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Note: This blog post is part of a series titled "Studies in First Corinthians." To view all parts, click the link below.
Paul’s conclusion in regard to coverings is given in 1 Corinthians 11:14, 15,
14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering.
Paul says that men should not cover their heads. Why? Because to do so signifies that they are in submission to other men, rather than to God. This instruction addresses the root of the denominational problem, where members are required to submit to the leaders, right or wrong. Genuine leadership and authority is misused when it usurps the place of Christ.
Even Paul himself said in verse 1, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” His leadership was only as good as his own imitation of Christ. Conversely, Paul was admitting that if he did not imitate Christ, then the people had no obligation to follow his example or to submit to his corrections and instructions.
The Food Laws
This principle is seen also in the food laws, especially in Leviticus 11:3,
3 Whatever divides a hoof, thus making split hoofs, and chews the cud, among the animals, that you may eat.
In other words, a word is clean if it stands upon a double witness and the eater meditates upon it to give the Holy Spirit opportunity to turn the word from flesh to spirit, that is, from man’s word to divine revelation. If a denomination demands conformity to its creeds or teachings without allowing the people the right to ask the Holy Spirit, then the members are wearing head coverings. The denomination has then usurped the place of Christ. Their words are unclean, whether factual or not.
Likewise, if the people themselves demand a king, as Israel did in the days of Saul, they put on head coverings, whether they know it or not. In such cases, the leader himself may not be the problem. The leader may want the people to search the Scriptures and to meditate upon every word, but if the people desire to follow men, then the word remains unclean to them.
Do we not see this problem arising in the story of Moses? When Moses covered his head and face in Exodus 34:33, it was not because Moses wanted to hide the glory of God from the people. It was because the people were afraid of that glory. Hence, the veil did not affect Moses’ vision or revelation. Instead, the people themselves were blinded. 2 Corinthians 3:14, 15 says,
14 But their minds were hardened [or blinded]; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. 15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart.
We also see that Moses removed the veil from his head when he went into the tabernacle to pray. Exodus 34:34 says,
34 But whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with Him, he would take off the veil until he came out….
Hence, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 11:4,
4 Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying, disgraces his head.
It appears that Paul was thinking of Moses’ example.
So also, religious Jewish men continue to wear head coverings, thereby testifying to the veracity of Paul’s words. Their yarmulkes are physical signs of Old Covenant blindness. Most of the Jews in Jesus’ day would have gladly accepted Him as the Messiah, but they submitted to the will of their religious leaders, who had rejected Jesus. The leaders demanded that the people submit to them, rather than to God, and so the people were eating food without chewing their cud.
If a leader feeds the people with spiritual food which the Holy Spirit has given to him, that food is clean to him; but if the people do not process it properly, it is unclean to them. The bottom line is that all men have been given the right to hear God for themselves, having a direct relationship with God, as seen in the creation story. Burning people at the stake for not submitting to the pope is evidence that the church violated the spiritual food laws of the Bible and manifested the same evil spirit that came upon King Saul (1 Samuel 16:14).
The Roman church is not alone in demanding submission to men. Most Protestant denominations have fallen into the same trap. John Calvin even burned Michael Servetus at the stake. In the 1970’s the so-called Shepherding Movement arose, which openly taught submission to men. Most of its leaders renounced it later, but the damage was done, and the leaven was implanted in the Charismatic Movement.
For years, people often asked me, “Who is your covering?” When I said, “Jesus,” they said, “And who?” They wanted to know which man was my covering. I had to explain to them that Paul did not allow men to wear a head covering.
What About Women?
It is curious that in Paul’s conclusion, 1 Corinthians 11:15 says nothing of man-made head coverings for women. Instead, he says “her hair is given to her for a covering.” Who gave her this hair? God, of course. It was her original covering that was her “glory.” Earlier, we read in 1 Corinthians 11:7 that “the woman is the glory of man.” The woman herself was the glory of man, but her hair was the glory of God.
Hence, the woman differed from the man. But what does this mean in practice? Unfortunately, Paul does not explain this clearly, at least not in this letter. Yet it is evident that a woman has two coverings—first her hair itself, and secondly a man-made veil. These are the two covenants. Her hair is the New Covenant; a veil is the Old Covenant. The New Covenant is a direct relationship with God as it was meant to be from the beginning. The Old Covenant is an indirect relationship with God through blind submission to men. A slave woman is not given the right to hear and obey God’s voice. She must do what her master tells her to do, and if he is not hearing God properly, then she is stuck in her bondage.
