nothing to do with wealth or money and the rich like to wear play clothes as much as the poor. And it is a man wearing what he can, not what his neighbor can. When we were a more God fearing society there was a reason clothes were referred to as "Sunday best." But now we prefer to be comfortable and through informality pretend to intimacy.

David, You have still failed to demonstrate how dressing in Sunday's best actually does anything for the real King or shows Him honor in any way. When we consider the verses He has given us explaining how to show Him honor he never mentions dressing in you best clothes. In fact He seems to encourage the opposite.

Men, I'm in no position to get much involved in this discussion given time demands, but I would appreciate kindness toward one another. This discussion is very good and should continue. It's helpful to many, but please be good stewards of it. Don't make it stink so everyone clambers for the door.

Pastor Baker's points are right on the money. Engage them. Scripture speaks to this issue and must not be ignored.

One thought from Africa: it is precisely because of their ostentatious clothing that Africans despise some African pastors. We must be wise about our culture. "Suits" is a derogatory term today, in most of the country. Here at Clearnote, Bloomington, pastors wear black suits for weddings and funerals, but not for Sunday morning worship. And this is not about "Intimacy." It is about lack of ostentation in a university community where pomp and circumstance are left to the campus and its hoods, and also its basketball temple.

Proposition: today among Reformed pastors there is an inverse correlation between authority in preaching and formality of clothing. Inverse. Was this not true in Jesus' day?

He was a Nazarene in His clothing, whereas He pointed out that the Jewish religious leaders "like to walk around in long robes" (Mark 12:38). Do you think this was in opposition to Jesus Who, maybe, walked around in long robes also, but was sinless because He did not like to do so?

Off now, but less sarcasm, please.

Love,

 

Dear David,

You're right that the passage in James is directed at the leaders, but Stephen's application to the laity is salient because clothing is the way that men indicate that they deserve or want our preference. It is their effort to set themselves apart from those whom they are among.

You say that that's not your intention, rather your dress has to do with honoring God. If that's true, great, but you are the exception to the rule, not the standard. The fact of the matter is that we all use whatever means we have available to us to posture ourselves. In Matthew 23, Jesus wasn't just pontificating about the Pharisees widening of their phylacteries and lengthening their tassels so that they would receive the honor of men. Actually, He says that all of their deeds were done to be noticed by men. You aren't really arguing that this temptation isn't common to all men, are you?

Furthermore, clothes hardly indicate of a man's heart before God. Might a man in torn skinny jeans and a tee shirt be intentionally demonstrating his rebellion? Maybe. But I have no more confidence that the man in a suit and tie or slacks and a polo or whatever is considered their Sunday best is more pleasing to God based upon his clothing. He's just wearing the uniform. Think Isaiah 29:13.

Then the Lord said, “Because this people draw near with their words And honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote.

Concerning the questions you've been asked, you have assumed the worst of Stephen's question and just dismissed John's questions while demanding that we grant your position without asking you to supporting it. I'm sorry if it's a bother to you to questioned about what you say, but we're not convinced. Up to this point, all you've offered as an answer is to infer that we're gnostics because of our dress and move on. That's not sufficient, brother.

Finally, I grant that clothing does reveal something about us. The problem is that you seem to equate nice clothing directly to godliness.

May I point out that the OT command to the priests to dress for beauty and honour was not for God's benefit, but for men's? It was so that they would look good TO MEN and be honoured BY MEN. God is therefore concerned how the leaders come across to their followers. Comments about God looking at the heart miss the point.

In your concern to avoid ostentation you have, in my opinion, gone overboard. Vestments are not automatically ostentatious, in the same way that guns are not automatically evil. Only some robes are pompous, and Spurgeon had the Anglo-Catholics firmly in his sights with his comments, not the regular surplus-wearing clergy. I can see that in your context any robes are anathema, and that is fine by me, but please do not think that your context applies everywhere.

Dave,

In most respects you misstate my positions sufficiently, unintentionally I'm sure, that I despair of answering you. Stephen's application has little or nothing to do with what the passage is teaching. I engaged his post. I understand that I'm swimming against the current here and that it makes people uncomfortable.

You say:

" The problem is that you seem to equate nice clothing directly to godliness."

I've said nothing even vaguely resembling that remark. I will say that if you have nice clothing and save it for President Bush you have a problem. I'm not equating having nice clothing "directly" to godliness.

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