Why Preachers Wear Black
Thanks to the Rev’d. Ronald Marshall, who I hope won’t mind that I am reposting it.
By Pastor Marshall
Preachers wear black so they can visually reinforce the message of the church: “Declare the wonderful deeds of God who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). The toughest part of that message is convincing the world that it is sunk in darkness. So pastors wear black to help make this point – first to themselves and then to others. For black clothes are a visual reminder of the wickedness that plagues us. Gaily colored Hawaiian clerical shirts, then, are not only silly for pastors to wear, but deleterious to the very message of the church.
Now it is this dark side of the message of the church that especially challenges us. It leaves us wondering why the world is so mired down in “wickedness” and “darkness” (Ephesians 6:12)? Why is it “one big whorehouse, completely submerged in greed” (Luther’s Works 21:180)? The reason is because we, who populate it, are “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3), who have rebelled against the will of God. And it is because of that rebellion that the world is so bad. If it weren’t for us, the world never would have been cursed (Genesis 3:17-18). For it is our killing, oppressing, lying, stealing, fornicating and running after false gods, that turns the world into such a bad place.
This message is hard to sell because of its severity. Nobody wants to believe it. Remember that they hated Jesus precisely because he told them the same thing (John 7:7). But that doesn’t make it any less true. Therefore we should not throw out this dreary message because it is harsh. We should instead fight for it with the best “arguments” we can muster (2 Corinthians 10:3-6)! We must learn to make the case against ourselves – with our love of money, pleasure and self (2 Timothy 3:2-4). We must learn to debunk the illusion that we are fine, just the way we are – arguing instead that we are “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17). And we can do this in at least five ways.
First we must show that this rebellion has corrupted the entire world – being now fully “in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). It’s not just a corner of the world that sucks. The whole place is evil. So if we befriend the world in any way, we make ourselves enemies of God (James 4:4)! Therefore “love not the world nor the things in the world” (1 John 2:15).
And next we must show that we have been made thoroughly evil by our rebellion and disobedience – “from the sole of the foot, even to the head, there is no soundness” in us (Isaiah 1:6), for indeed, “nothing good dwells within” us (Romans 7:18). So we cannot say that some part of us has somehow escaped the ravages of sin. No, there’s nothing left that’s clean (Job 14:4). So when we, for instance, manage to do something godly, good and glorious, we can’t take credit for it, knowing full well that this goodness comes from Christ who “dwells in” us and not from our own natures (Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians 3:5). So even when we behave well we must still confess: “I can do nothing good” (Luther’s Works 53:117).
Third, our rebellion even makes the good things we do turn sour. So we learn that before the Lord, “all our righteous deeds are but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6, KJV). This is so even when these good deeds benefit others. For as far as we are concerned, those same deeds cannot benefit us – making us more valuable and worthy. This is because we ruin them with the pride we take in them – rather than giving all the glory to God for them (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Fourth we must show how our rebellion has roots outside of ourselves — going down into the very nature of the human race – for “one man’s trespass led to the condemnation for all men” (Romans 5:18). So we cannot break ourselves loose from the darkness that engulfs us – O “wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). Our sin is just too deep-seated for that to happen. It comes from Adam and Eve, when they fell from grace and goodness through their disobedience in the Garden of Eden long ago (1 Corinthians 15:21-22). This makes our problem truly intractable. As a result, we are in fact slaves to sin (John 8:34; Romans 6:20-21).
And fifth we must show that our darkness is very costly – condemning us to the eternal punishments of hell, where the “worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48), Indeed, the torments of the condemned “go up for ever and ever; and they have no rest, day or night” (Revelation 14:11).
Now very few people believe all of this. Many even make fun of it. So we need all the help we can get to present this message in a compelling way. Because of that fact alone, it is a good idea for pastors to wear black. By so doing, the leaders of the church are leading the charge. And when they do, and when you encourage them to do so, you will know that it is because of the dark message of the church that it matters so much for pastors to wear black.
(Reprinted and revised from The Messenger, September 1999)