Reforming My Mind has a post linking to some mp3 sermons on head coverings (1 Cor. 11:1-16) . I listened to one by R.C. Sproul, “To Cover or Not to Cover”. Some thoughts…
- There are commands in the Bible that are difficult to interpret and when you find this you also find significantly sized groups which represent the competing positions. For example, there are groups which baptize infants and groups which only baptize adults. There are seemingly good arguments for both positions and that is why you find groups which reflect both ends of the spectrum in practice.
- I believe the command for women to wear head coverings is just such a command. There are arguments for and against interpreting the relevant passage as being presently applicable. However, in this case the number of groups which presently encourage the wearing of head coverings and the number of women who actually practice this is astonishingly small.
- I say astonishingly small because I believe that if a thousand people untainted by modern culture and scholarship were to study the relevant passages that more than half would come out in support of head coverings. Maybe I am wrong and it would be significantly less, but the present reality is that this number is probably less than 2% at best (astonishing).
- This leads me to think that very few Christians have ever really struggled with these verses. Instead they have taken their queues from the culture or simply done what is easiest which is to look around and do what everyone else is doing.
- R.C. implies that the rejection of head coverings is historically recent and coincided with cultural shifts in views of the roles of men and women. This affirms the statement that we are taking our queues from the culture.
- Not going to dwell here but I think there is some applicability that can be made here in regards to forms of dress and which are and are not appropriate for worship for both men and women.
- I am certain (if I were a women) I would be compelled to wear a head covering during worship. This would not be an easy thing to do given no one else within our present circle does. I believe that the pressure to conform within the church is even greater on this particular issue than the pressure which comes from outside the church. That is a shame.
- How should the church handle this particular issue? I think churches should be clear that these passages are not perhaps as “clear” as our modern practices reflect. They should encourage men and women to reevaluate Paul’s commands and give them the freedom to comply as they are led to do so. The site of a women wearing a head covering should not be the cause of gasps and stares.
My wife and I discussed this topic at lunch today and a few more thoughts came up which I am adding below to the original post.
- Until today I thought “hair” could equal “head covering”. I can’t believe I missed this before but verse 6 makes this idea impossible. If head covering meant hair it would read “For if a woman will not cover her head (with hair), she should cut off her hair.” This does not effect the cultural argument against head coverings but it is still a mistake to read it this way and once I cleared that up I had to deal with argument of culturally relevancy. In the past I avoided the argument because I assumed it did not matter as long as woman had a tad more hair than G.I. Jane.
- We (Christians) tend to dismiss what we think to be small things in the Bible. The cultural argument against head coverings focuses on the sizable implications head coverings might have had within the Corinthian church and argue that no such implications are relevant today. I don’t agree. As a mental exercise try imagining a world in which you wake up tomorrow and most Christian woman begin to wear head coverings (at least during worship). This would draw scorn from the world. We would be mocked on late night TV. Oprah would interview psychologists about the negative effects head coverings have on self esteem. Many women would perhaps refuse to wear them because of the shame it brings, not from those within the church but from the culture. In fact I am sure many would refuse to step foot into any church which even adhered to such a practice. We would see a return to more modest standards of dress (in church at least). A head covering is not only a symbol of submission but a symbol of modesty. It marks the wearer publicly as one of God’s children. The cultural argument for head coverings is as strong today as it was in the days of Paul.
- Another thought exercise here. I encourage you to try to imagine as you read that Paul handed down a copy of these commands to Timothy. They eventually end up in the hands of Timothy’s grandson and on his deathbed he bequeaths the them to you. The purpose here is to try to connect you in time to the author of these texts. It is harder to be convinced by the cultural argument if you can see that there isn’t really that vast difference between 100 years and 2000 years. My thinking is that if the scenario above were true I would have a greater inclination to believe the commands were still presently applicable.
- Where do you need to go to find woman wearing head coverings? Your best chance is going to be some Fundamentalists, a few very Reformed folk, or the Anabaptists (like the Amish). If you think about these groups one aspect that they have in common is that typically make attempts to reject the influence of the culture. This is evidence that instead of actually being convicted by scripture we are actually”taking our queues from the culture”.