On the Uniform

November 24, 2014

On a recent Sunday I attended Buckhead Church where Andy Stanley pastors…Wearing my Salvation Army uniform. I received a few sidelong glances. During meet-and-greet time, the lady with whom I was shaking hands asked ‘what uniform is this?’ When I replied ‘The Salvation Army’ a broad smile came to her face as she brought her other hand to grasp mine and say ‘I love and am so thankful for your ministry’. I thanked her and said God bless you as I inwardly beamed. In that moment I was so proud of the lineage of ministry I was attached to simply by wearing this tunic & tie.

It got me thinking. First, this lady does not know me but has been touched by the ministry of the Army in some way. Displaying that the uniform is a recognizable item in our culture. That’s nothing new. Next, it made me realize that my actions (while wearing it) could determine someone’s view of the entire Army based on my behavior. Also, not completely a revelation. Lastly, it struck me that a simple article of clothing was able to help start an uplifting conversation at a time in our culture when face to face interaction is at a minimum.

Being a young Salvationist, I have been at the heart of many a discussion over the validity of wearing the uniform. I do not know your stance but here is where I choose to stand.  It is my personal belief that the uniform is a powerful connector and should be recognized as such. The main detractors I’ve heard are: not necessary to wear to church with everyone else wearing the same, its main use is street evangelism, makes guests uncomfortable when attending TSA, it can actually take away from evangelism when people mistake it for police or other ‘officials’.

My quick response would be those are valid reasons that need to be addressed but that the uniform is not the root cause of those issues. The issue lies in how the uniform is disseminated. I’m not sure how it is with you but in my life experience I have seen a push to get as many people in a uniform as quickly as possible. Soldiership classes are rushed or shortened. Covenants are signed and then regretted when the signer comes of age. It is only denied to those who have done some visible unforgiveable sin.  It is easier to denigrate something when it has lost its unique & special message.

So this leads us to congregations full of uniforms. It is only a barrier if we allow it to be. If everyone in our Corps is wearing a uniform then we need to go out and reach more people. Secondly, to put it simple, guests are not put off solely because of the uniform but because of the stuffy behavior exhibited by those wearing it. Lastly, if you are mistaken for another official in public then we are not doing a good enough job of being out in the community.

Maybe we give the uniform away to easily. Perhaps we go back to making a rite of passage. For example, to earn your uniform as a Marine you must go through some of the toughest trials and test in your life.(Basic Training) They fight through hard work all the while knowing that to achieve their goal means service, commitment and even harder work. I’m not saying we must venerate the SA uniform but at least get to a point of respect where it’s honored more than just a ‘Members Only’ jacket.

For further reading consider checking out:  http://salvationist.ca/2010/06/the-witness-of-worship/

6 Responses to On the Uniform
  1. Just throwing my 2 cents in.

    1. Arguments FOR the uniform are never based on scripture. They are always based on personal ideology, or religious inclusion. If we demand (which we do demand – let’s not kid ourselves) that a member of the church be bound to rules and regulations outside of anything but the bible, do we not find ourselves being scorned by Jesus as the religious leaders in Matthew 23 were?

    2. In the blog, it’s said that we deny uniforms who have done some visible “unforgivable sin” – yet does the Bible not say in Mark 3:28-30 that all sins of man will be forgiven except to those who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit? Who are we to judge the sins of one man without judging the sins of ourselves – and furthermore – who are we to grant and revoke religious sacraments to those who stumble? Those who truly live with unforgiveness in their hearts only want to wear uniforms to take part in religious/peer inclusion. If the uniform is seen as the alternative to baptism, would we be able to revoke the water that cleansed a repentant sinner who stumbled? Just a thought. I know where the writer was going with the comment, but it’s pretty rocky ground to stand on.

    3. Does Jesus make us go through a rites of passage to earn his salvation? Why then must we make a religious sacrament difficult to obtain? Is not, at the end of the day, the uniform simply a piece of clothing? Perhaps your best point is that soldiership classes are rushed or shortened – which to that I would say, absolutely. The focus of these classes are Salvation Army doctrine, Army history, and what it means to sign the articles of war. Would not a heavy class on theology and biblical knowledge lead others to a life that gives them the spiritual maturity to deal with life’s ‘rites of passage’?

    I’ll close with this. Every story I’ve ever heard about the uniform being used as an outreach tool are surface connections. Such as the above interaction. It was a Christian being uplifted by another Christian in a Christian environment. Or how about when you wear it to the airport and someone asks you for directions because they think you’re a pilot. Does the conversation move to one that leads the person who is looking for Gate A24 to Salvation – or do you both have that awkward laugh and then you tell the story to all your fellow uniform wearing Salvationists about how yet another person mistook you for an airline employee. Think about this – why do you think WalMart employee vests say “how may I help you”? It’s so that someone will see their clothes and come to them without the employee ever having to make the first move to close the sale.

    If we think that the uniform is an amazing outreach tool that leads people to Jesus – imagine the impact, reach and ministry of those whose lives are so radically different that they can do the same without ever having their clothing noticed. Imagine the bold faith it takes to walk up to someone at the airport bar, sit down, strike up a meaningful conversation, and then tell them about Jesus. THAT, friends, takes more courage than to wear your uniforms to high school.

    • Anonymous, I appreciate your two cents. How will we ever reach thoughtful conclusions if not for thoughtful discourse? So thank you.
      You will note that I never mentioned in the blog that defense of the uniform rests in Scripture although I believe it does). Neither did I ever write that the uniform is the message. A saved life through Jesus Christ is the message. I view the uniform much like a good illustration before any oratory exercise; it has the ability to disarm those listening as well as establish a bridge between those and the communicator. That allows for ‘shared experience’ or common ground with which to more easily communicate the message.
      I am not kidding myself if I say I’m not demanded to wear the uniform. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but nowhere on the Articles of War does it state ‘You Must Wear Uniform’. It is expected of me as a band-member (a group I personally choose to be a part of) but I have yet to see a soldier asked to leave because they were not wearing uniform. On simple fact, which may shock many, is that I have never in my life sought as the end goal to make more Salvationists. My end goal is to bring more people into a growing relationship with Christ, if the uniform is an aid to that (as I believe it is) then so be it. I love your reference back to Scripture as that is where all this discussion should be rooted. I believe Matthew 23 is perfectly summed up in verse 3, “For do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” All of Jesus’ reproaches to the Pharisees had to do with the condition of their hearts. The seats, the titles, the robes all served to make them feel self-important…the very thing I wrote against in the second to last paragraph.
      I agree completely with your point #2. God did not make man to judge as He is the only proper authority. To my point, we push many people into the uniform too quickly skewing the message of the uniform from an arrow pointing elsewhere into a beacon. For the record, I do not see the uniform as our baptism substitute. To argue on that point would be even shakier ground as it may lead some to believe we must complete some act other than repentance. My comment was a subtle reproach to the judgment steeped on those who may seem ‘less than squeaky clean’. In my experience, we are all different shades of sinner.
      Your point 3 goes to my mention of message again. Putting on a uniform does not make you saved any more than jumping in the ocean makes you a fish. However, Jesus did spend years with His disciples teaching them lessons multiple times over so they would get it. He had to preform first-hand miracles just so it could sink in for some of them. Much like Paul did with the early church and whole cities who would stumble. My point here is: we must not rush doctrine. When we do we end up with a massive Biblically illiterate culture like many would say we are suffering through now.
      The focus of the classes should always remain doctrine. TSA doctrine is basically a fleshing out of the apostles creed. Why we believe what we believe and any mature Christian needs to be able to communicate that. The next focus, in my opinion, should be how to deal with real-life situations with a Biblical narrative. Just like your suggestion of theology & Biblical knowledge. After you can see life through a Scriptural lense then group history can be brought in as an example for future ministry. “look what they did…here’s what you can do” type of thing.
      I’m disheartened to hear your closing because it leads me to feel guilty on not sharing those examples which might be more substantative. Examples like the man on the street who walked through a whole crowd and only stopped when he got to me to ask for food. The example of when I wore my uniform to give a speech in high school which led to an entire discussion of what I believe with people I didn’t usually talk to. Both stories paint 2 stories: I was not an active evangelist at a young age as I should have been but through my insecurities, those conversations happened because of a simple set of clothes. For the most part, I believe you and I are talking two sides of the same coin with the end goal of having Christians ready and willing to share their faith.
      I disagree with your point and the end however. Wearing your uniform to high school, with personal image being paramount, can be a very courageous thing. Much more so than walking up to someone in an airport bar that includes a stranger, in a public place, whom you might never see again. Contrary to your point, I do not believe the uniform leads people to Christ…The conversation that is created by it can lead people to Christ. As a Christian, ‘I will be all things to all men’ and if that means learning to use this tool as a way to reach people for Christ…then so be it.

      • Ah – now we’re getting to the roots of the issue here, Jesse. But first off, here’s the biggest issue I have…

        Who coded this blog where there are no paragraph breaks in the comment section? Just kidding…but I digress…

        I hope my initial blog didn’t come off as me destroying your points. If it did, I apologize. It was not my intent. So let’s start off with some agreements.

        [1] Perhaps on rare occasions was anyone ever told to leave the church because they didn’t play by the Army rules. Also, I agree that nowhere in the AOW does it require a soldier to wear the uniform. However, you and I will probably both agree that there are many in TSA congregations across the territory that will be the first to be agitated when a junior soldier, corps cadet or soldier comes to church wearing anything but a uniform. God help those poor souls if they come to church in jeans and a nice t-shirt, amiright? Which is why I bring up my reference to Matthew and the religious leaders and elders placing burdens on those who have simply come to worship. THERE lies the problem.

        [2] Uniforms do not lead people to Christ. Yes, it is a conversation starter. My point simply was that the uniform is an unnecessary tool of outreach – although if the gospel is being shared, who am I to say that it’s wrong – which I’m not saying here.

        A few more clarifications, musings and then I’ll end this.

        I do disagree that soldiership classes remain doctrine over theology/biblical knowledge. Mainly because we as a church are asking those who sign them to bind themselves to laws of man and not laws of God – which is unbiblical. Of course, I’m referring to the line about abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, drugs, gambling, porn and the occult. I understand that it’s intent is to keep soldiers from being a “stumbling block” for others, and a few of these things are sins (pornography is adultery, and the occult is anti-christ), however the other things are laws of man.
        – Is it a sin if I enjoy a beer at a sporting event, or a glass of wine with my spouse on a romantic date? Certainly not.
        – Is it a sin if I smoke a cigar once or twice a year with friends or in celebration of a life achievement such as a new job or child? Certainly not.
        – Is it a sin to buy a lottery ticket, or perhaps even play a game of poker with “the guys” on occasion? Certainly not.
        And sure, I get that “everything is permissible for me – but not everything is beneficial” is often the argument used for all of these, but I think we are misguiding ourselves when are binding others to make covenants with God about things that he never commanded us to do. The bible even warns against this! Living a lifestyle that is beyond reproach does not mean that we must bind ourselves to the rules of a religion. That’s where I’m coming from with the biblical knowledge and theology argument. I know, I’m in the deep end of the pool on this subject – but I’ve never heard one great argument for why we would create our own rules and regulations. Which brings me back to the “unforgivable sin/revoking the uniform” point. If I, as a uniformed soldier, walked into The Vortex in Atlanta and ordered a cheeseburger and a couple of beers – would the response of my corps officer and church elders not be to revoke my uniform and be thrown into a pit of shame and guilt for something that is not biblically a sin? The only grounds that they would have to stand on is doctrine and the articles of war – not on the words and actions of jesus.

        But praise God for you, Jesse. The Army needs more men like you who can hold a level headed discussion of beliefs and practices. It has always been disheartening to me that so much strife and emphasis has come from the uniform, lack of water baptism, lack of communion (really any of the traditional sacraments), etc. – when all we should be doing is preaching Jesus and the gospel. This type of conversation is the healthy, internal communication that needs to be done more often so that when newcomers attend, they don’t see a “members only” club – but they see a healthy body of believers who are open to dialogue and active conversation. I pray that those who have read this are not angered or enraged by our discussion, but are moved to dive deeper into their own personal beliefs, lifestyles and practices and that they are drawn closer to Jesus as they examine themselves and the life Christ has called us to.

        Let’s make a pact to cut out the cliques and clubs. Except Home League. We’d be crucified if we cut out Home League.

        • Listen! If I knew how to code, I would. Writer level: novice. Hehe On the serious level though, No it isn’t a sin to drink on that date or smoke with the guys or even play a game of poker. All that is a discussion for another topic..so thank you for the inspiration. I’ll blog on that later on. I’m all for ousting cliques but can we add an amnesty clause to the Men’s Club as well? Thank you for your thoughts Anon, hope to spaerk your interest in a future blog. God bless!

  2. Anonymous and Jesse..thank you for sharing your side. Both of you have made intelligent, God-led points. It’s great to see the passion you both have for God, then Army.

    I, being a soldier, probably as long you have been around this good earth, do not wear a uniform. I have, but honestly, don’t care to anymore.

    My reasons would be more personal dislike, which is so different than when I was younger. I use to love it, especially the hat. But sadly, that has all changed with age and seeing more into the army.

    I see gluttonous officers in them. I see how much they cost. Who can afford that? I see people being strict on the rules of wearing them, not a bobby pin visible. Then I see those with hair down, tunics unbuttoned, lack of care on appearance. I see looks of disappointment when I speak without one on. I see one congregations full of them, another where only the officers and two other are wearing them. I see a woman’s uniform that needs to be updated, so badly. It’s to the point where I’m no longer comfortable in it.

    I wish I still had that wide-eyed love and wonder for them. I pray to have it again.

    • Thank you Emanon. I am very appreciative of how everyone who comments may have a differing opinion but keep the conversation civil on a topic that at times has served to be quite devisive. I agree with you on how much they cost. However, it does cost something to make them and if you are in need and the Corps can help, many locations are willing to help out some. My main point of contention is that your view is the very thing we need to try and change about the uniform’s perception. If the uniform becomes something we are proud of instead of an evangelistic aid, then it has lost its effective purpose. It then becomes an idol and supports Anonymous’ earlier claims that it becomes the end and not a supportive means. As much as I support it, we were not called to wear a uniform…we were called to save suffering humanity by bringing them into an ever-increasing relationship with Jesus Christ.
      The other thing I might caution against is leaning your actions and choices on others. If I watch the news tonight and see someone convicted of a heinous crime wearing a Braves jersey, should I give up ever wearing my jersey? The simple answer is no for a few reasons; 1)clothes do not dictate behavior (normally the inverse is true), 2)the actions of one wearing it have no bearing on the message of it, 3)it’s not ours to judge how someone else wears what is theirs.
      Thank you for your soldiership as the Army has been built upon active soldier shoulders but let our prayer be that we have the wide-eyed love and wonder for the one that is the meaning behind all we do. Not an article of clothing. To do anything different would be like a drunk man trying to get home in the dark…stumbling in every direction except the one he’s supposed to go down.


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