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Monday, May 17, 2010
Head Coverings for Women by George Mattern
Head Coverings are not required for all Christian women
It is evident that the question of head coverings is, indeed, a cultural issue confined to the Corinthian church--and not a requirement for all Christian women of all ages--for the following reasons:
If head coverings for women were a universal requirement, why are they mentioned only in the epistle to the Corinthians? Remember that the Christians of the first century did not have complete Bibles like we do today. Different epistles to different churches dealt with various issues that needed to be addressed and clarified for those specific churches. Universal principles are restated and reaffirmed by different epistles in a variety of contexts and applications. So, why does Paul not mention the requirement of women wearing head coverings when he writes to Timothy about church authority and function? Rread 1 Tim. 2:9-15, in which Paul specifically delineates the principles of female conduct in the church--you will find NO MENTION of a head covering requirement, although the universal principle of female submission is asserted clearly. Paul even talks about how women are to dress (vs. 9)--and he mentions hair in that verse--but he says nothing about a head covering. Would that not be the obvious place to find such a requirement, if it were intended to be universal...?
The UNIVERSAL PRINCIPLE of women in submission to their husbands was and is the real issue. That's why Paul writes, "Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ" (1 Cor. 11:3). He then goes on to explain that the wearing of head coverings "while praying" was a particular way that the Christian women in Corinth could demonstrate that principle in a manner that would be readily recognizable to the people in the surrounding culture.
The wearing of head coverings, then, is the concession made by Corinthian women to the accepted norms of their society, the violation of which would imply that women in the church were NOT in submission to their husbands. Unbelievers not being familiar with their attitudes and practices, the only effective way for Christians to exemplify their fidelity to this genuine principle of God's economy would be to cooperate with the cultural practices that signify such accord.
Here's another example (among many) of how believers made concessions on behalf of those around them. Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 7:19--"Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God." He insisted to the Judaizers in the church who wanted to impose circumcision as a condition of salvation: "If you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you" (Gal. 5:2). But, in Acts 16:3, Luke reports that Paul took Timothy "and circumcised him"--Why would he do that? Luke continues--"because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek." Paul knew that circumcision and head coverings mean nothing in themselves--but he commanded both IN THE SPECIFIC SITUATIONS AND SETTINGS where those actions were the only way to externally demonstrate the much more important internal principle of SUBMISSION TO GOD. The Jews believed circumcision was still the physical proof that a man was in obedience to God, and without such evidence a Jewish Christian would have no opportunity to even begin to witness to his people about what constitutes true obedience to God. And how could the Corinthian church call its contemporaries to obedience of God's commands if, in their eyes, the church woman were in flagrant disobedience of Him...?
The practice of men removing their hats when praying (or entering a building, for that matter) is also a cultural concession by which we “respect what is right in the sight of all men” (Rom. 12:17). It is considered disrespectful to have a hat on at the dinner table (at least the way my dad taught me), or in various other situations, including public prayer.
As for prayer, it is likely that the conventions of modern society in this regard were heavily influenced by the Scriptures, particularly 1 Cor. 11. But, if Paul was giving a universal, inviolable moral principle when insisting that, “Every man who has something on his head while praying...disgraces his head” (1 Cor. 11:4), does that mean that a firefighter entering a burning building with his bunker gear--including a protective helmet “on his head”--should refrain from praying? I don’t know about you, but I’d rather “disgrace” my head than “lose” it...
Also, I have witnessed first hand how certain religious groups have taken the requirement for women to wear head coverings and pressed it to such a legalistic extreme that it would be laughable, if not for the pain and anguish such foolishness causes. As usual with human traditions, the fastidious Pharisees end up “straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel” because it is so easy to focus on things like wearing head coverings and tithing garden seeds while “neglecting the weightier provisions of the Law, like justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Mat. 23:23-24). Mennonite women are required to wear a head covering all the time—bud didn’t Paul specify that the covering was to be worn “while praying”? (1 Cor. 11:5). “Well,” retorts the fastidious Pharisee, searching desperately for a Biblical justification of his tradition—“Doesn’t the Scripture say, ‘Pray without ceasing’?” (1 Thes. 5:17). And so, armed with that doctrinal bludgeon, the leaders of such groups mercilessly beat upon the heads of women who do not conform to that tradition. And sadly, as Mark explained in his gospel, “there are many other things which they have received in order to observe” (Mk. 7:4).
And so, let any sincere Christians take heed to himself or herself--“beware and be on your guard against every form of greed” (Lk. 12:15)—in this case, “greed” for the personal merit, recognition, and approval arising from conformity to an outward tradition. In this and every other case, “greed...amounts to idolatry” (Col. 3:5), and self-idolatry is the most insidious and dangerous form of all. Many who would never think of bowing and worshipping before a golden image are all too eager to do just that in front of a mirror...
A Further Question
If head coverings are to be normative for all Christian woman on the basis of Paul's appeal to the purpose of God in creation (according to one interpretation of 1 Cor. 11:8-9), this inspires a crucial question:
Immediately after the Fall and God's pronouncement of the Curse, Genesis 3:21 says, "The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them." Since this was the beginning of humans wearing clothing, why did God not make a head covering for Eve, and command her and all of her daughters to wear such a covering as the universal "symbol of authority" (1 Cor. 11:10)...?
The answer to this question--and the reason why no woman was ever commanded to wear a "symbol of authority" on her head until the writing of 1 Corinthians--must be that such an accoutrement was specific to the culture and society of the city of Corinth. In appealing to the order and purposes of God in creation, Paul was validating the UNIVERSAL PRINCIPLE of wives being in submission to their husbands--the demonstration of which was the wearing of a head covering by women IN CORINTH in that particular historical and cultural context.
To take this practice out of that historical context and make it a normative requirement for all Christian women is tantamount to manufacturing an unnecessary external ritualistic observance--which is another way to say that it is rendered meaningless because external ritualism has a tendency to obscure or marginalize the internal realities that the outward act is supposedly designed to signify.
This is certainly true of the multiplied man-made rituals that have defaced the pure skin of genuine religion with the ugly tattoo of human invention--but, it can also be an adverse effect associated with the gneuine ordinances givne to the Church by God. A prime example of this is baptism, which was originally intended to signify the positional "immersion" of a new believer into the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:3-7). But, when man tampers with God's valid "ordinance" and turns it into a "sacrament", it is divorced from its original intent and perverted into being a religious ritual performed by a person in order to gain merit or approval from God. This is the fertile seed-bed of the heresy of "Baptismal Regeneration" and many other abominations in the realm of human religious presumptuousness.
Another example of taking a physical act out of its historical context and improperly imposing it upon the entire church is foot washing. The washing of feet was a common necessity in ancient times, and a courtesy extended to visitors when they entered a home. In this age of modern footwear, however, it is unnecessary, but some have turned it into yet another religious ritual on the basis of Jesus' exhortation that "You also ought to wash one another's feet" (Jn. 13:14). It is painfully obvious that the Lord was not instituting a ritual for the whole church to observe, but rather using His act of washing the Disciple's feet as an EXAMPLE--in that historical context--of the UNIVERSAL PRINCIPLE of selfless service rendered to others! To turn it into a relitious ritual, as usual, misses the whole point!!!
George Mattern 1/21/2010 1:24:06 AM