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SHOULD CHRISTIAN WOMEN WEAR HEAD COVERINGS TODAY?

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In the past I’ve posted an article by Zac Poonen that discussed the biblical topic of head coverings.  I was discussing the subject again, both in our fellowship, and with other brethren.  In doing so, I came across this article, that I believe, gives the most bibilically sound explanation for why this practice is not “cultural”, and why it’s still a practice for the church today.  This article is a VERY good read.  I would be interested to hear what you think about this subject and the article if you read it.

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SHOULD CHRIST IAN WOMEN WEAR HEAD
COVERINGS TODAY?


A Brief Examination of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16


Should Christian women wear head coverings? There is only one way to
answer this question: examine what the Bible says about the subject.


1 Corinthians 11:1-16 (KJV)
Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you, 2brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you. But I would have you know, that the head of every man 3 is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head 5 uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be 6 a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. For a man 7  indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the 8 woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the 9 woman; but the woman for the man. For this cause ought the woman to 1 0 have power on her head because of the angels. Nevertheless neither is the 1 1 man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.  For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but 2 all things of God. Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto 1 3 God uncovered? Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have 1 4 long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a 1 5 glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering. But if any man seem 1 6 to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.

What did 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 command its original readers to do?

It instructed women to place a piece of cloth or fabric (a.k.a. head covering or veil) upon their heads when praying or prophesying. The size, shape, and color of the head covering is not specified. It is designed to cover the head (vv. 5, 6, 10) and has a function similar to that of hair (vv. 14-15).

This passage also instructed men to pray with their heads uncovered. Men should not pray or prophesy with hats, prayer shawls, skull caps, or other head coverings on their heads. The code of good manners in North America still reflects this tradition, which is why men remove their hats for prayer at sporting events, graduation ceremonies, etc.

When should women cover their heads and men not cover their heads?  

Paul instructs women to wear head coverings whenever they pray or prophesy (v. 5). Similarly, men are instructed to keep their heads uncovered when praying or prophesying (v. 4). At a minimum, this means women should have their heads covered (and men should have their heads uncovered) when the Body of Christ is gathered corporately for prayer, edification, and/or worship.

However, women pray throughout the day and in many locations.  Women often speak God’s Word to children and friends outside of church settings. Thus 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 does not describe a situation that occurs only in public church meetings. For these reasons, some maintain that women should wear head coverings always and not only in church meetings. This is a reasonable and defensible position. Both Old Testament Hebrew women and Christian women throughout church history wore head coverings all the time and not at worship services only.

Other Christians point to the second half of 1 Corinthians 11 (which deals with the Lord’s Supper) and argue that the context for both instructions seems to be formal public gatherings of the Body of Christ. Accordingly, these Christians conclude that the instructions in 1 Corinthians 1:1-16 are applicable only in public meetings of the church. This also seems to be a reasonable and defensible position, although this second position (in my assessment) is weaker than the first.

We conclude that the Bible clearly commands that women’s heads be covered in public church meetings, while it is less clear (but probable) that women should wear head coverings all the time.

But isn’t a woman’s hair given to her to serve as a head covering (v. 15)?  Does not a woman’s long hair qualify as a head covering?

No. Much of the argument here is superfluous and even irrelevant if all the apostle meant to teach was that women should have long hair.

The Bible is referring to a piece of cloth or fabric when it com-mands women to wear head coverings (and commands men not to do so). Beginning in the late nineteenth century, some argued (based on verse 15b) that Paul is instructing women to have long hair and that the so-called head covering is nothing more than long hair. If this “long hair equals head covering”  interpretation is true, then we should be able to substitute the phrase long  hair for the word covering in this passage (and short hair for no covering) and retain the passage’s meaning. However, this substitution of phrases (and thus this interpretation) does not make sense. For example, if covering means long hair, then verse 6 would be arguing that those women with short hair should cut their hair short— which is a logical absurdity. Likewise, verse 5 ould then mean that a woman with short hair is one and the same with women who have no hair— again, a logical absurdity.

This is why the Greek word used in verse 15 for the covering of a woman’s hair (peribolaion) is different from the Greek word used in verses 6 and 7 for the covering of cloth (katakalupto, which is derived from kalumma, a word that means “a covering, a hood, or veil”). The two Greek words are not interchangeable.

When Paul says in verse 15b that a woman’s long hair is given her as a covering, he is not defining the nature of the covering. By the time he reaches verse 15, the inspired apostle has already presented his argument at length. His readers know what he is talking about, viz. a piece of cloth called a head covering or veil. He is now bringing to bear additional considerations for his listeners to weigh. One such consideration is how our innate sensibilities tell us that women’s heads ought to appear different than men’s heads. Our own natural sensibilities, says Paul, tell us that women’s heads should be more covered than men’s. This is what Paul means by his reference to hair in verse 15b.

It is only in the past century that some commentators have attempted to make this “hair equals head covering” argument. Whether we look at Hebrew women in the Old Testament or Christian women through the ages (and in a variety of different cultures), God’s people have always understood that the head covering is a piece of cloth or clothing worn upon the head and not merely a woman’s long hair.

Is this command applicable today? Is headcovering a cultural commandment and an instruction given only to the Corinthians (due to their articular cultural conditions) and therefore not applicable today? Or is the wearing of head coverings a transcultural commandment given to all of God’s people at all times and in all places?  

