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Can we symbolize our roles using a different symbol?

Head Covering Objections
The Objection: Having your head covered today doesn’t have the same meaning it did in that time and culture. Using a different symbol would keep the spirit of the text and could more meaningfully symbolize our roles today.

This view would understand 1 Corinthians 11 essentially the same way we would, but proposes a different symbol than a head covering. In other words, they think only the principle is unchanging whereas the symbol itself can be modified. Joshua Harris, in his sermon on 1 Corinthians 11 proposed that we use wedding rings instead of a head covering. 1) ”Head Coverings” by Joshua Harris. Preached on Sept 2, 2007. Daniel Wallace listed some concerns with using wedding rings and proposed wearing modest clothing instead. 2) http://www.bible.org/article/what-head-covering-1-cor-112-16-and-does-it-apply-us-today Those are two of the most commonly suggested replacement symbols.

I’m concerned about the hermeneutic of separating the principle from the symbol and believe it can have dire consequences when taken to its logical conclusion. As you’ll see in a minute, this concern isn’t unfounded. A head covering is a visual picture of our gender roles and what scares me about the proposed hermeneutic is both baptism and the Lord’s supper are in that same category. They are symbols (visual pictures) that point to a greater reality.

The Salvation Army denomination takes this hermeneutic and regretfully applied it to both Baptism and the Lord’s supper. Here is their official statement on baptism:

The Salvation Army rejoices in the truth that all who are in Christ are baptised into the one body by the Holy Spirit (1Corinthians 12:13). It believes, in accordance with Scripture, that there is one body and one Spirit . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all’ (Ephesians 4:5-6). The swearing-in of a soldier of The Salvation Army beneath the trinitarian sign of the Army’s flag acknowledges this truth. It is a public response and witness to a life-changing encounter with Christ which has already taken place, as is the water baptism practised by some other Christians. The Salvation Army acknowledges that there are many worthy ways of publicly witnessing to having been baptised into Christ’s body by the Holy Spirit and expressing a desire to be his disciple. 3) From ‘A statement on baptism’ located on the official Salvation Army website. This can be viewed at http://bit.ly/sabaptism (link is case sensitive).

In that statement they’re affirming that they too believe in the principle behind baptism. What they disagree with, is that water is necessary to symbolize that truth. Can those who replace the symbol in 1 Corinthians 11 say that the Salvation Army is wrong and remain consistent?

Biblical scholar Bruce Waltke speaking to this issue in regards to head covering says:

The picture of His rule must not be seized by believers into their own hands to shape it according to their own pleasure. Ahaz incurred the wrath of God by changing the shape of the altar to conform it to Assyrian demands (2 Kings 16:10-11). 4) 1 Corinthians 11:2-16: An Interpretation by Bruce K. Waltke

I have a couple additional points on why we should reject separating the symbol from the principle when both are given to us.

  1. Paul’s desire was for conformity in all churches with the practice of head covering (1 Cor 11:16). Allowing Christians to choose their own symbol promotes the opposite.
  2. Arguing that head covering doesn’t have the same meaning in today’s culture presupposes that covering is a symbol only for people. Paul on the other hand argued that we’re to cover “because of the angels” (1 Cor 11:10) and angels transcend culture.
  3. Paul’s command does not agree with the worship practice in his own day either. The Cambridge Bible for Schools and College says “the remarkable fact that the practice here enjoined is neither Jewish, which required men to be veiled in prayer, nor Greek which required both men and women to be unveiled, but peculiar to Christians” This same understanding is backed up by many scholarly works including The Expositors Greek Testament, Tyndale’s New Testament Commentaries & Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament. It’s hard to believe that Paul would insist on a symbol that was the very opposite of what they were accustom to, if he did not intend for it to be carried on.
  4. Even if we had liberty to replace the symbol, a head covering would still remain the best option. Since it is embedded within the pages of Scripture the meaning behind the symbol can never be lost and Christians worldwide can be unified in practice as per Paul’s command (1 Cor 11:16). This is not possible with a symbol outside of the Bible.

For these reasons I believe that Christians should embrace the symbol that was given to us: a head covering for women and a bare head for men during corporate worship. When churches and cultures are ignorant of Christian symbolism, it should be taught to them rather than being changed.


 ”Head Coverings” by Joshua Harris. Preached on Sept 2, 2007.
 From ‘A statement on baptism’ located on the official Salvation Army website. This can be viewed at http://bit.ly/sabaptism (link is case sensitive).
 1 Corinthians 11:2-16: An Interpretation by Bruce K. Waltke
Jeremy G.

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