John MacArthur on Respect in the Pulpit

Orginally published on Tuesday, April 01, 2008 at 7:06 AM
by Todd Rhoades

Dr. MacArthur writes: "Some people ask, why do I wear a tie? Because I have respect for this responsibility. I wear a suit because this is a more elevated experience for people. Iím trying to convey what people convey at a wedding: this is more serious than any normal activity.

This is the most serious occasion anyone will attend in their life: the preaching of the Word of God. I donít want to join with our culture in sinking into the casual. We have a generation thatís never been to anything formal. And if my dress goes down, the people at the bottom go down, and then we gym shorts!Ö

Because all Iím trying to do is explain the meaning of the Word of God. And you want to use any avenue to do so short of affirming the culture. I donít need to borrow or certainly not to accredit the culture by being overly familiar with it. Becoming all things to all men means looking into the situation and seeing where they are in their religious thinking, to find a starting point to move them into Scripture.”

Amen, Dr. MacArthur.  I couldnít have said it better.  When will some of you show your respect for your responsibility?  Iíd love to hear from any of your who will commit this week to wear a tie as you preach.  Letís show some respect, people.


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  There are 50 Comments:

  • Posted by kent

    Those are fairly ugly ties. Honor God with better ties. Save the Children has the best ties. Jerry Garcia ties are nice too.

  • Posted by

    “this is more serious than any normal activity.”

    He’s got it right and wrong all at the same time!  Worship is serious.  One way to communicate that is with a coat and tie—but there are a multitude of other ways to make it serious.

    Worship is not intended to be separate from the “normal activity” of God’s people—it is not part of some separate universe.  If wearing a coat and tie reinforces it as separate from “normal” then cut off the ties and give the coats to Goodwill.

  • Posted by Steve Wulf

    What a ridiculous diatribe.  Now, I don’t have any problem with MacArthur following his convictions and doing what he thinks best, but why does he have to speak his mind in berating terms that are obviously aimed at a generation that may feel differently than him. 

    I don’t remember reading anywhere in the gospels or the new testament where Jesus or any of the writers gave credence to what MacArthur is saying, perhaps that’s why he couldn’t quote any meaningful text to back up his conviction.

    Since when is not wearing a tie or a suit giving in to culture.  In fact, in some places in America that kind of dress is culture.

    With Respect
    Steve Wulf

  • Posted by

    He’s right you know. Let’s put this thing in reverse. Trade the jeans and hawaiin shirt for dress slacks and a polo. Trade the dress slacks and polo for dress slacks, a buttoned shirt and tie. Trade the slacks, shirt, and tie for a suit and tie, Trade the suit and tie for a three piece suit. Trade the three pice suit for black shoes, pants, shirt, and a collar. Let’s trade these for an ecclesiastical robe. Then trade these for the common street clothing of the original disciples. If going back is showing respect than let’s go all the way back...back to when the clothes that mattered were things like humility, love, grace, and mercy.

  • Posted by Tye Male

    This is another sad article that reveals how John thinks about himself and the position of the pastor. His stabs at ministries who seek to be relevant to the culture in which we live have also revealed how he thinks about his position as pastor. John’s top-down approach to leading is becoming evident.

    Jesus never dressed up for his position but engaged the culture in a way that they could understand the message.

    Todd - remember the pic of the microphone in which the audience was out of focus and the microphone and pulpit was in focus. That would say it all for this article.

  • Posted by

    Um...before you guys get too upset you may want to check today’s date.

  • Posted by Tye Male

    Beach Guy - This article is a quotation by a blogger who cites the following:

    Dr. John Macarthur, Q & A session, liveblogged by Evers Ding at the 2008 Shepherdís Conference at Grace Community Church, on the subject of contextualization.

    I wish it was an April Fool’s joke. Tye

  • Posted by Dennis

    Hey Todd,

    I couldn’t help but notice that you are not wearing a tie in your picture on your blog.  Do you have no respect for the fine art of blogging or for your fellow bloggers for that matter?

    I wanna see a tie before the end of the day or I will have to seriously consider dropping you from my blog roll!

  • Posted by

    so much for shirts and skins sunday, thought that might attract a crowd.

  • Posted by

    The stance that one should dress nicer for church than during ďnormal activityĒ is what I was taught growing up.  This I was taught by hypocrites who dressed and acted righteous on Sunday, but were the worst sinners during the week, some of who were adulterers and worse.

    Is it OK to wear Ozzie Osborne and Black Sabbath t-shirts all week as long as I dress respectfully in a suit and tie on Sunday?  Is it OK for young girls to dress like hookers all week as long as they dress respectfully on Sunday? 

    (For those Ozzie fans out there might be offended by my using him as a bad example, please substitute Boy George and Culture Club.)