Perhaps the most commonly heard explanation of this passage today is that it is merely a cultural commandment. (Cultural means applicable only in a specific culture and a specific time period.) According to this view, these instructions do not apply to Christians today. This view of the passage understands it as a culturally-specific response to a prostitution problem in 60 A.D. Corinth; female prostitutes there were easily identified by their uncovered heads. Unlike virtuous Corinthian women (the explanation goes), prostitutes did not wear head coverings. Paul therefore tells the Christian women at Corinth to wear head coverings because it is scandalous to look like prostitutes. The head covering (according to this view) served to distinguish Christian women in Corinth from ungodly prostitutes.

Understanding 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 in this manner results in regardingthe head covering as a culturally-specific commandment (i.e., a commandment that applies only to a specific culture due to local factors). If head overings were prescribed as a specific response to a specific Corinthian cultural problem (i.e., bare-headed female Corinthian prostitutes and the equation of bare heads with prostitution), then head coverings need not be worn in North America in the twenty-first century. Women who do not wear head coverings in America today are not necessarily thought to be prostitutes; therefore (as this line of thinking goes), our different cultural situation makes this cultural commandment unnecessary and non-applicable today.

We do not doubt that ancient Corinth had a prostitution problem. Nor do we disagree with the logic that says that Christian women ought not to look like prostitutes! However, this understanding of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 rests upon a weak exegesis of the text.
There is no indication in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 that this instruction is given because of the bare-headed prostitute problem. There is no suggestion in Paul’s words that cultural factors in Corinth motivated his instructions. Nor is there any indication that this commandment is only for the Corinthian people in their specific cultural setting.

On the contrary—and this is extremely critical—the Bible provides  transcultural rationales for the practice of head covering. (Transcultural means applicable in all cultures and in all time periods.) Transcultural rationales indicate that women’s head coverings is a transcultural commandment, or a commandment based upon permanent and universal theological principle and not temporary local customs or conditions. In 1 Corinthians 11, the inspired apostle does not merely tell the church at Corinth how to behave; he goes further and gives five reasons why women should cover their heads. Each of the five reasons refers to timeless spiritual realities (i.e., transcultural realities) and not local Corinthian cultural practices.It is critical that we appreciate the importance of this aspect of the 1 Corinthians 11 passage. By providing eternal and transcultural rationales for head coverings, the Bible makes it clear that wearing head coverings is applicable to all Christians at all times.

What five reasons does the Bible give for wearing head coverings?

First, the apostle refers to the created order that God established at the beginning of the world. In 1 Corinthians 11:7-9, Paul says women should wear head coverings because they were created subordinate to men. This references Genesis 2 and the creation of Adam and Eve. When the Bible grounds a command/practice in God’s creation ordinances (i.e., God’s principles that He articulated at creation and recorded in the early chapters of Genesis), we know the command/practice is applicable to all cultures and all peoples. Reference to the created order indicates a timeless principle. The head covering is an outward sign that testifies to God’s created order.

Second, Paul refers to the angels. All admit that 1 Corinthians 11:10 (“because of the angels”) is a difficult verse. However, the important thing for our consideration is clear: angels are not cultural phenomena particular to Corinth. Angels are spiritual and transcultural. Women should wear head coverings “because of the angels,” and angels are as real in Atlanta or Paris or Montreal today as they were in Corinth in 60 A.D.

Third, the inspired apostle appeals to nature or the natural order of creation. 1 Corinthians 11:13-15 says that the natural order of human existence confirms that women should cover their heads. The main point in these verses is not that a woman’s hair serves as her head covering, but rather that humans know intuitively that women’s heads are to be covered in a way that men’s heads are not. In making this argument, is the apostle appealing to specific cultural conditions in Corinth, or is he appealing to timeless values that are rooted within the very fabric of humanity? He is doing the latter, which again attests to the transcultural character of this command.

Fourth, the apostle concludes his instructions by informing the Corinthian church that all the churches have their women wear head coverings. Note that in verse 16, the word churches is plural. The church at Corinth is instructed to adopt a practice that is uniform throughout the Christian churches at this time. Churches in a variety of locations and in a variety of ethnic and cultural settings all practiced the wearing of head coverings. A contentious man (writes Paul) may reject the church’s universal practice and attempt to establish a new custom (that is, the practice of women not wearing head coverings); however, no churches have a “no head covering custom.”

Fifth, the head covering is an external symbol of a truth taught throughout the Bible: the headship of a husband over his wife, and the wife’s corresponding duty to honor her husband’s leadership. (The head covering is not a symbol of female moral purity, which is an assumption often made in the Corinthian prostitute argument.) Just as God is the head of Christ and Christ is the head of man, so the man is the head of the woman (v. 3). This principle—that the husband must take primary responsibility for Christlike leadership, protection, and provision of his wife—is applicable in all ages, in all places, and in all cultures. The principle that is being signified is applicable today, so the external sign of that principle (i.e., the head covering) is applicable today as well.

When considering these five rationales, the important point is not whetherwe like the apostle’s reasons, or whether we find his reasons compelling, or even whether we fully understand his reasons. The important point is that the Bible gives transcultural, eternal, and spiritual reasons to justify the wearing of head coverings. The Bible does not justify head coverings in terms of local customs; it justifies them in terms of theological principles.

If Paul had cited culturally-specific reasons for wearing head coverings (e.g., do this so you won’t look like prostitutes, do this because it is what the Jews expect, do this because the Greeks expect religious women to cover their heads), then we would conclude that the head covering practice was culturally-specific and does not apply to Christians today. If Paul had provided no rationale for the practice (i.e., if Paul had simply commanded the wearing of head coverings without explaining why they should be worn), then we would have to do our best to construct Paul’s probable rationale. Lacking clear biblical data, our conclusions would be tenuous and speculative. But neither of these situations exist here. The Bible does not merely provide an explanation— it provides five of them. All five reasons are transcultural. Thus we may conclude (with a high degree of confidence) that wearing head coverings is a transcultural command that applies to all peoples, all cultures, all places, and all ages.

