A couple of weeks ago, a couple of us from the Kingdom Outpost and That Jesus Podcast had a round-table discussion on the headcovering. It was an enjoyable episode to record, especially in terms of getting to know each other as sisters coming from a variety of cultural and church backgrounds. There really were a range of issues and questions tackled.
Wherever you land on this issue, we believe that a thoughtful, gracious discussion of 1 Corinthians 11 will be an edifying listen! Perhaps the podcast discussion served, if anything, to discuss how headcovering can be a healthy expression of women’s participation in the body of Christ, especially when done in a gracious and God-glorifying way.
Perhaps this begs the question for ourselves and for readers, “Why are you talking about this? Is this going to be a foundational emphasis for the Kingdom Outpost? Are you going to be a denominational site?”
As lead editor of the Kingdom Outpost, I thought to give some thoughts in response.
1. Why are you talking about this?
The reason why Dru, Lisl, Brenna, Kimberly and I decided to record this episode was because headcovering is simply something we regularly practice and believe in practicing, each for different reasons and in different ways. We just wanted to talk about it because it’s something we do on the regular. (Dru Lattin has also done a great sermon on the topic – check it out!)
For most of us (and I speak in general terms – do listen to the episode for more specificity), it is not just something we put on, but something spiritual in nature. Some would call a physical practice connected to spiritual realities a “sacrament”, not in the sense that we receive grace from the practice but in the sense that it bears significance beyond the visible and tangible. This differs from the view that it was just an ancient or symbolic practice.
I believe that there are very strong reasons in the Biblical passage and from church history to conclude that it is more than a Corinthian quirk. This talk by David Bercot goes into the history and exegesis of this. Extant writings depict veiled women lifting their hands in perhaps prayer or worship, and extant writings by Tertullian, Hippolytus and other early church writers show us that this was practiced beyond the city of Corinth and for spiritual rather than socio-cultural reasons.
To me at this point, personally, 1 Corinthians 11 connects headcovering to spiritual realities and spiritual gifts of prayer and prophecy for the edification of the body of Christ. This is incredibly empowering because women are now priests in God’s Kingdom (Revelations 1:6), filled with the power of the spirit (Acts 2) and children and heirs of God through faith (Galatians 3:26-28). Headcovering thus symbolizes a woman’s spiritual authority and power in Christ. As it is uniquely a practice for women, it reminds me that women were made in the image of God, through, by and for Christ (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16) and that men and women are codependent members of one body (1 Corinthians 11:11-12; Romans 12:4-6; 1 Corinthians 12).
2. Will the Kingdom Outpost has a strong denominational emphasis?
The Kingdom Outpost draws inspiration from the Anabaptist vision in terms of understanding the church as a body that proclaims and lives out the reign of Jesus. Of course, this was really an early church belief and doctrine. One of the strengths of Anabaptist theology I really appreciate is the emphasis on Christian life as following Jesus (nachfolge – discipleship) and yielding our lives to Him beyond assenting to a belief system. There’s more of a focus on practical things – life together as a church community, living out Jesus’s words – that any Christian can really relate to. (Dean Taylor gives an excellent overview here).
I personally think that these trademarks of “Anabaptism” is a little like John Wesley’s statement that a “A Methodist is one who has the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him: one who loves the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind, and with all his strength.” These are things that all Christians can relate to. Labels and denominationalism are not the point. In fact, we at the Outpost have had many in-depth discussions about our main emphasis, practical devotion to Jesus and His good news as faithfully expressed in many historic groups such as the Moravians and early pietists, the forebears of evangelicalism. This, we believe, really harmonizes with the theology of the Kingdom.
Headcovering was never a distinctive of historic Anabaptism but it is a “distinctive” today mainly because theology and intentionality around it has changed in general Christian culture. In fact, “evangelical” predecessors like John Wesley and Charles Spurgeon had far more to say on the subject than Menno Simons. It is a “scripture” thing and a “church” thing more than it ever was a “denominational thing”.
3. Why should an outward practice matter if God only cares about the heart?
Let us think about the socio-cultural implications of religious clothing for a moment, because many people around the world – men and women, Christian and non-Christian – wear headgear and clothing as an expression of faith. Headcovering or veiling will thus be read as an external indicator, because clothing is part of the language of inner belief and identity.
You might ask, “Is there a danger in emphasizing an outward practice? Doesn’t the heart matter more?”.
I believe that anyone can put something on or perform an action, even giving to the poor, but it is the spirit and intention of the action that makes it a spiritual practice. Now we wouldn’t say that “action” has no meaning, only intention and faith does, because that simply isn’t true. Jesus’s teachings are full of actions. It is not possible, for example, to have love for your enemies as an inner attitude, but, in practice, commit violence against them.
“Actions don’t count” is a lie, but “action without meaning” falls short. And, like the Apostle James says, it really isn’t worthwhile practicing one thing but not everything else commanded as well. It would be pointless to wear a “pious” garment but not be dedicated to the great commission, be sold-out for Jesus, be infused in His word and regularly serve those around You with Jesus’ love. Headcovering, thus, must not be divorced from a life of wholeheartedly following after Jesus, or it has no more value than a baseball cap worn to keep the sun off your eyes.
For myself, I would put it this way: Even if we aren’t reading the passage and church history right and headcovering was not meant to be a Christian practice, even if you take the physical act of headcovering away, the value remains. It has been a prompt and a physical reminder of taking my walk with God seriously and intentionally. There are no disadvantages in this sense as long as negative attitudes like pride, hypocrisy and judgmentalism (which can happen with any practice) don’t come into play.
I believe that, at some point, it’s worth taking a look at 1 Corinthians 11 and asking the honest question, “What does it mean?” and coming to a well-informed conviction on the topic. We may not be able to explain everything about it, but since it is a passage of Scripture it deserves consideration and honest exegesis. You might come to very different conclusions and practice this in a different way. Perhaps you might come to the same practice but have different reasons behind it. That’s fine! We should all have grace and think the best of each other in the body of Christ, that we all have sincere motives as brothers and sister.
There are, in fact, many things that Jesus commands and Scripture exhorts us to do that aren’t measurable or observable, that have to do with our attitudes and heart. And, there are many things that Christians should do that are faith-filled actions.
As Menno Simons exhorted,
“True evangelical faith is of such a nature it cannot lie dormant,
but spreads itself out in all kinds of righteousness and fruits of love;
it dies to flesh and blood;
it destroys all lusts and forbidden desires;
it seeks, serves and fears God in its inmost soul;
it clothes the naked;
it feeds the hungry;
it comforts the sorrowful;
it shelters the destitute;
it aids and consoles the sad;
it does good to those who do it harm;
it serves those that harm it;
it prays for those who persecute it;
it teaches, admonishes and judges us with the Word of the Lord;
it seeks those who are lost;
it binds up what is wounded;
it heals the sick; it saves what is strong (sound);
it becomes all things to all people.
The persecution, suffering and anguish that come to it for the sake of the Lord’s truth have become a glorious joy and comfort to it.”