There is no neutrality within the spiritual realm, and this includes the use of clerical attire and liturgical vestments. If one does not choose to wear vestments to minister in, why does he choose a suit or a polo shirt? A modern pastor may say that he is attempting to “become all things to all people,” but modern clothing simply does not do this because it does not speak theologically. And where does this philosophy end? If the majority of the culture is, for instance, wearing bathing suits, does this mean that the pastor should do the same? Or is there an actual moral standard to be met? If there is, then what should this standard be? Has the all-things-to-all-people concept really done the Church much good?
Jesus Wore Clerical Attire
If it is such a noble thing for a pastor to compromise his standard of dress to appease the modern culture, then one has to wonder why Christ did not do such a thing.
Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” – John 1:38
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” – Mark 10:17
The question that arises from these passages is just how the people knew that Jesus was a Rabbi. It can safely be assumed that they knew he was a Rabbi due to his rabbinical attire!
The following verses show that people did not immediately recognize Jesus as a Rabbi, but this was due to his need to go to the feast “in secret.”
However, after his brothers had left for the Feast, he went also, not publicly, but in secret. Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.” Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.” But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the Jews. Not until halfway through the Feast did Jesus go up to the Temple courts and begin to teach. The Jews were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having studied?” – John 7:10-15
Clerical attire, such as the collar, sets a man apart for his service, and keeps him accountable to the public. One of the very problems with the Church today is that they refuse to take dominion – as commanded by God – of the culture. When a priest or deacon wears his collar in public he makes a statement to the public that the Church is alive and well, and the Church is available for their needs. Not wearing clerical attire, for a pastor, is like not wearing a uniform for a police officer. No one can reach out for help if they do not know whom to reach out to.
The clerical collar, as well as the liturgical vestments, prevent the people from judging the pastor according to his style; whether or not he is fashionable or “cool.” Clerical attire can also help set a conservative tone within the church. However the pastor dresses, the congregants will dress a step or two below. For example, if the pastor wears jeans and a Hawaiian shirt, the congregants will likely wear shorts and flip-flops. Clerical attire sets standards, and sinful man needs standards to be set, especially from the clergy.
Clerical attire is apostolic. The apostles dressed in robes. This is an important standard to follow, not because robes are holy in and of themselves, but it is important because the apostolic standard, which was in place for hundreds of years, prevents the Church from fully embracing modernity, which is a slippery slope to liberalism and other New Age heresies. Clerical attire can help prevent apostasy.
I will conclude this discussion by mentioning the fact that the future of the Church, according to the Bible, involves the wearing of robes, the attire we use to anticipate this glorious state of the Church:
Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. – Revelation 4:4 Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed. – Revelation 6:11 [ A Multitude from the Great Tribulation ] After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands…” – Revelation 7:9Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?” – Revelation 7:13
And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. – Revelation 19:16