Am I really taking the position I do on headcoverings, because I’m worldly and won’t take a stand, because I’m too afraid? I should consider that. I do. The conscience works two ways. It accuses and excuses. We not only want it to accuse, but also to excuse. When it accuses, when it is supposed excuse, then we have an unscriptural scruple. This will tend toward a malfunctioning conscience. We don’t want that either.
So when people attempt to arouse my conscience by feeding it with a standard, they can also damage my conscience. I don’t want that either. I’ve said I’m fine with the women of other churches, even our own church, wearing headcoverings, because there isn’t anything wrong with it, but they can’t cause division in our church and try to guilt our people into wearing them, when we don’t teach that. Then it becomes a problem.
To start, we should deal with scripture. The Bible is the sole and final authority for faith and practice. We rely on it for our position. Yes, I believe our doctrine should be historical. That doesn’t mean that it must be the majority historical position, the one most mentioned, as if we’re looking for votes for our position. I would be fearful if I couldn’t find my position believed by anyone before me.
But this post will be historical, and I hope this ends the accusations and name-calling and challenges. I’m sure others take other positions. I know that. However, this is the position that I believe. Perhaps a little of my own history might help to start. I never heard of wearing headcoverings for women growing up, never encountered a person who took this position. Then my family moved to Wisconsin and the women of the church we joined wore headcoverings on Sunday mornings. It wasn’t required. It wasn’t a church discipline issue. Actually, the church itself didn’t even take the position, that I knew, but the president of the local Bible college required the female students and wives of male married students to wear them only on Sunday morning. It was never explained why we were doing that. At some point I encountered 1 Corinthians 11 and, I guess, I surmised that must be the passage from which that came, but I do not remember one person teaching on it. Ever. Maybe you had a similar experience in your upbringing. I don’t know.
I didn’t ever see another church practicing headcovering teaching. Since I started pastoring, I’ve heard there are some. I’ve listened to their teaching. I’ve listened to Amish or Mennonite teaching on this. I’m certainly open to changing if it is scriptural. However, I’m in a situation where I need to be convinced of it, not keep it as a position because I already held it. I’m not going to lead a church in this unless I’m convinced. Do I think I could become convinced? It is unlikely now, because I’ve invested a lot of time in thinking and studying about it and am still unconvinced. I believe my present position, which is not a wearing headcovering position.
The recent challenge is mainly historical. I’ve listened and read about history. I know churches have practiced this. I know a lot of churches have. I know that you’ll find the headcovering position in the patristics. That makes total sense to me. You’ll find it among Roman Catholics and Protestants and even Baptists. People did practice headcoverings, I believe. That is a historical practice. Is not wearing them a historical practice? Again, the main if not exclusive question is, is it scriptural? But let’s go to, is it historical? I’m not avoiding that.
My view is a cultural or customary position on headcoverings. I don’t think the headcovering was hair. I think hair length for women is taught, but Paul is teaching about wearing something that distinguishes women from men in their authority. I believe the passage is teaching that the women of the church at Corinth needed to wear the symbol of submission to male authority. I also believe that can be practiced with other than a headcovering, but through some other symbol. I have taught that having the symbol is important. Symbols, by the way, should symbolize. There does in fact need to be symbolism, a symbol, at least one, but I don’t believe headcovering does that any more. It isn’t customary any longer, which is why I never encountered it growing up. Now, my antagonists might say that was because of widespread apostasy or rebellion on the teaching. I don’t think so. However, I believe the passage itself is teaching cultural or customary teaching and I also see this in history.
For history, yes, I refer to the Westminster Confession, and that bothers some. Sometimes you just can’t win in this. Someone wants history. You refer to the Westminster Confession, and they say, “You’re Baptist,” so why are you referring to Protestants? I’ve written on this other occasions and I’ve said that Baptists agreed with these confessions many times and only differentiated themselves from them with shorter statements. I’m not going to cover that ground again. My purpose is to show that this teaching was around.
