“But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” (verse 3)
Today’s reading (1 Corinthians 11:1-17) has caused many divisions in churches with regards to men’s and women’s roles in the Church. It has been used by many churches to insist that women are not permitted to be in key leadership positions. In certain denominations, this passage has led to the formation of the doctrine that women are required to cover their heads during church worship.
When studying this text, Paul is addressing the use of head coverings in worship that was commonly practiced in the Hellenistic culture in Corinth. This passage is to be understood in the context of marriage, church worship and Hellenism in the 1st century A.D.
(Please read the brief context in the comment)
Christ, the Church and Worship
While it may sound like Paul was being a sexist, it is clear after careful study, that he was defending the dignity of Christ and His Church from the culture of his day. Similarly, we must consider how women (and men), married and single, ought to conduct ourselves in public places, especially in our worship gatherings on Sundays, and in care groups.
The image of “covering the head” for married women was to recognize that they do not have personal preferences or autonomy to conduct their lives independently of their husbands. Rather, they were to submit (willingly and humbly) to their husband’s authority, as the husband comes under the authority of Christ who is the head of the Church. The responsibility was also on the husband as the head of the household. This does not make the married woman lesser than her husband. Instead, it is the joy of the woman to submit to her husband and remain faithful to him, as her husband does the same. (Paul was alluring to the model of marriage from the creation account i.e., God created man and woman in his image; man was created first and woman second. And the two will become one flesh.)
As Christ's Church, in the aspect of worship, we do not have personal preference for how we are to conduct our worship and lives independently of Jesus Christ. Just as women were instructed to cover their heads as a symbol of their submission to their husbands, the Church submits to Jesus. We do not tell God how and when we want to worship Him. Rather, we choose to conduct our worship in a manner that glorifies and honours Him.
We are living in a very sensual and sexual global culture. The image of women (and men) has been damaged by the media that aims to sensualize and sexualize us. The pressure to conform to the pattern of the culture set by the media is immense affecting both married and single women (men), young and matured.
Hence, remembering that Jesus Christ is our final authority guards us from succumbing to today’s culture. In our worship to God, let us be weary of popular cultures that may end up damaging the image of Christ and the Church in our nation. This is more than coverings of heads and clothes. It is the matter of our attitude toward God and worship – is He your head? Does he have authority over your life? If he does, then do you "dress" and behaviour in ways that bring honour to Him and His Body, the Church?
Personal reflection exercise:
Take time to self reflect and assess how certain cultures have affected your Christian witness.
Consider some changes that you may need to do to ensure that your conduct will honour Jesus Christ and His Church. Make a list and ask the Holy Spirit to assist you through these changes.
As an overview, with regards to head coverings, in the 1st Century Greek customs married women often wore head coverings in public to indicate to other men (and women) of their marital status. Given that the Greek culture was highly sensual and promiscuous, this was an important tradition to keep. Hence, removing her head covering is to indicate that she is available to other men. This was one reason Paul insisted that women covered their heads. This was a practical pastoral advice to ensure that Christian marriages remained holy and untainted by the culture of the day.
Biblical scholar Bruce W. Winter in an article “You were what you wore in Roman Law” states that during the Roman Empire, a “new” culture was adopted by married women of the upper classes. They began to fashion their hairs and unveiled their heads, and wore sexually provocative clothing that was commonly practiced by women worshippers of the goddess Aphrodite. Thus, Paul was addressing this issue as well, when he insisted that women were to cover their heads. He was ensuring that the worship of Jesus in the Corinthian Church is not identified with the idolatry of the people in Corinth. The Christian women, especially the married women, were to be distinct from the other women of their culture.