Chapter 5: The Local Church and its Control
by Walter A. Boyd, N. Ireland
As shown in chapter 1, there are two aspects in Scripture to the word "Church", one being a local church gathered to the Name of the Lord Jesus, and the other "the church which is His body", comprising every believer in the Lord Jesus of the present dispensation. While there are similarities in control in both, the form of control instituted by God in a local church differs from the control in the Church which is the body of Christ. Christ is the Head of both a local church and the Church which is His body. The Holy Scriptures are the means whereby Christ as Head communicates His truth to the members of the body in the energy of the Holy Spirit. Christ alone is the Head of the Church which is His body: there is no intervening man or men between Christ as Head and believers as members of His body.
Christ is Head of a local church which is gathered to His Name and responsible to Him alone: there is no confederacy or earthly control. However, the situation in a local church is quite different, in that Christ has placed men in a local church who are equipped by the Holy Spirit for the task of shepherding and care, as shown in chapter 9 of this book. Responsibility and authority within any local church are placed in the hands of these men, who are known as elders or overseers. Such men are not left to their own devices as to how to exercise that God-given authority: all the information needed is provided in the New Testament Scriptures. The Church Epistles together with the Pastoral Epistles are especially pertinent to their task.
Within the context of the local church and its authority we will show that this authority revolves around the following principles;
These unite to form an invincible three-fold cord of authority in the control that has been devolved to elders in a local church. In this chapter we shall examine this authority and its practical outcome in a local church. Elders are placed in a local church by the Holy Spirit, Acts 20.28; they are responsible to the Lord as the Chief Shepherd, Heb.13.17; and have the Holy Scriptures as their guide in what they do, Acts 20.32, 2 Tim.3.16,17. We will deal with these forms of authority in reverse of the order in the above list, by briefly mentioning the authority of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures, and concentrating in greater detail upon the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ as the exalted Head of the Church. When we speak of the Headship of Christ we are referring to the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ as established by Scripture and recognised by every believer in an assembly.
It is fundamental to see that, in supplying guidance for Christian testimony by a local church, the Scriptures are complete and final. That finality invests them with the full authority of the spoken words of God. In those matters which the Scriptures address, it is God Who is speaking: therefore their control is absolute. The Scriptures provide elders in an assembly with "thus saith the Lord" for their actions and decisions. In dispensing and directing gift within a local church, the Holy Spirit is sovereign and in control, 1 Cor.12.1-11. In administering grace for the needs of a local church, the Lord Jesus as Risen Head walks in the midst of the seven golden lamp-stands to scrutinise their condition, and supply whatever is needed for correction or consolation, see Revelation chapters 2 and 3.
Whenever a subject is taught as being authoritative, the basis of that authority has to be established. The foundation for all that is taught in an assembly is the inspired Word of God. 2 Tim.3.16,17 makes it clear that all Scripture is God-breathed and is beneficial for a number of tasks: teaching, reproving, correcting, and for training in righteous living. Authority is one of the immediate consequences of the inspiration of the Scriptures. Because the Scriptures are inspired, they have the very authority of God Who breathed them. Nothing can diminish that authority, and it should be recognised by every true Christian. On the basis of inspiration, God has established the authority of the Scriptures: it is our responsibility to acknowledge it. When we were saved, we bowed to this authority upon hearing the Word of God and believing it, Jn.5.24; Rom.10.17. In the same manner that we accepted what the Scriptures taught us for salvation, we should acknowledge the authority of Scripture to direct that life which we received. The saints at Thessalonica manifested this attitude, and Paul commends them for it with the words of 1Thess.2.13, "For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe." This ought to be the attitude of every saint in a local assembly: acceptance of the Word of God as authoritative and sufficient. There is a great need to maintain the authority of the Scriptures by our undivided acceptance of them as sufficient in their advice and complete in their admonitions.
We need nothing more for guidance in assembly matters than the Word of God. Every demand for guidance that an assembly will ever face is fully and finally met in the Scriptures by one or more of the following methods of conveying its truth. There are precepts to obey, principles to utilise, and practices to follow.
