Every now and then someone sends around those “getting to know you” questions, and I’ve answered them a few times on my blog. Sometimes one of the questions is “What is one thing people might not know about you?” One good answer to that question is that I wear a hat, or headcovering, to church, but I have never mentioned it on my blog because I don’t want to be thought weird or misjudged because of it.
But in real life, of course, a hat in church is obvious and sticks out like a sore thumb, even though I try to keep them unobtrusive and not overly decorative. My husband and I don’t want to make it our “pet issue,” soapbox, or hobby horse by bringing it up and discussing it excessively with people, so we usually only explain it when asked. I don’t think we have ever been asked, though I was once accused of “formalism” by someone who pronounced that judgment without trying to find out our reasons.
Online discussions of those who wear headcoverings often pronounce them as legalists. Since I am neither a formalist or a legalist, I thought perhaps an explanation would be in order.
The practice comes from I Corinthians 11:1-16, which I’ll include here for easy reference:
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. 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. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.
There are several different ways of interpreting this passage, so I’ll just go through them to explain the conclusions we came to.
1. It’s a cultural issue. I’m told that in the days in which this was written, respectable women wore veils in public and women of ill repute did not, so it was a matter of good reputation to be veiled in public. While that may be true, that’s not the reason given here (and the apostle probably would not have needed to encourage them to do what they were already practicing as a culture anyway). The reason given here for a woman to wear a head covering is to illustrate that her husband is her head and she is honoring him, and she is specifically to have it on when she is “praying or prophesying” in a public assembly of the church.
2. It’s just talking about hair. Verses 14-15 cause some people to attribute the whole discussion to hair length. There are a few reasons I don’t agree that that’s the case. The phrasing of the passage seems to indicate that this is an example of the same principle in nature, not the culmination of the discussion. And if it is talking about hair, wouldn’t it be saying that men should be bald when they pray (verses 4 and 7)? When it says a woman should have her head covered when she prays or prophesies, that seems to indicate something she puts on at that time.
3. Women should cover their heads all the time. Some people who do believe in using head coverings take this view because a woman needs to be ready to pray or prophesy (verse 5) at any time. However, the context of the passage is public worship (verse 1 talks about keeping the ordinances, then the remainder of the chapter after this discusses communion [or the Lord’s Table or the Lord’s Supper, whatever you choose to call it]). The early New Testament church participated in the Lord’s Table much more often than modern churches do (I was told once that they did so every time they met, but I don’t know how to find out whether that is true). Therefore, since the context of the passage is public worship with both men and women present, I don’t wear a hat around the house or at the grocery store or to women’s meetings at church.
4. A head covering in Bible times is like a wedding ring now, just a symbol that a woman is married. They may both indicate marriage, but the instruction in this passage seems to me to go beyond just being married, particularly since the head covering seems to be something they put on while meeting together, not something that is kept on all the time.
5. Woman should wear a headcovering in a public assembly of the church to illustrate that she is under the headship of her husband and honoring him. That’s obviously the view that I hold.
What is the verse about angels referring to (verse 10)? Some think that is a reference to pastors, as the angel of each church in Revelation is its pastor. Some think it refers to actual heavenly angels and that God shows something of Himself to them through us (“so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places,” Ephesians 3:10, ESV).
To me the cultural difference comes in the type of head covering. Woman in Western societies don’t wear veils, so at some point they began wearing hats. Amish and Mennonite women wear prayer kapps. In some Eastern European churches, the woman wear scarves over their heads. Some of the women who wear headcoverings all the time here use a bandana style, though often they use white fabrics.
Women wearing some type of head covering in American churches was practiced up until the 50s or 60s, not that long ago. Somehow the practice fell away, maybe because it was no longer taught. Gradually people forgot the basis for it, and then didn’t see a need to keep on with it. Or maybe the practice was rejected because the world in general rejected the idea of man being head over a woman. Oddly, society has kept the practice of men praying with their heads uncovered. You do still see men removing their hats when during public prayer, though I think even that is beginning to decline.
