In Biblical worship, the ministers wear distinctive garments to cover their clothing in the Old and New Testaments (Revelation 4:4). Why? They represent someone beyond themselves, namely, Jesus Christ. They cover their clothing with other garments to point away from themselves and to Christ. When they lead the worship, they are not just “good old Joe.” They hold an office as a minister of God and the clothing signifies the office. For example, a judge wears a black Genevan gown because he does not act for himself. He represents the law and government of this land. In the same way, a minister represents the law and government of another kingdom by the clothing he wears. Just as the location of the table emphasized the centrality of Christ, the minister’s clothing has Christ-centered meaning as well.
The basic color for worship is white, representing the light and glory of the Resurrection. This white garment (a surplice) is normally worn over a long black gown called a cassock. It symbolizes the death on the Cross. The two together emphasize the finished work of Christ.
Over the surplice and cassock the minister often wears a long narrow strip of cloth around his neck: either a black preaching scarf, called a tippit, or a colored one when communion is served, called a stole. This mantle represents the “yoke” of Christ, as he said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of Me . . . for My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30). The yoke was literally a harnassing device for oxen in the time of Christ. Being harnessed with a yoke, an ox could bear a load. When Christ says that he is the “yoke,” he means that he literally carries the burdens of this life. When the minister wears the stole, he is preaching a visual sermon, reminding people of the Christ who bears their burdens.
To symbolize further that the minister is a servant, he also wears special clothing for his everyday work. This should be viewed as his uniform, just as any special service for the community has a distinct uniform: firemen, policemen, doctors, and so forth. The standard symbol of clerical clothing is the collar around the neck. This neckband was around slaves in the ancient world. The Church adopted this as its distinctive symbol for its ministers to emphasize their being “slaves for the Lord.” Certainly every believer is a slave for Christ, but the minister specially represents this function. In his calling he actually symbolizes the priesthood of the whole Church, the priesthood of Christ. The clothing of the minister points to Jesus Christ and sets him apart in the throne room of worship and life.