Concerning Headcovering

Over the past year or so, several ladies have asked about my headcovering practices and my interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16. I don't make a habit of teaching headcovering for several reasons--aside from the fact that it's not the top-priority. First, I'm a young woman, not a church authority. Second, I'm a young woman, not an authority over other women. Third, since I see the issue as an authority issue, I believe that the practice should always be submitted to the woman's authority figure. So, when I've been asked for advice by women whose father's/husbands requested them not to cover, I've recommended that they submit to their men's authority and allow them to take the burden for obedience--like Sarah did with Abraham. For those reading, I encourage you to submit this and/or your thoughts on the issue to your authority. My words may also seem blunt or uncompromising. What follows is the what and why of what I believe to be true and therefore what I practice and I see no reason to back down, but I understand that others are just as convinced of a different perspective. These are my brothers and sisters in Christ, and each of us must be obedient to our best understanding of Scriptural truth, and gently loving toward each other. I welcome questions, comments or objections. The following is an excerpt from an e-mail response with my thoughts/interpretations, with a few minor caveats.

I'll try to explain my own thoughts and convictions as concisely as possible....I'm going to back up to a point that may seem obvious, but which, I think, is the root of the headcovering teaching. And I'll try to summarize the main points that have led to my personal headcovering practice. And I think it's important to realize that the passage applies to men and women--each having different, but active, roles. Often this fact gets glossed over as we tend to focus only on the woman's role/practice.

Why a headcovering?

In Genesis, God created man first and gave him work to do. Soon it became obvious to Adam that everyone else had a partner, but he was all alone in his mission. At that point God stepped in with the plan He'd had from the beginning: a helper for Adam--a woman.. So in creation, God set up an authority structure--of men who are to serve God by obedience to Him, and women who are to serve God as the helpers of their men. Some have insisted that women's submission was a part of the curse of Genesis chapter two, and some even go further to insist that under grace we are freed from the curse and therefore women do not submit. Quite frankly, this is a misunderstanding of submission. It seems in our society that we assume that submission denies equality, but Paul begins His argument with the words, "I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ." Women, under man's headship, are no less "mankind" than Christ, under God's headship, is God. Proverbs says that the poor man and the oppressor have this in common: the Lord gives light to the eyes of both. An old proverb notes that death comes the same to a king and a pauper, and the Lord makes it clear that all humans are equal before Him. In Christ there is no male or female--meaning all are accepted by God on equal terms--faith in Christ. But this doesn't negate authority structures. Authority is, quite simply, order, but it has no bearing on value or worth. In this case, Paul appeals to the order of creation for the authority structure: "Man does not originate from woman, but woman from man, for indeed, man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake." The curse laid upon Adam and Eve's relationship was this "Your desire shall be for your husband, and He shall rule over you." The foundation for loving leadership and respectful submission was laid down at creation, but the curse set forth exactly what we see today: the resistance against God-ordained authority. Why? Adam and Eve had rejected God's authority--that's the root of every sin. In a like way, Eve would be tempted to control and manipulate her husband--feeling that he exists for her sake. On the other hand, a husband's fallen tendency is to domineer, conquer and harshly control his wife. And isn't this what we see? Redeemed from the curse, the godly woman is commanded to submit respectfully to her husband and the husband is to love his wife. The picture is to mirror Christ's relationship with the church. The wife's responsibility is to please her husband--not to invent things to do, but to simply do what he has expressed pleases him--just as believers are to obey Christ. The authority structure expresses that we are ambassadors: the wife is an ambassador of her husband, representing him, the husband is an ambassador of Christ, representing Him and Christ is an ambassador of God, representing Him ("I come not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent Me" Jesus said.) Our society also glorifies the concept of independence, but the only truly independent entity is God Himself, and there is complete harmony and unity in the three persons of the Godhead. God's authority structure requires cooperation: there is perfect cooperation between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. There should be perfect cooperation between Christ and the Church--Christ leading in love, the church responding in submission. And there should be perfect cooperation between a man and his woman (the Greek doesn't have specific words for husband and wife--instead it simply uses possessives of man and woman.) Paul recognizes this cooperation when he says, "In the Lord neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman, and all things originate from God." Man and woman were both created by God and for His glory. Woman was created from man, but through the woman, God creates men. In his letter to Timothy, Paul points out that the pinacle of woman's acheivement is bearing children--men can't do it. And takes man and woman to make a child, and who actually creates the child? God.

