1Corinthians 11:2-16 (Headcovering: Tradition or Commandment? Part 3)

In light of Paul’s arguments in 1Co 11:2-16 in support of the head covering tradition he handed down, do you think it is something we ought to take seriously?[1]  Is it conceivable that in light of Paul’s arguments there is actually more to the practice than a cultural custom and that in God’s wisdom He might have considered it important that there be a visible reminder and symbol of the headship principle?  Why might that be?  See Gen 3:16 and recall the curse that came upon women at the Fall because she took the lead and acted apart from her husband’s oversight.  See also the only two other occurrences of the Hebrew word for “desire” in Gen 3:16 that are found in Gen 4:7 (“master it” = “rule over it” as in Gen 3:16) and Song 7:10.  Think: after the Fall is it natural for women to submit themselves to their husbands the way God intended?

Throughout nearly all of history since the time of Paul the Church understood the head covering practice as an important tradition that like baptism and the Lord’s Supper transcends culture as a visible reminder of an essential spiritual truth.  Christian women covered their heads, not just when they attended a church service, but often whenever they went out in public.  Not until the 1900s did women in western civilization cease to cover their heads in public, and even then they continued to cover their heads in church until the 1950s and even into the 1970s.  (See The Christian Woman’s Head Covering Through the Centuries.)  Today although men for the most part still remove their hats in church (is it a coincidence that even that is beginning to change in some churches?), very few women in the west cover their heads during prayer or a worship service; what happened to bring about this change?  In the context of Matthew 15, did women quit covering their heads because they no longer understood its significance so that the tradition degenerated into an empty ritual like the ceremonial washings of the Jews?  While this is no doubt true to some extent especially today because it is no longer a part of our culture, in light of Paul’s teaching on it in half a chapter of the Bible and the practice of the Church for over 1900 years, was that in fact the case when it was a part of our culture?  Or rather, did the head covering practice fall out of favor because of a gradual change in people’s understanding of the role of women as a result of western society’s increasing rejection of the authority of the Bible and the scriptural principle of headship described by Paul upon which it is based, so that churches began to de-emphasize its importance and quit teaching about it?  Think: what would the response be in most churches today if the pastor taught honestly about this topic for an hour on three consecutive Sundays?

Among the vast majority of Christian churches in western civilization today that no longer practice the head covering tradition as meaningful, have they done so because they sincerely believe there is nothing important about a practice that the Church held firmly to for over 1900 years?  Do they sincerely believe there is nothing trans-cultural about the practice in spite of Paul’s arguments from creation supporting it?  Or have they done so because they have been influenced by the culture of the world?  Compare Joh 12:42-43 and contrast Jam 4:4 and 1Jo 2:15-17.  As most western churches in the past 50 years have forsaken the head covering practice, to what extent have the women in those churches remained faithful to the headship principle in being “workers at home” and “subject to their own husbands” (Tit 2:5) and been able to successfully pass that principle on to their daughters for their marriages, and to what extent has this important principle of divine order been neglected to the detriment of even their Christian homes?  Is it significant, or just a coincidence, that during the same time period and to the same extent that this practice has become disreputable in western society there has been a corresponding increase in marital problems, divorce, sexual perversion, broken homes, and a nearly complete breakdown in the family structure, not just among secular families, but also among Christian families?  To what extent has the Church in the western world ceased to be salt and light in regard to the headship principle for happy homes and a stable society because it followed the culture in forsaking the head covering practice instead of in simple faith continuing to observe the practice in obedience to Paul’s directive as the Church did for over 19 centuries?  Again consider: Do Christians today accept that they are to observe the Lord’s Supper (which is the topic of the other half of the chapter in which Paul addresses the head covering tradition) as a visible reminder and symbol of the important spiritual truths behind it?

