Click on the quote below to read the article...

This article started as an attempt to alter some things expressed in the "Head Coverings" article written a few months ago. However, the lessons we are learning about head coverings go farther than just that one religious practice.

We should start by confessing that what we said in the article on "Head Coverings" overlooks the fact that, taken as a whole, the passage from I Corinthians 11 does appear to be talking about women wearing a scarf or something similar on their heads when they pray.

Part of the reason for so much controversy over topics like head coverings, baptism, communion, public prayer, foot washings, church buildings and organisations, and other similar teachings is that there really are passages of scripture from the Bible which support each of them, even though there are other passages which teach that what God is primarily looking for goes far beyond what can be seen by the human eye. It is foolish to argue that any of these practices should be regarded as WRONG, even if there are good reasons to believe that they have been over-emphasised. Whether or not we choose to practice them ourselves, we should not condemn people who, in good conscience, believe that they must do these things to be obedient to God.

Sacraments, or Christian rituals have often been described as "outward signs of inward works". This is an excellent description. The problem results, however, when people become obsessed with the outward sign, often trying to find perfection through the specifics of any or all of them. And this happens most often because they have lost sight of (or perhaps never seen to begin with) the spiritual significance of the ritual.

While it would be foolish to argue that the Bible teaches that sacraments are WRONG, it is also foolish to argue that it has clearly laid out all of the details about precisely how any of them should be carried out. Because the Bible does not get specific about them, it seems apparent to us that the outward sign is far less important than the inward work. The outward sign is never going to go as far, or have a perfection about it that fully measures up to the true spiritual meaning of the ritual.

Take head coverings as an example. The Bible tells us in one place that we should pray without ceasing. But in another place, it says that women should cover their heads when they pray, while men should not. On this basis, if a man wears a hat at any time (as protection from the sun, or from falling debris in a job), then he is theoretically doing the wrong thing, at the same time that a woman must wear a covering on her head even when sleeping, taking a bath, or making love to her husband.

Common sense tells us that the one passage (praying without ceasing) is talking about a spiritual attitude, while the other is talking about something that Paul instructs women to do when RITUALISTICALLY praying. In other words, when they are formally and publicly praying, then they cover their heads. The covering is merely symbolic, in much the same way as the formal public prayer itself is symbolic of the "praying without ceasing" that underpins all that we do and are as Christians.

There is another passage where Paul instructs women to keep silence in the church. Even the most extreme proponents of this discipline do not accept that it means a woman can never speak. And yet, the SPIRITUAL meaning of "church" is such that (like prayer) we should understand that being in the "church" does not end when the preacher concludes his sermon.

Paul makes a startling comment after telling the women to keep silence. He says that if anyone thinks they are spiritual, they should acknowledge the truth of what he is talking about in that instruction. Apparently he saw something fairly significant about that one little instruction, which has been strongly attacked by so many different churches in the modern world. And yet, at best, it would only be something that women would do in some limited way during the course of a brief period of public worship.

We see this same error occurring when people confuse the visible institutional church with the kingdom of heaven, which Jesus says, "does not come with observation, because it is within you". Only the most extreme anarchists argue that we do not need any form of organisation in order to function as Christians. And yet, when we become obsessed with the organisation, it actually drags us away from the deeper spiritual lessons that Jesus taught. Somehow we need to get a more balanced and reasonable approach to all such ritualistic instructions.

Each time we try to stretch the ritual to cover the broader meaning of the invisible spiritual reality, we run into difficulty. If rituals (or visible institutions) are to serve a purpose at all, it can only be when they take a subordinate role to the deeper spiritual lessons which come through them, and which can never be measured outwardly.

Now, having said that, we should announce that some of our female members have recently decided to wear head coverings. Yeah, shocking, we know! We will try to explain....

According to I Corinthians 11, Paul was saying that a woman covering her head when she prays is trying to say something symbolic about submission to God. Even in some non-Christian religions (e.g. Islam) women wear head coverings, and these head coverings are seen as symbols of their submission to God (and sometimes of their submission to their husbands).

Sadly, much of the movement against head coverings comes not from a desire to focus on the deeper spiritual lesson being referred to in I Corinthians 11, but rather from a deep dislike for anything that smacks of submission to God's authority. The biggest concern that we felt as a community when the subject of women in our community wearing head coverings was brought up, was that it would upset many of our feminist friends. They would see it as symbolic of "male oppression". While the female members of our community would be accused of being oppressed, the men would be accused of being the source of this oppression. It seems to us (at least at the moment) that if a scarf or bonnet is going to cause such disproportionate anger, then perhaps there is a place for us challenging that disproportionate anger.

Paul said, "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are expedient." And someone else once said, "Real freedom is not being bound to something, or being bound away from something; but real freedom is that glorious feeling you get when you know you are doing God's will."

We can see how not wearing a head covering can say something significant about the need to get the spiritual lesson in preference to the ritual generally associated with it. But we can also see how that wearing a head covering can say something significant about the spiritual lesson, which is that we be willing to do any silly thing God wants us to do, just because he has the right to tell us what to do.

When discussing the topic, Debra said something significant. She said, "When you consider all of the really hard things that Jesus said, about forsaking all, and about cutting off your hand if it offends you, wearing a head scarf, even if it was for 24 hours a day for the rest of our lives, would be pretty easy by comparison."

Of course the fact that Jesus himself said nothing specific about head coverings is a hint that it is not the head covering itself that is most important to God. Yet there was much that Jesus said about submission to God and to one another. If the subject is humility, then let us look for ways that we can get the truth being taught.

We are hoping that this one little effort to relate to people who feel strongly about the rituals that were taught in the Bible, will bear good fruit in our relationships with them. Of course, we expect our use of head coverings for women to be criticised and misunderstood by others. Perhaps our own attitude toward the practice will evolve over time. But for now, we are trying to develop a better appreciation for the "SPIRITual". This is a term we have coined in an attempt to deal with rituals at the level of the spirit behind them, without seeing the spirit and the ritual as being in opposition to one another.

It will be interesting to see where this leads us.

Pin It
Don't have an account yet? Register Now!

Sign in to your account