    The emphasis here is all wrong!  Why should you teach that you should dress and act better on Sunday, in order to show proper respect, than you do the rest of the week?  I think we should be teaching that you should show proper respect all week long, that how you dress and act on Sunday is how you should dress and act seven days a week.  We shouldnít be trying to show proper respect for the church, the Gospel, and the Lord only on Sunday.

  • Posted by Jermayn Parker

    I recently wrote an article about bringing the wrong culture into a church

    This is another example when people try and force a culture onto another culture. Just because Americans wear ties does not mean Africans have to. Ties is not their culture for formal attire…

    What you write is right in the sense that a Pastor needs to dress up to bring an example but forcing people to wear a tie?

  • Posted by

    I will start with this . . . . the only incident regarding attire that I have experienced personally in the last six years occurred when a brother, who has at times appeared on our church’s platform pushing our collective limit of casualness, accosted me about my preference for jackets and ties.  He initiated the conversation with me cold.  I was delighted, because it gave me the opportunity to point out to him that one of us has a hangup about attire, since he cared enough to mention it, and one of us does not.

    ‘Tis ridiculous to make it an overly significant issue.  ‘Tis equally ridiculous to assume that wearing pajamas in public somehow makes one more “relevant.” I am about to tire of that word.  I am a teacher of the Word of God (as are many of you).  If I handle scripture correctly (a gravely serious responsibility), I am AUTOMATICALLY relevant, or the Holy Spirit is impotent.  The purpose of ones attire is to avoid or minimize distraction.  Since one cannot appease all cultural preferences in a culture as non-homogenous as ours, there is no single “correct” uniform.

    [In some cultures, Christians still attire themselves distinctly.  In those cultures, not wearing the uniform is a distraction.]

    As for this paper-tiger reasoning that “Jesus wore regular clothes” I also suggest that Jesus was penniless, homeless, and celibate.  In other words, we need to be very careful trotting out all first century practices as though they are meant to be straight-piped into our setting.  It is one thing, and quite healthy, to remember that the 2,000 year history of the church is not authoritative.  It is another thing, however, and ridiculous, to deem the 2,000 year history of the church to be meaningless.  We are not 1st century itinerant Messiahs or Apostles.  We are 21st Century church pros, and, in my humble view, the trappings of professionalism (to some degree) legitimately and inevitably come with the territory.

    I do not hear us complaining about our 21st century technologies, our quite comfortable 21st century offices and homes, or our 21st century earning power.  Be very careful with a line of argument that says, “I do not want to be perceived as a professional, I just want to be one of the guys (or girls).” Many of you don’t believe that for a minute.  Your compensation packages, and the authority that you wield in your respective areas of responsibility, indicate that you desire to be perceived as a well-qualified professional. 

    Now, that is not to say that I think all/any of you should dress more/less formally when you are fulfilling your public role.  Blessedly and increasingly, we have freedom to reflect the cultural variety of the congregations among whom we minister, and that is healthy. 

    My ONLY beef is with those who hold that formal attire is harmful, or informal attire is somehow necessary, in order to “connect” or be “relevant” to this culture.  Hogwash.

  • Posted by Scott Bonnell

    April fools right? You gotta be kidding me on this one.

  • Posted by

    this one is out of my league, i cant tell if russell is agreeing or complaining..

  • Posted by

    I understand, deaubry.  I often can’t tell if I’m agreeing or complaining . . . .

  • Posted by Tye Male

    I thought Russel’s post was quite insightful. I think I can boil it down to one point (something I can’t do with my own posts!):

    1. Be relevant. This means that you must be relevant where you are. This is the reason many churches have lost their impact and are declining.

    This has been some good discussion on what I initially thought was a ridiculous discussion.

  • Posted by

    Agreed, Tye Male.  Well summarized!

  • Posted by Peter Hamm

    The tie was originally something to wipe your mouth and catch food drippings so you didn’t ruin your shirt, and now it’s become something you try NOT to spill food on.

    So, if I go to church the way I am the rest of the week am I worshipping culture more or less than someone who insists I dress in a way that was only invented in the past century or so in my western culture.

    I do respect the office of preaching and teaching, so much so that I think regular guys should be doing it authentically and with passion and excellence…

  • Posted by

    thank you tye male,and russell i did not mean that in a bad way. i am just not as ed-u kated as you guys, you all use words i have to look up. but you are a great group of people. you are very kind to me even if i dont know much.

  • Posted by

    Interesting.  John MacArthur is not telling others what to wear.  He is expressing his personal practice of wearing a tie.  This is his choice and practice.  He does point out the change in cultural dress.  But with that change has also come other issues as well.  Putting a tie on does not change a sinner into a saint.  Only putting on Christ can do that.  Further, Jesus did wear a rabbi’s robe which was distinctive, costly, and had the tassles (remember the woman who wanted to touch the hem, she was reaching for the tassles in the belief God would bless her).  The robe was worth enough that the soldiers gambled for it.  [I’m not pushing robes in the pulpit, just clarifying some of the content.] The audience and climate often dictates what I wear.

