Presbyterianism, whose bodies are also called Reformed Churches, share a common origin in the 16th-century Swiss Reformation and the teachings of John Calvin, and today is one of the largest Christian denominations in Protestantism.

Head Coverings for women

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  • Head Coverings for women

    Question:

    I was greatly blessed to grasp a better understanding of the issue of head coverings by reading "May Women Speak in Church?" where James W. Scott in New Horizons January 1996 explains that 1 Corinthians chapter 11 is "best understood as regulating the circumstances for delivering inspired speech in church ..." as in speaking in tongues. I also see that Matthew Henry's Commentary supports head coverings to be worn by women, "who under inspiration, prayed and prophesied." Since speaking in tongues and praying or prophesying as an inspired utterance no longer occur, does this negate the head coverings? Can you refer me to any other resources that support this meaning? How can we know that women do not need to wear head coverings today?

    Thank you in advance for your response!

    Answer:

    I remember the discussions in the January 1996 New Horizons. Unless you return with questions covering that disagreement between Mr. Scott and Dr. Richard Gaffin (I believe he was on the other side of the disagreement), I'll just deal with your question as to the OPC understanding of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16.

    I'll speak first to the obvious understanding of those words as far as women coming into worship with or without their heads covered. Then I'll attempt to give a biblical justification for the present practice.

    I well remember that, in my childhood (going back to—and even before—the 1920s), women (and girls as well) invariably wore hats or other head coverings in church services. I don't remember that the reason given was because of the Scripture before us, but I assume that was the reason. I can remember as late as the 1950's one minister of the OPC (not then a pastor) said that if he, as a pastor, met a woman entering his congregation without a head covering, he would suggest that she return home and get one. But even by then, the practice was being abandoned, and by the 1960s it was gone altogether. I do recall one OPC which strictly required female head covering in worship. There may be others, though I don't know if even that congregation has continued the practice. But is that, as far as the OPC goes, an abandonment of following a Scriptural requirement?

    The teaching of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 has not been abandoned. For example, because we are a biblical church, we hold to male headship in the home and the church. And that is what the Apostle is teaching in this passage. It is that there is subordination in rule of the woman to the man in both church and family. The lack of covering on the part of the man and the need for covering for women was the sign of this subordination. God is Head (with no one between) of the man, therefore no covering. Woman is subject to the authority of man, therefore the head covering.

    As a matter of fact, the OPC does not ordain women elders or ministers. This prohibition is clearly taught in 1 Timothy 2:12-15. And the reasons given by Paul for that strong prohibition are that man (Adam) was first created, then woman (Eve) out of man's substance (Genesis 2:18-22). And the woman was first in sin, then the man (Genesis 3:1-6). These differences are grounded in creation and in the fall, being fundamental as to the nature of mankind and the need for redemption.

    But Paul does not so ground his admonition with regard to head covering in worship in the Corinthian passage. It is true that the reason for male rule and authority are similarly grounded in verse 9. Adam was made ruler of the Garden or Eden. Eve was created as his suitable helper (Genesis 2:9). And, by way of digression, the man shares his headship in the home with his wife: "Honor your father and your mother ...." Nor does this distinction of headship demean the women. 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 says, "Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, so also man comes from woman; but all things are from God."

    So all this is the official doctrine of the OPC because that's what the Bible teaches; and our doctrinal standards agree. Then why do we not continue the earlier practice of head covering in worship? Because head covering doesn't "say" the same thing in Paul's day that it does today. A harlot was recognizable in New Testament times by the way she dressed, but especially by what she didn't do with her hair. To let it loose and fall down was the sign of brazen independence then. Covering, on the other hand, was a sign of submission to her place in Christian society.

    In verses 13 & 14, Paul says, "Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?" Paul was appealing to custom or culture to make his point. He says as much in verse 16: "But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God."

    Now I still don't like a man wearing long hair. Yet I don't judge him for doing so any more than I judge a woman for having her hair cut short. But customs have changed! Nor does the apostle appeal to creation or the fall to make his point.

    Some serious interpreters equate the "covering" required by the passage as woman's long hair versus man's short hair. That puts a different interpretation on the whole matter. Also the passage before us refers to prophesying and praying with heads covered (women) and uncovered (men). So what you remark on at the beginning of your question may narrow this passage even to the exercise of then legitimate prophesying and speaking in tongues. And, as you say, these are no longer in the church; they were temporary gifts that ceased with the end of the apostolic era.

