"I hate it when they wear religious robes in church," Jerry said, " they're just trying to show that they're better than the rest of us."
Jerry dislikes robes because he thinks they are used to show that pastors are better than other people, or closer to God, or have church authority. Actually, the opposite is the case.
Some people dislike many church traditions like robes, the altar, candles, and so forth because, like Jerry, they just don't understand the purpose behind them. (Or maybe they've seen some arrogant pastors or maybe they have such a weak sense of self esteem that they think some people are haughty even when they're not).
Jerry probably also has fallen into the trap of judging people by how they appear (1 Samuel 16:7). God, in contrast, looks at people's hearts and is concerned about our attitudes ("worship in spirit and truth," John 4), not about what we wear.
Why do some Christians bother to use robes? Just as Jesus used symbols like salt, light and trees to teach us godly things, so we use robes to remind us of some important Bible truths.
First, robes are white and designed to cover the whole body. This is to remind us of the "garment of righteousness" that God gives us. Although our sin sticks to us like dirt to our bodies, God's forgiveness "covers" us like robes cover our bodies.
This means that "underneath" God's covering of forgiveness, pastors are sinful like everyone else. Traditionally, pastors wore black (or dark) shirts as a sign of the sin that is part of them in order to highlight the wonder of God's covering of forgiveness. So robes aren't meant to show that the wearers are better than others just the opposite! Rather, they show God's mercy and forgiveness for sinners.
Pastors also wear "stoles," cloths about eight feet long and five inches wide, shaped like an upside down "U." The shape is designed to symbolize a yoke, or harness, that an oxen or horses wear when they work for people. Likewise, stoles show that pastors are servants of God's people, with work and responsibilities to carry out. Horses doesn't have any authority at all they just follow the direction of their Master and Lord.
Stoles and altar hangings have symbols on them, such as doves, crosses, sheep, shepherds, etc. The symbols remind us of important parts of our faith... the dove is the Holy Spirit who teaches us, the shepherd is Jesus who cares for us, and so forth.
We don't have to use traditional trappings like robes. They don't make us closer to God by themselves, and they aren't designed to show that the wearers are better than everyone else. But they can assist people in their worship, faith and learning, when we remember what they stand for.
When you hear someone question or criticize church traditions ask them what they think the traditions mean. Then be ready to share with them the purpose and value of many of them. On the other hand, if some people seem to say that traditions are important in themselves, remind them of the same thing that our attitudes of the heart are the important thing, not the traditional practices themselves.
Dr. John Juedes, 1999
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