Why should women wear head coverings?
Why should we wear head coverings? We often have heard men explain I Corinthians 11, but we have rarely heard it from a womanís perspective. As a result, we feel compelled to share our thoughts on this controversial topic.
I Corinthians 11:3-16 lays out the concept of headship. Simply put, Paul is telling us that there are specific roles for men and women that represent the relationship of Christ to God. God is the head of Christ and to represent that relationship on earth, God has made man the head of the woman. He spends 13 verses explaining that concept and showing us that even in our physical appearance men and women are different. Men have short hair which requires them to spend all of about a minute styling it (for most thatís being generous) while women need much longer to blow dry, curl, iron, etc. Women take great pride in their hair and if they lose it to cancer or for some other reason, it is devastating for them emotionally. Verse 15 specifically states that a womanís hair is given to her for her glory. As a result, when we pray and prophesy, we are to cover our heads.
By wearing a head covering, we are showing our devotion to the Lord. He really doesnít ask much of us. In fact, he asks nothing of us that requires significant sacrifice. Muslims will spend one month each year fasting and pray five times each day. Some Catholics will walk on their knees to certain churches causing their knees to bleed by the time they get there. By comparison, wearing a head covering doesnít seem so difficult does it? Yet the Lord has asked it of us.
Another reason for wearing a head covering is that it is our opportunity as women to make a very public statement. Many women question why we are to stay quiet and let the men take the lead in church meetings, but we have the ability to speak up by covering our heads. In any meeting in which we are present with heads covered, we are speaking not only to those around us, but to the angels (verse 10) showing our devotion to the Lord and our willingness to do as he has asked.
We hear lots of reasons why wearing a head covering is not necessary. Some say that since this topic is only addressed in one passage of the Bible, it canít be that important. To that argument we ask, how many times should the Lord have to tell us to do something? Do we expect to tell our children more than once to come to the table for dinner? Donít you think that the Lord probably thought that once should be enough for us?
Weíve heard some women say that they donít want to wear a head covering because they find it demeaning. After all, why on earth would God want us to do something that represents the man as being the head of the woman? Isnít that a fairly ancient concept? Yet in verse 3, God is described as being the head of Christ. Do you think that Christ is less than God? Of course not. What we are really fighting is the concept that men are superior to women. There are plenty of examples of strong women in the Bible. The virtuous woman in Proverbs 31:16 bought property, Apollos was taught by Priscilla and Aquila in Acts 18:26 (notice that Priscilla is listed first), and Deborah, the prophetess, led Israel in Judges 4. Would the same God who provided those women as examples of leaders believe that we as women are inferior to men? The issue is a difference in roles and not whether one gender is more important than the other. Women have the privilege of bearing children. Men will never be able to share that experience with us. No matter how much we may try to fight it, we are different. God has given men and women very special and different roles. Those roles do not dictate that men are better than women or that women are better than men. The use of the head covering, however, does acknowledge those differences and represents our different roles and responsibilities. That brings us back to the topic of public participation in the church. Men are given the role of worshiping the Lord audibly in public. Women are given the role of worshiping the Lord by wearing the head covering in public.
Some people make the case that head coverings were cultural, but the symbolism represented by wearing head coverings is timeless. As we just discussed, the headship that is represented by wearing the head covering was not isolated to the early New Testament period. It is still very relevant today. If they were already wearing head coverings all the time as part of their daily lives, why would he specifically say that a woman should be covered when they "pray and prophesy" (verse 5)? That language implies that there were times when the head coverings would not be worn and times when he is asking us to wear them.
We also hear many people argue that verse 16 states that we should not cause divisions over this issue. As a result, they argue that if there are disagreements over whether to wear head coverings or not, we should discontinue the practice. On the contrary, we believe that verse 16 is making the opposite point. We like the translation in the NIV that reads, "If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice Ė nor do the churches of God". Why do we automatically assume that the person who wants to wear the head covering is the one who is contentious? If he has just spent 13 verses explaining why head coverings are important, isnít the person who does not want to wear the head coverings the contentious one? Also, what does he mean when he says that we have no other practice? Isnít he explaining that we have no other way to show headship other than with head coverings?
In some assemblies, the leadership has left the decision up to the individual or family. In other assemblies, the elders have requested that all women practice head coverings. In this context we would refer to Hebrews 13:17. "Obey your elders and submit to their authority". Being a leader in an assembly is a big responsibility and if the elders make the request that we wear a head covering, we are sure they have not made their request without careful study and consideration of the Word of God. Why would we not love and respect them enough to help them carry out their convictions. Our obedience to the elders shows our love and devotion to the Lord.
If none of the above convinces you that head coverings are still relevant, we leave you with this. If you could talk to God about head coverings only, would you rather tell God why you choose to wear a head covering or why you choose not to wear a head covering? We are convinced that we will never make God unhappy by wearing one. On the other hand, we think God will be very pleased by our desire to follow this small and simple request. It costs us nothing to wear a head covering (except the small amount we spend on the material). It requires so little of us that it would be best to err on the side of doing something needlessly rather than ignoring something that God would like us to do.
Finally, the Word of God never tells us with what we need to cover our heads. Some wear veils, others wear fancy or simple hats, and still others wear bandannas or caps. The Lord never designated what we should wear on our heads. Itís not the head covering itself that is important but what it symbolizes.
We hope you consider these thoughts carefully and consider it a joy to be able to carry out this privilege that the Lord has given to us as women, and we entreat you to faithfully teach your daughters this principle of Scripture as well.
Melissa Collins Abeywardane