Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Coverings - objections and excuses

Most people today do not wear a covering, not even when they go to church. There are a few churches where a hat is required when in church, but there are virtually none where it is required all the time. So what are the reasons women today do not wear a covering?

From the Amish perspective, wearing a covering holds significance in three respects. First, they want to obey the commands of Scripture; second, it ensures they are separate from the world, which, in itself, is being obedient to a Scriptural injunction: 'do not be conformed to this world', Romans 12v2 and third, wearing a covering gives the Amish woman an added sense of identity - all the other Amish women wear one too. So have they got it wrong? They are, after all, in something of a minority.

Let's look at some of the common objections and excuses that women today use for failing to adhere to this particular Scripture, as found in 1 Corinthians 11v2-16.

It was only for Paul's day.
This is the cultural excuse. But if we can write off this passage on the grounds of culture, then which other passages can we leave out as irrelevant today? Perhaps the one about loving your enemies? Take a look at 1 Corinthians 1v2 to see to whom Paul addresses this letter:
"To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours"
Clearly Paul did not intend his letter to be confined to just those in Corinth. Does that sound like it was meant only for that culture? I don't think so.

If we ought to wear a covering, then it is only for church.
Why do we think that to be the case? Well, Paul himself in the very passage under discussion says that women ought not to 'pray or prophesy' with their heads uncovered. Surely that indicates that he is talking about the church meeting. Really? Are women not supposed to pray at other times, apart from in church? Are they not also bound by the injunction to 'pray without ceasing' 1 Thessalonians 5v17?

Let's take a look at the following verses:
"For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you" (1 Corinthians 11v18). Paul has now changed the subject; he is going to address the way in which the Corinthians are misusing the communion service. And he prefaces it with the words "when you come together as a church". That seems a clear indication that everything that has gone before is not confined to when they come together as a church. Therefore it can be concluded that coverings are not just for times of corporate worship; they are to be worn at all times.

'Let her be covered'. The Greek tense of the verb is 'present continuous'. This means the verse could be written 'let her continue to be covered.' Again, this would indicate that Paul intended women to continue the practice of wearing a covering. And not only to continue the practice, but also to wear a covering all the time - continually.

Furthermore, if we confine the argument of coverings only to prayer or church, we are missing the point about coverings. They are not coverings for prayer only; they are a symbol of women's acceptance of the divinely appointed order, where man is head of woman, Christ is head of man and God is head of Christ: "For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head" (v10). Is Christ only man's head when he is in church? Are women to be submissive only when they are in a church meeting? If submission is for all time, then so is the covering.

We are not under law but under grace.
This is the excuse that suggests we have no rules to follow as New testament Christians. If that is the case, then what did Jesus mean when He said, ' If you love me, keep my commandments' and 'He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me' (John 14v15 & 21)?
On the other hand, it is true that we have freedom in Christ. No longer do we have to try to fulfil the law in order to please God. However, if we love Him, we will want to please Him and we will want to keep His commandments. We are free from the power of sin, death and Satan. We now belong to the Kingdom of God; we are free to follow our King. We do not have freedom from God's order; we have freedom in God's order. God's Kingdom is not anarchy. Before we were saved, we were slaves to sin and death; now we are free to follow Christ and keep His commandments. Why should the commandment regarding coverings be an exception?

It seems that the Christians in Corinth were so enamoured with their newfound freedom in Christ, they were throwing off everything that pertained to their former lives. Paul is writing this letter to correct their errors. Therefore, if they had ceased to cover their heads, then there was something amiss.

Hair is the covering.
I have some sympathy for this view, given that Paul states, "her hair is given to her for a covering" (v15). However, let's look at the logic of that idea. If hair is the covering, then we should be able to replace the word 'covering' with the word 'hair'. This is what the passage then looks like, starting at verse 4:

"Every man praying or prophesying with hair on his head, dishonours his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies without hair on her head, dishonours her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman has no hair on her ehad, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her have hair on her head. For a man indeed pought not to have hair on his head since he is the image and glory of God."

I have stopped there because already we can see that this is nonsense. If a woman has no hair let her be shaved? Men ought to have no hair in order to pray?

Furthermore, the word for 'covering' in this verse (v15) is a different word in the original Greek from the word used for covering elsewhere. If Paul were saying that the hair is the same as the covering he has just been talking about, surely he would have used the same word? Had he done so, there could be no ambiguity - clearly the woman's hair would have been sufficient to cover her. But as it is a different word, it is clear that Paul is talking about something different, a different type of covering.

We have no such custom.
Ah, surely this final comment of Paul indicates that there was no such custom of wearing a covering in the rest of the churches and therefore Paul was making this rule especially for the Corinthians, to take it or leave it as they chose? I don't think so! For 14 verses (v2-15) Paul has been at pains to explain as logically as he can the reasons why a covering is necessary. Is it likely that he would then contradict himself in his last sentence? In point of fact, the most simple understanding of this verse is that if anyone is contentious, ie they oppose the wearing of coverings, then 'we' (the apostles) and the rest of the churches of God do not have a custom that supports that opposing view. The custom is that the churches were following already what Paul has been saying in the previous 4 verses.

For some further reading on the subject of 'no such custom' see:





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