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蒙头的重点 On Headcovering and its Importance

September 15, 2019, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee (1 Corinthians 11:2-16) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: 1 Corinthians
Preached at a Mandarin (Sunday) service

Tags: 1 Corinthians 哥林多前书

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Title: On Headcovering and its Importance
Date: 15th Sept 2019
Preacher: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee

Our passage today addresses the issue of hairstyles and headcovering during church worship. However, in this day and age, especially in Singapore, some of us may not be familiar with this topic. We didn’t think that hairstyles and headcovering could be an issue until we witnessed the fancy hats at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. 【1】 We might think that headcovering was just for the muslims. Yet, headcovering was the Christian practice for the majority of Christians throughout the world until less than a hundred years ago. Even today, it is still a common practice in the Eastern Orthodox churches and Catholics in India, Pakistan and Korea. 【2】 Paul stated in the last verse: 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other/such practice—nor do the churches of God. 【3】16 若有人想要辩驳,我们却没有这样的的规矩,神的众教会也是没有的。Whichever the translation, Paul meant to say that there was a common general convention during his time; every church everywhere was doing the same. 【4】 Whichever the case, Paul’s advice was that the Corinthian church should continue to follow the general convention for men and women about their hair during worship. What can we learn from Paul’s instructions?

From chapters 11 to 14, Paul’s main topic involved the different aspects of worship, from holy communion to spiritual gifts. And the first aspect in worship, which is our passage today, has to do with attire. Church worship attire is sometimes hotly debated in church because it is such a contentious and subjective issue. Some years ago, when some of the local Catholic churches tried to implement a dress code, they received upset feedback from some of their parishioners. 【5】 Parents sometimes argue with youths whether their attires for church are too casual. What we can learn from our passage today is that the words ‘honor’ and ‘disgrace’ tell us that headcovering during worship is a matter of public decency. Some believe that this might be due to the fact that among women of that time, only temple prostitutes exposed their hair in public. Other historians included in this group slaves and women of the lowest class. “A Roman matron, a respectable married or widowed woman, could wear a palla, a garment like a shawl that could be pulled over the head when stepping out of doors. These garments signified that a woman was married or widowed and that she was sexually unavailable … … (similarly) by law, an adulteress could have her hair cut very short and she was no longer permitted to wear any garment indicative of a matron. These were signs of her disgrace.” 【6】Since Christianity in the first century was still a minority and often persecuted religion, it was important for Christianity to be perceived as moral and honorable. This could be why Paul was talking about proper hairstyles or covered hair.

I think Paul’s advice on public decency is just as sensible today as it was then. We might not need an official dress code in Jubilee. But the general rule of thumb should be church attire that is considered decent to the general public. Today, headcovering and hairstyles are no longer associated with honor and disgrace, so I do not think that we need to continue the practice of headcovering or standardized hairstyles. However, we still have norms of dress codes of modern society to abide by. The church is a place you can call your home, and it is also where everyone else, including newcomers, come to encounter God. So I would say that church attire for worship should be whatever is comfortable to you, and also presentable to the general public. We do however set a higher bar for those in the worship ministry. If you are serving on stage, then you should be dressed more formally, but not to the point of being eye-catching or distracting. You are an instrument that points towards God, and not the focus of attention itself. Nonetheless, I don’t want to be overly detailed or micro-manage this, since Paul also spoke only in general principles.

Back to the topic of headcovering and hairstyles. If every woman during Paul’s era were following the general convention and men vice versa, then why would there be a controversy in the Corinthian church? What would make the Corinthian men or women challenge whatever was the norm? One possible clue could be in the verse: 2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. 2 我称赞你们,因你们凡事记念我,又坚守我所传给你们的。 The Corinthian Church was fervent in the teachings of Paul. And one of the key concepts I’ve mentioned before regarding man and woman is found in Galatians 3: 26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 26 所以,你们因信基督耶稣,都是神的儿子。 27 你们受洗归入基督的,都是披戴基督了; 28 并不分犹太人、希腊人,自主的、为奴的,或男或女,因为你们在基督耶稣里都成为一了。
Is it possible that one of the ways in which oneness in Christ Jesus is expressed through church attire? “Perhaps some of the Corinthian women had been taking Paul literally, so when they prayed or prophesied aloud in church meetings, they had decided to remove their normal headcovering, perhaps also unbraiding their hair, to show that in the Messiah they were free from the normal social conventions by which men and women were distinguished.” 【7】

