Q: Why do some of our pastors commonly wear special clergy clothes while others do not?”
A: A distinguishing feature of the Lutheran Church is its refusal to issue commands where God has made no demands. Liturgies, chants, ringing of bells, as well as the subject of clergy vestments have been left to individual and congregational preferences. For this reason a diversity is practiced in the way our clergy dress. The use of any clergy vestments, just as the use of a special kind of liturgy, should always be done “in a fitting and orderly way” (I Corinthians 14:40). The purpose of a particular way of dressing should also serve to educate fellow Christians. See the Formula of Concord, Article X, paragraph 9.
Some of our ELS clergy wear the clerical collar not to draw attention to their own person but to focus the attention on the pastoral office of the public ministry. The white ring around the neck may also remind people of a remark Jesus made concerning the necks of those who instruct: “It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin” (Luke 17:2). If you ask these pastors why they wear the collar, they probably would not say it’s simply a matter of taste but that it serves as a constant symbolic reminder to proclaim God’s saving truth in its purity.
One also finds that many of our pastors prefer not to wear the clerical for fear they may appear either as some kind of “glory-seekers,” or possibly be mistaken for clergy of a different denomination. They too wish to draw attention to the preached Word without setting up unnecessary barriers, whether real or perceived. Such pastors may also feel that, even though the higher church vestments are historically of Lutheran heritage, our synod’s laity has not been so accustomed to the usage of the collar.
The freedom we enjoy in the matter of vestments will undoubtedly cause some healthy and good-natured debates. Our personal preferences, however, should never take away from our primary goal of presenting the pure Word of our dear Redeemer who desires that his forgiveness be proclaimed unconditionally. All that we do, including how we garb, is to educate souls for Christ. The attitude of John the Baptist is the motto of our pastors: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).