Is this a minor and non-essential item that really isn’t important?  Godly women are taught to wear head coverings not only in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 but implicitly throughout the Old Testament. All Hebrew women wore veils. (In passages like Isaiah 47:1-3 where God pronounces judgment, He likens a wicked nation to a woman and speaks of “removing the veil” as an act of judgment and humiliation. Such language would make no sense unless the women in Isaiah’s audience wore head coverings routinely.) Paul is reaffirming in 1 Corinthians 11 something that God’s people have always done. This is why the apostle begins this discussion by referring to “the ordinances” or “the traditions” to which we should “keep” or “hold firmly” (v. 2). Indeed, both verses 2 and 16 in 1 Corinthians 11 imply that all the early Christian churches practiced head covering. Paul was bringing the Corinthian church in line with universal church practice.

It is noteworthy that the inspired apostle devotes fifteen verses—a sizeable piece of Scripture—to head coverings. Many important Scriptural issues (e.g., baptism, the Trinity, the eternal destiny of babies who die in infancy) do not receive this kind of sustained and intentional treatment. We often piece together a verse here and a verse there to arrive at positions or practices that we regard as important. However, we do not need to do that with head coverings. A sovereign God ordained that the subject receive an extended discussion, a discussion that includes the behavior prescribed and five reasons for that behavior.

Is the wearing of head coverings important? This subject is discussed in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16; notice that the very next passage (1 Corinthians 11:17-34) deals with the Lord’s Supper. Does anyone argue that 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 is unimportant? Does anyone maintain that 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 expresses a “cultural ommandment” that was relevant only to the Corinthian church and is not applicable today? Whatreasonable hermeneutic principle allows us to dismiss 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 as unimportant and somewhat eccentric, and yet enables us to exalt 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 as one of the most important and ever-relevant portions of the Bible? Should we not exegete the second half of 1 Corinthians 11 like we do the first half?

We need to reconsider the belief thatsomething declared in God’s Word can be minimized as unimportant, non-essential, or minor. All agree that the wearing of head coverings is not necessary for salvation, and all agree that women’s head coverings are not on the list of the first five things we teach new believers. But if God has said something—indeed, if God goes so far as to devote half of a chapter in the Bible to the matter—do we dare undermine Jehovah’s own words by calling the matter unimportant? How can we dismiss God’s own words by declaring them non-essential?

What has the church historically believed regarding head coverings?

Virtually all Christians practiced head covering until the late 1800s.  Tertullian (160-220), the Apostolic Constitutions (325), Chrysostom (347-407), and Augustine (354-430) confirm that Paul’s teachings regarding head coverings prevailed throughout the early church. Women during the Middle Ages, Reformation-era women, Puritan women, Revolutionary War-era women in America, and nineteenth-century women all wore head coverings.  As late as the mid-1800s, American theologian Robert Lewis Dabney wrote, “[F]or a woman to appear or to perform any public religious function in a Christian assembly unveiled is a glaring impropriety.”

Only in the last 130 years has the Western European and American church abandoned this practice. Veiling still continues in many Eastern European countries. Up until the late 1950s, most Roman Catholic churches (even in North America) requested that women wear head coverings (in the form of small top-of-the-head veils) during worship services.

In North America, women in the late 1800s replaced the simple cloth head covering (or bonnet) with a hat. In time, the woman’s hat became a fashion accessory rather than a religious statement. Even as the religious
rationale for head covering waslost, however, women’s hats were normative in North America until the 1950s. Regardless of Christian denomination, most women attended public worship services wearing some kind of hat.

Do any prominent Christians teach that Christian women should wear head coverings today?

R. C. Sproul, Sr. teaches that headcovering is applicable today. He has expressed this in both his audio tape ministry (Ligonier Ministries, Tape #675, “Hard Sayings of the Apostles,” Side B: “To Cover or Not to Cover?”) and his Coram Deo daily devotional magazine. In June 1996, Coram Deo exegeted 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 as part of its systematic Bible teaching for devotional purposes. Here are quotations from Sproul in Coram Deo.

Head Coverings Are Required for Women: “One’s dress reflects the principles that one lives by . . . . even our exterior must conform to the order that God has established, especially in matters pertaining to public worship.  The apostle makes the point that the veil [a.k.a. head covering], as a symbol of authority, is inconsistent with the position of the man, but it is required for women, who are subordinate to men.” (18 June 1996)

The Woman’s Hair Does Not Qualify As the Head Covering: “It is obvious from this comparison between men having their heads uncovered and women having their heads covered, that the covering is not hair. For if the covering in this context were hair, verse 6 would make no sense in the context of this passage.” (18 June 1996; cf. 19 June 1996)

TheHead Covering Command Is Binding Upon All Cultures: “Nowhere does [Paul] give cultural reasons for his teaching, i.e., abusive practices of a pagan society that placed prostitutes with shorn heads in the temples. Paul points us back to God’s established order in nature. Whenever a teaching in Scripture refers to ‘creation ordinances,’ that teaching is binding for all cultures in all ages.” (20 June 1996)

The Head Covering Is God’s Command: “While [Charles] Hodge says that women should conform to the ‘rules of decorum,’ it must be maintained that these rules, regarding the worship of God, are established by God Himself not by the whims of culture. It is proper for a woman to have a symbol of authority upon her head; what that symbol consists of does not matter, but the necessity of the symbol remains fixed even as the authority of man remains fixed. . . . As in all things regarding worship, we must strive to be conformed to God’s regulations in all things, no matter how seemingly insignificant.” (21 June 1996)

What should I do if I am unsure of the Bible’s teaching regarding head coverings? What if I am partially but not wholly persuaded?

