Delving deeper

1. While you note that the early church received oversight from church planters who did not stay long-term in any one church, wasn't that largely because trained leaders were rare—a situation still true in many parts of the world even today—and had to be shared by a number of churches?

No. Church planters deliberately left so that the church could function under the headship of Christ. If a church planter stays in a church, the members naturally look to him to lead. Every-member functioning is hindered. This is still true today.

^ Johann Gerhard in Church Ministry by Eugene F. A. King (St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 19931, 181. ilij From Milton's 1653 poem "On the New Forcers of Conscience under the Long Parliament."

The pattern throughout the entire New Testament is that church planters (apostolic workers) always left the church after they laid the foundation. For more details, see The Normal Christian Church Life by Watchman Nee (Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1980).

2.lames 3:1 says, "Not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly" (Nr). First Corinthians 12:27-31 clearly states that the Holy Spirit has gifted every person differently—not everyone is gifted as an apostle, prophet, or teacher, and each believer has a different function. Dont these Scriptures support the idea that God calls only some to preach, teach, and minister to the church at large?

Yes, absolutely. We agree that there are teachers, preachers, prophets, apostles, evangelists, and even shepherds in the church of Jesus Christ. The contemporary pastoral office, however, is not what these texts envision. In fact, since pastors today are generally expected to take on so many roles, they often must operate outside their giftedness. That is unfair, both to them and to those within the body who possess these very gifts and are not permitted to use them.

3. While you characterize ordination as a formal Christian rite with pagan roots, this process ensures that church leaders have a proper grasp of the Scriptures and publicly commit themselves to building up the church. Doesn't ordination, therefore, serve as an important safeguard for those within a church?

This question is based on the assumption that the modern clergy system is the model for Christian ministry. As we have shown, the early Christians knew nothing of a clergy. And they certainly did not know anything about an ordained clergy.

Apostolic workers acknowledged local elders in some churches. (Acts 20:28, 1 Timothy 3, and Titus 1 describe the qualities of these elders.) And churches sent out apostolic workers to do the work of church planting. But these practices have few points of contact with modern ordination ceremonies, which elevate some Christians above others.

4. What do you mean when you say that "many—if not most—pastors cannot stay in their office without being corrupted on some level"? Some of the most godly, giving people I know are pastors who work incredibly hard for the Kingdom.

We know many hard-working, godly, and giving pastors also. But we also know countless pastors who have admitted, often late in their careers, that they were corrupted by the office on some level. Some have personally confessed to us, "It didn't affect me for a number of years, but after a while, it began to change me without my realizing it." They explained how they became people pleasers, trying to play to their "audience" and maintain a particular image. This observation has nothing to do with a pastor's motives. It has to do with the powerful influence of an unbiblical system.

All that aside, the real question is, should we support an office and a role that has no basis in the New Testament? If the modern pastoral office and role is a God-inspired development, then we should support it. But if it is not, we should not be surprised to learn it has harmful effects on those who fill the role.


"Beware of [those] who like to walk around in long robes." -JESUS CHRIST IN LUKE 20:46, NASB

"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ."


EVERY SUNDAY MORNING, millions of Protestants throughout the world put on their best clothes to attend Sunday morning church.1 But no one seems to question why. Hundreds of

Denominations like the Vineyard are the exception. Such neo-denominations espouse a casual form of worship that typically includes coffee and doughnuts before the service. Shorts and T-shirts are common apparel in a Vineyard church service. Most congregants in the 320.000 U.S. Protestant churches "dress up" for Sunday morning church. (f we add the number of non-Protestant Christians who dress up for church, the number is astronomical.

thousands of pastors wear special garb that separates them from their congregants. And no one seems to care.

Admittedly the dress has become more casual in a number of churches over the past few decades. A person dressed in denim can walk into the sanctuaries of many churches today without getting dirty looks. Yet dressing up for church is still a common practice in many churches. In this chapter, we will explore the origin of "dressing up" for church. We will also trace the roots of the clergy's special attire.


The practice of dressing up for church is a relatively recent phe-nomenon.2 It began in the late-eighteenth century with the Industrial Revolution, and it became widespread in the mid-nineteenth century. Before this time, "dressing up" for social events was known only among the very wealthy. The reason was simple. Only the well-to-do aristocrats of society could afford nice clothing! Common folks had only two sets of clothes: work clothes for laboring in the field and less tattered clothing for going into town.'

Dressing up for any occasion was only an option for the wealthiest nobility.' From medieval times until the eighteenth century, dress was a clear marker of one's social class. In places like England, poor people were actually forbidden to wear the clothing of the "better" people.'

