Church Uniform

I’ve been contemplating lately the benefits of wearing a uniform to church.

From what I understand, there are a couple of reasons that schools require kids to wear uniforms. One of them is for (this sounds so ridiculously redundant) uniformity. When you make kids all wear the same thing to school, it reduces the competition that inevitably arises from kids trying to look better than the next person. I went to college with a number of people who had gone to private schools, and all of them had some sort of uniform. When they got to college, they actually had a fairly limited wardrobe because they’d worn the same thing 5 out of 7 days for the last 4 years (summers excluded). Whereas they had initially chafed against the idea of being told what to wear, and wearing the same thing over and over, it actually brought them a certain kind of freedom because they never had to worry about picking out an outfit. They also never had to feel the need to compete: everybody was on the same level in terms of what they wore to school.

Another benefit (as I understand it) is that, especially in lower income areas, it gives the kids something decent to wear. I know that’s the case in the mission schools I’ve worked at in Guatemala. Sometimes these kids’ only decent clothes came every year when their school uniform was issued. Again, it levels out the playing field, but this time it’s bringing everybody up to a common standard of dress, whereas in fancier schools, it’s more like bringing everybody down to the same level. Regardless, it keeps everybody dressing in a way that school officials have determined is appropriate for their school.

We don’t necessarily realize it, but we DO have a church uniform, and it serves the same functions as a school uniform does. On Sunday in church, my pastor was talking about how we try so hard to make ourselves look good, but what we end up wearing amounts to nothing more than fig leaves. Or, the phrase “filthy rags” springs to mind, but scholars tell me clothing isn’t really what Isaiah had in mind. So we’ll go with “fig leaves.” So many times, we show up at church thinking that we’re looking so nice, that we might even be contenders to win the Spiritually Best Dressed award; but our efforts to look good turn out to be more of an Emperor’s New Clothes charade. We’re practically naked when we try to dress ourselves.

The good news is that Christ provides our uniforms, and we all come robed in his righteousness. Our attire (not just for church, but for all of life) is more beautiful than we could imagine. Like the kids in the mission school, we could never aspire to come up with something so nice on our own, and here it’s handed to us free of charge. And there can be no competition – we’re all wearing the same thing, cut from the same cloth, making us all equally beautiful and appropriately dressed not only for school but for the most incredible feast. No need to chafe about the monotony of wearing the same thing or being told what to wear – it’s a standard of dress that brings freedom, joy, camaraderie and beauty.

That’s a “uniformity” that can genuinely contribute to unity!

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About Molly Friesen

I'm the Director of Global Education Partnerships for Peacemaker Ministries. Working at PM is an education in itself: I'm constantly seeing more and more how much sin impacts relationships, the glory of the gospel of reconciliation, the importance of community - especially the community of a local church, and God's power to transform lives in every corner of his world.

5 thoughts on “Church Uniform

  1. Interesting article. I’m serving as a missionary in Trinidad. A church I visited recently does have a loose uniform code. I didn’t know it when I went there to preach and dressed as usual in a selection of complementary colours. As I watched the church fill with people dressed in black and white, I wondered if I had joined a cult. Later, when I had a chance to talk to the friend who made the arrangement for me to speak there, I learned that a previous pastor had implemented the “black and white” rule to avoid embarrassing those without sufficient funds to buy more than one set of “Sunday clothes”.

  2. How is it that we’ve moved from feeling compassion for those who feel shame because they can’t dress as others might (which is pride, actually), to feeling contempt for those whose sincere motive may be to bring God their best – in affection and yes, dress – as our grandparents knew to do?

    It’s been my experience for many years now that instead of trying to “look good” or be the “best-dressed”, most are trying to prove how cool and casual they are with the Most High God. They don’t make any more effort in their presentation for assembled worship than they would for a Saturday morning run to Dunkin Donuts. It’s the new uniform. (Which we should therefore apply to weddings and holiday parties for consistency’s sake?)

    The truth is, getting all twisted up over dressing down is not any less judgmental than criticizing those who dress up. Maybe we could all just get our eyes off what God’s other servants are wearing – be they rags or riches – and examine our own jealousies or condescendtions.

  3. Alexandra, it seems to me you have your eyes on “what God’s other servants are wearing” just as much as the next guy. The church building is not the temple, the body of Christ is, so if consistency is what we are after shouldn’t we always be dressed up? I suggest its an inimportant culture change. I really could name very few who I think were trying to appear the most causal at church. Sure I think there are some pastors who purposely choose to look hip or cool, but I find few congregants who dress for that factor. Even that I find not nearly as harsh and unChristlike as those churches which tell people visiting their church they need to cover themselves up or change their clothes (Both of which I witnessed in churches.)

    Yes though, in an ideal world we would focus on Christ, rather than the dress of those around us.

  4. I don’t dress any differently on Sunday mornings for church than I do when I go to work or hang out with friends. I don’t like to dress up. Ever. I do it by necessity when I go to a wedding or funeral, or when I have a job interview, but I’m uncomfortable the entire time.

    While it is true that God wants me to “give my best”, I do not consider a suit and tie to be qualitatively “better” than shorts and a polo shirt.

    That said, I recognize that some in the “dress up” crowd do what they do out of a right heart motive and so I don’t begrudge them their practice.

  5. Thanks for the good word, Molly! :) I really appreciate your effort to think about the need for transparency and authenticityamong Christians, particularly when we gather for worship.

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