Assembly Characteristics - 09 Headship

Chapter 9

Recognition and Display of Headship

1 Corinthians 11:2-16

Each New Testament assembly was characterized by  Scriptural traditions (“ordinances” 1 Corinthians 11:2) which it observed and  displayed. One of these traditions, taught and transmitted to  believers, has to do with the very important display of headship in  assembly gatherings. The uncovered heads of the brethren and the  covered heads of sisters as well as their long hair display this truth.  The godly order that the saints maintain in their gatherings also is  part of it. It is implied in the assembly refusing a human head as in  the denominational pattern of organization, or in a one-man  ministry. God has designed this to set forth the preeminence of  Christ and to exalt Him in His position over all.

Principle of Headship

Headship involves recognition of rank and order in God's  eternal plan. Headship is a truth that expresses the relative  positions of persons in different spheres. It involves representation  and relationship as well as responsibility. God teaches headship in  many places, such as in Hebrews 2, Ephesians 1:19-23Colossians 1-2, Ephesians 5, as well as here in 1 Corinthians 11.  Each passage presents a different emphasis on headship. Here it  has to do with the present display of headship in the local  assemblies. In fact, this entire section, commencing with 11:2 and  going on to the end of chapter 15, deals with different aspects of  headship. The result of this display is that Christ is exalted and all  is seen in its proper order in relation to Him (1 Corinthians 15:28). Headship  seems to be primarily a corporate truth involving groups (or entire  bodies) of people, whereas lordship is more of a personal truth that  involves my subjection to the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and  His will.

Headship was first vested in Adam as head over the old  creation (Hebrews 2:5-7). He was responsible to rule for God and  to care for the creation into which God had put him. He represented  all creation before God. All creation fell when he fell, and that order  was distorted (Romans 5:18, 1 Corinthians 15:21). God's purpose  is still that a Man will be Head, but not Adam; rather, Christ. In this  unfallen Man, God has vested all rule and authority and in the future  day, God will display that fact fully (Hebrews 1:8, 2:8-9). Today,  those who spiritually are a part of the new creation seek to express  their subjection to Him.

This passage teaches the principle of headship first, then its  practice and display. Paul declares the Divine order in 1 Corinthians 11:3, an  order in which there is recognized subjection but NOT implied  inferiority. Though this order may be rejected by a rebellious world,  submissive Christians recognize it. The threefold headship places  each one in his proper relationship to the one who is above and who  represents him, whether of woman to man, man to Christ, or Christ  in His humanity to God. This passage shows that God intends that  believers display this order symbolically by what they do to their  physical head, for the physical head represents the spiritual head.  The interpersonal truth of headship is not regarding married women  in relation to their husbands in this passage; it is of women as a  group to man as a group in relation to creatorial order.

Practice of Covering

A covered head expresses subjection in Scripture (Genesis 24:65). At times it is linked with shame and weakness (2 Samuel  15:30, Jeremiah 14:3, 4). An uncovered head shows the opposite,  exaltation and glory. To cover one's physical head shows  subjection to that one who the head represents. Thus, in the  assembly, the heads of the brethren speak symbolically of Christ  (1 Corinthians 11:3) so their head is to be uncovered, thus showing that Christ is  to be displayed and exalted. In like manner, the heads of the sisters  represent man (or mankind, and in particular, the assembly) and  they are to be covered to show subjection of mankind and the  church to the Person of Christ according to God's order.  The result teaches a symbolic lesson in the gathered saints  that shows the effect of the grace of God operating in the lives of  believers. The angels can look on with wonder (1 Corinthians 11:10) to see a  company of saints, redeemed by the blood of Christ, now showing  willing subjection to the order of God by this typical means.  Verses 4-5 do not state whether the praying or prophesying  is in public or private, audible or inaudible. This passage does not  deal with that issue; it remains until chapter 14, where Paul  continues his manner of giving ordered instruction. However, it may  be that in Corinth, sisters were exercising supposed liberties and  taking public part in assembly gatherings, such as many persons  practice in different gatherings today. The praying and prophesying  describe the function of the public gatherings of the saints, in which  the practice of covering her head is to be the normal condition.

It is evident from 1 Corinthians 11:4-5 that this covering is put on the  head; it is not the hair in this case. It is the word used for a veil which  can be put on or taken off, literally “having something on” the head.  If, as some tell us, this means her hair, then the meaning of the  verses becomes nonsense and they lose their teaching. In addition,  it would mean that the brethren must take off their hair in the  gathering. However, the covering put on the head and the long hair  of the sisters are closely linked both in that they are taught in the  same passage; also, Paul says that if the woman will not be  covered, there is an effect on her hair - “let her also be shorn.” For  a sister to wear a head covering with cut hair is a contradiction, one  showing one thing and the other the opposite. The refusal to wear  a covering and having shorn hair are both shameful and believers  should reject both. Sisters who cut their hair should consider this  aspect of the truth carefully.

