Why Do Women Wear a Head Covering at Christ Assembly?
Women played important roles in ministering to Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry (e.g., Matthew 27:55-56; Matthew 26:1-13). God described women as fellow heirs of the grace of life (1 Peter 3:7), and notes that all believers stand as one in Christ’s salvation without distinction of Jew or gentile, slave or free, male or female (Galatians 3:24). As the church gathers together locally to worship, Christ instituted practices for the assembly to follow so that all things may be done properly and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40). Many churches today ignore the practice of head covering for woman because they view the practice of head covering as merely a cultural phenomenon present in the early church, but no longer required. But does Scripture indicate a cultural practice or a command for the church of all ages?
Scripture, Not Culture, Guides Assembly Practice. Believers must be very careful to distinguish the traditions of men from the commandments of God (Mark 7:1-13). The Lord Jesus instituted the practice of the Lord’s Supper. In our assembly practice, we must follow only the commandments of God, and the traditions founded squarely upon the Word of God. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul reviewed the traditions (“παραδόσεις“) he delivered to the Corinthian church and praised them for holding firmly to those traditions (1 Corinthians 11:2). The New Testament always presents Jesus Christ as the head of the Church (Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18) and so we must follow His teaching (2 John 8-11; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
The Biblical Doctrine of Head Covering. God explains the need for head covering by turning to spiritual principles and examples. He starts with Christ and ends with the angels to develop the need for every woman to cover her head during the worship services of the church. In all His teaching, He does not rely upon culture or human traditions, but rather upon timeless truths.
The Headship of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul identified Christ as the head of every man, and the man as the head of the woman, and God as the head of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:4). Women should never feel inferior to men, because Christ is not inferior to God, but is Himself God. Christ recognized that He must do the will of God and carry out God’s plan for His life on earth (Hebrews 10:7). Paul built upon this idea of headship by teaching that every man disgraces his head when he prays with his head covered (1 Corinthians 11:4). In contrast, Paul indicated that every woman disgraces her head if she does not cover (“ἀκατακαλύπτῳ“) it while praying or prophesying, “for she is one and the same with the woman whose head is shaved” (1 Corinthians 11:5). If a woman does not cover her head, then she should have her hair cutoff, or head shaved. If she wants to keep her hair, then she should cover her head (1 Corinthians 11:6). Paul then explained the reasons for head covering, starting with creation.
The Order in Creation. Men do not cover their heads because they are the image and glory of God; the woman is the glory of man (1 Corinthians 11:7). Paul linked the doctrine of head covering for woman to creation, and not culture. He recalled the beginning: “man does not originate from woman, but woman from man” (1 Corinthians 11:8). God created man first, in His image and for His glory (Genesis 1:26). Furthermore, “man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake” (1 Corinthians 11:9). Paul then drew an important conclusion: “Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head . . . .” The head covering amounts to a symbol showing a woman’s respect for God’s choice to place the woman under the authority of the man, just as the man lives under the authority of Christ, and Christ under the authority of God (compare 1 Corinthians 11:10 with 1 Corinthians 11:3).
The Presence of the Angels. Paul also commanded head covering because of the presence of the angels (1 Corinthians 11:10). God displays His manifold wisdom through the church and its gatherings to the “rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10; cf. 1 Peter 1:10). Apparently, the angels watch over the meeting of saints in the church to worship Christ. Because God has ordained a pattern of submission between men and women, the angels watch for the obedience of saints. Furthermore, the evil one loves to accuse the brethren for their lack of obedience (Zechariah 3:1; Revelation 12:10). Clearly, this reason for head covering stands apart from any cultural patterns. Believers gathered in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ must remember that many powerful spiritual beings observe their practices and obedience to God’s Word.
Mutual Dependence. As a balance, God emphasizes that in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman (1 Corinthians 11:11). In creation, God fashioned woman from man’s rib (Genesis 2:21), and therefore woman originated from man (1 Corinthians 11:12). Likewise, man originates naturally by birth from the woman (1 Corinthians 11:12). In all these things, God demonstrates from creation forward that men and women depend upon one another and originate from each other. Furthermore, all things originate from God (1 Corinthians 11:12).
No Other Practice. Paul urged the Corinthians to draw upon their common sense and natural practices to judge whether a woman should pray to God with her head uncovered and expected a negative answer (1 Corinthians 11:13). Then, God emphasized that nature also taught that long hair dishonors a man, but it is a glory to the woman and is given to her as a covering (“περιβολαίου“) (1 Corinthians 11:14-15). The “covering” described here is a different Greek word for “covering” in verses five and six (“κατακαλύπτεται“). In light of the explicit teaching of verses five and six, Paul did not excuse a long-haired woman from covering her head. Instead, God teaches by analogy: in the natural world, the woman covers herself with long hair; in the spiritual realm, she covers herself with a proper symbol of authority when she attends the church service. God leaves no room for disagreement: “But if anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.” (1 Corinthians 11:16). Finally, when Paul wrote that we have no other practice, he meant the churches of God have no other practice. The geographical scope of that statement includes churches from Europe, Asia, and Africa. That large geographical scope also includes many different cultures. Paul said that all the churches have the same practice of head covering, even though the churches have been placed in many different cultures in different continents. Consider the cultural differences between the church at Jerusalem and the church at Rome or Corinth. Therefore, when people today argue that head covering was purely a cultural issue, ask them just what culture because the churches of the New Testament spanned many different cultures in many different places.