A Modest Reply to a Brother’s Challenges to the Practice of Headcoverings in Worship

The following is a reply to some challenges someone inserted in a Facebook discussion that was elicited by a posting about headcoverings in worship.[1] His questions are numbered and my reply is below each point.

Perhaps it goes without saying but I only have the highest regard and respect for my brother with whose positions I interact.

  1. Which commandment does it fall under? 1st/3rd? 2nd? 4th? 6th? Honoring God? Regulated worship? Honoring the Sabbath? Modesty? Respect/Honor of Husband? This has not been sufficiently answered for me.  

First of all, should it matter? If God commands us to do something in his word when we cannot discern the species or what it relates to, how would this be a barrier to obedience? If a servant receives a command from his master that does not pertain to his daily tasks, does he ask: “How does this relate to my calling as a servant? To the work I do every day?” No, he obeys (Luke 17:10). 

Second of all, strictly speaking, disobedience to any commandment is a violation of all (James 2:10).

Third, should I venture an answer, it is obvious to me that it pertains to the second commandment since worship is in view. John Murray explains:

There is good reason for believing that the apostle is thinking of conduct in the public assemblies of the Church of God and of worship exercises therein in verse 17, this is clearly the case, and verse 18 is confirmatory. But there is a distinct similarity between the terms of verse 17 and of verse 2. Verse 2 begins, “Now I praise you” and verse 17, “Now in this . . . I praise you not”. The virtually identical expressions, the one positive and the other negative, would suggest, if not require, that both have in view the behaviour of the saints in their assemblies, that is, that in respect of denotation the same people are in view in the same identity as worshippers. If a radical difference, that between private and public, were contemplated, it would be difficult to maintain the appropriateness of the contrast between “I praise you” and “I praise you not.[2]

As the wearing of headcoverings also pertains to the relationship between husband and wife (1 Corinthians 11:3ff.), it should also be subsumed under the fifth commandment (WLC, Q&A 127).

  1. What is the position of the Westminster Standards on it? They are silent on it as being a part of worship (and yes, I know that the verse is a prooftext). The confessional position then is liberty, correct? Yes! For those that say, “Everyone did it during that time” fail to compel me as preaching, Scripture reading, etc. were also part of what “everyone did at that time.”

True, the standards do not reflect upon this matter. This argument from silence does not, however, reflect what scripture teaches or does not teach, only to what the authors of our confession chose to speak. Though I have a great deal of respect for the divines, I cannot see how their silence as to this issue is determinative of what Paul did or did not say when they did not specifically address it.

Is this a matter of liberty? No it isn’t, since the Confession notes that we are bound to “the whole counsel of God…” (WCF 1.6) as scripture is “[t]he supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined…” (WCF 1.9). The command in scripture that women have their head covered and that men have their head uncovered may be up to debate as to its nature and application, but the command is not. Those who advocate for headcoverings in worship do so because they believe that it is mandated. Other Christians disagree, to be sure, but that doesn’t make it a matter of liberty. That is the one position but not ours. The question is: how do we proceed in our discussions with those who believe it is a matter of liberty and those who do not? One man’s interpretation cannot be the basis by which the church, for example, disciplines a member for not following that interpretation, but it can and should be the basis for calling us to look more closely at the scriptures. 

3. For those who claim that it is part of the creation mandate: Did Eve wear a head           covering while naked in the garden? If not, then Paul must mean something                 different when referencing creation.

I am not certain that any advocate of headcoverings in worship has said that it is a part of the creation mandate, simpliciter. But surely the submission of wives to their husbands was and is, and the argument is that, as Paul commands, the wearing of a headcovering is a public demonstration of that.

Furthermore, Paul argues in the context of a fallen humanity (vs. 6 & vs. 14: shame). No headcovering was needed in the garden any more than clothing was needed since man was not ashamed to be in the presence of his creator. Just as Paul’s commands about participating in the Lord’s Supper govern eating at a table that commemorates the death of Christ for sinners, (vs. 20ff.), so also the headcovering in the context of the worship of God by fallen sinners

  1. If a head covering is known to DEMONSTRATE that a woman is in submission, then one should be able to show pictures of women wearing head coverings and ask unbelievers what it means that she covers, and they should respond “submissive.” But that’s not the case–they will respond “religious” and often the associated religion is a sect or a cult.

I must admit that I don’t understand this objection since, if Barry York’s arguments carry any weight, the head covering was known to demonstrate that a woman was in submission when she prophesied. So either way, the objection applies to any understanding of headcoverings.

I would have to demur, at least anecdotally, with his claim. Or at least my experience is as valid as the objector’s. And so is another’s: “What about the covering being a symbol of authority on her head? What kind of authority is it to which hair speaks? As already indicated, all that a woman has to do is walk into an assembly with her head covered where there are feminists present and it will be clear what that covering means.[3]

Furthermore, the headcovering does, at the very least, distinguish between men and women. That would be very clear to any culture, but especially in our day and age where there seems to be persistent confusion about such.

And why, based on this claim, would it have to be obvious to the unbeliever? Paul seems to be more concerned how these things are perceived in “the churches of God” (1 Corinthians 11:16).

Even taking this objection at face value I ask: was it obvious to Romans what the early Christians were doing in their ceremonies? But doesn’t the bread and wine clearly symbolize the body and blood of Christ as Paul goes on to explain? Indeed it does, but one must be thoroughly acquainted with the sacrament by way of teaching before one can understand and correctly observe it. And obviously Paul wrote this portion of scripture so that the Corinthians would be persuaded to follow the apostolic practice.  

1. See the discussion here: https://tinyurl.com/y6e5ddbj
2. Source: https://presbyterianreformed.org/1992/01/use-head-coverings-worship-god/
3. http://www.dr-bacon.net/blue_banner_articles/headcovr.htm

3 thoughts on “A Modest Reply to a Brother’s Challenges to the Practice of Headcoverings in Worship

  1. If men to this day still remove their hats when entering a church as a sign of respect how is it that we no longer think of women covering their heads in a church as a sign of respect? I think the one, men taking off their hats, should prove the other as a church practice.

    Very good post. God bless you! \o/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that is the residue of a cultural custom that we haven’t shaken yet as people do not see it as a sign of submission to God. It is obvious to me that the headcovering of women was removed because our culture and churches in general have rejected feminine submission.

      Nevertheless, I agree that they go hand in hand, as scripture teaches.

      Liked by 1 person

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