Why it is still there is anyone’s guess. But now, in the year 2022, in scanning through one of the upper shelves of my library, there, in between some paperbacks that I haven’t touched for, well, decades, is a small, soiled-white paperbound volume with the spine reading: PAM 21-13 THE SOLDIER’S BCT HANDBOOK 1968. I had completely forgotten that it was there.
It was issued to me in early September 1969, when I was initiated, so to speak, into Class 6-B for basic training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. It is an elementary handbook on the ways of the military. It includes sections on drill training, inspections, guard duty, marching and bivouacking, land navigation, ranks and grades, code of conduct, and chain of command.
Thumbing through the pages of this 236-page booklet, with its outlines and diagrams, its drawings and instructions, elicits varying memories. The chain of command written in my own hand in the notes toward the end of the book begins with “Commander in Chief—Richard Nixon” and proceeds through 12 other levels of command—by name.
There are so many possible avenues of comment that may come out of this lookback through these pages. One of them is the root of an expression that was introduced to us draftees early in the process of making soldiers of us. To this time, more than 50 years later, I sometimes wonder half aloud as I get up in a morning and go to the dresser drawer, “Well, what’s the uniform of the day?”
In point of fact, “uniform of the day” doesn’t appear as an expression in The Soldier’s BCT Handbook. But it is one detail of everyday life in the military—Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. It is defined as “the designated uniform all military personnel are required to wear on that particular day.” Instruction as to the assigned uniform for a given day is announced at Reveille on U.S. Navy ships. In the Army, it commands the wearing of fatigues or dress uniforms.
It may seem surprising at first that, in the frequent military figurative language used in Scripture to describe the spiritual life, there isn’t mention of something like a uniform of the day. Drawing on the ubiquitous presence of Roman soldiery in the culture of his time, the apostle Paul likens the spiritual qualities of the Christian life to “the full armor of God” (Eph. 6:11, NIV). This uniform of the day, then, should include “the belt of truth buckled around your waist, . . . the breastplate of righteousness in place, and . . . feet fitted with the readiness,” as well as “the shield of faith,” “the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (verses 14-17, NIV). Actually, these elements should comprise the Christian’s uniform for life. And they are the uniform of battle.
Most of these would be considered defensive: belt, breastplate, shield, helmet. But the uniform also is to include a sword—for both protection and attack.
Elsewhere Paul refers to a fellow Christian as a “fellow soldier” (Phil. 2:26; Philemon 1:2, NKJV). And he admonishes Timothy to endure hardship “like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer” (2 Tim. 2:3, 4, NIV).
But these metaphors refer to only one aspect of the Christian life. When it comes to figurative language for salvation, there is another uniform of the day.
From scriptural bases such as these, the Christian tradition through the centuries has often produced poetry and song with a military air. Our own Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal includes rousing anthems like “Watchman, Blow the Gospel Trumpet,” “Soldiers of Christ, Arise,” “Sound the Battle Cry,” “Am I a Soldier of the Cross?” “Fight the Good Fight,” and “Onward, Christian Soldiers!”
More recently it may seem as though the tastes in music have moved away somewhat from such martial music in worship services. But the lyrics remain in mind at times that remind us of a spirit that may still have some meaning for one who feels the call to live a life for Christ.
And it pays to remember also that the uniform of the day for one’s salvation will transcend the categories of fatigues or dress. In writing of his hope in the Second Coming, Edward Mote penned:
“When he shall come with trumpet sound,
O may I then in Him be found,
Clad in his righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.”
There is no mixing of metaphors here. When it comes to salvation, the idea of military or any other trappings will be lain aside and replaced with the gift of a simple yet supreme robe of righteousness. “I delight greatly in the Lord,” writes the prophet Isaiah, “my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness” (Isa. 61:10, NIV). He adds later, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6, NIV).
Jesus Himself illustrated this symbol of God’s grace in His parable of the wedding feast. Among all those who had been gathered to celebrate, “the bad as well as the good” (Matt. 22:10, NIV), one of the guests was dressed improperly and was ejected.
And here occurs yet another possible application from the world of the military. When one enters the military, he or she receives the unvarying clothing that must be worn at all times in service. In the time in which I served, it was known as “GI issue,” that is the required attire. It is not earned or bought in any way. It is issued as the standard uniform.
Somewhat similarly Ellen G. White writes, “We cannot provide a robe of righteousness for ourselves. . . . There is nothing in us from which we can clothe the soul so that its nakedness shall not appear. We are to receive the robe of righteousness woven in the loom of heaven, even the spotless robe of Christ’s righteousness.”
In Martin Luther’s commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, he writes, “I must listen to the gospel. It tells me, not what I must do, but what Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has done for me.”
When Jesus returns for that final ceremonial inspection, there will be only one uniform of the day—His very own robe of righteousness. And it will be the gift of eternity.
Gary B. Swanson retired as associate director of the General Conference Sabbath School and Personal Ministries department. He has contributed to Adventist Review for more than 20 years.