There are certain situations for which God has given precepts: that is, clearly stated instructions of an enduring nature. For example, the symbols we should use in remembering the Lord at the Lord’s Supper are clearly stated in both the Gospel records of the institution of the Supper, and in the apostle’s instructions regarding the Supper in 1 Cor.11.23-34. There are other situations for which there is no specific precept in the form of a "thus saith the Lord"; but from the reading of the Scriptures a clear principle is perceived. For example, an assembly wants to know what age elders should be, or how many elders are required to shepherd their saints? The New Testament gives no specific commands either for their age or number. Yet, when the references to elders and their work is considered, we soon see that there are principles involved: an elder is not to be spiritually inexperienced, "not a novice" 1Tim.3.6, and there should be more than one elder per assembly, e.g. Phil.1.1. So, while there are no specific precepts to answer these questions, we are not left to our own ideas – there are clearly stated principles for our guidance.
Then again, there are situations for which there is no precept, yet a careful reading of the Word of God will show that there was a clear practice among the Apostles and the early believers. For example, when should a new convert be baptised? There is no direct precept or principle in Scripture to give guidance as to when it should take place; but in the New Testament it was always closely associated with conversion, and thus the practice of the Apostles was that baptism followed shortly after salvation. While it is not the subject of this chapter, it is important that those responsible for the baptism of converts ensure, as far as is possible, that the person baptised shows evidence of salvation and godly living.
This unconditional acceptance of the authority of the precepts, principles and practices of the Holy Scriptures, was one of the distinguishing features of brethren of an earlier generation. For them, it was enough to find "it is written", and every doubt was settled. A similar attitude among assemblies in our own day would bring us into similar blessing and Divine favour as experienced by those earlier generations.
The authority of the Scriptures brings an assembly into a simple liberty that sets it free from the many spiritual distractions of the day. One of the most pervasive distractions today is the Emerging Church Movement.1 Elders would be well repaid to make themselves acquainted with the basic tenets of this insidious movement and its varied manifestations. It is not a particular denomination, but rather a philosophy of ministry that has crossed denominational barriers and found its way into writings and books by some household Christian names. One of its basic tenets is that, since we live in a constantly changing world, we must constantly change our ways of doing things, or we will quickly become irrelevant to the unsaved.
1 A useful publication that treats the subject is, "Becoming Conversant With The Emerging Church Movement", by D. A. Carson, Zondervan Books, 2005.
To further their objectives, the idea of absolute truth is a taboo. Relativism – the theory that standards can change according to circumstances, is the order of the day. Because of this approach, there is a serious de-emphasis on preaching the Word of God in any form, but especially on exposition. The preference is for something much more user-friendly, like a "time of sharing", when Christians share with others within their group what the Bible means to them in their current life situation. Bible preaching is said to alienate the unsaved. Indeed, they tell us that it might even be offensive to some! You will frequently hear such sentiments expressed as, "Well, here’s what this verse means to me", or, "That’s your opinion of the verse; mine is different but equally as valid". It creates an atmosphere of ‘anything goes’. When elders hear things like that being said, it does not necessarily mean they are listening to outright rebellion to the Word of God. It might be that innocent believers have been duped by the high-sounding principles the movement claims. However, it does signal something much more subtle, yet just as serious, as an outright denial of the truth which Scripture teaches.
The authority of the Holy Scriptures brings to an assembly not just liberty but also stability. The Word of God for a particular circumstance is the sword of the Spirit, and an assembly that recognises its authority will be able to wield it as a sword in any situation that calls for defence. Without hesitation or mental reserve, the saints can declare, "it is written". There will be no need to seek advice from other assemblies, nor any need to fear what other assemblies will think. The assembly that gives the Word of God its full authority can walk a steady path in unfaltering testimony for the Lord, knowing that they are the objects of His pleasure.
The authority of the Holy Scriptures will also grant unity to the assembly. If every Christian in an assembly recognises the authority of the Bible with equal candour, there will be no disunity among them. Similarly, if every assembly was to recognise the absolute authority of the Scriptures, there would be perfect fellowship and harmony among neighbouring assemblies, as together they bow to the truth of Scripture.
