Text: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
We live in a very gender-confused age. Distinctions between man and women, male and female have been decried as archaic, oppressive, arbitrary and harmful. Gender is merely a biological superficiality (we got different sex organs) to be molded by social constructs. This is what is taught in nearly every woman-studies or gender-studies program at university. Societies create gender and societies can deconstruct gender. Gender roles are arbitrary and archaic. Gender is a continuum – there is not male and female, there is a continuum of traits that society has defined as maleness and femaleness and we all are somewhere on that line and can move. Is this really where were at? Bisexualism is in or trendy. Gender ambiguity is in. The moral cause of our day is fighting for the rights of differently engendered peoples. This is the culture that we live in.
In a culture such as ours, a passage like the one we are going to look at today seems like it is from a different planet, another world. It is difficult to preach and often embarrassing to have associated with our holy scripture. Head coverings? Really! What are you one of those radical fundamentalist women-haters?
Our task is not to please our culture but to hear God’s word for us. We believe that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” so we must humbly come before this passage and ask God to correct us and teach us.
1) Everything I know about relationships I learned from the Trinity.
1 Corinthians 11:2-3 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. (ESV)
There is a fundamental equalizing principle within Christianity that placed on women a greater value than they had previously held in society. Paul himself wrote to the Galatian church that in Christ, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Jesus enlisted among his most fervent supporters many women. He valued them in a way unheard of for a Jewish rabbi. A woman, Mary Magdalene, was the first witness to his resurrection, even though her testimony would not have even been legal in the courts of the day. Female prophetesses, evangelists and financial backers all played roles in the expansion of the early church. Even in this passage we see that there was a role in the church for women, they could pray or prophecy. Paul is pleased that the Corinthians were holding onto the traditions he laid down to the church.
Yet, for all the excitement about the new-found status of women in the church being equal with men, some in the Corinthian church were sliding toward a more egalitarian position that eroded the differentiations between male and female. The roles were blurred.
In their culture married women pulled the back of their robe up over their head to demonstrate their status as married woman. In Roman society, the clothes made the man, or in this case, the woman. You were what you wore. So it was very easy, for example, to tell what class you belonged to by what type of garment you wore. It was also very quickly obvious if you were a woman, to tell if you were married or single. Were you wearing the married-woman-hat? So here’s what going on, they go to church and this message they’ve really never heard before in their culture is being proclaimed, and confusion starts coming in a bit and they start taking off their married woman hats when they pay because they understand correctly that the only mediator between God and her is Jesus so she takes off her married-woman hat when she prays.
So Paul says, good, you’re getting part of the doctrine and teaching right, but I want to you know that there is a sense in which your taking this a bit far. He demonstrates how the Trinity is a model for husband/wife relationships. The point is this: in the Trinity, the members of the Godhead relate to each other in an equality of essence. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Spirit is God. No one is more fully God than any other. No one requires our worship more than any other. This is why Jesus could say, if you’ve looked at me you’ve seen the Father, and I am the Father are one, and the New Testament writer confess that in Christ all the fullness of the deity dwelled in bodily form. Christ is the eternal Word who was with the Father, yet was God himself. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and End. The Spirit is well God himself, to lie to Him is to lie to God, as Ananias and Saphaira found. Yet, even in the equality of essence, they display a difference of roles in relationship. All that means is that they have their roles in the Trinity family. The Father sends the Son into the world, the Son is sent. The Son speaks only what his Father says and does his Father’s work. This is called, in theological terms, functional subordination. Big words, I know. What that means is that, although the members of the Trinity are not subordinate to each other on the basis of their nature, they relate to one another, or function, in roles that demonstrate a hierarchical order. Here’s the big, big point. That the son is functionally subordinate to the Father does not in any way diminish his glory, his person, his diety. That the Son is equal to the Father does not mean that any distinctions of role have been eradicated. That’s what Paul’s point is here I believe. Yes, women, the Christian gospel proclaims your essential unity, it ascribes to you value, dignity and worth in a sense that no other world view or religion has ever. Yet between a husband and his wife their is to remain a differentiation in how they relate to one another, and that differentiation serves to complement one another in the family.
2) Doing away with distinctions dishonors Jesus.
1 Cor 11:4-10 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. (ESV)
Ok, here’s the deal. We know that there was confusion in the church over gender roles and them coming to terms with the whole women-men equal in the sight of God thing. So some men, good guys, bless their hearts, wanted to show how into this whole egalitarian thing they were and apparently thought that since women wore the married woman hat, they should wear it too. We would call this these days, a term that egalitarian Christians love, mutual submission. Sounds good, doesn’t it? My wife submits to me, I submit to her. She takes the lead in some areas, I take the lead in others. She wears a married woman hat, I wear a married-woman hat. We’re all good. Jean and I actually had friends who when they got married, they decided as a concrete demonstration of their egalitarian views, that instead of the woman taking her husbands name, they would both take each other’s name.
In other cases, as we’ve already discussed, wives would take off their married woman hat as they prayed in front of the church. They were basically saying that while outside of the church I play the role of wife to my earthly husband, inside the church I’m single, waiting for my true husband, Jesus to come for me. And if I’m waiting for Jesus, than I should take off my married-woman hat. It makes sense, doesn’t it?
