Does the teaching of 1 Corinthians chapter 11 verses 2-16 apply only to assembly gatherings?
From the outset of history it has been the intention of God that there should be order in His created universe, and the human race was not exempt from this design. As we look into the Old Testament we learn that the principle of headship was to be evident both in family and national life. In addition, the Old Testament is rich with symbolism. Under the old covenant much symbolic teaching can be found in the range of sacrifices that were offered, in the various garments worn by the priests and the high priest, and in the rituals associated with both the tabernacle and the temple.
Despite this wide-ranging imagery, the mention of the head covering relative to headship is not given in the Old Testament but in the New. On closer examination, we discover that the only reference to the head covering linked to this subject is found in 1 Corinthians and not in Colossians, where Christ is Head of the church which is His body. Most significantly, head coverings are not mentioned in Ephesians, where the headship of the husband is emphatically stated.
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians focuses on issues relating to local church matters, and chapter 11 falls within the section of the letter which deals with various aspects of church practice. It is not without relevance that the Spirit of God guided the apostle to set out the doctrine of the head covering in the same section as the teaching concerning the symbols of the bread and wine used in the Breaking of Bread meeting, a meeting that refers to the gathering of the local church.
As we read through the opening half of chapter 11, it becomes apparent that the only church which may have allowed sisters to attend the various meetings without a head covering was Corinth, probably the most immature and carnal church to whom the apostle wrote. In seeking to correct this error, Paul reminds them that if anyone had any contention with what he was teaching they were behaving contrary to apostolic doctrine, and the practices of all the other churches, v. 16. The point I am seeking to highlight here is that Paul makes no appeal to the godly practices of any family, even though elsewhere in the letter he refers to a family. Neither does he mention Priscilla and Aquila, a spiritual couple who lived in Corinth for some time.
In view of the foregoing, I believe that the only time a sister ought to have her head covered is in the various gatherings of the church. If a sister believes she should cover her head at all times of prayer, including personal or family prayer sessions, then she has the liberty to make such a choice. However, I do not consider that scripture requires this.
Whilst in many assemblies there is a rigorous adherence to ensuring that every sister wears a head covering in the meetings, there is often a lack of clear teaching given to explain the principles involved. The apostle presents three reasons why the sisters should have their heads covered and two reasons why the brethren should keep their heads uncovered. These reasons are not based on culture but on divine order (verses 3-6), creation order (verses 7-12), and natural order (verses 13-15).
It is essential that we not only comply with the instructions given by the apostle but that we appreciate the reasons behind those instructions. We also need to bear in mind that our obedience is being observed by onlookers hidden from our view, for, in verse 10, Paul informs us that the covered head of the sisters serves as an object lesson to angels. As in all things, Christ is the supreme example, for that reason we are told in verse 3 that ‘the head of Christ is God’. As He willingly submitted to the authority of God so we also ought to be subject to the teaching set out in these verses under consideration.
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