I used the think the headcovering was a part of modesty--and I reasoned that if modesty is not drawing attention to myself, then wearing a headcovering in our culture is immodest. However, Paul never appeals to modesty. He devotes his instruction instead to the topic of authority structure. The headcovering is a picture of authority structure. Which is why the setting is in worship, not (necessarily) at all times. If the headcovering represented modesty, it would be necessary in public at all times. Instead, the headcovering is worn in "worship" (I'll explain this more later). Why? Who is to be the focus in worship? God. Whose authority do we recognize in worship? God's. God is the head of Christ, who is the one to be glorified in the church. Christ is the head of man, who is the image and glory of God. When man is uncovered, I think it represents that man recognizes God's authority over him. On the other hand, woman is the glory of man. In worship, man is not to be glorified, so the woman is covered. A woman covers her head to represent that she recognizes God's authority over her, through her man.

So it seems to me that Paul is teaching that a man uncovers his head to express submission to Christ, and a woman covers her head to express submission to her man, both in submission to God, who is the head of Christ.

When to headcover?

I used the word "worship"--really, our entire lives are to be worship--glorifying to God. The passage speaks of "praying and prophesying" which I believe are public demonstrations of worship. We understand prayer pretty readily--speaking to God on behalf of man (ourselves or others). Prophesy is certainly a bit more ambiguous, at least in our culture. We tend to think of it as foretelling of the future, in an Old-Testament sense. I believe there's a broader application of prophesy in scripture as including both foretelling and forthtelling--speaking to man on behalf of God. David arranged the Levites in a choir to prophesy--singing songs of praise which he, himself, had composed to God. In the second chapter of Acts, the believers in the upper room were speaking forth the mighty works of God--and the effect was convicting to their hearers. It seems to me that a loose definition of prophesy would be to speak to man on behalf of God--reading/quoting scripture would be the most obvious application. Perhaps sharing the gospel and speaking about God in general would also fall under the heading of prophesy? Singing seems to often bridge the gap between prayer and prophesy--sometimes we are singing prayers to the Lord, sometimes we are singing to others about the things the Lord has done. For the most part, these are all things for which I try to cover.

Some suggest practicing head-covering in public "worship" only--as in church. Interestingly, Paul sets the headcovering passage before his teachings on church meetings (which do follow immediately after). And he never speaks of "in the assembly"--a phrase he uses regularly throughout the next several chapters. Some suggest covering at all times, since we should "pray without ceasing." To be consistent, then, our men would never be allowed to wear a hat. This isn't supported by Paul's commands--if he'd intended us to cover at all times, why didn't he say so? It seems out of style with Paul to not command what he intends. It seems that our thoughts are to be continually with God (who alone can hear thoughts), but are not considered "prayer or prophesy" and that speaking aloud is what bears testimony to others (including angels) and requires headcovering practices to testify that we are under authority. Of course, I don't see any reason why a woman can't or shouldn't cover at all times for expediency, should she prefer it, it simply doesn't bear up as a scriptural command.