These words from R. C. Sproul, Sr. are helpful: “What if, after careful consideration of a Biblical mandate, we remain uncertain as to its character as principle or custom? If we must decide to treat it one way or the other but have no conclusive means to make the decision, what can we do? Here the biblical principle of humility can be helpful. The issue is simple. Would it be better to treat a possible custom as a principle and be guilty of being over scrupulous in our design to obey God? Or would it be better to treat a possible principle as a custom and be guilty of being unscrupulous in demoting a transcendent requirement of God to the level of a mere human convention? I hope the answer is obvious.” (Knowing Scripture, pp. 11-12)

Addenda

A. Hermeneutics and Interpreting Biblical Instructions
When we consider any teaching text in the Bible, we interpret it with one of two initial presuppositions (or assumptions).

Presupposition A: We assume the passage under consideration does not apply to Christians today and was binding only upon its original listeners.  We place the burden of proof upon the position that claims this instruction is binding upon us (or is applicable) today. In other words, we assume the rationale for the instruction is cultural in nature or is dictated by peculiar cultural factors, which means it is binding only upon its original listeners.  When we approach a commandment or instruction with this presupposition, we must be convinced by strong evidence before we decide this instruction is binding upon (or is applicable to) Christians today.

Presupposition B: We assume the passage under consideration does apply to Christians today and was binding upon both its original listeners and all future listeners. We place the burden of proof upon the position that claims this instruction is not binding upon us (or is not applicable) today. In other words, we assume the rationale for the instruction is transcultural in nature or is dictated by timeless and eternal principles, which means it is binding upon all men everywhere. When we approach a commandment or instruction with this presupposition, we must be convinced by strong evidence before we decide this instruction is not binding upon Christians today.

Presupposition B is more sound. This is the assumption we normally use when we interpret the Bible. For example, pastors do not begin sermons on “children obey your parents in the Lord” by proving that such instruction is applicable to Christians today. We all assume (correctly) that such teaching passages are applicable unless we have strong biblical reasons for believing otherwise.

Regarding 1 Corinthians 11:1-16, this means that we must see solid evidence that we are not supposed to do this today before we reject the instruction. The burden of proof rests upon the man who says we do not have to obey this biblical command.

Unfortunately, we don’t treat the issue of head coverings in this manner.  We place the burden of proof upon those people who maintain that we should obey the Bible’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16. We would never do this with other instructions in the Word of God. Why the double standard? Perhaps because obeying this particular instruction might mark one as peculiar. Our strong desire to fit in with our prevailing culture may well influence how we interpret the Bible. Surely this is a danger that we must guard against.

B. What about Paul’s command to “greet one another with a brotherly kiss”? If we conclude that the woman’s head covering is a transcultural commandment, then is the brotherly kiss a transcultural command as well? Is this command to greet brothers with a kiss a command that is binding upon us today?

In several instances, inspired apostles instruct Christians to greet one another with a kiss (Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:26, 1 Peter 5:14). It is interesting to note that the Bible handles this subject very differently from the command for women to wear head coverings.

1. Paul gives explicitly theological reasonsfor wearing head coverings. However, the Bible gives no reasons whatsoever (theological or otherwise) for greeting with a brotherly kiss.

2. The Bible never explains to us what the brotherly kiss symbolizes or accomplishes. We are told quite clearly, however, that the head covering symbolizes a timeless and transcultural spiritual reality, namely woman’s submission to man.

3. Paul discusses head coverings in the middle of a lengthy letter to the church at Corinth and in the midst of a clearly didactic section of this epistle.  He is correcting disorders in the Corinthian church and teaching preemptively so that other disorders will not appear. Part of his remedy for Corinthian problems are substantive issues like head coverings, the Lord’s Supper, a proper understanding of spiritual gifts, and agape love. On the other hand, the brotherly kiss phrases only occur at the very end of several epistles in what are clearly the concluding “farewell” portions of those letters. It is only when biblical writers conclude their didactic teaching and write personal farewells that we encounter the brotherly kiss.

4. The brotherly kiss was not universally practiced in the nation of Israel. Israelites and Jews did not greet one another with a kiss for theological reasons. When apostles mention the brotherly kiss in the New Testament, they are not continuing and reinforcing a long-established Biblical practice. The opposite is true of head coverings: Israelite and Jewish women always wore head coverings.

5. Head coverings have been worn by Christian women for the past two thousand years in various places and in different denominations. However, the brotherly kiss has not been practiced throughout church history.  Notice that the Word of God addresses the head covering issue quite differently. We can make a sound case that the brotherly kiss was never intended as (and thus does not appear in Scripture as) a transcultural command.  Scripture itself gives no rationale for the practice, and the concept is not communicated in the teaching (or didactic) portions of the New Testament epistles. Church history suggests that the church did not deem the practice to be applicable in all generations. But unlike the brotherly kiss, Paul goes to great lengths to establish a theological and transcultural rationale for wearing head coverings. The instruction is located in the didactic sections of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. In addition, the Christian church has always enjoined the wearing of head coverings (at least until recently).

The brotherly kiss is a good example of how a cultural practice appears in Scripture but is not mandated by Scripture. The woman’s head covering is a good example of how a transcultural practice appears in Scripture and is mandated by Scripture.

***This article can be found here:   http://www.monergism.com/Spinney,%20Robert%20-%20Should%20Christian%20Women%20Wear%20Head%20Coverings%20Today.pdf

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Written by Sean Scott

February 6, 2012 at 4:25 am

Posted in Uncategorized

22 Responses

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  1. That’s pretty thorough, good job, whoever wrote it.

