Fashion is one of our culture's biggest events. We have fashion magazines, fashion shows, exult over fashion models, and make appearance the biggest determinant of who should be great in our society. We have shows about what to wear, what not to wear, and how to wear it right.
There are even a few people who have created websites about what a pastor ought to wear. Personally, I find that to be one of the greatest wastes of time, money, and effort I've ever heard of. Then again, though, I wear off-the-rack suits and the same ties year-in, year-out and jeans or khakis from the Sam's Club table during the week. Maybe I'm just a slob.
After all, one might argue that since Exodus 28 (link) is the list of God's directions regarding the garments and accessories for the High Priest of Israel, then modern pastors probably should have a dress code, right?
Let's take the High Priest first and then we'll get back to my ilk of modern American pastors, shall we?
The clothing worn by the High Priest in the performance of his duties would have been quite spectacular. Naturally, we have no photographs of it (I think they all disappeared when Abe Lincoln's Facebook crashed). The only film depiction I can think of is from Raiders of the Lost Ark, but that guy was a Nazi so I doubt he was looked anything like Aaron would have. Plus, bad stuff happened to him when he opened the ark—but I digress.
The garments God prescribes are, first of all, to be "holy." It is instructive to consider what that means. Something that is "holy" is set apart for a specific use by a specific person (or entity). In this case, the clothing was holy: specifically to be used by only the High Priest and only during his duties in worship. This was not something he was to wear to the mall—only to the Tabernacle.
The garments prescribed are, second, symbolic. The ephod with stones, one for each of the tribes of Israel, was there to keep the priest ever mindful that he was not there on his own behalf alone, but for the sake of his entire nation. The turban that he wore was inscribed as "Holy to Yahweh" (remember, that is the name of God He uses in the Old Testament. Specific, holy, and personal). That's not about the turban as much as it is about the wearer. Just like a fan wearing a hat for his team, so the turban was a reminder to the priest about himself, from head to toe.
The garments were also not his. They belonged to "the High Priest." Which meant that the next high priest, and the next one, and the next one, would use them. The clothes did not belong to him but were a given covering for him to do his work.
All of this for the one man who was approved to stand before God on behalf of the people of Israel. No one else could do that, no one else had either the right or the responsibility.
So the man needed to dress for the work. The dress reminded him of the nature of what he was doing: standing before the Holy and Righteous God on behalf of sinful people, of which he was one. He was clothed in white not by his actions but by God's commands.
Now we come to the present day, and the first thing that matters is that if we Christians are right, then there are no more High Priests of God, because Jesus is the last and greatest High Priest. Given that, while we are commanded that we are to pray for one another, none of us stand between God and man exclusively like the Priests of Israel did. Jesus leveled that for us all.
So what should we wear, then, if we are not priests? Why bother with this chapter at all?
I would submit to you that the three ideas here should inform us in all of our outerwear, not just our "service wear." Neither are these just for preachers, but for all people. Working backwards, here they are:
1. We are clothed with a righteousness not our own. The righteousness of Christ is what clothes us rather than our own. It is a gift from God rather than something we make for ourselves or buy for ourselves.
2. We ought to be reminded in our dress that we are not just in life for ourselves, but are here for each other. That includes not being overly flashy (by any sense of the term) or other ways that can harm another. Yes, this does include considering the sourcing of what you wear—all the implications thereof. We should also not dress like we are all that matters. Other people matter, too.
3. We ought to dress such that we remember we are "holy" to the Lord God. In some ways, never mind what other people may think, focus on what God has said about your garments. Really—go to the text of Scripture and see if you are good with what's there and then consider point 2. Ultimately, our whole actions ought to reflect that we are holy to the Lord.
Today's Nerd Note: Long have I seen it circulated that the bells on the fringe were accompanied by a lovely rope around either the waist or the ankle of the High Priest. The idea being that the other priests would have gathered outside the Holy of Holies and listened for the bells. If the bells stopped for too long, then the concern was that God had found the High Priest lacking and struck him dead. They would then pull him out.
There's a few problems with that theory. The first is the biggest: if the Old Testament is intact as it was written, there is no textual basis for this idea. That's the biggest problem of asserting it was the standard practice—it is not prescribed at any point in Scripture.
The second problem is theological/practical. The High Priest was going into the Holy Place to make atonement for all the people. If he drops dead, then based on the total witness of the Law, those who pull him out and all the stuff he touches, including the room in which he died become unclean for a certain period of time.
Therefore, if the concern was that God would strike him dead, the concern was that God would take an action that would prevent the people of Israel as a whole from obeying the Law. That just does not seem like it fits with the idea.
Rather, we see that the ability of one man to stand before God on behalf of others is an act of grace. Whether it is the grace of accepting the High Priest even though every one that came before God was faulty in some manner or the greater grace of sending One to stand before God for all eternity for us.