Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Zac Poonen on the headcovering

Zac Poonen makes good points about the head covering passage:
By Zac Poonen

What does the Bible teach about head-covering for women in the church meetings?
This has become a controversial subject in churches in Western countries and among Westernized Christians in India.

Further: 99% of sisters who do cover their heads when praying and prophesying do not know WHY they do so. And 99% of brothers who keep their heads uncovered when praying and prophesying do not know WHY they do so.

A study of this subject is now available at: You are invited to read it and to pass it on to others.

For Christian Fellowship Church
Here's the main teaching from that website:

Meaning of head-covering
There are at least three reasons given in the New Testament why a woman should cover her head when she prays or prophesies in the meetings of the church:

First: The Bible says, "A man should NOT cover his he..." - and the reason given is: ... because he is the image and glory of God". In contrast, we are told, "but the woman is the glory of man" (1 Cor.11:7). The glory of man must be covered in the church - and since woman is the glory of man, she testifies to this fact by covering her head. This is the plain and simple meaning of this verse.

Second: The Bible says, "A woman's long hair is her glory" (1 Cor.11:15). The glory of the woman also must be covered in the church, just like the glory of man. And so she must cover her head which has the glory of her long hair. Almost all women are conscious that their long hair is a major part of what makes them look attractive - and that is why even among those women who do put a covering on their heads, most of them cover only a part of their hair!! If a woman does not want to cover her head, then the only alternative that the New Testament offers is to remove that glory, by shaving her head completely: "If a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head" (1 Cor.11:6).

Third: TheBible says: "Man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake. Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels" (1 Cor.11:10). The head-covering symbolizes the fact that a woman accepts her God-appointed role as having been created "for man's sake" as his helper and therefore her willingness to be submissive to male authority - whether as a wife to her husband, or as a daughter to her father, or as a sister in the church to the church-elders. It is significant that the disappearance of the head-covering from women in Western churches (on a large scale) coincided with the time that the movement for "Women's Liberation" (a phrase used in a book in 1949) began to spread in Western countries - about 60 years ago. The "angels" mentioned in this verse could refer either to the fallen angels or to the angels in heaven. So it could either be a reminder to women to bear in mind that the fallen angels fell because they were not submissive to authority. Or it could mean "A woman should wear a covering on her head as a sign that she is under man's authority - a fact for all the angels (in heaven) to notice and rejoice in" (as The Living Bible paraphrases that verse).

1 Corinthians 11:16 says that every church that is a church of God, will insist on this head covering for women when they pray or prophesy. The Holy Spirit recognized that 20 centuries later this would become a controversial issue; and so He made Paul to state (in this same verse) that if anyone was going to be argumentative about this matter, he would not argue with such a person. He would just allow that person to continue on in his/her disobedience and inconsistency.

Some Questions

Some may say that the head-covering is only a symbol and therefore not so important. But baptism and the breaking of bread are also only symbols.
The first half of 1 Corinthians 11 (v.1-16) explains the meaning of the symbolic head-covering for women. The second half of the same chapter (11:.20-34) explains the meaning of the symbolic breaking of bread. In the same way, Romans 6 explains the meaning of the symbol of water-baptism. Would we say that the Lord's table and baptism also are unimportant, because they are only symbols? If we insist on baptism and breaking of bread as essential for believers, then we are inconsistent if we say that head-covering for women is not essential.

Some may say that head-covering for women is mentioned only once in the New Testament. Breaking of bread also is mentioned only once in the epistles. Likewise, the truth that God loves us as much as He loved Jesus is also mentioned only once in the whole Bible (Jn.17:23). But once is enough - to know this glorious truth. If Almighty God has given a command, then even if it is given only once in Scripture, that is sufficient. The importance of a command is determined by the importance of the Person Who gave it.

In ancient Babylon, Daniel stood for a law (Dan.1:8) that had been commanded only once in the Scriptures (about food in Lev.11; and wine in Prov.23:31). In the same way, in the midst of Babylonian Christianity today, we also stand for the commands of God - whether small or big, whether mentioned once or many times.

