Vestments: to wear or not to wear?

Is there a scriptural basis for clergy vestments or any kind of distinctive clothing as an element of worship in the New Testament church?  Not that I can find in scripture; but if there is, it’s more of an anti-vestment tone. In this Sunday’s reading, Jesus warns:


38 “…Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!  40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.  They will receive the greater condemnation” (Mark 12:38-40).

What really puts me on the edge is what Jesus said in v.40 “devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers“.  I’m okay on the first point, but on the second, “gulp”, I better try to keep my prayers shorter.  When I read this passage, it often reminds me of  my fellow clergy persons in mainline traditions (e.g., Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic) who wear traditional vestments like albs, gowns, and stoles.

These white albs/robes are suppose to symbolize the baptized ones, but in our case today, why are pastors/priests the only ones who wear this?  Aren’t we all baptized?  Clergy vestments may have been a regular form of dress centuries ago, but today, it’s only the pastors/priests who wear these long robes.

Some of our pastors even take pride in how the robe/alb flows and how the fancy colourful stole looks on them.   Many people feel vestments put a separation barrier between professional clergy and laity.  Clergy vestments  has a funny way of elevating the status of a pastor/priest.   So why do we continue to wear these garments?  Perhaps it’s to guard against the devolution of the responsibilities of the professional clergy?  (Talk about obstacles to the priesthood of believers?  (a previous post). This is a challenge I pose to myself.  More about my clergy vestments later).

2 thoughts on “Vestments: to wear or not to wear?

  1. Gary, thanks for sharing that. It’s what I was thinking exactly. The white alb is worn by Lutheran pastors too. I don’t think I’ve seen a pastor wear a black robe. I wear white but black would totally be my choice too. It’s what Luther and Calvin both wore at the time of the Reformation. Since I see myself coming from the Reformation tradition rather than the liturgical, I just might see myself being a rebel and trying on black one day. Some times, I just wear my black clergy shirt on praise&worship Sundays.


  2. Kevin, we had an interesting discussion about this at a Methodist discussion board several years ago. One guy brought up the idea that the pastor is supposed to represent Christ to the congregation, and so he wears white. I can’t buy that myself. Personally, I hate the white albs that are all the rage in the UMC. I’d much rather see a pastor in a black robe, or gray or brown. Nothing too fancy. That’s what I’d wear if I were a pastor, I think, if I wore a robe at all. The pastor shouldn’t be seen as setting himself apart from the people, but should see himself as a shepherd and a servant.


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