These questions are feedback from December’s Q & A Forum about sisters’ head coverings.
Can we simply say that at a gathering where elders are present, the ladies should wear head coverings?
Would this apply only if all the elders were present? On the other hand, it would not be difficult to envision social gatherings at which all the assembly’s elders are present. This criterion would have to be further refined. The greater difficulty is that this guideline doesn’t seem to have biblical support. It is true that every assembly gathering would normally include elders (Phi 1:1), but it is not necessarily true that every gathering at which elders are present is an assembly meeting.
What constitutes an assembly gathering in which sisters wear a head covering?
Verses 2 through 16 of 1 Corinthians 11 contain Paul’s teaching about women’s head coverings. The context before this teaching (10:14-11:1) shows how their actions at the Breaking of Bread (sharing in the cup and the bread) must affect their behavior outside the assembly. The context after this teaching shows how their actions at the Breaking of Bread must affect their relationships with one another. The context is therefore “congregational teaching.” Further, the introduction to the subjects of head coverings and the breaking of bread are parallel: “Now I praise you . . .” (v. 2) and “Now . . . I praise you not” (v. 17). He thus joins the two subjects. What he introduces in verse 17 clearly relates to “when ye come together in the church” (v. 18), or literally, “in church.” He is dealing with “church gatherings” in these two subjects he has thus linked.
Therefore, sisters cover their heads in any gathering in which they are “in church,” which does not mean in the building where they meet. This is when they gather as a church. The New Testament gives seven gatherings of the church: meetings for teaching, the breaking of bread, the prayer meeting (Acts 2:42), discipline meetings (1Co 5:4), a report meeting (Acts 14:27), a gospel meeting (1Th 1:8; the principle in 1Co 14:22), and an elders’ meeting (Acts 20:17). This last meeting is the only “non-public” meeting and includes only part of the assembly. The teaching of the woman’s head covering applies to each of these public assembly meetings. At any other gatherings, covering her head is at the discretion of the sister.
Is the covering on a sister’s head meant to cover the sister herself or her hair?
Paul speaks of a man with his head covered and of a woman with her head uncovered (1Co 11:4, 5). In the next verse, he says, “If a woman be not covered,” and at the end of the verse, “Let her be covered.” This is not teaching that the woman is to be covered, as though the head covering hides her. When her head is covered, the woman’s covering properly displays the truth of headship.
Paul is not teaching that the woman or her hair need to be hidden or covered. He is teaching headship, therefore when her head is covered, that is the woman’s covering.
Is the head covering a symbol to teach the angels?
The passage simply states that a woman “ought to have a symbol of authority on her head because of the angels” (v. 10, ESV). If we confuse this passage with Ephesians 3:10, we might add to it the thought of teaching the angels.
Elect angels are very aware of the value of accepting the sphere of responsibility God has assigned to them. This is the principle of headship. They see this principle expressed in the woman’s head covering and appreciate it.
Does the head covering hide the woman’s glory and the man’s glory so that all glories are hidden except Christ’s?
A woman’s long hair may be her beauty, but that is different from her glory. Her long hair is the recognition of headship which God has established (1Co 11:15). As it was to Eve’s shame that she didn’t recognize this truth (Gen 3:6), so it is a woman’s glory to display headship by her long hair. The head covering a woman wears covers her head, not her glory. The covering of her physical head displays that the headship of the man, her head (1Co 11:5), is not in view in the assembly. The man’s physical head is uncovered so the headship of Christ, his Head, is expressed (v. 4).
What about head coverings for social gatherings in the hall or outreach activities?
Where assembly believers meet is not the issue. If the gathering is social, wearing a head covering is discretionary for a woman. If the Word of God is opened at a social function (how becoming!), it remains a Christian social gathering. If a social gathering of the assembly gives way to a teaching session or a missionary report, it has moved into the character of an assembly meeting. To distinguish the social gathering from an assembly meeting, why not move to a different setting? The sisters then wear head coverings, as the Scriptures direct for assembly meetings.
When assembly believers open their home to discuss the Bible with friends or neighbors, this is not an assembly meeting, although these believers are accountable to the elders in what they are doing. These believers are using this setting to gain the confidence of unbelievers and to sow the seed of the Word of God. Hopefully, they will be able to bring those friends and neighbors to assembly gospel meetings.
We cannot limit the personal witness of believers to only unscheduled encounters with individuals. “By all means save some” (1Co 9:22).