Thursday, June 25, 2015

Headcovering: Now More Than Ever

Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God. (1 Corinthians 11:2-16)
This is a weird passage for a lot of Christians, one that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. It deals with a couple of awkward issues, like submission and a command to wear something on your head. You can see this awkwardness in the general way that it is treated in most sermons when the pastor comes to this passage and generally skips past it as fast as he can, The typical treatment of these verses is to dismiss them based on an alleged, unspoken cultural question that really has no bearing on the church today in our enlightened age. In general it is dismissed as a quaint, kind of confusing cultural relic that has no place in our modern church.

I would argue just the opposite. My wife has covered for many years, even when she was the only person in a gathering who did so. The practice kind of was in vogue in some circles a few years back and I blogged a bit about it but seems to have cooled off. Here in 2015 I am hoping to revive this conversation because if ever there was a time when the church needed it, it is now. I am not going to go back through and review the arguments for an actual covering versus long hair or a covering being replaced by a wedding ring, I have posts on those topics already if you are interested.

A covering is more than just an external sign of a submissive heart, although it is not less than that, The covering is also a quiet act of subversion against the culture that tells us that gender, like race, is whatever you want it to be, whatever you feel like at that moment. The covering reminds us that God intentionally made man and He intentionally made woman, He made them in a specific way and order and He made them to be distinct, interdependent and complementary. The two genders and how God designed them to relate with one another is integral to God's design for humanity and even for His plan of salvation. When we read the opening of the Gospel according to Matthew we see the genealogy of Jesus Christ, generation after generation. When we see the curse in Genesis 3 we also see the promise that would be fulfilled in Christ Jesus through the seed of the woman. When we see the promise to Abraham we know that it is fulfilled in the children of the union between man and woman. The covering is a critical, external symbol of recognition of the pivotal place of gender. Absolutely the heart is even more critical in this equation but you simply cannot negate the external sign commanded in Scripture, just as Christians are called to actually be baptized in water as an external sign of an inward reality.

As I said, the covering is a subversive statement today, a counter-cultural act that quietly witnesses to and stands in defiance of the prevailing culture. The culture says "be whatever you want to be, feel free to mutilate the canvas of your flesh". The cover says "I am a daughter of the Most High, made as a woman in His image and by His design and for His glory". The culture says "Men and women are indistinguishable and interchangeable" , the covering says "I am unique and irreplaceable as a woman and I have no desire to be a man". A woman with a covered head leaves no doubt as to the nature of men and women and her embrace of how God has made her. A husband blessed to have a wife at his side with a covering is a witness to the complementary nature of the genders and a recognition of his own incompleteness apart from his spouse. I don't want a woman who looks and acts like a man, I want a woman who is "a helper fit for him" (Gen 2:18).

The culture wars are over and the religious right lost. The casual immorality and confusion we see all around us speaks this truth loud and clear. Now is the time for the quiet way of the cross, a way that does not shout or seek power but also does not seek to hide or accommodate. Rather than seeking to blend in through capitulation or fighting for the last vestiges of political coercive power, we instead can follow a third way of quiet subversion via witness. The covering is an ancient symbol but one that carries with it powerful ramifications and a similarly powerful witness without saying a word. It says to the world that no matter what the nonsensical, ignorant chattering heads on The View or the writers of People magazine have to say, God has already spoken definitively on the question of men and women.

Sometimes the ancient practices are the best response to the modern errors.

3 comments:

Kevin said...

I read an interesting article on this topic a while ago that really convinced me that covering is still a command for today. One point it made was that among Jews men covered their heads and women did not, and among Greeks, neither covered in their pagan religious ceremonies. Paul's command for the church would make them stand out from both cultures.

Arthur Sido said...

Thanks Kevin, I think it still serves that purpose today!

Matthew Celestis said...

Kevin, it's actually not true that Jewish women didn't cover their heads, though a lot of Christians make this inaccurate claim. Married Jewish women were required to cover their heads at all times, and according to the Talmudic writings, failure to do so was grounds for divorce. The Orthodox Jewish women of today still cover, though some have the odd practice of wearing wigs as a covering.

Headcovering was a practice that the Corinthian Christians would have recognised and acknowledged as a universal norm for the church, as Paul commanded.