THE GOSPEL OF SCARVES, HATS & HEADGEARS
Someone asked my opinion about ladies covering their head/hair when in church so I thought to drop some thoughts about it.
This had been an age-long point of conflict in Christian circles! A trip back to the passage that birthed this idea (which is actually a doctrine in many churches) will be a good point to start. If you don’t mind, pause to read 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 here: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+11%3A2-16&version=NIV
In laying a background, it needs to be pointed out that the major subject being addressed in this passage is “the principle of subjection”, not “Christian fashion” (as it were).
It seems probable that some of the women in the Corinthian church to who Paul was writing, on pretence of being inspired, had prayed or prophesied casting off their veils after the manner of the pagan priestesses. This act was contrary to their tradition, properness, and decency. In that part of the world, veils are worn by women as the common symbol of subjection to their husbands. It is still so in Asia and Middle East till today! (By the way, their “veils” are not the same as our hats, berets, headgears and scarves—in appearance, function, or purpose—which churches that clamour for head-covering for women still permit).
Paul observes, therefore, that the superiority belongs to man over the woman, even as superiority belonged to Christ over the man; and that it was a dishonor to Christ when a man prayed or prophesied with his head covered, and in like manner it was regarded everywhere as dishonorable and improper for a woman to lay aside the appropriate symbol of her sex, and her emblem of subordination, and to be uncovered in the presence of the man (verses 3-5); that if a woman was not veiled, if she laid aside that appropriate emblem of her sex and of her subordinate condition, she might as well do away with her hair, which all knew would be dishonorable and improper (verse 6).
He reemphasized that the woman had been created for a subordinate station, and should observe it (verses 7-9); out of respect for the angels (verse 10). “What has angels got to do with this?” you may want to ask. There are three possibilities I know of:
- Angels are definitely present in Christian gatherings to watch people’s conduct and distribute blessings (Luke 15:7,10). . .and since the act of “not putting on a veil” was a “wrong conduct” in a cultural Corinthian gathering, Paul is urging the women to avoid getting into God’s black book on account of an angel’s unwholesome testimony about them…lol
- Angels are not perfect either. For there to have been angels in Gen 6:1-2 that saw “the daughters of men” as beautiful species they could interbreed with makes it a possibility that even they (the angels) could be tempted on seeing a woman’s full glorious hair. . .may be. . .maybe not.
- And thirdly, in subjection to their head (God), angels veil themselves, too! ( Isaiah 6:2). So you can imagine what will be their reaction to a woman who violates such an ideal.
But then, lest this should depress the women, and seem to convey the idea of their utter inferiorityand unimportance, Paul quickly adds that in the plan of salvation, men and women are in many respects equal. The same salvation plan was adapted to both; the same blessings are appointed for both; and the same high hopes are held out to both (verses 11-12).
He wraps it all up that nature, on this subject, was a good instructor, and showed that it was uncomely for a woman to pray with her head uncovered. Her hair had been given her for an ornament and for beauty, and that, as it would be as improper for her to remove her veil as to cut off her hair, nature itself required that this symbol of her subordination should be laid aside in public (verses 13-16).
In summary, the whole point is that women should show subjection to men, not because they are inferior to men, but rather, as a way of upholding spiritual authority. And the means of expressing this subjection varies according to the race and culture of the community where the church is planted.
That being said, whether or not women cover their head in church shouldn’t be an issue in a typical Nigerian church because that is not exactly how we express subjection to higher authority in most of the cultural settings in Nigeria. . .but even at that, as people under authority, we must adhere to the doctrines of our church (without complaints) as long as we admit to be identified as members of that church. And if God creates the platform for us to address some of such issues that we have had better understanding about, let’s do it. Otherwise, let’s obey. . .in silence!
Personal Arguments About Covering The Head. . .
- If we want to necessitate covering the head as the ideal for women each time they are praying or prophesying (ministering) on account of this passage, then it should be done the way the correct Corinthians did it—by covering the whole hair with their veils (something like the muslims’ ijab) such that no hair is seen at all.
- Acts 17:24 establishes that the temple of God is not the church building, but rather, our body is the temple (2 Cor 6:19). Therefore, everywhere we go, we carry God’s presence. If that is true (and I can bet it is), then women should not just cover their hair in church. . .buteverywhere! (That will be weird over here). They don’t only pray in church, do they? They pray anywhere and everywhere. Even a typical “proper Corinthian woman”
covers are hair 24/7. . .because that’s the cultural norm over there. But here, is it?
So I think it’s just all legalism to insist on making what was meant to be a “symbol” to become the “substance”. Any church that insists on a particular mode of dressing will soon become a cult; people will begin hypocrisy, living the prescribed way without knowing why.
In conclusion. . .
- Based on the contextual setting of 1 Corinthians 11, covering the hair is a symbol of subjection in the custom of that day of which acting contrary will be un-ideal and spiritually wrong as much as it is customarily incorrect.
- The message which the “symbol” typifies (subjection) can now be expressed in the language of our own contemporary culture (which definitely is not ‘covering the hair’).
- But if we find ourselves in a church where the ideal is for the women to cover their hair, then we must conform to that, lest we become rebels.
- And by the way, SINCERELY SPEAKING, covering the hair actually saves us a whole lot of distractions in church! Or don’t you think?