SAN FRANCISCO | Tue Nov 27, 2012 4:50pm EST
(Reuters) - The American Civil Liberties Union and four servicewomen sued the U.S. Defense Department on Tuesday to end a ban on women in combat, calling the military the last bastion of discrimination by the federal government and saying modern warfare has already put women in the line of fire.
When you see a woman with a headcovering, what do you think of? The Amish? Legalism? Something old fashioned?
What does your church teach on the subject? Or do they ignore it? Would you even know how to find the ‘headcovering’ passage in Scripture? Do you even have a view on it, except for the one that you live out through your actions?
As our society moves farther and farther toward eliminating all distinctions between men and women perhaps it might interest you to know that the reformers, and basically every church leader up until the early twentieth century, thought that the headcovering commanded by Paul was an important part of the church's witness as to the distinct roles of men and women.
What exactly was their view? A view that is almost universally rejected in even the most 'Bible believing' churches? Well, I will let them tell it in their own words, below, but in summary:
- The headcovering is a physical headcovering. It is not the woman’s hair.
- The doctrine of the headcovering is a creation ordinance, to be respected by all believers, in all churches, everywhere, for all time.
- The headcovering is to be worn by women (and not worn by men) at all instances of public worship.
- The doctrine concerns more the ‘removal’ of headcovering for worship more than some special action. IE In general the women were to wear the headcovering and they were not to remove it coming into worship because of a false view of the equality of men and women in Christ.
- The headcovering is meant to reflect the Earthly subjection of women to men, and the subjection of men to Christ.
I am sure that many of you are scratching your heads. How is it possible that this was the standard doctrine of the church for all of those centuries and you had no idea? Why have you never heard this preached on? Or, when the passage was preached on, why were you not told that the doctrine your preacher was preaching was new? That no one ever believed that before this century?
Well, that is the purpose of this post. Below I will aquaint you with some of what the old reformers taught on this subject. Oh, and I’ve thrown in RC Sproul just for fun:
I) The headcovering is a physical headcovering. It is not the woman’s hair.
She ought to have power on her head, because of the angels. Power, that is, a veil, the token, not of her having the power or superiority, but being under the power of her husband, subjected to him, and inferior to the other sex. Rebekah, when she met Isaac, and was delivering herself into his possession, put on her veil, in token of her subjection, Gen_24:6
He now maintains from other considerations, that it is unseemly for women to have their heads bare. Nature itself, says he, abhors it. To see a woman shaven is a spectacle that is disgusting and monstrous. Hence we infer that the woman has her hair given her for a covering. Should any one now object, that her hair is enough, as being a natural covering, Paul says that it is not, for it is such a covering as requires another thing to be made use of for covering it.
he means a token by which she declares herself to be under the power of her husband; and it is a covering, whether it be a robe, or a veil, or any other kind of covering.
the generality of interpreters, by power, understand the veil, or covering on the woman's head, as a sign of the man's power over her, and her subjection to him
“It is obvious from this comparison between men having their heads uncovered and women having their heads covered, that the covering is not hair. For if the covering in this context were hair, verse 6 would make no sense in the context of this passage.”
II) The doctrine of the headcovering is a creation ordinance, to be respected by all believers, in all churches, everywhere, for all time.
How he lays the foundation for his reprehension by asserting the superiority of the man over the woman: 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. Christ, in his mediatorial character and glorified humanity, is at the head of mankind. He is not only first of the kind, but Lord and Sovereign. He has a name above every name: though in this high office and authority he has a superior, God being his head. And as God is the head of Christ, and Christ the head of the whole human kind, so the man is the head of the tow sexes: not indeed with such dominion as Christ has over the kind or God has over the man Christ Jesus; but a superiority and headship he has, and the woman should be in subjection and not assume or usurp the man's place.
The simple solution is this — that he does not treat here of innocence and holiness, which are equally becoming in men and women, but of the distinction, which God has conferred upon the man, so as to have superiority over the woman.
And the head of the woman is the man, The man is first in order in being, was first formed, and the woman out of him, who was made for him, and not he for the woman, and therefore must be head and chief; as he is also with respect to his superior gifts and excellencies, as strength of body, and endowments of mind, whence the woman is called the weaker vessel; likewise with regard to pre-eminence or government, the man is the head; and as Christ is the head of the church, and the church is subject to him, so the husband is the head of the wife, and she is to be subject to him in everything natural, civil, and religious. Moreover, the man is the head of the woman to provide and care for her, to nourish and cherish her, and to protect and defend her against all insults and injuries.
“Nowhere does [Paul] give cultural reasons for his teaching, i.e., abusive practices of a pagan society that placed prostitutes with shorn heads in the temples. Paul points us back to God’s established order in nature. Whenever a teaching in Scripture refers to ‘creation ordinances,’ that teaching is binding for all cultures in all ages.”
