My pastor preaches on Sunday mornings in cargo shorts and a T-shirt. Is this OK?
It’s interesting, of all the questions we take on Frances & Friends, this one about what preachers should wear in church drew more anger and argument than any other.
Our answer to this question is no, it’s not OK. We believe that pastors and church leaders have a responsibility to set the example, and that includes dress. Our ministers at Family Worship Center—and that includes the singers and musicians—dress in a manner that shows honor and respect to the Lord.
Unfortunately, most church pastors today do not share this belief.
I addressed this issue on my Facebook page and said: “There is a trend in the modern church that is just not right, and that is the lowering of standards for the church, especially in terms of dress. We’re talking about those in leadership positions in the church who purposely attempt to dress in what seems to be as sloppy as possible. Across the country, we have men standing behind pulpits on Sunday mornings wearing T-shirts and shorts with shirt tails hanging out. Folks, that’s wrong.”
Oh my, what a firestorm that started! Thousands commented strongly for or strongly against these statements—there was no middle ground.
Those against were quick to defend their pastors wearing casual clothes. They said this line of thinking was hypocrisy at its best, the reason why so many people avoid church, out of touch with modern times, and legalistic.
Those in agreement said church leaders should be held to a higher standard in all things including dress and that both ministers and church goers should show God respect, and dress was part of that.
Most of the commenters assumed that we were also demanding those in the congregation to dress a certain way, but we’re not. We want people to come to church and to come as they are. In no way are we saying that people attending church are required to dress above their means. When we were coming up in church, there was an expression, “wear your Sunday best,” and we knew exactly what that meant—wear the best clothes that you had. Your Sunday best may not have been a new dress or a suit and tie—in those times, it usually wasn’t anything new—but we made sure the clothes we wore to church were clean, mended, and pressed because we were going to the house of the Lord, and that meant something to us.
But when it comes to those who are called to stand behind the sacred desk and preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, we do hold them to a higher standard of dress. Why? Because God always has, and we believe He still does.
In the Old Testament, consider all the designs of the priestly garments. They were given to Moses by the Lord, and he was to adhere strictly to that design because every bit of it pictured Christ in some manner. Apart from the garments of skins provided for Adam and Eve immediately after the fall, these were the only garments in history designed by the Holy Spirit, and they would be as beautiful as they were meaningful.
God told Moses, “And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother for glory and for beauty” (Exodus 28:2).
Colors in the garments represented not only who Christ was—God and King (gold and purple)—but also the manner in which He would redeem humanity—the shedding of His blood (scarlet). The linen represented His righteousness (white), while the blue emphasized the fact that all of this originated in heaven.
According to The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, “The garments of the high priest were ‘to give him dignity and honor,’ i.e., they were to exalt the office and function of the high priest as well as beautify the worship of God.”
Other than the high priest, it seems that the attire of the priests was a dress of pure white without anything ornamental, such as the colors on Aaron’s garments. Still, these snow-white garments, which signified the righteousness of Christ, were still looked at as garments “for glory and for beauty.”
I’ll sum up this point with something the Canadian Old Testament scholar Cornelis van Dam said: “If God was concerned how the priests approached Him in the Old Testament, would He be any less concerned today when the priestly privileges of drawing near to God in the Most Holy Place are open to all believers? Our God is still the same. He is holy and majestic. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords who comes to judge this world. He expects us, who by nature are but miserable sinners, to approach Him with awe, reverence, and in our best attire, reflecting the principle of the priestly dress that our clothes are for “dignity and beauty” in God’s presence.” 1
Those in favor of their pastors wearing shorts and T-shirts might say, “Well, that was the Old Testament. We live in a different time and culture where people need to feel comfortable in church.
OK, let’s look at the entire blood-bought church of the future—preachers and all. Revelation 7:9 says, “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands.”
In the Greek, “with white robes” could be paraphrased to mean “dressed in richest wedding garments of purest, dazzling white.” These are God’s blood-bought, who are washed clean and pure and are worthy to stand without blemish in the presence of almighty God Himself.
Jesus talked about wedding garments in Matthew 22. He said, “And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment?” (Matt. 22:11-12).
In those times, regardless of who the guests were, they were not allowed to wear their own wedding garments, as beautiful as they may have been. They had to wear the wedding garment supplied by the king. So the meaning is clear. The ones who had on the wedding garments supplied by the King are those who have accepted Christ’s salvation and not dependent on their own works.
Isaiah also connects salvation to wedding garments: “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10).
Christ alone has the garment of salvation—salvation only He can give, and Christ alone is covered with the robe of righteousness—righteousness He freely gives to all who will believe Him.
When the prodigal son returned, Luke 15:22 says, “the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him,” to which Bible scholar George Williams said, “Righteousness hasted to dress him in its robe; for he could not sit in his rags at the Father’s board.”
The righteousness of Christ is what Christianity is all about. Whenever the righteousness of Christ is addressed, it is not actually speaking of His righteousness as deity, but rather as the Man, Jesus Christ.
So when Paul said, “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 13:14), he was talking about clothing the soul in the moral disposition and habits of Christ. Paul was saying that the Lord Jesus Christ should so cover the Christian that Christ alone is seen.
Holy garments for glory and beauty, wedding garments provided by the King, robes of righteousness, garments of salvation—yes, the Lord cares very much about what His children wear, especially those called to ministry.
1 Cornelis van Dam, “Sunday Best?” Clarion, 2009.