Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Swing And A Miss

I know Bo is kinda distracting but I love me
some Bo Jackson.
Baseball is a game of inches, especially at the Major League level. The difference between a great hitter like Miguel Cabrera hitting a fast ball and missing it is usually determined by a tiny difference in when and where he swings. I would say the same is true in theology. Usually the most dangerous false teachers are not nutjobs like Jim Jones, David Koresh or Victor Hafichuk because they are obviously crazy. No, the really dangerous false teachers and teachings are those that modify Scripture just a little bit. Even among generally orthodox Christians this can be true.

I was reminded of this when I saw an article from the Gospel Coalition on headcovering by Benjamin Merkle, Should Women Wear Head Coverings? .The genesis of his essay is the very real problem posed to complementarians when they talk about why women are forbidden to teach men in the church. A common response, one I have gotten several times, is to ask why passages like 1 Timothy 2:13-14 are universal and binding but the church doesn't teach that women should wear a covering apart from some rare examples in Reformed churches, the "Plymouth Brethren" and conservative Anabaptist groups. It is a legit issue, one I have raised before. I can answer someone who asks that question by affirming that my wife does indeed wear a covering and that she is the one who broached the topic with me, not the other way around but most other Christians need to come up with a legit excuse. This is pretty typical of the response. Benjamin affirms that both passages above make their argument from creation but then says it doesn't apply to headcoverings:
A closer examination of the two texts, however, shows it’s consistent to reject the need for women to wear head coverings (1 Cor. 11) while affirming they are not to teach or have authority over men (1 Tim. 2). The reason for this distinction is that in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul only indirectly uses the argument from creation to affirm head coverings for women. The direct application of his reasoning is to show that creation affirms gender and role distinctions between men and women. Therefore, Paul’s argument from creation which demonstrates men and women are distinct cannot be culturally relegated. The application of this principle (i.e., head coverings), then, can and does change with culture. In contrast, the argument from creation in 1 Timothy 2 applies directly to Paul’s prohibition, and therefore is not culturally conditioned.
He later says that coverings only point to a greater reality:
Third, it’s important to notice the passive nature of a head covering. A head covering was a sign or symbol pointing to a greater reality. It had no meaning in itself, but was a concrete expression of an intangible truth. Thus, Paul isn’t concerned with head coverings per se. Rather, he’s concerned with the meaning that wearing a head covering conveys.
I see where Benjamin is going astray here. I would heartily affirm that headcoverings are not the main question. Male headship based on the created order is. Amen! However that doesn't negate the fact that women in the early church, not just in Corinth, wore a visible, recognizable symbol for submission to male headship in the covering. The problem is his assumption that while in the early church, and the broader church for much of post-resurrection history, women did cover their heads, they don't have to today:
Christian women are not required to wear head coverings today when praying, since the symbol of a woman’s head being covered is different today than it was during the time of Paul (at least in many cultures).
OK, so what is this different symbol. How does a typical evangelical Christian wife in an evangelical church setting demonstrate the principal involved here? *crickets*. What about long hair? What about a wedding ring? The problem here is that neither of those indicate submission to male headship. Lots of women, including single women, have long hair but no one looks at a long haired woman and assumes she is a Christian submitting to her husband's male headship. The wedding ring is worse because most people that are married wear those and women who are anything but submitting to their husband's headship wear them. Of course there is also the problem of substituting something (jewelry) for headcovering when the wearing of external adornment is problematic at best and we are never given permission to do so in Scripture. What we end up with is a muddled argument from Benjamin that demonstrates that he doesn't really understand the arguments for headcovering at all. No one I know thinks headcoverings are the point in and of themselves. What we argue is that the physical, visible covering is the external symbol of headcovering is a commandment that has not been abrogated and the covering on a woman's head cannot be replicated by something else.

Let's look at a different example and apply Benjamin's reasoning. Baptism is an external sign of an internal change. I am born-again, which is not visibly apparent, so I follow the command of Scripture to be publicly baptized to show outwardly what has changed inwardly. Now the practice of baptism or ceremonial washing is deeply embedded in the culture of the 1st century. Based on his reasoning toward headcovering, we no longer use ceremonial washing in our culture so we shouldn't baptize new believers. In our culture we could maybe post on Facebook in place of baptism or tweet "Born again!". That is how people nowadays show externally to the world what is happening with them. You might say "That is silly, baptism is necessary because there is greater meaning in baptism that can't be replicated, like identifying with Christ by being buried with Him in the water and coming out of the water to represent new life!". I would say "Amen!" and "Exactly!" and then I would show how a woman having a symbol on her head to show that she is covered by male headship cannot and must not be substituted for anything else because it loses the critical symbolism. The word "head" is used for a reason and a different word makes no sense. To say that "The husband is the foot of the woman even as Christ is the foot of the church" makes no sense. The head is the top of the body, where our mind resides in our brain. Having a symbol there is not something you can substitute with something else.

