My friend is married to a wonderfully godly girl. Today he asked me to spell out my position on headcoverings from 1 Corinthians 11, a directly relevant question for him to be sharp on as he leads his family.
The starting point is recognizing that Paul is not giving culturally limited instructions in 1 Corinthians 11. He makes that clear as day at the beginning and end of the passage in question. As in all the churches…this is the apostolic tradition…if you disagree you are being sinfully contentious.
Next, the passage calls men to have short hair and women to have long hair. It says that a man is disgraced by long hair, a woman disgraced by short hair.
Additionally, her head is to be covered in the context of us speaking to God and God speaking to us. Today, that means in times of prayer and Bible teaching/preaching. If she won’t do that, she is so shamed that she might as well cut her hair short. Her head to be uniquely covered in that unique context, his head is to be uncovered, i.e. no Carhart, Condor, or Billabong hats, in the same context.
Now, my friend is an astute man; and he’s not going to believe something just because someone says it convincingly. He is rightly a Berean. So, he followed up with this question: “Can you explain why you’re able to confidently say that headcoverings are to be worn in the presence of prayer and preaching of God’s Word?” This means distinct from the personal practice of prayer or prophecy, which is the obvious and immediate statement of the text. When he asks specifically about the presence, that includes the practice, but extends beyond it to also referring to being in a group where prayer and/or preaching is happening.
Here’s my answer, firstly addressing being in the presence of prayer, secondly addressing being in the presence of Bible teaching.
Let’s say we’ve gotten together to pray for something. We can make the hypothetical at church for ease of explanation. A lady isn’t the one up front praying at church. Instead, the pastor is up front, mic’d, and praying for the sick and elderly of the congregation. What is each member doing while the pastor prays? What is each woman doing? Why does everyone say, “Amen” at the end? Is it not because the members, men and women, are praying with the pastor, and so say, “I agree”?
If that is sound thinking, then a lady will always be praying when she is in the presence of true, faithful, God-directed prayer. I don’t want her to cover her head during pagan prayer, because the difference is behavior is an easy way to make a point about what she thinks of the charade. She has no respect for it.
No woman on earth is today prophesying. The gift is no longer given. But the prophetic ministry continues in a second-hand way, like we see in Ephesians 4. God spoke to his people through prophecy. Today, God speaks to us through the preached Word. It is my contention that women are to cover their heads when the Word is preached because of my understanding of the logic of Paul’s command in 1 Corinthians.
Women are the glory of mankind (not a hard case to make, known to be true by all men, the reason our heart rates go up when a beautiful woman is in our presence). This truth literally reaches its apex in her long, flowing hair. That’s why we naturally know long, flowing hair is beautiful. It is the crown of woman’s glorying man.
That in no way contradicts what Paul says about head coverings showing submission. Submission is interconnected with her glorying man. I’d argue that those are inseparable ideas.
Her hair actually, therefore, draws attention to man, to his glory. Though God always speaks (Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl), when He speaks in special revelation, nowadays through the preaching of his Word, back in the day through prophecy, etc., all attention is to be Godward.
When Scripture is preached, when it’s taught, there is a consecrated space, when God specially speaks to us through His Word. And so, it is to be entered reverently and, for women, with headcoverings and, for men, with no hats.