  • Posted by

    we are to give God our best in everything…

    For those of us who work in corporate offices, there’s a dress code...you have to wear a shirt and tie for the men…

    For certain dining facilities men have to wear a shirt and ties as well as a jacket and women have to wear a dress or skirt…

    If you were invited to eat dinner with the president or the queen of England...men would have to dress in a suit and tie...and the women would wear dresses and skirts…

    when we were in the world...if we wanted to party at certain clubs...men had to wear dress clothes and the women also had to dress up…

    there are many worldly events we attend that we have to dress up in order to attend...if you’re not dressed properly you won’t be allowed in…

    I recently saw a flyer for a worldly event that read at the bottom...No jeans, shorts, sneakers, etc. Dress properly...Dress to impress...No exceptions…

    When it comes down to wanting to go to these places...we have no problem dressing for the occasion…

    what a tragedy...there’s better standards that’s applied to the world then the church…

    some tend to be relaxed on this issue...but it’s a tragedy...it’s a tragedy when the church cares more about dressing decent when going to work or a secular event, then show up looking anykind a way when attending church…

    Paul encouraged us to be seperate from the world…

    it would be a shame for a king to have his children walking around looking anykind of way...the king’s children represents the king...and we represent God…

    The church trying to be relevant to the world is the cause for the decline in spirituality…
    The church is to have a standard and the world is to come up to the church standard...not go down to the world’s standard…

    The Holy Spirit and the Power of the preached Word of God is the relevant factor…

    I’m not saying salvation is in the way you dress...because salvation is in our belief in Jesus Christ…

    I do believe if we have the clothes in our closet...why not wear them to church?

  • Posted by Brian L.


    Can you give any evidence for your assertion that Jesus wore a special robe or that the woman was reaching for the tassels?

    Jesus was addressed as “rabbi” by some, but was certainly not recognized as such by the religious leaders (even if they used the term).

    Not saying you are wrong, I just don’t see anything in Scripture to support your proposition.

    Brian L.

  • Posted by Lee Hoy

    To suggest that because I don’t preach in a tie is because I don’t take what I do seriously is a huge assumption born of arrogance, self-righteous, and a complete lack of understanding of Scripture.  Surely Dr. MacArthur and some of you who have responded at some point in your life actually read 1 Samuel 16.  I won’t repeat it here because with your pompous assertions and certainty that God desires us to wear “fine clothes” to minister you clearly know the Scriptures that support that.

    To suggest relevancy is the cause for the decline of spirituality is to merely state that you haven’t reflected on the fact that it is just the opposite.  It is that people are sick of legalism, the arrogance of many who claim to follow Christ, and the fact that many searches seem more like things of the past.  Please do some actually dialog with unchurched people before espousing such outdated considerations.


  • Posted by

    Lee, I don’t think you and I disagree at all.  Do you accept my assertion that “the purpose of ones attire is to avoid or minimize distraction?”

    If you do, then would we further would agree that you can dress to not distract (depending on setting) in either a suit, a tux, a polo and cargo pants, or shorts and a t-shirt (I have let worship in all of the above).

    That’s the main point that I was seeking to make.  The issue is not “give your best to Jesus,” in my view.  But I also take issue with “you must be casually attired in order for Jesus to be relevant.”

    What you have to be is non-distracting, UNLESS your attire is meant to illustrate some point which you will otherwise be explaining from the word. (I once did a “thing” in the garb of the Levitical High Priest . . .)

    Does that make sense?

  • Posted by Lee

    I am not sure I accept that as the main assertion in terms of the purpose of one’s attire.  I think to consider that as the main assertion comes at speaking from a different point of view.  I think that the church (universal) should care little enough that if you had a church primarily full of people wearing casual clothes, but someone really enjoyed wearing a suit, then they should wear it with no judgment at all.  Same for someone wearing shorts into a setting with predominantly formal clothes.  That is Christ’s character fully revealed. 

    I agree 100% that you DON"T have to wear casual clothes for Jesus to be relevant” [although in Austin, TX area that is a little less true because of our culture here].

    I do think to say, as MacArthur did and not you, that if you are “formally attired” you are taking what you do more seriously is an absolute joke and a statement of pure arrogance as noted before.  Mind you, he use to be someone I read frequently until I found freedom in Christ.  ; )

    I say all the time we needs all kinds of churches (that passionately love the Lord) to reach all kinds of people and no doubt clothes are a part of that.  But please don’t assert (he did, not you) that one type is more biblical than another.


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