There are some fundamental Biblical issues for which there is no wiggle room: the Deity of Christ, salvation by grace through faith, and others. But on other issues, Romans 14 has instructions for those who come to different conclusions about what the Bible teaches in those issues that aren’t fundamental to the Christian faith (though the passage is discussing weaker brethren, I think some of these overarching principles apply). Some people can read the same passage, like this one, and come to different conclusions about what is taught or meant. Each should do whatever they do as unto the Lord (verse 6), not judging or condemning each other, (verses 3, 10,13), being fully persuaded in their own minds (verses 5, 22), remembering they’re accountable to the Lord (verse 12), not being contentious about it (verses 1, 17-19).
As I said at the start, this isn’t a soapbox issue and I rarely mention it. I don’t judge other women who don’t wear hats or headcoverings because I understand that they may read the passage differently. But because I see the passage the way I do, I need to follow what I believe it is teaching. I thought perhaps explaining where the conviction comes from would help others not to judge the practice unfairly.
This post will be also linked to Women Living Well.
Well, I am just delighted to hear about this particular practice of yours–and of your convictions behind it.
When I lived in Columbus, I wore hats to church most weeks simply because I have a large collection of hats and decided one day that I wanted to start wearing them. Church seemed the appropriate place to do that. It got to where people would ask me if something was wrong if I *wasn’t* wearing a hat at church.
Since moving to Wichita, I have not worn my hats to church–partly because I’m still struggling to find my place within our church, but just as much or more because Daniel is a little uncomfortable with how my hats do “stick out like a sore thumb.” While he has never told me he didn’t want me to wear them, he does feel awkward when I’m all dressed up with a hat beside him. So, out of respect for my head, I leave my head uncovered.
I definitely see this as an area open for interpretation–and one in which both husband and wife should be involved in making the decision, lest in wearing a headcovering a wife might be ignoring the very thing she is supposed to be symbolizing. It sounds like you and your husband have studied the Bible together and are honoring the Lord and one another in you wearing a headcovering–good for you!
That’s a good point – the reality of submission is more important than the symbol, and if the husband disagrees, then it’s better to submit to him on the issue. I don’t see this as an “obeying God rather than man” issue since it can be interpreted differently by different people.
Excellent and balanced. Thank you!
Thank you for this post. I use to wear a head covering for a time. I asked my husband to study it out for me in the original language and he did.
He told me that he did not think that I needed to wear one. Since my hair was thin and breaks off he also told me that he felt short hair was fine as I was always under his authority and he did not have a problem with short hair or not wearing head covering.
So I decided to obey my husbands wishes and findings as he saw it.
I love that you are not legalistic, and allow it to be a personal thing of what the Lord leads you to do from what you read in the word.
I do love hats and often thought of buying some in the thrift stores and wearing them. They do look so feminine.
Have a great day.
Interesting to read:).
I love hats but am never comfortable wearing them. I do not feel the same conviction you do, but enjoyed reading your post:).
Great post! Now, I really want to see your hat collection!!!
What a fascinating post and not what I can say I expected to read! I do think it is a matter that is open to interpretation.
I don’t think I would actually have any issues wearing a hat myself (but I don’t feel personally convicted to do so) and Jonathan hasn’t asked me to. If he did, I would.
Mostly, I’ve never worn a hat because I think they look funny on my head (head shape) and ….stick out….yes. 😀
VERY interesting post. Glad you decided to answer this question.
I’m with Lou Ann…excellent and balanced. From our previous correspondence, I gather that you are sweet and gentle in nature and would never look down on another lady in your church for not sharing your conviction. You are so right, actual submission is the bigger issue.
Very interesting! Women used to wear veils in the Catholic church. I thought about bringing that back (for myself of course), but being that I’d be the only one, I’m not sure I want to “stand out”. Good for you for wearing a hat. Maybe you’re giving me a push to do what I know is right.
Very nice teaching.If we can honour our husband how much more God we represent God and we must be like him not like the world we must be different in every thing do we must honour God
Your article is very interesting. You’re a good writer and I enjoy your column.