I do always cover during church meetings and Bible studies and family "worship", and I am trying to be more careful to cover at other times when praying or "prophesying." I keep a headcovering with me any time I am in public and use it when praying or speaking aloud about God. Sometimes it seems a bit odd to me, but interestingly, unbelievers don't actually seem to be put off or made uncomfortable by it. Of course, I sing in the shower with my head uncovered...and I hope it is not displeasing to God. :) And if I don't have a headcovering, I assume that the Lord would rather have me worship than not...sometimes I put my hand over my head or improvise... Sometimes the act of covering my head actually illicits questions--more than if I were always wearing the headcovering--and provides opportunities to share about God's authority over all creation and our responsibility to submit to Him that He may exalt us at the proper time. I've even had waitresses notice and comment when I covered to pray with a friend at a restaurant, and it provided me with the opportunity to share the gospel--giving opportunity to give an answer for the hope within me.
You specifically mentioned wrestling with verse 10. I wish I had good answers. :) Honestly, I don't have a nailed-down "belief" regarding "because of angels. Sad, since Paul says it in such a way that implies his readers would have readily understood it. Several things come to my mind--including that I think God intends the lives/obedience of Christians to bear testimony to angels. God's redemptive plan for humans, as well as our ability to obey or disobey from love, are not true of angels. Those who fell are lost, those who serve God are doing what they were created to do. This bears out with Ephesians 3, which speaks of the church being God's teaching tool--to display His manifold wisdom to rulers in the heavenly places (angels, I think). 1 Peter 1 also talks about the gospel and the church as being things into which angels long to look. Another possible connection for angels and women, specifically, is Genesis 6, which tells how the "sons of God" cohabited with daughters of men and the result was the Nephilim--super-men. Several New Testament passages speak of angels who left their proper abode--perhaps referring to this occurance? Which comes again to an authority issue--the angels who fell rejected God as their authority--and also His ways. Those who serve God still are under His authority and subject to His authority structure--even as women--and are perhaps delighted to see obedience? So when a woman covers her head, it is a testimony, not only to mankind, but also to angels (both fallen and faithful) of God's wisdom and authority structure? See? I have nothing clear, but those are some thoughts, that seem to me to fit the purpose of Paul's teaching and also the witness of other scriptures.

It seems to me that the headcovering practice expresses submission to God when we are speaking aloud about Him or to Him--for men this is uncovering, for women it is covering.

What is a headcovering?

Paul doesn't really give guidelines, but reason suggests it covers the head. Literally, Paul says, "A man who has [anything] on his head while praying or prophesying, disgraces his head." History documents women with long shawl-type coverings wrapped around their heads--which is what tends to be most practical for me. For church, I usually wrap a long scarf around my head--Middle Eastern style. :) Other times, I might do any number of things--I have some (cuter) knit caps I wear sometimes when I'm running errands so that I'm "prepared" if I have a gospel opportunity, etc. I usually carry a scarf in my purse (which friends jokingly insist is more of a book-bag anyway), as well or sometimes even wear one around my neck (like an accessory) that I can just pull up when I need it.

Some suggest that Paul's teaching of headcovering regards the hair. A woman is to have long hair and a man, short. Quite frankly, the logic of this argument is ludicrous to me. If we read the passage, replacing the words "something on his/her head" with "hair" we wind up reading simple nonsense. "If a woman will not wear long hair, let her have her hair cut off or her head shaved." So if she has short hair, well then, cut her hair off! And why the qualifications as to when we may have long or short hair? A man may have long hair as a habit, but before he prays or prophecies, he'd better visit a barber! This argument also requires cultural glasses--after all, what is short hair and what is long hair? History indicates that many Jewish men may have worn hair to their shoulders. On the other hand, Greek men (of whom the Corinthians were part) wore their hair very short. Slaves might even have had shaved heads. Hair length also differes from ethnicity to ethnicity--my hair grows super fast, but for my African-American sisters--well, long hair might be only a couple of inches! If Paul meant hair length, why didn't he say it? On the other hand, he does intimate that long hair is a glory to the woman--which I think ruins the point of God getting the glory when she prays or prophesies.

It seems to me that the covering is something which comes down over the head (the basic meaning of the Greek word) which can be worn or removed at will. I think Paul left room for culture and convenience.

What do we see in history?

Actually, history bears out the idea of an external covering. Paintings on the walls of catecombs show Christian women with their heads covered and men with theirs uncovered. In fact, the last vestiges of headcovering have disappeared only in the latest 100 years. During the days of the reformation, women covered their heads. Many of them did appear to view it as a modesty issue. John Calvin said that if women stopped covering their heads, eventually they would be exposing private areas. What do you think? Has this happened? Women used to regularly wear hats to church, and it became a fad--such that the church became a fashion show for the elaborate hats of the day. Paul told the Corinthians that he praised them for practicing headcovering, but he wanted them to understand why he had given this "tradition." I think headcovering has vanished in Western culture largely due to misunderstanding of its purpose. It became a showy thing and then, quite likely, those women who really loved the Lord and wanted to bring the glory to Him, rejected it and began leaving the showy hats at home. But the vestiges still remain: even today men take off their hats to pray. Why do you suppose that is? And in Asian and Middle-Eastern countries, Christian women still cover their heads to worship God aloud.

