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Can Head Covering be limited to Church if the arguments Paul uses apply at all times?

Head Covering Objections
The Objection: Head covering cannot be limited to the local church gathering since the reasons that Paul gives for wearing it apply at all times. He says the the head of woman is the man (1 Cor 11:3) and that women are the glory of man (1 Cor 11:7). These are true all the time, not just during church. Also the angels (1 Cor 11:10b) observe us outside of church as well. Since that is the case, head covering should not be limited to when the church gathers together.

The reasons that Paul uses for head covering (ie. creation order, nature) are permanent and perpetual facts. They apply at all times, to all believers and are not limited to any covenant (new or old). Why then do we believe that during the corporate worship meeting women must cover their heads but afterwards they don’t have to? Some object by asking: “Did the angels stop watching? Are they no longer under male authority outside of church?”

This type of argumentation presupposes that the covering (or lack thereof) symbolizes divine truths at all times. It does not recognize a distinction between its common use 1) ie. protection from the weather, fashion and its symbolic use. They see head covering as applicable whenever and wherever the facts about creation, nature and angels are true.

When we look at head covering in the Scriptures we see two “limitations” that show it is not a perpetual symbol. There are times when a covering is symbolic and there are times when it is not. It is because of this that head covering doesn’t have to be practiced in all situations, even while the permanent facts that Paul appealed to remain true. Let’s take a look at what those limitations are right now.

Limitation #1: The Covenant

One limitation to head covering is the fact that it’s only introduced in the New Testament. No where in the Old Testament is head covering commanded and men were never told back then that if they prayed with something on their heads it would “be a disgrace” (1 Cor 11:4). The lack of any instruction or warning concerning the use of coverings in the Old Testament show us that it didn’t carry that symbolic meaning then. Also, the very fact that God commanded the Levitical priests to have “linen turbans on their heads” (Eze 44:18) further strengthens that point. So even though angels were observing us and man was still the head of woman (1 Cor 11:3), the head covering command did not apply at this time.

Limitation #2: Praying or Prophesying

Another limitation on head covering is the fact that it’s only for when a person is “praying or prophesying” (1 Cor 11:4-5). This tells us that when women are not doing those things that there’s no command for them to be covered. Paul therefore places a limit on covering to show that it’s not for all situations. Head covering is only for when one is engaged in specific actions.

Symbolic Only at Certain Times

The reason why a head covering can be disgraceful in one setting, but not in another, is because symbols can take on meaning at specific times or when engaged in certain actions. Let’s conclude by looking at another example of this in the very same chapter.

When we partake of the Lord’s Supper we’re doing so in remembrance of Christ (1 Cor 11:25). The bread & wine take on a symbolic meaning when we eat and drink of it corporately. There is nothing unique about bread or wine but during the church gathering they are given a special significance. Think about it like this, at home you eat bread and drink wine in any manner. They are common elements that we use for nourishment. However, when the symbol is partaken of during church we’re to examine ourselves first (1 Cor 11:28) and the Lord threatens sickness and death if we eat and drink of it unworthily (1 Cor 11:29-30). The serious consequences should tell us that at this time the symbol is set apart as holy. It’s not like any other time that we eat or drink of it. Though they are common in one setting, they are set apart and infused with symbolic meaning in another. When we leave church we can eat and drink without examining ourselves just like we can cover or uncover our heads as we please. When we are not gathered corporately then bread, wine and a covering for our heads fulfil their common functions. However, when we do gather together they are set apart and given symbolic meaning.

Summary

  • The objection in this article presupposes that a covering (or lack thereof) symbolizes divine truths at all times. Any limitation on head covering nullifies this presupposition.
  • The Bible limits head covering in two ways 1) by being only for those under the new covenant and 2) by being only for when people are “praying and prophesying”.
  • If a symbol if defended by a permanent/perpetual fact, it does not necessitate that it carries that symbolic meaning at all times and in all situations.
  • Eating bread and drinking wine is one example of something that has a common use but is also symbolic at certain times.

References

1.
 ie. protection from the weather, fashion

Jeremy Gardiner

Jeremy is the founder of the Head Covering Movement and the author of Head Covering: A Forgotten Christian Practice for Modern Times. He lives in Alberta, Canada with his wife and five children. In 2010, he founded (and continues to run) Gospel eBooks, a popular website that provides alerts for free and discounted Christian e-books. Jeremy also holds a Biblical studies degree from Moody Bible Institute.
Jeremy Gardiner

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