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It is hard to imagine but since the 1960s the Church almost entirely practiced this tradition.
I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you”. – 1 Corinthians 11:2
It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. – 1 Corinthians 11:10
A Questioned Practice
One of the most questioned practices in the New Testament in the modern day Western Church is the practice of Head Coverings for women. Yet to get perspective we need to look over the panoply of God’s Church for 2000 years and see that this is not something new but old—and has been practiced diligently over the ages. It is hard to imagine but since the 1960s the Church almost entirely practiced this tradition. The influence of secular reasoning, feminism and liberal theology have led to the questioning and, ultimately, the casting aside of this practice in the Church at large in the evangelical world.
- What happened? Did early believers misunderstand this passage in 1 Corinthians 11?
- How did all subsequent believers also fall into the error of believing it to be calling for an actual physical head covering?
Though these questions are valid the answer comes down to our belief in the very words of God. When this passage is looked at honestly one can see this was not merely a cultural practice nor something unique to the Corinthian Church (1 Corinthians 1:1), rather it was a practice of the entire Church (1 Corinthians 11:16) in Paul’s day. And history itself bears witness to it being a practice of the Church for the better part of 1,900 years after Paul’s day. Modern liberal scholars and theologians have planted the seeds of doubt by questioning God’s word and the practices in it. We are witnessing in our day an embracing of unbiblical practices in the Church to a degree unimaginable 100 years ago. What is at stake is our trust and belief in the credibility of the very words of God and whether every small command is important before God.
Traditions Not Useful?
Many look at traditions as not useful or even against what God wants, yet the New Testament commands certain teachings and practices to be conveyed and passed on. Such things as Baptism, Communion, Head Coverings, the Holy Kiss and even Foot Washing, are valid symbols that speak of spiritual truths to others and the unseen realm. We are not to pick and choose which practices we feel are more important but are to simply believe and obey the word of God. The Bible clearly shows requirements and the importance of spiritual leaders (1 Timothy 3, 1 Peter 5:1-3) but some in our day are questioning what the Church has always obeyed and accepted. We need to ask ourselves, ‘Am I following the Lord and His Word or the crowd of popular opinion today?’ God does not force us to do things, but through our walk with His Spirit and reading His Word He beckons us to follow. Most leaders in evangelical Churches today are not even teaching or sharing this passage as relevant or God’s Word for this generation.
An early Church Christian Tertullian wrote of the Corinthians in AD 200 who were still wearing Head Coverings, “What the apostles taught, the disciples of the apostles confirmed.”
A Matter of Headship
The passage in 1st Corinthians 11 clearly teaches of headship where God is the head of Christ and Christ is the head of man and man is the head of woman. Biblical submission does not treat women as inferior spiritually but as one in Christ. Yet they must choose to submit and humble themselves just as Christ humbled himself before the Father. God’s government and way of order is in such a way where each member must do his or her part. When women or men choose not to fulfill and walk in God’s ways for the Church, disorder and every evil practice ensues. The importance of head covering is not an outward reason but a spiritual reality proclaimed to the principalities and powers. When the head covering is practiced it proclaims God’s order and way to all of creation, including the angels (1 Peter 1:12).
K. P. Yohannan says, “Have you considered why there is so much tension and fighting over placing a small piece of cloth on one’s head? When a woman wears the symbol of God’s government, a head covering, she is essentially a rebuke to all the fallen angels. Her actions say to them, ‘You have rebelled against the Holy God, but I submit to Him and His headship. I choose not to follow your example of rebellion and pride.'”
Eve fell into satan’s rebellion (2 Corinthians 11:3), yet now in the Church women declare they are following God’s order in the Church (1 Timothy 2:12-14).
Watchman Nee says, “When many of the sisters in the church take the place given to woman and learn to cover their heads, they send out an unspoken word of testimony to the angels in the air, to the effect that God has obtained in the church what He desires.”
Hippolytus an early Church Father wrote, “Let all the women have their heads covered.”
Unseen Angels In Worship
Others who taught this practice in the Church were, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Early Church Fathers, John Wesley, Matthew Henry to name just a few. We must remind ourselves that until the twentieth century, virtually all Christian women wore head coverings. When we worship together as the Church we enter into worship with the holy angels in heaven who cover their faces (Isaiah 6:2). In the same way sisters covering their heads show they honouring of the glory of God.
Clement of Rom in AD 96 said, “Then let us gather together in awareness of our concord” speaking of the holy angels when we worship. The Church is to gather and worship God in the Spirit (John 4:24) doing things that the world considers foolish but for the Lord there is great significance. Paul speaking as inspired by the Holy Spirit said, “We have no other practice—nor do the churches of God” (1 Corinthians 11:16). It was not just a local custom or practice but all the Churches were practicing this as they were practicing water Baptism and Holy Communion. This was not an optional thing as the default was all the Churches were doing it. It is interesting that the same apostle who warns against legalism and exhorts us to walk in the Spirit is the very same apostle who says, “If a woman does not cover her head, she should cut off her hair…”
Holy Symbols With Significance
These practices themselves are symbols, but they become holy symbols as we follow our Lord in obedience. They become holy because they speak of great spiritual realities and truths that we experience as believers in the Lord. What a joy and peace we can have as we practice these things in their simplicity, joining with the saints who throughout 2000 years of Church history practiced these same traditions which were given by the Lord through the Holy Spirit. This cloud of witnesses of the Church throughout history we can identify with as we worship in the same way.
Culture changes, but “the faith once delivered to the saints” does not. No matter how it looks we can still keep the basic traditions and symbols of the church in our context, country or culture. May we as disciples of Jesus Christ 2000 years later still seek the Lord honestly and be a confirmation of this wonderful practice that has continued on from generation to generation. May God bless you brother and sister as you journey with the Lord and consider this practice.