The covering put on by sisters in assembly gatherings  typically shows the subjection of mankind to Christ and the fact that  He is exalted. In the sphere of her everyday life, her head  represents herself. She shows her own subjection to Divine order  by allowing her hair to grow. This provides her a natural covering  which is seen day by day; in this manner she shows her willingness  remain in the position that God intends for her.

This act of letting her hair grow (not just “long hair,” but the  act of nurturing and allowing it to grow) is a “glory to her” (1 Corinthians 11:15).  This expression is not in the form of an adjective, describing the  length of her hair. It is a verb, so it teaches that she is doing this with  exercise. This is a glory to her because it is showing outwardly the  result of inward spiritual conditions and convictions that cause her  to allow her hair to grow long. Numbers 6:5 uses the same  expression with regard to the Nazarite’s hair in his vow. The  translation of the Hebrew Scriptures that was used in the days of  the New Testament (called the Septuagint) uses virtually the same  construction for, “let the locks of the hair of his head grow.” It is  obvious that if she allows it, her hair will grow as long as nature  determines it. Its length will not be dictated by the fashions and  styles of the world or the desires to be pleasing to unspiritual or  natural men. In the same way that her allowing her hair to grow is  a glory to her, for a man to allow his hair to grow long is a shame,  for it is showing in a natural sphere a subjection that is contrary to  God's order. In a sense, it is putting a covering on his head that God  never intended to be there. His hair is to be short even as the  sister's hair is to be long.

Practical Considerations

Sometimes we are asked if our sisters should wear a  covering to gatherings outside the local assembly such as funerals,  weddings or other events, especially if they are not held in an  assembly meeting place. It seems that the teaching applies  primarily to assembly gatherings; however, it would be a positive  testimony and an expression of spiritual exercise for sisters to wear  a covering whenever the Word of God will be opened and spoken  from in such a way. This would be true of gospel meetings as well,  no matter where they might be held. What the individual sister might  do in these instances becomes a matter of her personal exercise  before the Lord. If there is any doubt, it is far better to err on the side  of wearing a covering in such gatherings.

We often hear discussion about what kind of covering our  sisters should wear, whether it is a veil or a hat. It seems clear that  the covering of this chapter was a veil, for that was the form used  in those days. However, it was a true covering, not a thin, netlike  veil that some use today. Would not the covering be that which is a  genuine covering of the head, one that is acceptable and  recognized by the saints as a suitable covering, being guided by the  Word of God? We should beware of introducing expediency as a  means of subverting the truth that God intends to convey by this  typical action. Often, it seems that when sisters wear a “mantilla”  type of veil, they do not wear it into the meetings but put it on just  prior to the start of a meeting. Let us suggest that our manner of  coming to the assembly meeting is part of our assembly testimony,  and we must be conscious of what we are presenting by that means  to those who look on from outside. When sisters come to a meeting  with no covering on their heads but then, just prior to the meeting’s  start, put some little token covering on their heads, it does not  represent the character of the assembly testimony as it should.  This, along with bringing a Bible to the meetings, is part of the  overall pattern of our conduct and testimony before the world  around. In addition, it has been accurately observed, that when  sisters begin wearing this kind of covering (a veil), other  expressions of wrong behavior that indicate a lack of submission to  other Divine order also will soon follow, and there will also be a  desire for practices that are not according to God’s Word.  Compromise with the practices of the religious world inevitably  erodes the principles that underlie assembly gatherings.

The covering is for the head, not specifically the hair.

Whether the sister puts her hair up or leaves it down does not seem  to be addressed nor do we believe that it should it be legislated. The  covering is a symbol of headship and it should be worn in that way  and for that reason. Our sisters would do well to consider whether  they are wearing a covering to impress others with their style or to  please the Lord. Many would do better with less ostentation that  would be more becoming in the gatherings of the saints. The hat is  not worn for show! Perhaps in many ways, the simple, yet genuine  veil of the New Testament would be preferable to the wearing of  some hats that are seen today!

Preciousness of Truth

These things are not important to unsaved people for  obvious reasons, and they are practices that the majority of the  religious world has neglected or rejected. One should always keep  in mind that the rejection of this practice has paralleled the  increasing apostasy of professing churches as they have turned  away from the truth and authority of God's Word. There was a time  when every woman in a “church gathering” would have worn a  covering on her head. Most “churches” have neglected or rejected  this practice since then, possibly because of those who objected to  having to wear it. Its rejection has also accompanied the women’s  liberation movement and the interpretation of Scripture in a cultural  setting has supported this departure. However, it is taught in the  same context with the Lord's Supper, both of which are symbolic  acts that have deep significance. It is a grievous error to teach, as  some do, that this display of headship was cultural and only  pertained to Corinth. That kind of teaching, followed through, would  also be the ground to reject many or most of the practices of the  New Testament assembly. May God grant that their importance  may not be lost to those who profess to seek to honor the Lord's  Name! Our ambition should not be to conform to the changing ideas  and opinions of men but to seek to please an unchanging God for  the honor of our blessed Lord.