Posted by: Andrew Webb | October 2, 2008


The Elements of Public Worship

Appendix: Vestments

Under the apostles there was great simplicity in administering the Lord’s Supper. Their immediate successors made some additions to the dignity of the ordinance, which are not to be disapproved. Afterwards came foolish imitators, who, by ever and anon patching various fragments together, have left us those sacerdotal vestments which we see in the mass, those altar ornaments, those gesticulations, and whole farrago of useless observances.” – John Calvin

“Not only has the Church of Rome corrupted the worship of God by a multitude of insignificant ceremonies, but even some Protestant Churches retain many of the usages of Popery, and enjoin the wearing of particular vestments by the ministers of religion, the observation of numerous festival days, the erection of altars in churches, the sign of the cross in baptism, bowing at the name of Jesus, and kneeling at the Lord’s Supper. These practices we justly reckon superstitious, because there is no scriptural warrant for them, and they are the inventions of men.” – Robert Shaw, The Reformed Faith

Christ and His Apostles did not wear any sort of special garments in the discharge of their ministerial duties, neither did the Elders and Deacons of the early church. For a long time after the church began the shift towards Episcopacy, all evidence indicates that the Christian clergy simply wore the normal attire of the populace. As even the Catholic Encyclopedia acknowledges: “In that period the priestly dress did not yet differ from the secular costume in form and ornament. The dress of daily life was worn at the offices of the Church”.  The period when this began to change was around the time of Constantine (324 AD). At that time, for a number of reasons distinctive liturgical garments began to be adopted.

There is no biblical precept for a minister to wear special garments in the discharge of his office. The Reformers in clearing away non-biblical accretions in the worship of God also eliminated the wearing of special vestments from worship.

The only rule that governed their and our attire was later encapsulated in WCF 1.6 “there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.” In other words, if you are to conduct the worship of the church let all things be done decently and in order, and this includes the attire of the ministers. Therefore, we believe that Ministers of the Gospel should dress in good and decent, but ordinary attire, for that was the practice of the Apostolic church, and should be ours as well.


  1. From where did the Reformed practice of the Geneva gown come?

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