“While [Charles] Hodge says that women should conform to the ‘rules of decorum,’ it must be maintained that these rules, regarding the worship of God, are established by God Himself not by the whims of culture. It is proper for a woman to have a symbol of authority upon her head; what that symbol consists of does not matter, but the necessity of the symbol remains fixed even as the authority of man remains fixed. . . . As in all things regarding worship, we must strive to be conformed to God’s regulations in all things, no matter how seemingly insignificant.”
III)The headcovering is to be worn by women (and not worn by men) at all instances of public worship.
at the same time it might suit sufficiently well to say, that the Apostle requires women to show their modesty — not merely in a place in which the whole Church is assembled, but also in any more dignified assembly, either of matrons or of men, such as are sometimes convened in private houses.
not to be restrained to the person that is the mouth of the congregation to God in prayer, or who preaches to the people in the name of God; but to be applied to every individual person that attends public worship, that joins in prayer with the minister, and hears the word preached by him,
it designs any woman that joins in public worship with the minister in prayer, and attends on the hearing of the word preached, or sings the praises of God with the congregation, as we have seen, the word prophesying signifies,
IV) The doctrine concerns more the ‘removal’ of headcovering for worship more than some special action. IE In general the women were to wear the headcovering and they were not to remove it coming into worship because of a false view of the equality of men and women in Christ.
It may seem strange from whom the Corinthian women should take up this custom, since the Jewish women were not allowed to go into the streets, or into any open and public place, unveiled
The woman, on the other hand, who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head, namely, the man, 1Co_11:3. She appears in the dress of her superior, and throws off the token of her subjection.
And hence a conjecture is drawn, with some appearance of probability — that women who had beautiful hair were accustomed to uncover their heads for the purpose of showing off their beauty.
V) The headcovering is meant to reflect the Earthly submission/ subjection of women to men, and the subjection of men to Christ.
The apostle makes the point that the veil [a.k.a. head covering], as a symbol of authority, is inconsistent with the position of the man, but it is required for women, who are subordinate to men.”
that the man is the glory of God, and the woman the glory of the man; the authority of the man over the woman, and the subjection of the woman to the man, are of God, and according to his constitution and appointment; as also that the woman should be of the man, and for his sake, and that the man should be by the woman, and neither should be without the other: these are not things of human constitution, but are settled by the wise counsel of God, and therefore to be cheerfully submitted to, as the best order of things
Let the man exercise his authority with moderation, and not insult over the woman who has been given him as his partner. Let the woman be satisfied with her state of subjection, and not take it amiss that she is made inferior to the more distinguished sex. Otherwise they will both of them throw off the yoke of God, who has not without good reason appointed this distinction of ranks. Farther, when it is said that the man and the woman, when they are wanting in their duty to each other, are rebels against the authority of God, the statement is a more serious one than if Paul had said, that they do injury to one another.
The woman was made for the man, to be his help-meet, and not the man for the woman. She was naturally, therefore, made subject to him, because made for him, for his use, and help, and comfort. And she who was intended to be always in subjection to the man should do nothing, in Christian assemblies, that looks like an affectation of equality.
4. She ought to have power on her head, because of the angels. Power, that is, a veil, the token, not of her having the power or superiority, but being under the power of her husband, subjected to him, and inferior to the other sex.
We should, even in our dress and habits, avoid every thing that may dishonour Christ. The woman, on the other hand, who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head, namely, the man, 1Co_11:3. She appears in the dress of her superior, and throws off the token of her subjection.
Speaking personally we have found that our use of the headcovering causes great distress amongst those Christians who reject a woman's role, Biblically speaking. I believe that Scripture clearly teaches this doctrine, and that, like all Scriptural doctrines, our failure to follow it has dramatic negative results.
"What should I do if I am unsure of the Bible’s teaching regarding head coverings? What if I am partially but not wholly persuaded? “What if, after careful consideration of a Biblical mandate, we remain uncertain as to its character as principle or custom? If we must decide to treat it one way or the other but have no conclusive means to make the decision, what can we do? Here the biblical principle of humility can be helpful. The issue is simple. Would it be better to treat a possible custom as a principle and be guilty of being over scrupulous in our design to obey God? Or would it be better to treat a possible principle as a custom and be guilty of being unscrupulous in demoting a transcendent requirement of God to the level of a mere human convention? I hope the answer is obvious.”~RC Sproul
1) This post is the second in a series of posts on ‘The Reformer’s Views; reminding modern Christians of some of their history. The first can be found here.
1) The above quotes are partial snatches from the commenators involved, mostly from their commentaries on I Cor 11. For 'the rest of the story': fuller references from each of the commentators listed, plus some sermons on the subject, feel free to read my page on the subject.