It seems to me that history bears out a lost practice of men uncovering and women covering their heads when worshipping aloud.

Is the headcovering cultural?

Some argue that the headcovering is a headcovering--but the command is cultural. But take a look at Paul's reasons for headcovering: authority structures based on creation. Does that sound cultural? Recognition of God's authority? Cultural? Well, a distinctly Christian culture. Some suggest Paul was advocating the headcovering so that the Corinthian Christians would fit into their culture. This is laughable, considering Paul's distinctly counter-cultural approach to living and his commands not to be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by renewing our minds. In addition, Corinth was a seaport--a melting pot of cultures. To just which culture should the Christians conform? Some suggest the headcovering was commanded so that Christians would conform to Jewish culture. This makes a mockery of Paul's life and ministry--he was hated by the Jews for insisting that Christians need not conform to the Law--which was only a shadow of the good things in Christ--for both Jews and Gentiles! In fact, it was Orthodox Jews who felt that Paul was rather libertarian in his views who arrested him in Jerusalem, who tried to ambush him along the road, and who he insisted were false brethren! If I'm not mistaken, Jewish men and women both regularly covered in public and the idea of men wearing skull-caps for worship was perhaps introduced later as a reaction to the Christian practice of uncovering. Paul's arguments do not lend themselves to culture: God's authority structure, creation, because of the angels, propriety, nature are all timeless, boundless arguments for godly order.
More recently, I've seen a group of "Torah Christians"--Christians who are embracing not only the Torah and all the practices in it, but also the traditions of the Jewish rabbis. Among this movement there is a huge push for headcovering--usually all the time, especially for married women--since that was the Jewish tradition. Sadly, the reasons backing this movement rarely even include Paul's clear teaching to believers and tend to push the concept of modesty (like the Amish and Mennonites). The foundations for this practice are entirely Law/tradition based, which, I think would have greatly troubled Paul. What do you think?

I believe that God (through Paul) was creating a distinctly new Christian counter-culture and was handing down one of a very few traditions for worship.

Really, it seems to me that Christ only gave us a few traditions: the Lord's supper, baptism, headcovering...can you think of any more?

Sometimes I think we tend to be like the wife whose husband asked her to have dinner on when he got home from work. All day she cleaned, decorated, made jelly, orgnaized his books, wrote him little love notes, exercised and then cleaned up and dressed beautifully for his arrival. When he walked in the door, he glanced around and asked, "Where is dinner?" Flustered, she began pointing out all that she had done for him, hurt that he hadn't noticed. "But," her husband responded, "All I asked you to do was fix dinner."

In our enthusiasm, sometimes I think we get caught up in a lot of things that seem like good things to do, and neglect the few things Christ commanded. Quite frankly, I think that's why we don't see headcovering practiced--we don't remember what Christ asked us to do because we're busy coming up with "good" things to do. I know I am often guilty of inventing ways to please the Lord. The prophet Micah dealt with this issue, asking "With what shall I come to Yahweh? Shall I offer sacrifices of animals? Shall I give oil? My first-born?" Then he answers, "He has told you what is good and what Yahweh requires: do justice, love kindness, walk with God." (Micah 6:6-8) Sometimes we are entirely sincere, but we are sincerely mistaken. Sometimes I think we are even guilty of offering to God things that actually offend Him--like Micah's suggestion of his first-born son. At the very least, often we neglect the things He has actually commanded--the simple things--in pursuit of the things we deem important or pleasing.

It seems to me that God has told us what He requires of us--in His word--and I am forever discovering new and exciting things about the simplicity of devotion to Christ. I have so much to learn! But I'm also blessed, as I seek to obey, in seeing others notice and ask questions--which allows me to share Christ. When Christians look and act like the world, unbelievers don't recognize a difference. When we create laws instead of seeking Christ's, often they recognize it as "works salvation" and turn away. But when we are sincerely obedient, God's order works itself out in our lives in a way that is evident--like a light shining before all men, that they may see our obedience and glorify the Father in heaven.

1 comment:

Celestial Fundy said...

Excellent post. I would love to see more women covering.