I imagined the Corinthian Church might have been surprised by Paul’s insistence on maintaining gender differentiation during worship. Shouldn’t he, above everyone else, support their creativity in expressing the new humanity where man and woman were one and the same? On one hand, I get where these people were coming from. It was like a form of protest to shake up the injustice of the existing order. Their actions reminded me of the early years of the latest feminist movement. “Fifty years ago, a protest against a Miss America beauty pageant in New Jersey sparked off the iconic - and mythical - image of the "bra-burning feminist". Back in 1968, the Miss America pageant rewarded a very specific type of female beauty. Although requirements that contestants must be "of good health and of the white race" had been abandoned almost two decades earlier, the pageant had never had a non-white winner. A group of women hurled mops, lipsticks and high heels into a "Freedom Trash Can". The idea was to symbolically throw away things that oppressed women, says Robin Morgan, one of the organisers. Passers-by were invited to join in. "I remember one young woman took off her bra," Ms Morgan tells BBC 100 Women. "[She] eased it out from under her shirt and threw it in to great cheers." It was a gesture that made headlines around the world, securing the protesters a place in history.” 【8】 Personally, I think it is courageous of these people, whether it is the first century Corinthians or the feminists of the last century, to fight against societal stereotypes of gender differentiation. Your masculinity or femininity should be expressed in your own uniqueness, instead of whatever fashion magazines or popular culture are telling you. There is value in the Freedom Trash Can in seeking to destroy the symbols of subjugation, which could mean different things to different people. The Freedom Trash Can of 1968 helped to actualize diversity to the Miss America pageant, and now there are winners of different races and skin tones. 【9】

On the other hand, I think Paul was also adding valuable insights to the conversation in maintaining gender differentiation for worship. Christians were pushing the boundaries of a previously male-dominated priesthood. It was great that women were getting involved in public worship through their prayers and prophecies. Women are just as gifted by God and have just as much to contribute to the church community, if not more. But the problem in the Corinthian Church was that they were not being themselves, but they were trying to appear like somebody else. Paul was trying to stress that such negation of gender differentiation was wrongheaded. Women can perfectly serve in the traditional roles of men while presenting themselves in whichever way they deem beautiful, as long as they preserve decency. This is unity without uniformity.

Paul used various ways to point out that men and women have fundamental differences – in creation order, in public perception of gender roles, and in physiology. Some think that Paul was being prescriptive by imposing gender differences, to let men be manly and women stay as women. But I think Paul was only being descriptive about the undeniable differences, but his theological insight was that these differences no longer divided them. We now have our oneness in Christ. When Paul talked about headship, his point was that we all now acknowledge Christ as the head. Though at that moment, women were subjected to the pressures of shame and glory based on their appearances, but ultimately all men and women were to bring glory to God. Paul summed it up very well: 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. 11 然而照主的安排,女也不是无男,男也不是无女; 12 因为女人原是由男人而出,男人也是由女人而出,但万有都是出乎神。 In short, through Christ, God is our unity, we don’t need to negate our individual differences through uniformity. Men can be man and women be woman, so long as we know we need one another, whether it is worship or leadership. This is why the Corinthian Church was wrong-headed. The equality between man and woman doesn’t lie in removing gender differentiation in appearances. The equality lies in understanding our worth and our purpose in God are one and the same.

If there was a Freedom Trash Can during Paul’s time, what should have been thrown in instead of headcoverings? Perhaps some other passages can provide a better answer.
1 Peter 3: 3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. 4 Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.
3 你们不要以外面的辫头发、戴金饰、穿美衣为装饰, 4 只要以里面存着长久温柔、安静的心为装饰,这在神面前是极宝贵的。
1 Timothy 2: 9 I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.
9 又愿女人廉耻、自守,以正派衣裳为装饰,不以编发、黄金、珍珠和贵价的衣裳为装饰, 10 只要有善行,这才与自称是敬神的女人相宜。
Instead of headcoverings, the Corinthian women should have trashed their false vanities and pretentious pride. It is who you are, not what you wear that matters.

Allow me to conclude with this reflection about how our gospel should transform the culture. The bible passage today may seem like a conservative perspective to promote modesty and to temper progressive ideas. Sadly, it was used for many centuries in a legalistic manner to subjugate women through restricting their appearances. However, I hope I've shed light for you to see that the intention of Paul was to engineer true freedom. In affirming our unity in God, we have freedom from superficial uniformity in attire and hairstyles. We have freedom to serve one another as the man and woman we are created for. We have the freedom of choice to pray or to prophesy for the good of the community. For the sake of the gospel, we use our freedom to temper down our excesses to remain decent and inviting to the world. We are free from the judgment to keep up appearances, and in doing so, we are free to cultivate our true inner beauty to love. To God be all glory, power and praise.

[1]https://www.vox.com/2018/5/18/17366510/british-royal-wedding-hats

[2]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_headcovering
【3】 An alternative translation is “we have no such practice”. The original Greek favors this interpretation. In any case, Paul’s advice is to lean towards whatever is the general practice, whether women should have head covering or not.
【4】 In fact, for more than 19 centuries, the only controversy was whether the head covering was purely for public worship, or should it even include private lives. Those who advocate the latter believe women should have head covering at all times because you are supposed to pray without ceasing. (1 Thess. 5:17) [5]https://www.asiaone.com/print/News/Latest%2BNews/Singapore/Story/A1Story20120207-326228.html
【6】 http://www.ethos.org.au/online-resources/Engage-Mail/women-s-hair-in-corinth-and-in-sydney
【7】 Tom Wright, Paul for everyone 1 Corinthians, p 140.
【8】 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-45303069
【9】 https://www.huffpost.com/entry/miss-america-or-miss-711_b_3964321?guccounter=1

1 Corinthians 11:2–16 (Listen)

Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12 for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.

(ESV)