Here’s the problem. When a man denies the functional differentiation between the genders and opts for some form of mutual submission, he denies the roles for which he was created and dishonors the God who created him (verse 4). Mutual submission is often, not always, but often a justification for a man to neglect his responsibilities to lead, provide for and protect his family. When men take up the egalitarian cause, the burden often falls on the woman alone to care for both the family and the provision for the family. Men, God did not create you to be dependent upon your wife like another child. He called you to lead, to love, to provide for her and to protect her.
On the other hand, when women removed their veils they were basically saying, now that I am a Christian, I no longer need you, husband to provide for me and protect me because I have Jesus. Look, if your going to treat your husband with that sort of contempt, you might as well leave him completely and become and adulterous – Paul says if your going to take off your married woman hat, why don’t you just shave your head like a prostitute. Oh, we’d never do that! The women cry out, Paul says look, your dishonoring your husband either way, because you are denying the relationship that God has called you too and created you for.
That’s why Paul says, a woman should not take off her married woman hat – because ultimately she would be undermining the truth that God created her to be a complimentary partner to her husband, equal to him in value, worth and essence, but functioning as a support and helper in the home, in their family and at church. He adds the curious phrase that they should do this “because of angels” Do you know what that means? I was hoping you did because I don’t. Christian consensus is this: Angels are interested observers of the worship services and they appreciate when we do it properly and are deeply mournful when we do it wrongly.
3) Do Not Abuse Your Roles
Again, this functional subordination thing is not an excuse to turn into male chauvinists. Every time the scripture addresses issues relation to husband-wife relationships and brings up words like headship, it balances it so that we do not turn into Neanderthals. In Ephesians 5 wives are taught to submit to their husbands, but immediately after husbands are called to give up their lives for their wives. Don't miss that! Here in this passage the church is called to preserve the distinctiveness between the genders and teaches very strong headship principles based on creation, yet also,
(1 Cor 11:11-12) 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.
So this passage sets a limit on how far we take this headship by reminding us once again that there is a mutual interdependence between men and women. Not mutual submission, but mutual interdependence. We can’t say, I don’t need you, you have no input, you are less than a person, I’m the man and I’m all that matters, arrgh argh argh! There’s a balance. Essential equality, distinctive roles.
4) Should I wear a head covering?
Here we get to the question you’ve all been waiting for. Verse 13: Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Let’s hear the Scripture’s answer first, then I’m going to give you some extra things to think about, then you get to come up with an answer for yourself. Some of you might be mad at me for not giving my clear answer, but I didn’t think it fair for me to wrestle with this for months and months and then to just give you an easy yes or no answer – you’ve got to wrestle with it too.
Paul’s answer: YES! He wanted the Corinthian wives to keep their hats on. Here’s his reasons:
a) Many people say his answer is an argument from nature, but I am going to say it is an argument from modesty: 1 Cor 11:14-15 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. Here’s what I believe Paul is saying: Guys look ridiculous in long hair and girls look great. Long hair is a girl’s glory. That’s why they spend so much on shampoos and conditioners and anti-frizz product and perms and all that. You have to understand that in the ancient world women kept pretty well covered up and it was a big deal to see her hair. Someone sees you wearing a married woman hat all week, covered up and then he goes to church and you take off your hat to pray and they go wait – she’s hot. I once dated a girl just because of her hair! Now remember what Paul has written before. Here he says that The woman’s hair is her glory and in verse 7 he already said the wife is the husband’s glory. I take it that Paul is saying married women should keep their hair covered because no one else but the husband needs to look upon the glory of his wife. Someone once asked an ancient Spartan why their married women covered their heads and their virgins didn’t . He said, because they are still looking for a husband while the married women are trying to keep theirs. This is really a principle of modesty.
b) Secondly, Paul makes an argument from convention, 1 Cor 11:16 If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God. You should wear a head covering because this is what every church is doing. Now the big question is, should we do this now, when every church is not doing it.
So the Bible’s answer is yes, married women in Corinth should wear a head covering when they get up in front of the church to pray or prophesy. What about you?
Here’s some of my suggestions for you to think through:
1) If you are going to get around a clear directive of scripture, you had better have good reason. Just saying: no ones doing it, or I don’t want to is not a good enough reason. Ask yourself, why am I uncomfortable with this command? Would I resent wearing a sign that demonstrates my submission to my husband simply because I don’t want to submit to my husband. Or do you gladly submit to your husband and understand the principle of "Essential Equality, Distinctive Roles", but still aren’t comfortable with sticking out. That is, do you have a problem with the covering or the principle of submission?
2) What would be your reaction if another sister in hearing this message went home and came to the conclusion that she should where a head covering next week in church? Would you despise her for it? Would you appreciate her for it? Would you simply let her express her faith and devotion to her husband in her own way without making a big deal of it?
3) Does it make a difference that in their culture they were abandoning a practice that actually spoke something clearly to their culture, but in our culture wearing a covering would require us to adopt a practice that would probably lead to misunderstanding? In their culture, wearing a covering meant one thing – you were married. In ours, it may mean something entirely different – you belong to a strange religious sect that oppresses women and thinks they are inferior. I hope you realizes by now that this is not the Christian position on women. So we have to wrestle with the possibility that by following the letter of the law in this instance we might be using a symbol that projects the exact opposite message to our culture than what the Gospel intends.
4) If you believe the covering is unnecessary, and even unhelpful in our culture, how else could you demonstrate the principle of "Essential Equality, Distinctive Roles" while using your gifts in the church?