    The first step for a woman would be to acknowledge that her long hair is given her as a covering. If she can understand and acknowledge that, then she’s “nearly there: – as she acknowledges the concept of covering, and the need for it, so it shouldn’t much harder for her to then accept a veil or hat as a covering.

    If she can’t acknowledge the hair, no chance of acknowledging a hat or veil.

    As Paul says, if they can’t acknowledge what they know intuitively by “nature”, then no chance of acknowledging the direct commands of God.

    In these days men seem to understand this concept of covering better than the majority of women, by the fact that many men can easily understand that they should remove their hat when praying. And also, such men usually don’t feel that it’s unfair that they should remove their hat – they don’t feel it is an infringement on their freedom. At least i don’t.

    ian vincent

    February 7, 2012 at 12:17 am

  2. […] Article here on head coverings Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  3. Question: If it’s a matter of women having their heads always, at all times, covered by a veil, then it would mean that mens heads should always be uncovered, they could never cover their heads, never wear hats? If the same applies to both?

    ian vincent

    February 7, 2012 at 12:50 am

    • I agree with you Ian. I don’t think women are supposed to wear a covering 24/7. The guy who wrote the article seems to lean towards women always wearing them, but says at the very least it should be applied during fellowship. That’s the only part of the article I though of giving a little warning about. However, since he gave grace for both practices, I didn’t.

      Sean Scott

      February 7, 2012 at 12:57 am

  4. I agree with the general sentiment expressed in the articles—that there are differences [distinctions] between men and women concerning their roles in the church—and that the issue being dealt with is that of headship [and simple obedience]. However, I also have some small differences in how I interpret 1 Corinthians 11.

    Notice the following verses:

    And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them … and the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul … and the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; and the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.

    –Genesis 1:26-2; 2:7, 21-22

    The fact that men and women were both created at the same time in the Spirit [6th day] evidences their spiritual equality; the fact that the man was first formed, and then the woman drawn from the man [7th day], evidences that the principle of headship [the distinction of particular natural and spiritual roles within the home and congregation] is appropriate.

    Also notice, Adam [male headship] was charged with 2 primary responsibilities: to exercise dominion over the earth [as evidenced by Genesis 2:15 and the fact that he named everything—Genesis 2:19-20]; and to exercise authority, as a teacher [it was he who was given the commandment concerning the tree in the midst of the garden in Genesis 2:16-17].

    However, the principle of male headship was reinforced by Eve’s own behavior [the serpent deceived her and she ate]: this is why Paul wrote, For this cause ought the woman to have power on [her] head because of the angels (1 Corinthians 11:10).

    Head coverings are a physical reminder to a woman that her natural desire [to rule over her husband and leave her place of absolute submission—Genesis 3:16] is to be restrained: that she should carefully consider her public conduct within the assembly.

    Eve violated the natural and divine order of headship by appealing [by her actual practice] to the serpent for knowledge, rather than her own husband. This is why Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14:35, And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

    Each man is to be the head of his own home: and this appropriate private practice also has application in the congregation, as well. To believe otherwise, would be to make God psychotic [or double-minded]: for why would He command one practice in the home and another in the congregation; or follow one principle in nature and another in the Spirit?

    Paul affirmed the creation principles by saying, “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence,” (1 Timothy 2:12).

    Adam’s failure in his divine responsibilities to exercise dominion over the earth [by preventing the serpent’s attempts] and to exercise authority over his wife [to effectively warn and counsel Eve] led to man’s fall into sin and separation from God: this shows us that the consequences of neglecting the spiritual responsibilities associated with headship are extreme.

    I would note, concerning the references to hair length, that I believe the admonition is principally this—that a man is not to intentionally assume an effeminate nature [manner of dress and conduct]—and a woman is not to intentionally assume a masculine nature [manner of dress and haircut]. I say that on this basis: there is no precise definition provided concerning what would constitute “long” hair for a man (1 Corinthians 11:14). There is a definition provided for the woman: she is not to be shaven, as this constitutes a perversion of the natural order. Again, however, beyond that, there is no precise measurement or requirement concerning hair length for a woman.

    Why is this? Principally, the admonition to wear a head covering is intended as a ‘take it to heart’ matter, which is a private matter between each believer and God, and therefore, not necessarily a matter, in and of itself, appropriate for church discipline, BUT FOR INSTRUCTION IN RIGHTEOUSNESS..

    [Of course, all things must be spiritually discerned, as there is a difference between simply lacking knowledge, which is an experience common to all believers, and a knowing and willful rejection of a truth plainly taught and revealed by the power of the Holy Spirit. For example, if another spirit is at work in a woman’s life and she is openly rebelling against the Lord’s counsel concerning headship, the matter must be addressed by a presbytery of elders.]

    There are 2 types of submission noted in the Bible: submission to headship authority and mutual submission [between a husband and a wife on one hand; and among all believers one to another, on the other hand (Ephesians 4:1-3, 16, 21, 25, 32; 5:21)]. Both are EQUALLY IMPORTANT: neither principle is to be violated by the faithful.

    There is no contradiction between these two truths—that, on one hand, there is no male or female in the Spirit—and, on the other hand, God has ordained some role distinctions between men and women in both the natural and spiritual realms. We see these same principles of headship and submission to authority at work in Christ’s own life.

    As the Son of man, Jesus submitted to His Father in every thing [doing only what the Father told Him to do and say]; as the Son of God, Christ exercised His authority over man by His divine example [not as a worldly lord, but as a spiritual servant]. Today, the marital covenant best typifies the principles of headship and submission that were at work in Christ’s own life (Ephesians 5:22-31).