I agree that you’ve written a balanced post here, Barbara! My grandmother wore hats to church most of her life, and I believe it may have been because she felt her head should be covered during public worship. I never asked, because that’s just what she did, and I never questioned it!
We had a family attending our church for a while, that the lady wore a headcovering during prayer at church, but not for the entire service. She never forced her belief on others, and when children would ask, she would refer them to their mothers (she and her husband were considered the “grandparents” in our church, much-loved by the children). My husband doesn’t hold the same interpretation of that passage that she did, but he never discouraged her from covering her head, for the reasons you list here: it’s an issue of personal preferences and she was doing what she did as an act of submission to God and her husband.
I enjoyed learning something new about you! I’d love to see some of your hats, too! 🙂
Just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed reading this post on your convictions. Well done!
I too cover, but I also do it outside the areana of worship, mostly at night when I sleep. I have heard many references to the, ‘only in public/corporate worship’ point of view, but when I rad the scripture, I do not see where, Paul mentions doing it only in that type of setting and when I see historical references to women being covered, it is also during daily life. As someone who covers from a point of spritual warfare as well as pryaing and prophesying, may i encourage you to pray and seek the Lord about covering more outside of the corporate setting? I beleive head covering to be a blessing, a tool, an aid for the wearer. It is freedom through authority and a woman shoudl get to experience that more than once a week. It’s amazing.
God bless you and keep you.
The context of the whole passage is corporate worship. The first verse begins with keeping the ordinances and the rest of the chapter discusses the Lord’s supper, or communion, which they did while together. I don’t see where wearing a head covering in daily life is discussed elsewhere in the New Testament, nor have I seen any passage connecting it to spiritual warfare. I believe this is taking it farther than was meant.
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I wear my hat to church I can never go in to the house of God with my head uncovered are pray and read the word of God with out covering my head. Thank you it is a blessing to read your letter we have to honour God in every thing we do our body is God temple I did not adorn my are change my self is God who do it when we try to change our self we will go back to our old self but when God do it we will remains how he wants us we are light and our light must shine for others to see God bless you for your wonderful letter
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This is so interesting, Barbara, and I’m glad you linked to it. Good for you for actual following your convictions in this way.
I followed the link from Susan’s blog, and I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to meet a sister in Christ who covers her head! I’ve quietly done this for 30 years, and I’m still surprised by the vitriolic reaction I get from people in church, even though I never mention it unless asked. First people tell me it’s the old law. When I gently point out that it’s commanded in the New Testament after Jesus Christ ascended, they immediately refer to Deborah, who, of course, is in the Old Testament! As far as the angels, I’ve thought it is showing them under whose authority and protection you are placing yourself. There are many things happening in the heavens that we are not always aware of, but that affect us. I love your observation that if it was only about hair, men would have to be bald. I agree that it doesn’t make sense that the women of Corinth were simply out of control. Even if true, Paul would likely remind them of what was expected from women in the church, not give them rules applicable only to themselves. I pondered whether the headcovering (I wear a lace scarf) was only for church, and have concluded that I am to wear it any time I’m praying (and prophesying). One last observation, and please excuse the length of this comment, but I was delighted to find that my obedience to the Bible over society affected my sons so that they are able to stand firm against pressure and do what is right regardless of what others do. Often we don’t understand the blessings of obedience to God until after we obey.
Thanks so much for your comment, Tracie. I don’t mind the length at all!
One reason I wrote this is for the reactions you described. Some seem to think women who wear head coverings are the most extreme legalists. But it’s a matter of how we understand the passage and what it is teaching. And if we believe it is teaching a certain way, it’s not legalism to obey.
That’s a good thought that obedience is not just about us, but it is a testimony to others as well.
I stumbled across this article, found it interesting, and thought perhaps you might too. https://knowingscripture.com/articles/book-review-man-and-woman-one-in-christ-payne
Thank you. It’s amazing how people twist Scripture when they read it through the lens of their own opinions instead of letting it mean what it says.
Amen! That’s what I thought, too. The mental gymnastics performed to get out of obeying God’s Word is exhausting, and sad, too, because others are too often led astray. Glad to have “met” you, and I am encouraged by you.