Beware of Externalism
Too often, religious talk about clothing crashes on the rocks of legalism or drowns in the sea of irrelevance. On one side of the aisle are Christians who measure their holiness by the length of their dress or the style of their hair; and on the other side are those who reject social norms for dressing and end up looking like they slept in their clothes all night–to steal a line from Back to the Future.
In both cases, the problem is externalism–making Christianity about something that you do on the outside instead of something that Christ did in history and that the Holy Spirit does within you. Ironically, this is of a piece with a certain kind of Mormon error. Pointing to Exodus 28, their false religion–for Mormonism is not Christian–finds support for holy undergarments. Listen to their statement, from Mormon-Underwear.com.
For temple-going Mormons, the garment serves much the same purpose as religious clothing throughout history—it privately sets them apart from the world and signifies a covenant between the wearer and God. There is no professional clergy in the LDS Church, so in some ways the garment serves as a symbol of the lay clergy, where both men and women share in the responsibilities and blessings of the priesthood…
The meaning attached to the garment by devout Mormons transcends the fabric and design used to create the garment. It is sacred to the wearer not for what it is, but for what it represents. It reminds the wearer of the continuing need for repentance and obedience to God, the need to honor binding covenants voluntarily made in the temple, and the need to cherish and share truth and virtue in our daily living. By so doing, the garment helps the wearer to focus his or her life on Jesus Christ and to thereby lay claim on the blessings promised to those who do so.
Christians can point the finger and perhaps even snicker, but the problem is, Christians do the same thing today. Whether it is Simon Schrock—who is not of immediate relation—who has written the book What the redeemed should wear?, insinuating that redemption is externally apparent, or countless Christian clothing companies who challenge devoted teens to boldly wear their faith, the problem is that Exodus 28 does not point to our clothing options. It points to Jesus.
Here is the point. Wear whatever you want. Your clothing doesn’t save you. It doesn’t make you more acceptable to God. It would, if we were Levitical priests, but we are not. The message of the gospel is one of inner renewal, not outward conformity.
What You Wear Still Matters
With all of that said, I think what you wear is of eternal importance. More accurately, whose clothes you wear is of eternal importance. In fact, the redemptive story, from one angle, can be told from the perspective of Nakedness and Clothing. Consider:
In the garden, man and woman were naked and unashamed; their innocence permitted them to be naked before God (Gen 2:24). However, after the fall, clothing was needed. Adam and Eve sensed that, so they made fig-leaf fashion. They hid themselves under the clothes they made for themselves–sounds familiar to many of us today! But such man-made garments never cover the sin and insecurities that the fall produced. Adam, Eve, and everyone of their offspring needed and needs divine covering.
So God slaughtered an animal and clothed Adam and Eve. In the rest of the Bible, God’s saving plan is seen in the way he clothes his people. This is seen in Exodus 28 and Psalm 45, where the bride of the king is adorned in a royal robe. But even more to the point, Isaiah 61:10 says, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” Salvation comes from God’s clothing us.
From this position of being clothed in Christ, we are called to put off the old ways of life, and to put on the new. Notice what Paul says in Colossians 3:9-10, Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Though, the language is not exactly the same; the idea of putting off the impure garments of this age and putting on pure garments of the new age (cf. 2 Cor 5:4).
A concluding thought: The danger in Exodus 28 is simply principalizing the text, such that it becomes a handbook for clothing, instead of seeing how it shows us our uncleanness and the need to be clothed with Christ. From start to finish, the Christian message is how God clothes impure sinners in his righteous robes.
This is the saving message of Exodus 28: Jesus is your clothing. His priestly garments make you holy, so far as you trust in him. He is your righteous robe. That is what separates you from the world, more than any wash and wear you can put on.
So, trust in the garments Jesus offers, and you will not be naked or ashamed when he calls you to stand before him at the judgment (Rev 3:18).
Soli Deo Gloria, dss