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!