    Yet prayer is still an important part of public worship. And women do not lead in public prayer in our worship services, though many invite both men and women to take part in prayer sessions during informal services.

    All of this adds up to minor differences of opinion between sister congregations on these issues. And there I will leave it. I hope I have answered your question satisfactorily. Please feel free to return with further questions.

    Source: Orthodox Presbyterian Church

  • #2
    Originally posted by William View Post
    A harlot was recognizable in New Testament times by the way she dressed, but especially by what she didn't do with her hair. To let it loose and fall down was the sign of brazen independence then.
    Interesting. We were told it was the opposite: that temple prostitutes in pagan times, specifically in Corinth, shaved their heads bald. Shaved heads have also traditionally been the punishment for adultery and immorality dating back to the Visigoths and Roman times which has persisted into modern times, e.g. if you look at the treatment of women in occupied territories who slept with German soldiers during the Second World War. Either a full covering of hair, or a head covering such as a hat or scarf if hair had been lost for some reason, indicated that the woman was of good character.

    I have to wonder though, that if Jesus ate with sinners and tried to draw them into the church, is driving some out for want of a headcovering really Christian?
    Comment>

    • #3
      This is an interesting interpretation. However, I opt for a simple explanation, women were told to cover their heads to remain decent. Head covering is a contentious issues in various faiths. For instance, in Islam women should wear head scarf , in Hinduism, women are expected to cover their heads when appearing before the elders. In Christianity also, women are expected to wear veil when getting married or appearing in the cemetery. Women are also expected to cover their heads when appearing in the Church.
      Comment>

      • #4
        Originally posted by William View Post
        Then why do we not continue the earlier practice of head covering in worship? Because head covering doesn't "say" the same thing in Paul's day that it does today.
        I realize that William is quoting from another source. But after a lengthy dissertation on this subject, the author gives us this specious argument for rejecting the head covering for women during worship. This is the same argument that evangelical Feminists use for promoting the ordination of women -- what was valid in Paul's day is not valid in the 20th or 21st century.

        That argument has no merit whatsoever, since Divine revelation is applicable for all Christians in all ages regardless of cultural norms. In fact the Holy Spirit has devoted sixteen verses of Holy Writ to teach why Christian women should cover their heads during worship. And there are thousands of Christian women who do exactly that.
        Comment>

        • #5
          Originally posted by Lucas View Post
          I realize that William is quoting from another source. But after a lengthy dissertation on this subject, the author gives us this specious argument for rejecting the head covering for women during worship. This is the same argument that evangelical Feminists use for promoting the ordination of women -- what was valid in Paul's day is not valid in the 20th or 21st century.

          That argument has no merit whatsoever, since Divine revelation is applicable for all Christians in all ages regardless of cultural norms. In fact the Holy Spirit has devoted sixteen verses of Holy Writ to teach why Christian women should cover their heads during worship. And there are thousands of Christian women who do exactly that.
          I believe the strongest argument went as such, "Also the passage before us refers to prophesying and praying with heads covered (women) and uncovered (men). So what you remark on at the beginning of your question may narrow this passage even to the exercise of then legitimate prophesying and speaking in tongues. And, as you say, these are no longer in the church; they were temporary gifts that ceased with the end of the apostolic era."

          If we had women leading worship, prayer, prophesying, and speaking in tongues from the pulpit then I can most certainly suggest we'd also require women to cover their heads.

          But they don't.

          God bless,
          William

          Comment>

          • #6
            Originally posted by William View Post
            If we had women leading worship, prayer, prophesying, and speaking in tongues from the pulpit then I can most certainly suggest we'd also require women to cover their heads.
            This Scripture passage says nothing about women "leading" worship. Please note: Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? That is quite sufficient to demolish the writer's argument, and establish the validity of women covering their heads during worship. It is difficult to understand why Christians who otherwise accept the authority of the Word of God, reject that same autrhority when it comes to the head covering.
            Comment>

            • #7
              Originally posted by Lucas View Post
              This Scripture passage says nothing about women "leading" worship. Please note: Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? That is quite sufficient to demolish the writer's argument, and establish the validity of women covering their heads during worship. It is difficult to understand why Christians who otherwise accept the authority of the Word of God, reject that same autrhority when it comes to the head covering.