    And yet, Paul counsels the husband and wife to submit themselves one to another in the fear of God (Ephesians 5:21). It is only when husbands and wives WORK TOGETHER to fulfill their God-ordained roles that God is glorified: and again, this truth is extended to the corporate setting as well, even as each member of the body of Christ is to reverence the distinct gifts and callings of every other believer.

    The godly home is the primary model for the godly assembly: the truths learned and practiced in the home are most definitely to be extended to the assembly.

    However, I would contend that the admonition concerning women wearing a head covering when they pray or prophesy is intended soley for corporate practice—on the following grounds:

    1. The principles of headship and mutual submission are RELATIONAL TRUTHS that can only be applied in marital or corporate practice: the admonition does not extend to private prayer time [for it would be perverse to suggest that there is mutual submission between any believer and GOD].
    2. The principles of headship and mutual submission relate to the issue of maintaining order within a home or congregation: and yet, the wife is restrained from publicly asking questions within the assembly and ENCOURAGED TO DO SO IN HER HOME. Therefore, we see that what is appropriate in one context is inappropriate in the other and vice-versa: the fact that women are to wear head coverings when praying or prophesying in the corporate setting does not equate to a command concerning private conduct.
    3. The Holy Spirit alone moderates all issues related to private worship practice: Romans 7 speaks to this fact.

    Of course, we are to pray at all times, and I often wear a hat [especially in the summer]. In my personal practice, I pray often with a hat on: and yet, there also times when I cannot pray with my hat on [for the Holy Spirit instructs me to remove it]. It is the difference between law and grace. Under the New Covenant, we have mandated moral prohibitions and relational [apostolic] practices, not ritualistic [or legalistic] laws.

    Finally, passages like these reveal the difference between trusting in our intellect and trusting in Christ. It’s just like the tree in the midst of the Garden of Eden. Someone who trusts God, simply obeys the Lord’s prohibition to not eat of its fruit. The person who trusts his intellect rationalizes His disobedience:

    • Why that tree, Lord? How is it different than other trees?
    • What if the fruit falls off the tree: then, can I eat it?

    It’s not that the Lord minds questions: it’s just that many questions are posed insincerely, as a pretense for holiness, to gain possession of profane things.

    Finally, I think we have to be led by God concerning when we address different issues in a believers’ lives: for maturity occurs over time—and there is milk—and there is meat.

    I asked my wife one time, “Why do you think the Lord placed these prohibitions in His word concerning women teaching and exercising authority over men?” She replied, “I don’t think about them; I just obey them.” Isn’t that the best answer of all?

    Now, having said that, I have not yet addressed the issue of head coverings with my wife. I note that, she asks questions at home [remains silent at church] and believes [as evidenced by her own practice] in the principle of male headship, even as I evidence [by my practice] faith in the principle of mutual submission.

    Isaiah told us that the whole head is sick [the church is sick from the head downwards]. I try to use discernment about what to address in what order. However, I will soon address it.

    One final thought: there is a difference between following a specific, identified command of the Lord [like head coverings] and returning to the law [instituting man-made traditions]. Our faith should always remain in the finished work of Christ.

    Let me know, if you think I have neglected considering something.

    Mark Finger

    February 7, 2012 at 5:52 am

    • Brother, your comments were really good. I was really edified. Thanks for sharing!

      Sean Scott

      February 8, 2012 at 4:43 am

    • even as I evidence [by my practice] faith in the principle of mutual submission??????????????

      Scripture clearly (and often) states that the wife must submit to the husband , so where do you get this mutual submission from? Submission is more than yielding your will to your husband when you don’t agree, – it is bringing your whole life into allighnment with the purpose of your “head”

      This is my only objection to a blessed response.

      Janna

      August 28, 2012 at 1:51 pm

  5. P.S. I never pray with my hat on in any corporate [even 2’s or 3’s] setting: just to be clear.

    Mark Finger

    February 7, 2012 at 5:57 am

  6. Hi Sean,

    I appreciate your willingness to talk about the issue. This very scripture has confused me at times and I was looking for some truth regarding the matter (actually since before Christmas). One of my friends on Facebook posted an article on a local pastor moving a tattoo parlor (yes, I know this is bizarre how it lead into this subject, thanks for your patience) into his ‘church’ and I brought up Leviticus 19:28 which pretty much ended up in the “hey man this is the New Testament times, yada, yada”. Then he made the comment “well what about ornaments, man?” To which I have some light on and of course he threw in the head covering issue.

    Regarding the ornaments issue I explained to him what I believe the Lord taught me on the subject. I answered him as honestly as I could regarding the head coverings issue with those 3 words “I don’t know”, and so I took it to the Lord to explain it to me and have done a bunch of research as well.

    One thing that I have noticed is the visceral (that’s really not a strong enough word) response to the issue. While I admittedly don’t know everything I do know one thing, you can usually gauge the importance of an spiritual issue by the amount of controversy that it generates. If it’s no big deal than why all the hubbub? Judging by the reactions of most (and I think that the term most is appropriate) I assume that this really stirs up the demonic realm. The teaching by Watchmen Nee that you posted on SI and his explanation of ‘for the angels’ is priceless.

    Thanks for posting and actually listening to the concerns regarding the topic! There are people seeking God for direction!

    Much Love,
    EJ Lear

    PS I sent you an email a few days ago to either yours or Lisa’s gmail acct, did you get it?

    ejlear

    February 8, 2012 at 2:09 am

    • Hi EJ,

      Thanks for your comments. What you said here seems true in almost every case:

      While I admittedly don’t know everything I do know one thing, you can usually gauge the importance of an spiritual issue by the amount of controversy that it generates.

