65—post-Reformation clergy wear
NOTE: I originally wrote a segment for each of the 61 points Frank Viola and George Barna make in their book, Pagan Christianity, about traditions in the institutional church not based on scripture. After writing it, I chose to not include this segment merely as I felt that in wouldn’t be an interesting radio commentary.
My name is Tom; this is Simple Church Minute
When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenburg church door, he had no intention of splitting the Catholic church. Nonethless, like Nehemiah in the Old Testament, the deed happened at just the right time in secular politics. Those who opposed him had their own agenda which was disconnected with what was proper understanding of the Bible. This controversy about right belief did not touch right practice (that is what this series of blips is about). Therefore, it didn’t immediately effect a detail such as what clergy wore.
Those Reformers who paid particular attention to the ideas of John Calvin developed an extremely intellectual understanding of faith, and so they eventually adopted the philosopher’s gown. Some wore it all the time, and some reverted back to only wearing during the communion ceremony. In the 16th century, black became the traditional color for doctors and attorneys, and Calvin thought of himself as an attorney, not a theologian. All the way up to the 1940’s, some flavors of the church saw clergy wear change from the gown to a black frock coat, and, shortly afterward, a black suit. In other traditions, the change was to a clerical collar, which became the universal symbol for a clergyman.
What does the Bible say? Jesus and the disciples did not wear special clothing. Jesus didn’t authorize special clothing because he didn’t authorize a clergy class. Colossians 1 verse 18 says Jesus is the Head of the Body, the Church. The Holy Spirit dwells in his people, and is sufficient to direct spontaneous, living worship, and guide his people, moment by moment. Today, we see the church is growing fastest where government oppression prevents human organization, and slowest where the money flows fastest.