I would imagine that anyone who advocates for a gender-less church and home is going to see right through Benjamin's argument because it is as flimsy and transparent as ziplock bag. I can't see how anyone who thinks women should teach men in the church and wonders why complementarians are so inconsistent in their hermeneutic is going to do anything but chuckle at his argument. I don't even think they are the audience. His audience seems to be male church leaders who bang the drum for complementary gender roles in the home and church but are afraid of saying anything that would offend evangelical women by suggesting that they need to cover their head. The hatred of Muslims in our culture doesn't help because a lot of people assume if my wife has her head covered she is either a Muslim or Amish. Where we live that isn't the case because so many women cover but in most of America that has been true. I would say that fear is the same reason we don't hear preaching from  the pulpit about why women shouldn't adorn themselves because in our culture getting dressed up and looking good for church includes jewelry and nice clothes. A pastor who depends on the offering plate for his living is probably dumb to suggest that those who put the money in the plate shouldn't get dressed in external adornment and instead should dress modestly in a comprehensive manner. This essay from the Gospel Coalition is completely counter-productive, providing flimsy cover (pun intended) for those who are afraid of offending the church with such a primitive notion like headcovering while at the same time confirming to those who oppose Biblical gender roles that we are hypocritical and inconsistent.

I know some may wonder why worry about something this silly when we have Planned Parenthood aborting babies. Let's fight the demonic anti-Christ of "choice" and leave this sort of stuff to the theologians. I don't see this as an "either-or" situation. Here is why.

First the obvious. Nothing is in Scripture by accident or as a superfluous detail. Everything that was preserved by God's sovereignty was preserved for our benefit. If Paul took the time to address headcovering in a church with issues like unrepentant and perverse sexual sin (1 Cor 5:9-13), we should not be so quick to dismiss it.

Second, those two issues are not distinct and unrelated, to the contrary they are very much related. The move to a consequence-less sexual free-for-all that has led to abortion on demand to sweep the results of promiscuity under the rug is the same movement that denies gender distinctions in the home and church. We have got to stop treating issues that face the church as if they are unrelated to one another!

In other words there are no unrelated issues in the church because they all have a common authoritative source, namely the Bible. Give Benjamin's article a read and see if you agree with my assessment.

6 comments:

Kinuko H said...

Thank you, brother. I was so encouraged to read this post.

<His audience seems to be male church leaders who bang the drum for complementary gender roles in the home and church but are afraid of saying anything that would offend evangelical women by suggesting that they need to cover their head.

Today, I wrote about Mr.Benjamin's article on my Japanese blog and quoted the above paragraph to explain to my readers why there is such an inconsistency in their interpretations (1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 11).

Once again, thank you for taking your time to write this post. May God bless you and your family. Kinuko

Diana said...

This was excellent! Thank you!! I have been practicing headcovering for several years, at my husband's request after he studied this passage, and it's incredibly freeing (and fun!). I regret that the practice has, under the influence of feminism, almost disappeared from the Christian church. I pray for a resurgence of obedience in this area. Disobeying God's word is never a minor issue.

Diana

Michael K. said...

If we are honest there are two reasons why the church does not teach that women should cover.

1: Women don't want to cover. They don't want to be distinct from the culture. They want to be 'fashionable'.

2: Most men are afraid of women, their wives included. So those that teach, find an excuse to dismiss passages that they know will offend women.

In both cases, it is sin. The fear of man, or women in this case, above a reverence for God's Word.

Gretchen said...

Just excellent!

Greg Cowen said...

I agree with your reasoning and enjoy your humor. Merkle's article was such a wiff that it actually convinced me of the opposite! I had never heard of head coverings, but now find, like you, that the this duty has not been abrogated - except by careless inattention or worse. And this tradition was meant to be a central reminder of God's gender design for identity and headship. Although Paul was all things to all cultures that more converts might be won, and pioneered Gentile freedom from circumcision, he nevertheless felt it essential to hand down this important practice as he received it, and call out those few who later became contentious.

daughterofsarah1 said...

Wow ! Wow !! Wow !!!
This is Great. Hallelujah !! 😃
Thank you very much for sharing. You've made my day with this.
God bless you real good.
Shalom 😇