Our church is a hybrid of “high church” and “low church” practices. Our services have both a liturgical feel and a “free church” feel. For these reasons, we tend to have a hodgepodge of people with a diversity of backgrounds in and out of the Christian church. We get asked by some who aren’t from high church traditions why we pastors wear robes. Here are 5 brief reasons:
1) It highlights the office of the pastor while de-emphasizing the person. A simple robe covers much of the person, helping to conceal that which distinguishes his or her personality. It reminds us that we lovingly submit ourselves, not so much to the person and their personality, but to the role they have been called to by God—pastor.
2) It fights against us viewing the pastor as a “CEO” figure. In American culture, a suit and tie are the “uniform” of business professionals, lawyers, etc. A robe de-emphasizes any cultural “uniform” and reminds us that the pastoral office described in the Bible is in many ways different from our society’s concept of a business leader.
3) It reminds us that, when they preach, they bring to us the very Word of God, as opposed to the thoughts and opinions of one person. Scripture is God’s unique, unparalleled revelation of Himself to us. It is like no other book.
4) It reminds us that we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness. The pastor, wearing a piece of clothing that both covers over and is distinct from their own clothing, offers to us a symbol of how we approach God in worship, “clothed with Christ” (Galatians 3:27)—it is His righteousness that makes us acceptable to God.
5) Wearing robes is part of our heritage. As Christians, it is part of our ancient Israelite heritage. The priests wore robes to distinguish their office (Exodus 28). It is also a part of my Reformed/Presbyterian heritage (robe-wearing is also a part of other Christian traditions as well). From the time of John Calvin, Reformed pastors would don the garb of a Renaissance scholar (a black robe called the “Genevan robe”) to legitimize their credentials as someone who was studied and learned in the Scriptures. This was important during a time when the Catholic church would have accused the churches of the Reformation of being unbiblical in their Christian expression.
My favorite reason. A “realized” eschatology.
I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
This is a very wonderful and helpful reflection on why pastors wear robes. Shows how important it is that visual representations as such need proper explanation too, lest they be mistaken to represent something else (i.e. pastor as holier than others, unapproachable, elite in the kingdom of God! etc). At the same time, I wonder to what extent it is that the "person" of the pastor need to be de-emphasized as s/he shares the gospel. Does'n't God, who took the form of a human being, clearly affirm humanity as the preferred "conduit" of the gospel message and manifestation of the power of the Holy Spirit?