Yesterday, I read a comment on another blog that referenced headcovering as a “divisive” issue. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this. The general consensus among Christians seems to be that headcovering shouldn’t be talked about much, since it’s one of those “hot topics.”
Well, is it? Divisive, I mean; since we all know that it is indeed a hot topic. I’ve done a bit of thinking on this, and here’s what I think.
Clearly, headcovering isn’t a salvation issue. The Bible leaves us no room for a blurry perspective on this; salvation, we are told, is by faith alone.
“…knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” Galations 2:16
This theme is repeated over and over again throughout all of the New Testament, so that there can be doubt on this point; we are saved (justified–made right with God) ONLY “by faith in Christ.” That’s it. No formulas to follow, no boxes to check off, no personal accomplishments to glory in. Jesus Himself is the answer. Anyone who teaches anything else is to be accursed:
“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” Galations 1:8
If anyone were to preach that women need to cover their heads while praying and prophesying in order to be saved, that person who preaches this “other gospel” should be accursed. But, I personally haven’t heard anyone who supports headcovering, preaching this at all. As far as I can tell, those who support headcovering are aware that it is not a salvation issue, and they don’t try to make it one, either. Folks who try to accuse headcovering advocates of promoting salvation by works are probably not arguing based upon the facts.
So, if headcovering isn’t a salvation issue, what is it? It’s a God-ordained apostolic tradition (the KJV says ordinance). The headcovering tradition was delivered to believers straight from the apostle Paul himself, who was an inspired vessel of our Lord. So, ultimately, headcovering was instituted by God, and meant to apply to all believers of the New Testament era.
“Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.” 1 Cor. 11:2
So, those verses from Galations we just referenced above, about there being no other gospel than that of being saved by faith alone in Christ? The apostle Paul penned those words (inspired by the Holy Spirit), and he is the same author who wrote the headcovering passage found in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16! If you read Galations chapter two, you can see the conflict that occurred between Paul and Peter, because Paul considered that Peter and some of the other Christian Jews were being hypocritical; they were attempting to follow the law (at least partially), while at the same time knowing full well that the law had NOTHING to do with their salvation. Paul was very stern in his rebuke of them. And yet, here in 1 Corinthians 11, we see him saying that he praises the brethren for following the traditions! Either Paul is being inconsistent by insisting on grace alone in one case, but calling for tradition-following in the other, or these must be pretty important traditions!
Look at what is said in 1 Corinthians 11 later on in the chapter, regarding the Lord’s Supper:
“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” 1 Cor. 11:23-26
Did you make the connection? Regarding headcovering, Paul says “Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you,” and then in the same chapter, regarding the Lord’s Supper, he says, “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you.” Same word: delivered to you. Paul received instructions from the Lord that he passed on to the other believers; the practice of headcovering falling into this category, as well as the practice of the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is also a tradition, but few people have a problem with observing it. Of course we know that it has no power to save us (only Jesus can save us), but we are obedient in keeping it because we recognize that it was given to us by God. So, tradition isn’t always man-made: sometimes it’s God-made.
In that case, “keeping the traditions,” such as the Lord’s Supper and headcovering, is something we do in obedience to our Lord! And Jesus Himself said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). As we keep the traditions, we “proclaim” important spiritual truths (refer back to 1 Cor. 11:23-26 above, the Lord’s Supper passage). The act of putting a piece of cloth on one’s head, or the act of eating unleavened bread and drinking wine/grape juice, have no meaning on their own; it is what these things represent spiritually that is important. And the spiritual truth was intended by God to be communicated to others in a specific way in order to impart the message clearly (we can’t switch potato chips and soda for the bread and wine, and neither can we switch a wedding ring, modest dress, or a husband’s last name for the veil; the symbol must necessarily be implemented as originally instituted for the spiritual truth to be proclaimed accurately).