Likewise, the church itself in the Pentecostal Age has followed the example of King Saul, who himself was crowned on the day of “wheat harvest” (later called Pentecost). The people have demanded an earthly king, and God took it personally, saying of them, “they have rejected Me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7).
Though God has allowed the evil spirit of denominationalism to hold sway over the church, that same spirit prevents the “Saul” church from enduring beyond its allotted time. Saul was not the man after God’s own heart. Neither is the church as a whole. The Kingdom that is coming is patterned after David, not Saul. That Kingdom will endure, and it will be ruled by the Davidic company of overcomers who have overcome the evil spirit that held sway in Saul’s kingdom.
The King and the Kingdom
God established marriage between man and woman to portray the perfect relationship of the King and the Kingdom. It was not meant to put women into bondage, for Eve was not to be in bondage to Adam. Neither is the Kingdom of God a place of bondage, but of liberty. Adam, however, was given the responsibility and authority to bring the chaotic creation into divine order, so that it might enjoy the liberty of the children of God.
And Eve was his “helper” (Genesis 2:20). In the New Testament, Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit as a “helper” in John 14:16, 26, and John 15:26. Is the Holy Spirit in bondage to the Father? No, a helper is not a slave, except among imperfect men. Hence, the woman is to her husband what the Holy Spirit is to our heavenly Father.
Does the Holy Spirit do anything that is contrary to the will of the Father? Of course not. They work in harmony and agreement. That is also the purpose of New Covenant marriage, and while few come close to achieving such a relationship, it is the biblical ideal and ultimate goal.
The marriage principle is also extended to all areas where there is leadership and authority. The King is in a marriage relationship with the Kingdom. Church leadership is married to the congregation. Eventually, even employer and employees will enjoy the same relationship that does not include oppression from above or rebellion from below.
Yet the basic unit of marriage is a husband and wife, or man and woman, derived from the heavenly relationship of Father and Holy Spirit.
Paul ties his teaching about coverings to the issue of denominational divisions, recognizing that the church was having difficulty in its relationships between leaders and congregations. He says in 1 Corinthians 11:17-19,
17 But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part, I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you.
Who are “those who are approved”? Recall from 1 Corinthians 9:27 how Paul did not want to be “disqualified.” Throughout chapter 10 he gave examples from Israel that showed how that first church was disqualified. Paul wanted to be an overcomer, and though his salvation was sure, his qualification as an overcomer was still pending.
His entire discussion, then, about coverings was really about evidence that distinguished the “approved” from those who were “disqualified.” The “divisions” and “factions” in the church were caused by the evil spirit of denominationalism, which in turn was evidence that people were following men, rather than Christ.
In fact, Paul says, “there must also be factions among you,” as if to say that this problem is inevitable. God uses it to distinguish between church and overcomers. The church, Paul knew, would surely follow the example of the church in the wilderness. The Pentecostal church in his day was not so different from the Passover church in Moses’ day. Both churches were founded on the feast of Pentecost. Pentecost itself was a leavened feast (Leviticus 23:17), and the leaven could be overcome only by the fire from the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
When the church first received the Holy Spirit, it was “on fire” for God. But two decades later, the first had subsided, and reality had set in. Paul’s letters show how difficult it was to maintain the truth. Men tended to revert back to Old Covenant practices. Hence, it seemed necessary to put the people into bondage to their leaders who (hopefully) would be good fathers bringing discipline and order to the church until they could reach spiritual maturity.
So also Paul also saw a problem with some of the women who were discarding their head coverings, not out of respect for the New Covenant, but out of a heart of rebellion. They were using Paul’s New Covenant teachings to justify rebellion, even as the church has often used Paul’s teachings on liberty to cast aside the law of God and thereby justify sin.
Old Covenant leadership will work, as long as the leaders fulfill their fatherly duties. If they teach the people the laws of God and show how “the law is spiritual” (Romans 7:14), the people will grow. If the leaders do not usurp the place of Christ, but remain submitted to His authority, then they will always point to Christ, rather than to themselves.
We have little choice but to deal with the Old Covenant, because it is still the natural order of things in an immature church. The real question is how New Covenant leadership functions among an Old Covenant people. Leaders must have a New Covenant vision, a map and a plan of action to lead the people to the Promised Land (Tabernacles). If they have only a vision of Passover or Pentecost, they will fall short of their responsibility that comes with authority.
Note: This blog post is part of a series titled "Studies in First Corinthians." To view all parts, click the link below.