Does it matter what a Minister wears to church?
This is the third and final post in a short series on clothing and the church. The first and second posts dealt with the often debated topic of what kind of clothing Christians should wear to church. I concluded that, while we don't believe in "casual worship" (how can entering the presence of the living God be casual?), whether or not one wears "casual" or "formal" clothing to worship is a matter of Christian liberty that the Bible does not address. Our clothing does not commend us to God.
In this post I address the topic of whether or not there should be a different standard for those who lead in worship, and specifically the minister. Does it matter what the minister wears to worship? Is it less biblical or reverent if a pastor wears skinny jeans instead of a ministerial robe? Is it more appropriate for a minister to wear a suit or a Hawaiian shirt?
As a biblical church, we must begin by consulting Scripture. Does Scripture address the issue of what should be worn for those who lead in worship? Again, we must conclude that Scripture does not directly address the issue. There is much in the N.T. about what a minister and Elder must do, and much about his character qualities, but nothing is ever said about his clothing as it relates to leading in worship. Are there other biblical or theological considerations that bear on this question? Historically, there is precedent in our tradition (and some others) for the ordained minister to wear a plain ministerial robe as a way to highlight his office, which I have written about elsewhere. However, this practice has not been understood by any reformed denomination today to be something that the Bible demands, as if not wearing a robe by the minister would be unbiblical or somehow compromise the holiness of worship.
We come back again, therefore, to the principal of Christian liberty. The Bible nowhere gives a dress code for ministers or worship leaders, so Christians should resist viewing one particular style of dress as more biblical or "reverent" than another. When we remember that Christianity is a missionary religion, going to all tribes and tongues and peoples, the wisdom of this freedom is obvious. Having lived in Hawaii for two years, I can tell you that a minister wearing a robe (or a suit for that matter) is not going to fit in at all with the cultural context.
Our church constitution, most notably the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Directory for Public Worship, are silent on this issue. There is a lot of direction given to ministers on how they should preach, pray and lead services, but there is no confessional requirements or even advice given on clothing. Thus, whether or not a minister wears a robe, a suit, skinny jeans, or shorts with a Hawaiian shirt (as in Hawaii), he would not be in violation of Scripture or any of our confessional documents. To put it another way, Biblical, reformed, and reverent worship does not depend on the clothing of the minister. You can have worship that honors God and is fully consistent with our confessions and polity whether the pastor is in a robe or in a Hawaiian shirt.
It is true that we all bring our own histories and preferences to this issue, and we all feel more or less comfortable with a minister in a certain style. As a son of the PCA and having attended PCA churches most of my life in which the pastor wore at least a tie, I generally feel more comfortable when ministers are wearing suits and ties. To be honest, the sight of a minister in a robe was very strange and even offputting to me at first. However, I recognize that these are my preferences based on what I grew up with, and it is no less biblical or reformed for a minister to wear Jeans and t-shirt, as many do today. The history of our church involves the minister wearing a robe, but that is not a sword that any church should die on, nor should it be the glue that holds a church together. The clothing of a minister is what we call a "Circumstance" and not an "Element" of biblical worship (WCF 1:6). Circumstances are those things not directly addressed in Scripture, and therefore are to be decided upon based on Christian wisdom, in accordance with the general principals of the Bible.
What might Christian wisdom suggest for what a minister wears? I can think of a couple of general guidelines.
First, ministers should wear something! Biblical modesty would seem to require that we come clothed.
Second, ministers should not wear anything that contains messaging, implicit or explicit, that contradicts the Christian faith.
Third, I think a case can be made that ministers should avoid wearing clothing with explicit & intentional messaging that would take the focus off of worship. If it is the goal and responsibility of ministers to lead people in the worship of God, it may be unwise for the minister to wear, for example, a sports jersey for his favorite football team. Not because this is unbiblical per se, but because it gets people thinking about football, when his goal should be to lead them in worship. I say “explicit & intentional” messaging because no matter what a minster wears, someone in the congregation may read something into it that is not present.
Just like everyone in the congregation, a minister must check his own heart before coming to worship to make sure that whatever we wear, we have come clothed with humility, a sincere reverence for God, and a sincere desire to lead his people that morning in the privilege of worship.
“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5).
 The only possible text that I can see that might be thought as applicable would be the detailed treatment given to the high priest’s clothing in the book of Exodus. The high priest wore elaborate and very expensive dress as he was carrying out his duties. Does this imply that those who lead ought to wear their “Sunday best?” It does not. The office of the High Priest we know from Hebrews was a shadow that pointed to Christ as our great high priest. The clothing that the high priest wore also pointed to Christ in many ways, especially the need to wear the names of the tribes of Israel on his chest and shoulder pieces. Thus, to try to find an example of what to wear to church from the high priests clothes would be an egregious mistake in biblical interpretation. The High Priest points us to Jesus Christ who fulfilled that office completely, so there is no direct correlation between the high priest and those who lead in worship in the Christian church today.
 See the blogposts on our website, “Why does the minister wear a robe?” And “On Pastoral Robes and Supreme Court Justices.”
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