I believe that the authors of the Westminster Confession taught that churches were not regulated to cover heads for worship, but that customary sign for women in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 11 revealed unalterable moral principles—submission, authority, designed gender distinction, and proper dress—always to be observed in worship, which is quite different from saying that the customary symbolism itself is unalterable. They taught that the symbol was cultural or customary. Wearing headcoverings escapes the regulations for worship as listed by these men, only silence on headcoverings from them. Then the statements of the men indicate that they saw headcoverings as cultural or customary.
One, George Gillespie (1613-1648) discusses three kinds of signs—natural, customary, and voluntary—headcoverings among the customary signs, writing (A Dispute Against English Popish Ceremonies, Naphtali Press, pp. 247-248);
Customable signs; and so the uncovering of the head, which of old was a sign of preeminence, has, through custom, become a sign of subjection.
Two, Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661), another of these Westminster divines, writes (The Divine Right of Church Government and Excommunication, Still Waters Revival Books, pp. 89-90):
The Jews to this day, as of old, used not uncovering the head as a sign of honor: But by the contrary, covering was a sign of honor. If therefore the Jews, being made a visible Church, shall receive the Lord’s Supper, and pray and prophesy with covered heads, men would judge it no dishonoring of their head, or not of disrespect of the Ordinances of God. Though Paul having regard to a national custom, did so esteem it.
Three, Daniel Cawdrey (1588-1664) and Herbert Palmer (1601-1647), two other divines of the Westminster Confession, in The Christian Sabbath Vindicated (1652, second part, p. 463), write:
First, variable, or temporary, which were such injunctions as were prescribed, either for some special ends, as that law for abstaining from blood, and things strangled, Acts 15:1 for avoiding offense to the Jews, or to some special nations, or persons, as agreeable to the customs of those places and times, as that of women being vailed in the Congregations, and some other the like. Second, invariable and perpetual. . . .
Four, Scottish Covenanter, James Durham (1622-1658), in The Dying Man’s Testament of the Church of Scotland (1680), taught headcovering not a universal principle of regulated worship, but a customable sign:
For no offense whatsoever should men forbear a necessary duty, or commit anything which is materially sinful. . . . Yet in other things . . . , if the matter is of light concernment in itself, as how men’s gestures are in their walking (suppose in walking softly, or quickly, with cloak or without) men ought to do, or abstain, as may prevent the construction of pride, lightness, etc., or give occasion to others in any of these. Of such sort was women’s praying with their heads uncovered amongst the Corinthians, it being taken then for an evil sign.
Five, in 1536 John Calvin says in The Institutes of Christian Religion (Westminster Press, p. 1207):
[T]hat women should go out in public with uncovered heads (1 Cor. 11:5). . . . because [God] did not will in outward discipline and ceremonies what we ought to do (because he foresaw that this depended upon the state of the times, and he did not deem one form suitable for all ages). . . .
Calvin used headcoverings on women as a specific example of an outward discipline that as a form depended upon the state of the times. In other words, it was a cultural issue. The moral principle should be obeyed in the appropriate form.
And, six, the notes of the Geneva Bible (published in 1599), which were written by Beza, read concerning 1 Corinthians 11:4:
[Paul] gathers that if men do either pray or preach in public assemblies having their heads covered (which was then a sign of subjection), they robbed themselves of their dignity, against God’s ordinance. It appears that this was a political law serving only for the circumstance that Paul lived in, by this reason, because in these our days for a man to speak bareheaded in an assembly is a sign of subjection.
I could point you to far more historical material than this, supporting the view that I believe, but this surely establishes it as historical with six witnesses. I mean it when I say there are many more.
In 1 Corinthians 11:16, Paul infers the woman's headcovering in worship was a “custom,” that is, they had no such custom of women praying unto God uncovered (1 Corinthians 11:13). Paul asks the question in 1 Corinthians 11:13: “is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?” He answers that question in 1 Corinthians 11:16: “We have no such custom.” The only other usage of this Greek word for “custom” (sunetheia) in the textus receptus is in John 18:39, where it refers to the “custom” of the Jews to release one prisoner at the time of the Passover (obviously a national custom for the nation of the Jews, just like the covered head for women was a national custom among the nations and societies of the Greeks). Paul refers to headcovering as a “custom,” which is not the same thing as a scripturally regulated act or practice of worship.
Hopefully this settles this issue. I think the above is overwhelming. Maybe I'll get an apology.