In spite of the nearly complete rejection in western culture of women covering their heads for worship, assuming the head covering practice is as important as Paul made it out to be with his argument from creation, will God’s will ultimately prevail and be done here on earth as it is in heaven?  In ancient times, God used the Assyrians, and then the Babylonians, “the most ruthless of nations” (Eze 30:10-11), as His rod to chasten Israel and other nations for their failure to walk in His ways; what ruthless people today that treats women like chattel and ensures they cover their heads might God use to chasten western Christians and restore the headship principle?  Cf. Isa 8:6-8, and think: what culture is able to cause even the Queen of England and Nancy Pelosi to cover their heads?  Recall also the nature of our salvation into the kingdom of God as a restoration of that which was lost in Eden, the importance that God places upon submission to authority as the righteous rule of His kingdom, and the warning of Satan being cast out of heaven and the earth swallowing up those of Korah’s rebellion, “along with their wives and their sons and their little ones” as an example of how God will punish those who like they “spurned the Lord” by their discontent with the role for which they were created to occupy in His kingdom.

As noted earlier, Paul’s final argument in 1Co 11:16 concedes that the head covering practice he handed down was contentious to some even in his day because the spiritual principles behind it are deep, perhaps difficult to understand, and contrary to cultural practice.  In such matters of spiritual understanding and practice that conflict with our own perception and traditions, from a heavenly perspective is the safe place for us to be found by following our own understanding, or in humble faith submitting ourselves to obedience out of our love for the Lord, and our faith in His great love for us?  See Pro 3:5-6.  Is it possible that in regard to the marital problems, unhappy homes, disobedient children, and divorce that have afflicted so many Christians along with the rest of our society, many of these crooked paths could be made straight by a return to the Biblical principle of headship and the symbol God gave us for a weekly reminder of its importance?  Might true Christians even become salt and light to the rest of the world by doing so?

Considering the spiritual principles behind the head covering practice that make it difficult to understand, especially in the strong currents of our contemporary culture that rage against it, should we judge or view with contempt others who don’t share our understanding or find it difficult to put into practice?[2] Should we expect a woman who does not understand its spiritual significance or in her heart accept the principles upon which it is based to follow a tradition that is completely contrary to the surrounding culture?  Would that not for her be as much an empty ritual and source of hypocrisy as the ceremonial washings of the Pharisees?  As with all other Christian practice, if a woman does choose to cover her head, should she do so just to “fit in” with those who do any more than she should not do so to “fit in” with those who don’t?  Should she do so just to appear spiritual when in her heart she doesn’t believe in it?  What should her motivation be to do so?  Who is it that God has entrusted with teaching the sound doctrine and spiritual principles of Scripture upon which our Christian practices rest to ensure they are understood and practiced from the heart and don’t degenerate into empty rituals and the hypocritical traditions of men?  See 1Co 14:33-35, 1Ti 2:11-14, 3:2.  In this light, should we view the present failure of Christian women in western society to observe the head covering tradition as their own fault for following the culture instead of God’s word?  Or in light of the headship principle, should we consider that they have failed to be keepers of the hidden glories of God because of an equal, or even greater, unfaithfulness in men for their failure to uphold their own role as keepers of the revealed glories of God?

 


1. “The importance of the head covering and the seriousness of its observance by every believer in assembly gatherings can be gauged from the great doctrines that Paul brings to bear upon the teaching.  The practice is linked with, and is an expression of the following doctrines: the authority of the Lord, the authority of His word, revelation by the Lord, inspiration of the Holy Spirit, headship and its implications with regard to salvation, subordination and submission to the Lord, the glory of God, the glory of man, the glory of woman, the fact of creation, equality and interdependence of man and woman, angels, and the believers response of obedience to the Lord’s commands.  Head covering practice is the simplest demonstration and minimal external evidence and expression of a believer’s willingness in the realm of submission and obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ.  It should be observed with joy and gratitude.”  (Glories Seen and Unseen, pg. 138).

2. “Everyone should understand that the head covering is not a requirement for salvation—that is through trusting in the finished work of Christ alone!  The head covering is not a ritual through which some special blessing is obtained.  Wearing a head covering is not proof of spirituality or godly superiority.  It seems strange that a modest piece of cloth should be disdained by so many today.  But sadder yet is the fact that this token of humble submission should become a catalyst for stubbornness and rebellion among believers.  What spirit is this?  It certainly is not the Lord’s.” (Glories Seen and Unseen, pgs. 139-140).

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