      I thought the teaching by Watchman Nee was good too. He addressed many things that I had not seen and explained things in a way that I am unable to do. I was blessed by the article.

      Oh, I did receive your email. Sorry I haven’t responded yet. I’ll write you soon. :)

      God Bless…

      IN Christ,

      Sean Scott

      Sean Scott

      February 8, 2012 at 4:55 am

  7. By the way, I wanted to correct something that I said previously in this thread.

    I didn’t intend to suggest that man wasn’t created on the 6th day, but rather, that He was created with foreknowledge.

    I was thinking about it from a Jeremiah 1 perspective: before I formed thee in the womb, I knew thee, and sanctified and ordained thee to be a prophet unto the nations.

    God said, “Let there BE” all these things that simply came into existence, but when He made man, He said, “Let us make man in our own image” [showing man was carefully crafted]. Much like the Lamb of God was slain from the foundations of the world.

    That’s all I really meant to say.

    Human foibles ….

    …. but look at it this way, at least I was presented with an authentic context in which to use the word ‘foibles!’ [toothy grin]

    Mark Finger

    February 14, 2012 at 6:28 pm

  8. I have done a brief study and will do more, but I need to jump in to this discussion by asking a question. What does verse Sixteen mean in the context of the posted passage of scripture?

    I ask this question for clarity sake so that I make no assumptions on my part.

    Thanks in advance for your thoughtful answers.

    William

    March 4, 2012 at 4:39 am

    • 1Co 11:16 But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.

      Paraphrased: If any man does not agree with this teaching, then we have to say that we are not open to any disagreement on this, there is no room for a compromise on this, we can’t make a concession for it, and we won’t just agree to disagree, and neither can any of the true people of God anywhere accept any disagreement on this.

      It doesn’t mean that we are to reject those who disagree, it means that we are not to look for a compromise understanding, simply bcos others can’t accept it.

      Paul is saying that it is not even open to debate, it is either accepted or not.

      ian vincent

      March 5, 2012 at 12:50 am

    • Hi William,

      I agree with what Ian has said. Because of the way it’s written in the KJV it can come across as if Paul is saying that they don’t practice this custom. However, that would make no sense. If that was the case, we would have to ask why Paul spends 15 verses building up his reasoning’s for wearing head coverings (none of which have to do anything with the culture) only to say that they don’t practice it. Again, that would make no sense. Paul is saying that they have no such custom as women not wearing head coverings while praying or prophesying.

      The NLT and the NIV render the verse this way:

      But if anyone wants to argue about this, I simply say that we have no other custom than this, and neither do God’s other churches. (NLT)

      But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God. (NIV)

      Here’s a note from Vincent’s Word Studies on the word “custom” in that verse:

      Vincent’s Word Studies
      Custom

      Not the custom of contentiousness, but that of women speaking unveiled. The testimonies of Tertullian and Chrysostom show that these injunctions of Paul prevailed in the churches. In the sculptures of the catacombs the women have a close-fitting head-dress, while the men have the hair short.

      Sean Scott

      March 5, 2012 at 5:35 pm

  9. Thanks for your answers Ian and Scott.

    William

    March 13, 2012 at 11:08 pm

  10. Head coverings!? From scripture, without going into detail that has already been done, they are a cloth of some kind. When to wear them…When praying or prophesying…(Remember that prophesying can be also worship amongst the assembly (see 1 Chron 25 verse 1)

    A women who is praying or prophesying on her own as well as in the assembly should wear the covering (because of the angels who are there even when the whole assembly is not). Remember that angels are messengers and witnesses of the assembly of God as well as God himself.

    A most important question is…what do you do if a women in the gatherings refuses to wear the head covering…over and over again? My opinion is that the whole assembly, at some point after grace, teaching and reasoning from the scriptures, should ask her to leave.

    This is my current opinion…It doesn’t cause problems while talking about it but only when it has to be done…Paul wouldn’t give the instructions for them to then be ignored…and if they refuse the head covering do they then go on and refuse the rest (breaking of bread…etc). The same goes for men who want to continue to be “effeminate”…Men are not to have long hair (neither are women to have short hair)…they are the other teachings of this scripture…dealing with what I think is that men should be men and women should be women and not seek to blare the lines so to speak (like the world does)…

    There must come a point that these scriptures are acted upon, either through submission by the men and the women or that the church has to take responsibility against the individual…Do I sound legalistic? or am I just trying to follow the apostles doctrine? Paul was given this teaching by Christ and Christ (who is the word of God) preserved these instructions in His word…not to ignore but to obey…its not like we are being asked to jump through hoops.

    The general attack of the world is against the family unit and blaring the lines of female and male. The reason the church (the assembly of God) today is weakened is because they don’t take a stand on clear biblical doctrine. Lot God be true and every man a liar…we should do this because – God has given it as a command for His ecclesia…that should be enough and we shouldn’t have to discuss these issues…I am open to be corrected on this if I have misunderstood.

    Colin Saxton

    April 21, 2013 at 7:58 pm

    • I’ll try to comment on this one tonight.

      God bless…

      Sean Scott

      April 23, 2013 at 12:25 am

    • A most important question is…what do you do if a women in the gatherings refuses to wear the head covering…over and over again? My opinion is that the whole assembly, at some point after grace, teaching and reasoning from the scriptures, should ask her to leave.