This changed with the invention of mass textile manufacturing and the development of urban society.' Fine clothes became more affordable to the common people. The middle class was born, and those within it were able to emulate the envied aristocracy. For the first time, the middle class could distinguish themselves from the

Dressing "decently" for church service goes back to around the third century. Clement of Alexandria (150-215) put it this way:

"Woman and man are to go to church decently attired, with natural step, embracing silence ... let the woman observe this further.

Let her be entirely covered, unless she happens to be at home." ("Going to Church," The Instructor, bk. 3. ch. 11.)

Max Barris, The Common Man through the Centuries (New York: Unger, 1973).

Leigh Eric Schmidt, "A Church Going People (s a Dress-Loving People," Church History (58), 38-39.


James Hargreaves invented the "spinning jenny" in 1764, creating finer, more colorful clothing that was affordable to the masses.

Elizabeth Ewing, Everyday Dress 1650-1900 (London: Batsford, 1984), 56-57.

peasants.' To demonstrate their newly improved status, they could now "dress up" for social events just like the well-to-do.'

Some Christian groups in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries resisted this cultural trend. John Wesley wrote against wearing expensive or flashy clothing.' The early Methodists so resisted the idea of dressing up for church that they turned away anyone who wore expensive clothing to their meetings.' The early Baptists also condemned fine clothing, teaching that it separated the rich from the poor."

Despite these protests, mainstream Christians began wearing fine clothes whenever they could. The growing middle class prospered, desiring bigger homes, larger church buildings, and fancier clothing1.2 As the Victorian enculturation of the middle class grew, fancier church buildings began to draw more influential people in society.'

This all came to a head when in 1843, Horace Bushnell, an influential Congregational minister in Connecticut, published an essay called "Taste and Fashion." In it, Bushnell argued that sophistication and refinement were attributes of God and that Christians should emulate them.14 Thus was born the idea of dressing up for church to honor God. Church members now worshipped in elaborately decorated buildings sporting their formal clothes to honor God."

Bushman, Refinement of America, 313.

Henry Warner Bowden and P. C. Kemeny, eds., American Church History A Reader (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1971), 87-89. Dress and hierarchy were closely connected in colonial America. A pamphlet published anonymously in Philadelphia in 1722 entitled The Miraculous Power of Clothes, and Dignity of the Taylors,- Being an Essay on the Words, Clothes Make Men suggested the following: Social status, station, and power were displayed. expressed, and sustained through dress. The connection between dress and -hierarchy in colonial society invested clothes with symbolic power. This mind-set eventually seeped into the Christian church. Rupert Davies, A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain (London; Epworth, 1965), 193; Nehemiah Curnock, ed., Journals of Wesley (London: Epworth Press, 1965), 193. Wesley's teaching on clothing has been called "a gospel of plainness." His main message was that Christians ought to dress plainly, neatly, and simply. Wesley spoke on this subject so often that he is credited for coining the phrase "Cleanliness is next to godliness." However, he borrowed it from a rabbi (Phinehas Ben-Yair, Song of Songs, Midrash Rabbah,

Davies, History of the Methodist Church, 197.

Schmidt, "A Church Going People Is a Dress-Loving People," 40.

Bushman, Refinement of America, 335, 352.

Ibid., 350. Denominations with a greater number of wealthy members (Episcopal, Unitarian, etc.) began selling pews to wealthy families to fund elaborate church building programs. "On top of pew costs, worshippers had to wear clothes in keeping with the splendor of the building, and the style of the congregation became an insurmountable barrier for many. A century earlier a common farmer could dress up for church by putting on a blue check shirt. In the genteel atmosphere of the new beautiful churches, more was required."

In 1846, a Virginia Presbyterian named William Henry Foote wrote that "a church-going people are a dress loving people."' This statement simply expressed the formal dress ritual that mainstream Christians had adopted when going to church. The trend was so powerful that by the 1850s, even the "formal-dress-resistant" Methodists got absorbed by it. And they, too, began wearing their Sunday best to church.'

Accordingly, as with virtually every other accepted church practice, dressing up for church is the result of Christians being influenced by their surrounding culture. Today, many Christians "suit up" for Sunday morning church without ever asking why. But now you know the story behind this mindless custom.

It is purely the result of nineteenth-century middle-class efforts to become like their wealthy aristocrat contemporaries, showing off their improved status by their clothing. (This effort was also helped along by Victorian notions of respectability.) It has nothing to do with the Bible, Jesus Christ, or the Holy Spirit.

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