Vestments: A Defense for Dressing Like A Clown

Recently I have become more active in teaching and writing.  This came about in two ways.  First, Don Preston utilized a book I had written many moons ago when I was pastoring a congregation in St. Petersburg, Florida.  This book, Exegetical Essays on the Resurrection was written from a now discarded view I once held called Full Preterism (a view I now hold as heretical).  In his You Tube series, Preston touts my work as a “must read” and, of course, wanting to distance myself entirely from this so-called “movement”, I responded with my own You Tube presentations.

This was all during a time when my Dad was gravely ill.  The subject matter was “resurrection of the dead”, and of course, the timing was a bit strange.  I ministered to my dad in those final weeks and days with a heaviness I have never known.  Death became very real.  “The last enemy to be defeated is Death,” Saint Paul wrote.  “Enemy”?  That word leaped out at me. For Paul, Death (“the Death”as he penned it, personifying it) is a spiritual “principality” or “power” that is at work within all of us.  We do not ever die “from natural causes.”  An enemy is on the attack.  Although so-called natural causes are the visible manifestations (cancer, disease, blood clots, or heart attacks), they are, rather, to be seen as spiritual effects.  The Cause is Death itself (Lemmy Kilmister, rest in peace, of Motorhead opined in a great song called, ‘Killed By Death’).  Death is an enemy.  My Dad, a once lively, rowdy soul was being taken from us.

I read my Book of Common Prayer (1928) to him.  The same one I used while pastoring a church.  After the passing of his body and reception of his soul into the arms of Christ (so I hope with full confidence), I helped administer the service – again, using the Book of Common Prayer, my ever faithful companion.  Something in me, and I realize this is entirely subjective at this point, but I will deal with that in a bit, awoke.  A few days later I found while rummaging through his personal items, pictures of my ordination ceremony (with Presiding Elders Kelly Birks, Officiant, and Mike Delores, a Reformed Christian Church presbyter).  Dad also kept the ordination program handout and wrote the time (he had traveled all the way from Indiana to Florida to see it).  He also made note of it in his public journal of sorts.  I realized that he never saw me the same way again.  I was the “preacher” (think of the hills of Kentucky).  Very deep stirrings.

Now, I have always been enamored with the Cross of Jesus since a child.  My mom came home one day only to find in the front yard a huge cross made from two-by-fours.  That’s not something you want to see in Indiana!  White sheets and a vocabulary with a lot of “K’s” comes to mind.  I was about 8 years old.  I drew pictures of Jesus, and wanted a huge coffee table Bible for Christmas.  I begged a Catholic neighbor of mine to let me have her crucifix, which she had on her wall.  She relented (it can be seen in my You Tube lectures on the wall).  Jesus.  The Cross.  A man died for me.  I couldn’t get enough as a child.

Without going into a testimony about myself, for there are much better subjects than that, when I was a Full Preterist, I had received a call from a Bible study group who wanted to found a regularly ordered congregation (a “church”).  I had a Master’s degree by that time (and later completed my Theologiae Magister, Th.M. in 2012 from Whitefield Theological Seminary), and I certainly had a desire to teach and preach.  This lead to a full investigation, theologically and historically, as to what constituted things like “ordination”, “congregation” and “tenable status” as Minster.  How does one become a credible, recognized Minister in a day when anyone can get an ordination license on the internet?

Now, of course, in my undergraduate and seminary work we certainly covered those topics.  The first major verse that always popped up was 1st Timothy 3.1, ‘Faithful is this saying: If anyone aspires to oversight (episkopos in Greek), he desires a good work.’  From this it is recognized that the aspiration and desire arises from an individual’s heart.  That’s where it begins.  Now, in St. Petersburg we, as a congregation, were faced with the problem that we were, according to all things Orthodox, heretics.  We taught a doctrine (Full Preterism) that was not accepted (and still is not accepted) within any mainline denomination.  Of course, at the time, we thought of ourselves as enhancing historical Christianity, having solved a theological thorn in the side of the Church-at-Large when it came to the so-called, “end times”.  As a corporation entity in the State of Florida, we drew up our Constitution and By-Laws (which I still have) and, in those documents, made it plain to all that we wish nothing more than to be accepted, eventually, within a recognized denominational affiliation.  There were other Full Preterist churches, and we even sought to create our own denomination, as I have seen done many, many times in the history of Christianity.  These denominations, as they are called, were formed usually from breaks with an already formed one over doctrinal differences.  Well, we had a doctrinal difference.  What, then, is preventing us from establishing our own “denomination”?

The principle of Independent Churches, self established congregations with no affiliations with any major one (Baptist, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, etc) ran deep in Christianity since the time of the Reformation (1517).  When one, however, began to look at the founding of these now “mainline” denominations, one saw that they, too, had a “beginning” not in any association with something “legitimate.”  The Anglican Church (Church of England, the Episcopalians) split from the Roman Catholics.  The Lutherans split from the Roman Catholics.  The Methodists broke from the Anglicans, and so on.  Today there are churches called, “non-denominational” (which is sort of oxymoronic, since the phrase means, “no name”).  Regardless, when one reads their documents for establishing ecclesiastic bodies (which Catholics have a good laugh over, and the Greek Orthodox laugh at all of us) there are all sorts of justifications sought for – in the Bible.