              Further reading:

              As we consider briefly the passage itself in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, it should be apparent how significant the cultural context is in correctly understanding the text. For if the headcovering ought to be viewed in a similar way to that of foot washing and the holy kiss, as also the good order concerning sacrificed meat and the Lord's Supper, then Paul is instructing the Corinthians concerning the abiding moral principle of proper order and decorum between male authority and female submission in public worship within the appropriate cultural expression familiar to Corinthian society.

              Thus, when Paul appeals to the order of headship in 1 Corinthians 11:3 (“But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.”), he begins by laying down the unalterable, moral principle of male headship and female submission. This, in reality, was the truth that was being denied when the men covered their heads and the women uncovered their heads contrary to the accepted cultural custom in Corinth. The uncovering of the man and the covering of the woman were merely the outward cultural expressions of this revealed order of headship (similar to the outward cultural sign of the holy kiss signifying the revealed truth of brotherly love).

              Paul also makes clear to the Corinthians (in 1 Corinthians 11:4-5) that when men cover their heads and women uncover their heads in public worship, they bring shame upon themselves by inverting the conventional customs appropriate to men and women within Corinth.

              Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoreth his head.But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoreth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.

              Similarly, if the Corinthian believers had refused to greet one another with a holy kiss, it would have been tantamount to denying the unalterable principle of brotherly love and would have brought great shame upon their own heads for refusing to do that which even the heathens did one to another as a cultural expression of their love.

              The same moral principle (of male authority and female submission) is taught from the order of creation in 1 Corinthians 11:7-9. We believe that if our present culture did customarily use male/female signs which express the gender order, it would be necessary to follow these. If, however, the headcovering is not cultural, but is rather (as some claim) a divine regulation required in public worship for all time, based upon the law of nature and the order of creation, we would expect to find evidence of this in the Old Testament. We would expect to find the headcovering instituted in the Garden of Eden as a creation ordinance. The evidence, however, is to the contrary. For Genesis 2:25 teaches that Eve did not wear a headcovering, but was rather naked.

              And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.

              Nor do we find the Corinthian headcovering regulation taught as an ordinance in the public worship of God in the Old Testament. Indeed for certain men in ecclesiastical office we find the exact opposite required. High priests were required to cover their heads in Leviticus 8:9 in contrast to Paul’s instruction that men uncover their heads in public worship:
              And he put the mitre upon his head; also upon the mitre, even upon his forefront, did he put the golden plate, the holy crown; as the LORD commanded Moses.

              Similarly, the priests also were required to cover their heads in Ezekiel 44:18 contrary to the regulations of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:4.
              They shall have linen bonnets upon their heads, and shall have linen breeches upon their loins; they shall not gird themselves with any thing that causeth sweat.

              We consider that this evidence is sufficient to demonstrate that the headcovering practice of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 cannot be an unalterable moral requirement based upon the creation order, the law of nature, or worship regulations of the Old Testament.

              Paul uses every argument at his disposal to demonstrate the disorderly and unbecoming conduct of women who (within that cultural context) uncovered their heads in public worship. Even the angels, who approve of all good order rather than confusion within worship, become a reason for these women to cover their heads in accordance with the prevailing custom of women in Corinth.
              For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels (1 Corinthians 11:10).

              If Paul can address the disorderly conduct of the Corinthians in the use of spiritual gifts by drawing their attention to the fact that “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints”; then he can also address the disorderly conduct of the women who have removed the cultural sign of their submission by reminding them of the outward order and submission in which the angels delight.

              Paul raises a rhetorical question in 1 Corinthians 11:13:
              Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?

              We ask: If Paul was commanding the Corinthians and the church of all ages to obey an unalterable law of God, irrespective of time and culture, then what was he calling the people to judge in themselves? Was he encouraging the people to judge in themselves whether God's unalterable commands are right? No, that could not be the case, for we are not to judge the commands of God, but rather to adore and obey them. If one should answer, "Paul was calling the people to judge according to the law of God written in their hearts, and according to the light of nature"; we then ask: Does the light of nature in fallen man teach principles of gender comeliness in prayer? Specifically, do all heathen nations intuitively understand that it is sinful for a woman to pray to God uncovered, and a man covered? If so, then where is the evidence of that fact? To the contrary, we have previously demonstrated that among even the most reformed nations, men were at times covered for prayers and at other times uncovered. Likewise, women as well as men and children were (as in the French Reformed Churches) ordered to be uncovered during public and private prayers. We have demonstrated that even in enlightened and reformed nations the meaning of the sign of the headcovering had changed radically. In one age a covered head meant submission, and in another age it meant the exact opposite—namely, authority. The light of nature in regard to women praying uncovered is not even close to uniform among the reforming Protestant nations. So how then do we assert that Paul was calling on the Corinthians to judge according to a uniform light of nature within a heathen land?

