Rockport Sermon

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Head Coverings

Valarie H asks:
I would appreciate your thoughts on 1 Corinthians 11:1-15. I am trying to figure out if my head should be covered in worship but I am having a hard time discerning this. Is this just a cultural thing that does not apply to us somehow? Is a woman's hair her covering? Does it need to be a certain length to be a covering? I want to stay away from legalism and I also want to be obedient to God's Word.
First of all, Valarie, I appreciate the earnestness of your last comment and your clear desire to be obedient to God's word. In whatever God has spoken, His children are certainly bound to joyfully obey His wisdom.

In this case, part of understanding that wisdom is to make sure we keep the context in mind. 1 Corinthians was a letter written by the apostle Paul to answer a series of specific questions put to him by the church in Corinth. You can see this in the way he answers one issue at a time, especially beginning in 1 Cor 7:1 when he says, "Now concerning the things about which you wrote." Apparently a number of issues had been raised and Paul is responding to them.

One such issue had to do with the conduct of some of the Corinthian women in worship. Corinth, on the whole, was known for its sexual immorality and particularly for temple prostitution. This had resulted in a culture that elevated the position of the priestess as "religious leader" and brought about a class of 'liberated' women who had cast off traditional modesty in order to flaunt their independence and sexuality (much as we see women doing in the pagan culture at work today).

It is no surprise, then, that Christians who came out of the troubled waters of such a society were confused about gender roles and what was and was not permissible. After all, Christianity itself had the effect of liberating women from the dreadful patriarchy of Roman and Jewish culture that relegated them to a secondary citizens and even debated whether or not women had souls. Could it be that the "liberty" brought by Christ was the same kind of unrestrained "libertinism" practice by Corinthian prostitutes?

Paul's answer is a swift and sure "NO!" In Christ both males and females are of equal value, but that does not mean that their roles in society, and especially in the church, are identical. Nor is it the kind of "liberty" that casts of restraint and flaunts its freedom selfishly. This is what is at the center of these comments in 1 Cor 11:5-6
5 But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head.
You asked if these comments were culturally depend. They must be, for otherwise how would we make sense of them? Culturally in Corinth (and in most places at that time), a "head-covering" in the form of a scarf or "hood" communicated a very clear message -- "This woman is the wife or daughter of someone. Her modesty is to be respected. She is not available sexually." Prostitutes, on the other hand, went about bare-headed to indicate that they belonged to no man and were thus sexually available to any man who could pay the right price. Taking their cue from these women, others had begun to go about "bare-headed" as a declaration of their liberty and independence. Some, especially temple priestesses, may even have gone so far as to begin shaving their heads to indicate their transcendence of all sexuality.

What does this have to do with the church and 1 Cor 11? Evidently some of the women in the Corinthian church had begun to adopt this new 'liberated' style as a way to declare their freedom. The problem is, that it gave the impression to all who saw them that they were the kind of "loose women" who had cast off all moral restraint. This had the effect of making Christianity appear to be "on the same page" with the pagan temples that where were known for their sexual immorality. Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, rejects this and commands the women to keep the "head coverings" which were universally interpreted by all who saw them as evidence of sexual modesty and submission to their husbands.

What is the application today? It think it would be that we must reflect in our society those same values of biblical modesty and submission, in whatever ways would be appropriate within this culture. No one in today's American culture looks at a head covering as a symbol of modesty. They would see it as nothing more than an odd fashion statement. But what you wear still communicates to others what you value. (And by "you", I mean the reader in general, not Valarie particularly!) But think about it, dear reader. Is your goal in your dress, to call attention to your body? To make people think you look sexy? To cause the opposite sex to desire you physically? If so, you are violating this and a dozen other biblical principles of modesty. Instead, one should focus on modest, godly dress, as opposed to the flamboyant, "Look at me!" styles that are the norm in a non-Christian culture.

Any way, I hope this begins to answer your question. No, head coverings are not a universal command for all Christian women everywhere. The Bible's concern is that all of us practice biblical modesty and godly submission to rightly appointed authority. (1 Tim 2:9-10)


Melissa G said...

Thank you! I have wondered about this often. Great explanation!

Valerie Hunter said...

That makes sense! Thank you for your explanation on this passage. I really appreciate it.