Some say that since we are commanded to pray at all times (Lk.18:1; 1 Thess.5:17), therefore a woman should cover her head all 24 hours of the day. Scripture must always be read in its context, if we are to understand it aright. The entire section (1 Cor.11:1-34) is dealing with the meetings of the church (Verses 16 and 18 make that clear). So it is obvious that the Holy Spirit was referring to church meetings when He gave this command. If we add to that, and insist that women should cover their heads at all times, then we will be adding to the Scriptures.

And further: If those who preach a 24-hour head covering are consistent, they must also teach that men (who should also be praying at all times) should never cover their heads at any time - and therefore should never wear a cap or a hat, at any time - whether it be hot, raining, or snowing. Such teachers must also then teach that women should keep their heads covered even when sleeping or showering/bathing (=24 hours). But they do not preach that - proving that they are inconsistent in their teaching. We can safely ignore such inconsistent teachers.

I have also observed that many sisters who practice a 24-hour head covering do not cover their entire heads. They cover only the back portion of their heads or just the small part of their hair that is tied up in a bun at the back of their heads - so that the glory of their hair is still visible. A small piece of cloth at the back of the head however is only an excuse for a head-covering - and not a head-covering at all, because the head and the glory of the hair are still not covered. Such "namesake head-coverings" are worn by legalists only to ease their conscience and to appear "holy" before others. But their teachers do not object to this, because they themselves are inconsistent in their teaching.

Some say that the hair itself is called the head-covering for women in 1 Cor.11:15. If one has understood the Divine principle taught in the first 14 verses of this chapter, then this verse will not cancel out the need for a woman with long hair to still cover her head with a covering. Paul could not possibly have taken 15 verses merely to teach that a woman should have long hair! That could have been stated in just one sentence! What does not come out in the English translation of the Bible is the fact that in the original Greek language (in which Paul wrote his letters), the Holy Spirit prompted him to use a different Greek word for "covering" in verse 15 than the one He used in verse 6. The Greek word used in verse 6 is katakalupto; whereas the word used in verse 15 is peribolaion (which is translated as "mantle" in Heb. 1:12). This makes it crystal clear that the mantle of hair referred to in verse 15 is not the head-covering referred to in verse 6 or in the rest of the chapter. Another proof of this is: If hair is the "head-covering" being referred to in this section, then every man who prays or prophesies would have to have his head completely shaved, if he is to obey this Scripture that tells him not to have his head covered!! The clear teaching of the Holy Spirit in this chapter is that the "mantle of hair" that nature has given a woman as her glory must be covered with a covering, when she is praying or prophesying
All good points here.

Because so many down the centuries have insisted on women's covering their heads at all times I've been vacillating a great deal on it for myself, but the point about men's wearing hats outside the church meeting is the deciding point for me to take the solid position that it's only in the church meeting that it's required of us. But it IS required of us and a COMPLETE covering is required, not the little bit of fabric that covers the bun in the back as the Mennonites have, which he mentions above, and not a little lace doily that also shows most of the hair, and not a fashionable hat that becomes a glory in and of itself. In fact the women of India with their long scarves seem to have the right idea.

As for the long hair misreading, I'd just like to add my own favorite argument which is that there is no way in any time or place before the 20th century in the west that women would ever have willingly cut their hair as it was regarded as a NATURAL badge of femininity to have it long, just as Paul says. Since it WAS the universal practice, since all the women WOULD have had long hair, Paul could not possibly have been exhorting them to wear their hair long.

It's only in the west and in recent time -- about the time of the first world war -- that this along with other feminine expressions started to drop away. Women started trying to look like men around that time. The cloche hat of the twenties, for instance, imitated the helmets the soldiers wore, and the women also cut their hair short for the first time then, and started walking with a slouch that deemphasized their female curves, and so on. Of course it simply became a fashion habit for most women who liked the look or got used to it and had no clue as to its history and no interest at all in looking like men either. One of my aunts maintained that slouch and the "cupid's bow" lips of that era for most of the rest of her life; another aunt kept the "marcelled" hairdo of the twenties all her life. So the new fashion stuck, and by the 60s the churches too had given up on the head covering and the natural long hair that used to express femininity.

If it were ONLY a matter of fashion there wouldn't be a big problem with any of it, I suppose, but since it's commanded in scripture to cover the female head in the church assembly, and acknowledged by scripture that long hair on a woman and short hair on a man are given by nature, we can't just let fashion do the dictating.