It is indisputable that two main sources of church polity came from Die Juden, the Jews.  One was the synagogue and the other the Sanhedrin.  Later, after the third century A.D., a third source became a fixed form: Rome.  Considering Christians were largely made up of Jews in her earliest years, and spread to Rome in her ongoing years of Expansion, the coupling of these two(three) sources can be found in nearly every church building that can be called a church building.  That brings me to Vestments ( I would get there eventually).  Vestments (vestimentum, Latin for “clothing”) have a long history. The synagogue has them, and even the business suit and tie the Baptist preacher wears on Sunday is a vestment.  Thus, logically, it is not whether ministers and choir singers (choir robes) have clothing, but what kind of clothing they do wear.

There is a much history on clerical dress that I simply cannot get into here, and I have taken way too much of your time already.  The way I see it, Ordination, regardless of where it comes from, arises from a desire in the heart.  There is always succession involved since the founding of the “Church”.  That is, from Paul in Asia Minor, to Jerome, to Augustine to Pope Leo, to Luther to that guy (or gal) preaching down the road in the local Church of Christ or The Nazarenes there is a succession of Christians laying hands on other Christians in recognition of their desire to the episcopate.  This, in continued reading of the Apostle Paul to Timothy, is in keeping with the recognition of others (credentials) who are close to the person aspiring such an office.  Now, these two things, in and of themselves, do not mean that the person is, in fact, called of Christ.  David Koresh was not called.  Neither was Jim Jones or Charles Manson, even though they claimed it.  The Bible, then, becomes a “witness”, too.

In other words, two or three witnesses is needed, for anyone can say they have a desire to such an office or calling.  There must be an establishment of credulity in principle.  All recognize this in their own denominations.  1. The Call of Christ (which is subjective).  2. The testing of such calling (establishing credibility).  This latter point comes in a variety of ways today.  Training, internship, degree programs, etc.  Finally, some sort of ceremonial aspect plays a role in the finalization of all this (“laying on of hands” which is from the synagogue).  No single Christian just says, “hey, I ordained myself, I am called of Jesus, follow me.”  Don’t follow them.  L. Ron Hubbard comes to mind.  While each denomination today has their own “criteria” (some more rigorous than others), all of them have these principles at the bottom line.  These are biblical principles.  I recognize, then, all ministers that have them, even if they are Independent, Reformed, Catholic or Greek Orthodox (unified by our shared reading of the Nicene Creed).  If a Nazarene Minister has them, then he is a Minister, period.  I am not at all concerned with whether or not he can show “succession” from Luther or Calvin.  Can he show succession from other Christians in recognizing his own, personal desire and does he preach and teach the word of God in line with our inherited Christian Faith as found in the unity of the Nicene Creed?  Good enough for me.

Now, back to vestments and I why I wear them.  As a fool in attempting to justify my wearing of these clerical items of cloth, I do so for a couple of reasons.  1.  I do meet the principles already slightly elaborated on (much more elaboration can be done, filling a volume).  I have endeavored to meet them with full intention of meeting them.  Although I do not “have” a congregation at the moment, or might seek one through another ecclesiastical agency (denomination), there is an audience.  Paul had papyrus as a medium, we have the internet.  Media is media and communication is communication (although I am with a ministry that is allowing me to teach as well).  Second, historically, those who desire such an office usually have distinctive garb that represents such a call.  Look around, uniforms are all around us designating offices and job-callings.  So, there is nothing wrong with it, even if it is not commanded in the Bible (following the principle that we are at liberty in the Church to do things not expressly forbidden in Scripture, rather than the rule that we should only do those things expressly commanded).  It does have a history even within the old Israelite custom when the Tabernacle of Moses was active (and, in some part, forms a source for such vestment symbolism today).  For me, it connects with history, symbol and rite.  It’s personal.  I like it for all the right reasons.  Though some may have a power trip over wearing a clerical collar, as if that gives them some mystical prestige over others or something, or a “look at me” narcissistic ego thirst, it’s not the case with me.  I realize I look like a clown to many.  There is a humbling aspect about it.  In some ways, it is demeaning (the “stole” is a burden on the shoulders, the collar is a slave ring, and the alb is a simple piece of fabric, not elaborate or showy at all).  It is preparation.  I am getting ready to expound on the revelation of God’s word.  I must be careful here.  I will be judged for this.  God does care deeply about what others say concerning his revealed, written words.  This is not a calling one should aspire to, or take lightly in any way, shape, or form.  Lives have been wrecked.  We we all stand before the Throne of Christ and give an account.

Anyhow, that’s my two cents.  I am sticking with it.  It’s a pursuit my Dad put his mark on, and in the light of his passing, the passing of his body, rather, awaiting resurrection in Glory, a refreshing wind has blown.  Whither it goes, I do not know, but I am letting it blow in my sails and so far, the ride has been pretty tasty.

%d bloggers like this: