January 22, 2008

The ABC Look
by Pastor George Van Alstine

The church received a catalogue this week from a company that describes itself as “Business Outfitters.â€? They sell uniforms to various industries, and since the church is an incorporated “business,â€? we found our way onto their mailing list.

This company doesn’t focus on types of uniforms we’re used to seeing, for nurses, policemen, plumbers and nuns. Their appeal is office-type businesses, where uniforms have not been traditionally worn. The idea is that a consistent dress style will project a better image to potential customers and will also improve the sense of teamwork and loyalty among the staff.

The clothing items attractively displayed in the catalogue don’t have the look of a traditional uniform. They include blazers, ties, sweaters, skirts, scarves, even jewelry. Many of them really look good enough to wear to church or on a date. So I took the catalogue in to Connie and Alice to begin planning for ABC’s “look,â€? the styles and colors that would tell the ABC story.

Just kidding. Churches have been experiencing a constant move away from uniformity for two or three generations. Most people no longer have special “church clothesâ€? reserved for Sunday use. Many Sundays I see maybe two ties on men, besides the one I’m wearing.

In previous generations women wouldn’t think of going to church without a hat, but today only a few make a bold hat statement. Some women still wear high heels, but flip-flops wouldn’t scandalize anyone.

There used to be a uniform code of Christian behavior as well. Mostly it had to do with things that true Christians would never do. When I was a teen, we summarized a common behavior standard in our church as

“I don’t smoke and I don’t chew,
and I don’t go with girls who do.â€?

Playing cards, dancing and movie theaters were on the taboo list. The lists in other Christian sub-cultures varied a bit from mine. But there was a common assumption that you could always tell a Christian by the things he did and didn’t do.

It’s much more difficult today. There doesn’t seem to be any consistent way of identifying a Christian by his behavior. And this is a really good thing, because now you have to look deeper for the true Christian uniform.

Yes, there is a Christian uniform. Paul wrote about it in Colossians 3:9-12, 14
“You have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourself with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator …”
Constantly “being renewed in knowledge,â€? rather than crystallizing into a timeless behavior pattern.
“In that renewal, there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free …â€?
Traditional ways of identifying people by their external appearance are no longer valid.
“Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Above all, clothe yourselves with love which binds everything together in perfect harmony.â€?

This Christian uniform is much different from a sweater or a blazer. While the clothing advertised in my catalogue tries to effect an inner transformation by a change on the surface, the true Christian uniform begins with a changed heart and emanates outward to change our entire lives, and the lives of those around us as well.