              What then was he asking the people to judge? They were to judge in themselves, whether, under the current cultural circumstances, it was comely for a woman to pray in public uncovered. This is something that could be easily judged and is a very relevant question for the Corinthians to answer. All they had to do was to look at what was considered comely in their culture and to respond accordingly.

              One of the strongest objections against the cultural interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is claimed to be found in 1 Corinthians 11:14:
              Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?

              John Calvin has rightly rendered the sense of the passage. Commenting upon 1 Corinthians 11:14 Calvin states:
              He [Paul—RPNA] again sets forth nature as the mistress of decorum, and what was at that time in common use by universal consent and custom—even among the Greeks—he speaks of as being natural, for it was not always reckoned a disgrace for men to have long hair. Historical records bear, that in all countries in ancient times, that is, in the first ages, men wore long hair. Hence also the poets in speaking of the ancients, are accustomed to apply to them the common epithet of unshorn. It was not until a late period that barbers began to be employed at Rome—about the time of Africanus the elder. And at the time when Paul wrote these things, the practice of having the hair shorn had not yet come into use in the provinces of Gaul or Germany. Nay more, it would have been reckoned an unseemly thing for men, no less than for women, to be shorn or shaven; but as in Greece [Corinth—RPNA] it was reckoned an unbecoming thing for a man to allow his hair to grow long, so that those who did were remarked as effeminate, he [Paul—RPNA] reckons as nature a custom that had come to be confirmed (emphases added).

              If, as Calvin taught, nature is custom that has come to be confirmed within a society, then Paul is asking this question: "Doth not even a custom which has come to be confirmed in your culture, itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?" This follows very well with the scope of Paul's argument and is indeed something that the Corinthians could easily judge. If we say that God explicitly commanded the use of the headcovering in this passage irrespective of the culture of the Corinthians, then there was really nothing for the Corinthians to judge in themselves, and this makes Paul's question irrelevant. We are not prepared to assert this.

              Conclusion Of The Reformed Presbytery In North America

              We have come to the conclusion, based upon scriptural argument, and in accord with the best divines in the purest times of the church that 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 should be interpreted within a cultural context. We believe that Paul is not enjoining all churches, at all times, to follow the specific headcovering practice which he prescribed for the Corinthian Church. We do assert, however, that the principles which are taught in this passage afford us great light as to how to conduct ourselves in decency and order within various cultural contexts. We further assert, like Paul, that in a land where the headcovering is a cultural sign of either authority or submission that the orderly way to proceed is to follow the custom of the land, provided that such a custom does not oppose the general rules of the Word of God. In a land or time when the headcovering is neither a sign of submission or authority (as is true within North America in the twenty-first century), we maintain that one ought not to wear a headcovering as a sign of authority or submission, and thus cause confusion or offense within the church. If a man or a woman within our culture attaches no significant meaning of authority or submission to the headcovering, and simply wishes to wear a hat to church, we believe they are at liberty to do so. In this way, we, as Christians, may use our liberty to promote unity and peace within the body of Christ and to drive away unnecessary contention from the Church.

              The Presbytery heartily and without reservation testifies its full agreement with and approval of our covenanted subordinate standards and the rulings of our covenanted and faithful judicatories as being agreeable to and founded upon the Word of God. As with all our subordinate standards, we make no claims that this report is infallible. We confess that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the alone infallible rule of faith and practice (cf. Term #1 of our Six Terms of Communion) and that the infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself (cf. The Westminster Confession Of Faith, 1:9). In the words of The Westminster Confession Of Faith (31:4), we further believe that

              All synods or councils, since the Apostles' times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both.

              Indeed, if it is ever conclusively proved that any of our subordinate documents have erred from the infallible rule of Scripture, our duty is to reform. The primary purpose of all subordinate standards is to state what we believe the Scriptures to teach.


              God bless,
              William
              Comment>
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