      OK, I’m not sure how to answer this without sounding like I’m compromising. :) I think this is an area where extreme grace must be given. First, we live in a world that is dominated by feminism; embrace by both women and men (sometimes even more by men!). When a woman comes to Christ, it might take a while for her to come to understand the passages that deals with head coverings. If she is growing in grace and the Lord is working in her life in other area’s, I’m not inclined to force anything upon her. Nor do I believe it should ever be forced. For things like these to actually matter, it must come from a heart that is convinced by God’s word. I think it’s important to teach what the scriptures say on the matter and then let the issue be dealt with by the woman or the woman and her husband (if the husband understands the issue then he bears responsibility to teach his wife). I know that in my own testimony with understanding this matter, and my wife’s as well, it took quite a while for us to come and see what the scriptures teach. Some of it was probably because of the culture we live in and how rooted it’s thinking was in us. Some of it was because the church we attended for 7 years did not ever teach on it except to say it was no longer valid… AND, there are hundreds of teachings that rather convincingly explain away this part of the scriptures (convincingly until you’re ready to see that Paul never said head coverings were a cultural issue). But all the while the Lord was very active in our lives, teach us many things, growing us in Christ, and using us in His service. But the Lord eventually did bring us to understand this passage of scripture and then for my wife to practice it. So if a women is in our fellowship and is dead set on teaching against it, and coming against it; I would have an issue with that. However, if a woman just doesn’t understand it or is not there yet, but the Lord is working in their life, I just leave those things up to the Lord and am thankful the person is growing in other area’s.

      Maybe I’m wrong on this, but that’s how I see it.

      Sean Scott

      April 24, 2013 at 9:03 pm

      • I think that what you wrote is very balanced and wise Sean. I definitely don’t use head covering as a gauge on who to fellowship with or not (though my wife covers when we meet with other saints in local assembly). Not that it isn’t important as all things are, but to me it falls into the category of gnats and not camels. To paraphrase a dear old saint, we have no obligation to live up to the light someone else professes to have, but we dare not live up to less light than we already do have. So many things come with time and the Lord knows how to teach us, convict us, grow us in understanding.

        Some things are reason for excommunicating (1 Cor 5) and others will surely lead to damnation (1 Cor 6) among professing christians. I don’t see head coverings as one of them (unless there is of course some evil motive of the heart in resisting it as opposed to a lack of understanding that effects us all at different times of our walk and on different topics).

        In Christ -Jim

        fleebabylon

        April 26, 2013 at 3:36 am

  11. Teaching the Scriptures and policing it are two different things. We should teach it all, and yet there are only a few things which should be “policed”. The NT is quite clear about which specific things qualify a person to be disfellowshiped:

    But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are outside? do not you judge them that are within? But them that are outside God judges. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.
    (1 Cor. 5:11-13)

    But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain. A man that is divisive after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is perverted, and sins, being condemned of himself.
    (Tit 3:9-11)

    These days the topic of divorce and remarriage pops up a lot. My view is teach all that the NT says on the matter, then leave it to the hearers, it’s between them and God, bcos there’s no way we could “police” it all. It would be like the Islamic “religious police”.

    There’s so many issues like that, which we have a duty to teach on, and yet we don’t have the liberty to enforce the practice of it.

    ian vincent

    April 26, 2013 at 9:19 am

    • As with all of these things – how much do we love the word of God? How much do we want to follow Him and His teaching? Man (by nature) is sinful and even the born again believer still has the old nature within them. Except now we have more control of that old nature – it will still come up (all too often) and we need to come before God again.

      This isn’t me trying to give an excuse on head coverings but I think that forgiveness and mercy overcome judgement and we are to show endured patience with each other and the world. That is a real hard one to learn and I think we all have to grow in that – its easy to read the word and dictate it to others – but it isn’t easy to read the word and then follow it the way we should … and in that knowledge we need to show patience toward others.

      I read something about head covering on the following link

      http://kingjamesman.com/?p=675

      which gives another excellent exegesis of this text and one I think that we should all read on this issue.

      I still also think that the main point of the text on head covering is also that men should be men and women should be women (in appearance and in accordance to the duty given to them by God). Contention today is that feminist women want to do the mens job and they also want the men to do the womens job…They want to muddy the waters so to speak and anyone who speaks out against them are just called sexest (a word created by the world to attack those who lift up the truth)

      Lets look at it today – two people get married and have a baby and when that baby is around 1 years of age they will put them in a day nursery and the mum will then go back to work…strangers looking after your children? This is an invention of the world that has only come about in the last few centuries. The same is happening the other way round to…because the children that are being put into nursery have no problem with putting mum and/or dad into an old peoples him (out of the way) so that they do not have to look after them in their old age…Once upon a time – families looked after one another.

      Have a read of the above link also to do with head covering – if you read what is said – it also makes sense and it is a different and still biblical perspective on this text. It gives valid reasons to see why it can also be applied to the hair of believers.

      God bless you all.

      Colin Saxton

      April 26, 2013 at 10:06 am

  12. Reblogged this on Ecclesia and commented:
    Yeah, I just read my responses to this and see how abrupt my responses were!? If you re-read this again with my old responses please be aware that I do not believe in dis-fellowship with someone who does not practice this. At the time I responded to this I had a pastor telling me that it is not required at all today to cover the head and my lack of control was, to say the least, not right.

    However…When it is something that is not practiced – after it has been pointed out in scripture – what is the correct response with this teaching? I believe there is a massive blessing that women are missing out on. It must also be noted that to ignore a point of the word of God, especially something that is so taught by an apostle – sent by Christ, should be regarded as a red flag to the one who chooses to ignore the word…this method of choosing to ignore the word of God based on culture is becoming quite a tool among Christians to pick and choose.

    Colin Saxton

    April 9, 2014 at 4:12 pm


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