As new-born Christians, the main thing we need to understand is how to be saved. Once we’re saved, we’re supposed to grow. We grow as we read God’s word, talk to Him in prayer, and obey Him. The Christian life doesn’t stop with “Now I’m saved, how wonderful” (and of course, it is wonderful!); no, it continues on after that as we follow our Lord and learn to be like Him. So, headcovering should be considered a step of obedience that Christian women need to take as one of the logical next steps in their walk with Christ after being saved, just like getting baptized and participating in the Lord’s Supper. (Of course, it’s very important to understand the WHY of headcovering, too!)
Back to our original question: Is headcovering divisive? Let’s rephrase that. Is teaching other Christians to obey the Lord’s commands divisive? Well, it can be. When people who DO want to obey God’s commands for New Testament believers encounter other people who DON’T want to obey God’s commands for New Testament believers, there’s potential for conflict! When we are made aware of our sins, and are forced to confront them, we have two choices: either we repent, and do the right thing; or, we dig our heels in, and refuse to do the right thing. This type of confrontation sifts the mature Christians from the immature Christians, and (hopefully) motivates the immature ones to grow up a notch. Either that, or it reveals who may not be a Christian at all, since if we truly love Jesus, we will keep His commandments.
Sometimes, the truth divides, because of its very nature: truth is light and reveals what’s in the dark. Even Christians fight against the truth at times. Perhaps they are struggling with old habits, or have allowed Satan a foothold in a certain area of their lives. Perhaps they simply don’t know the Bible very well yet, and are still clinging to worldly philosophy. When confronted with the truth, they will sometimes react poorly. But is that any reason why we shouldn’t teach the truth?
Another thought is that there are those Christians who truly DO WANT to obey Christ, but have a hard time coming to an agreement on what 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 (the headcovering passage) really means. Is it cultural? Is it not cultural? Are we supposed to follow the principle (submission), but no longer need to apply the symbol (the woman having a covered head)? Or, are both the principle and the symbol tied together? I believe there are those who truly do desire to understand what this passage means, but are not at this point in their journey seeing eye-to-eye with others who ALSO desire to understand what this passage means. Is the solution to simply drop the subject? Wait a minute! This is the LORD’S command we’re talking about! It doesn’t seem to me that we should just “drop the subject” because we think it’s hard to understand, or we’re having a hard time agreeing on it. What we need to do is calm down, ask God for self-control, and be willing to have an open and honest conversation with other Christians about this, since our obedience to the Lord is at stake. We NEED to know what the will of the Lord is, since we will be guilty of disobeying His command, if we don’t obey it because we don’t understand it. When Christians talk to each other about issues such as this, it is because we are trying to help each other grow, and to help each other obey the Lord (at least that should be our motive).
So, let’s not ignore this important topic because it’s “hot.” True, it can be divisive. But, we don’t need to allow ourselves to get all worked up about it. Let’s agree that yes, there’s potential here for conflict, but that we want to discuss this issue maturely, in order to find out what the will of the Lord is. And let’s be patient and kind with each other, since sometimes it takes time for us to be able study the information, digest it, and make a decision about it. And even then, we may still change our minds. It’s a process. I didn’t come to believe in headcovering in a flash; I had to study first, and then I had to think about it for awhile, while at the same time reading the Bible passage several times (as well as reading the entire letter of 1 Corinthians for context). Then, after I talked to my husband about it, I finally decided to submit to what I knew the word of God was actually saying.
I don’t expect others to come to agree with me about headcovering in a flash, either. I know that there is a process involved; and no, I don’t think that everybody else who doesn’t believe in headcovering is dumb and immature. I know that we are at different places in our personal walk with the Lord, and I trust that if we truly do love Him, and want to obey Him, that He will reveal His truth to us, in time (especially as we devote ourselves to reading His word).
Headcovering, though it can be divisive, doesn’t have to be. Among mature Christians, it can be a wonderful, beautiful opportunity to encourage each other in our walk with God. Those who have already started to cover, or who have been covering now for awhile, can testify to the fact that headcovering has so many benefits in the Christian woman’s life! In that case, how can we not want to tell other ladies about it!