Saturday, July 15, 2017

Well, somebody better explain, or there'll, uh ... there'll be a lot of explaining to do.

Years ago I posted about the perpetuity of the practice of head coverings in the worship of a Christian church, which you may read HERE.

On Sunday the 2nd of July, I preached on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 at Providence Church as part of my expositional series on 1 Corinthians.  As any preacher knows, more could have been said, and better, and more wanted to be said.  The sermon should be available soon on the sermons page of the website.

After reading an article today about the practice no longer being necessary due to the differences in first century Corinth versus 2017 America, I felt inclined to leave a comment, the gist of which follows.  If this is a topic of interest to you, I hope it's helpful.

I've often seen the allusions to the problems inherent in the Corinthian culture as the rationale behind Paul’s admonitions. However, the research is more scant that such authors often let on.  Historiography is a challenge, of course, anytime you have great distance chronologically from the event. But in this case there’s just not that much to go on, especially with any reliability.

But, this also raises a question about the sufficiency of Scripture.  Is Scripture sufficient on its own or is something else necessary to understand how we are to believe and behave (e.g., science, archeology, historiography, etc.)?  I think we’d affirm those things can be helpful, but they’re not necessary for us to understand and apply the text.

That being said, as one who at one time personally set aside the practice as unnecessary for us, due to it being only for their culture, I’d now say that even if authors are correct that the situation was such and such in Corinth, that still doesn’t mean they can read Paul’s mind as to why he said and/or did the things he did. Even if you grant that wives were throwing off their head coverings as a sign of promiscuity in Paul’s day, why would he not insist on head coverings at all times and in all places public?

Seems he’s only interested in when the church comes together, as he’s dealing with two apostolic ordinances, one in which he commends them (11:2), but with further instruction needed as to the the why, more so than the how, and the other where he does not commend them (11:17).

Yet, tthe thing that most convinced me was that cultural arguments were grounded in this line of reasoning: The reason Paul tells the wives to have a symbol of authority on their heads is X, with that X being extra biblical.  But, Paul doesn’t leave us guessing as to why he would insist that a wife have a symbol of authority on her head. He tells us plainly why he insists on it, and those things have nothing to do with culture, or anything that could change. He mentions the order of creation, pre fall. He mentions the angels. He mentions nature itself. 
“The reason why our sisters appear in the house of God with their heads covered is ‘because of the angels’.” ~Charles Spurgeon
The author of the article wrote: “Needless to say, what the head-covering meant for women in first-century Corinth* is not what it would mean or communicate today." I don’t disagree regarding 2017 in America.  But why is that? Could it be the influence of 1st and 2nd wave feminism that decimated this practice in the 1960s, a practice that was pretty much universal in the history of the church throughout the globe up to that point? I'm convinced there's more than coincidence here.
“The wearing of fabric head coverings in worship was universally the practice of Christian women until the twentieth century. What happened? Did we suddenly find some biblical truth to which the saints for thousands of years were blind? Or were our biblical views of women gradually eroded by the modern feminist movement that has infiltrated the church?” ~R. C. Sproul
Also, COULD it mean what it meant back then, not necessarily in America, but in the church? In churches where some still practice head coverings, I’d suggest it does.

Honestly, when I read such culture arguments against the perpetuity of the practice it really just sounds to me like someone has come to the text with a preconceived notion that it is NOT something they are going to do, so then they look for reasons to justify not doing it. I
n other words, I don’t think there would be many who read the text and then practice head coverings, but after further research into the life and times of Corinth decide it’s no longer necessary, after which they either keep doing it out of habit and tradition or cease.

And, what’s worse, the arguments sound eerily similar to what we’d consider liberal perspectives on the text that also try to negate certain unpopular aspects of the Bible as being only culturally bound (e.g., homosexuality, women teaching me and being elders, etc.).  They’ll tell us, for example, that "in Paul’s day women weren’t educated or respected enough in to serve as elders in the church.  But, in our culture women are educated and regarded with respect, so they can be elders.  Our culture and time are different."
“The argument that a real head covering is in view and that such is applicable today is, in some respects, the easiest view to defend exegetically and the hardest to swallow practically.” ~Dan Wallace
I can understand not wanting to practice this, wearing a symbol of authority and submission on one's head, but then again, submission really only means something when it's something you don't really want to do. And I understand the need to be sure we're not doing our righteous deeds to be seen by others, to impress them (Matthew 6:1).  The answer to that, of course, is NOT that we refrain from doing that which the Bible commands, but that we continually check our motives. But, at the same time, this IS a practice that is communicating to others, including the angels, so we're aware of the temptation to only win the approval of others and not God.

We live in an era where attacks on biblical values and practices and even definitions (e.g., gender, marriage) are plentiful. It's no surprise that a symbol of a wife's submission to her husband's authority would not be popular, when the thought of a woman ever being in submission to a man is already often anathema.

With those who disagree I hold no malice or disdain or even condescension and only hope they would prayerfully study this topic.  I don't think it's an essential issue nor one over which to break fellowship.  Yet, just because an issue is not one over which to divide, doesn't mean it's unimportant. If I'm wrong, then my has been unnecessarily covering her head in church and I've been unnecessarily keeping mine uncovered. But the stakes are indeed higher to be wrong on the other side, disobeying an apostolic ordinance for God's people, if I could take a page out of Pascal's book.

*It's important to note two things: (1) Paul was commending them for their practices regarding head coverings, rather than the supposed rebuke for not doing it, which is what people often assume. (2) Paul's apostolic ordinances (cf. 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6) on head coverings and the Lord's Supper were not just for the church in Corinth, as is seen in 1 Corinthians 1:2 and 11:16.

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