It is a sad reflection on our spirituality that liberty, stability and unity are not as firmly embedded in assembly life as they ought to be. Paralysis in gospel activity will be inevitable if we do not maintain a firm grip on the authority of the Scriptures which say, "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" Mk.16.15.
A serious drift in an assembly’s testimony will be the outcome if the authority of the Scriptures is not valued by "holding fast the form of sound words" 2 Tim.1.13. Contention and irreparable factions will be the sad end, where saints do not recognise the authority of the Scriptures, 1 Cor.11.16.
This subject is dealt with in detail in chapter 7, where an explanation is given on the role of the Holy Spirit in the dispensing and direction of gifts within the assembly.
The authority of the Lord Jesus Christ in a local assembly is taught in two truths that are distinct yet closely related: Lordship and Headship. The Lordship of Christ implies ownership, 1 Cor.7.22; in which He exercises authority, sovereignty and power, Col.3.22, 23. Headship implies a relationship, in which Christ as Head is responsible for the nourishment of the body, Eph.5.29; provision for the body, Eph.5.25-28; and protection of the body, Eph.5.21-23. Lordship and Headship are inextricably linked to such an extent that my submission to the Headship of Christ is in harmony with my submission to His Lordship, and vice versa: one demands the other.
Christ as Head of the Church which is His Body is one of the great recurring truths of the New Testament, Eph.1.22; Col.1.18. The word kephale which the New Testament uses for Christ as Head has been at the centre of debate for decades, with an attempt to interpret it as "source, or origin", rather than its accepted traditional meaning in the sense of authority, guidance, rule and power. The position of the present author is the traditional interpretation of "Head", as meaning rule and authority. For any who may be interested in an extended defence of this view, they will find help in an article by Wayne Grudem.2
2 Wayne Grudem, "The Meaning of Kephale (Head): An evaluation Of New Evidence, Real And Alleged": Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 44:1 (March 2001) p.25-65.
Since the focus of this chapter is the local assembly, the remaining pages are taken up with an exposition of the truth of the Headship of Christ. Our submission to both Christ’s Headship and Lordship entails personal obedience to Him. Submission to the Lordship of Christ is manifested mostly in a personal way, as individual believers demonstrate their submission to Christ as the Lord of their lives. However, the Headship of Christ is a truth that finds expression in a local assembly as it gathers together in service and worship.
Submission to the Headship of Christ is demonstrated by an assembly in at least two ways:
It is acknowledged that this is an area of truth that has been vehemently opposed. We need to face squarely the truth of what Scripture teaches: to do otherwise is tantamount to disobedience.
When the Apostle Paul gave the instructions on Headship to the assembly at Corinth, he knew that he was facing the possibility of opposition, 1 Cor.11.16. It is no less the same today: for some reason, teaching on Headship is often unwelcome. For any who have doubts about the validity of the truth, the words of the Lord Jesus in Jn.7.17 are enlightening: "If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God …". The confirmation that the Saviour’s teaching had the seal of heaven’s approval was found in obeying it: to obey His words brought the knowledge of His will. The same applies to submission to the truth of Headship. In the matter of Headship, the important questions are, "What does the Bible teach?" and "Am I willing to obey it?" We will prove the validity of the truth by obedience to it.
Headship Seen In The Exercise Of Gift In The Assembly
It is often thought that the only recognition of Headship in the assembly is the uncovered head of the man with his short hair, and the covered head of the woman with her long hair. There is more to the truth of Headship than that. To recognise Christ as the Head of the Church, also means submission to Him in the realm in which He has control. As the risen Head, He has control over the exercise of gift within the gathered assembly.
Without encroaching on the contents of chapter 7 of this book, it is important to see that 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14 teach that the exercise of spiritual gift in the assembly, while carried out in the energy of the Holy Spirit, is at the direction of the Lord: it is under His command that gift is exercised. In the mind of this author, the phrase, "the leading of the Spirit", which has gained wide acceptance among assemblies, is grossly over-used; to the point of insisting upon a practice that is detrimental to assembly life. 1 Cor.12.4-7 makes fine distinctions in the distribution and use of gifts. The gifts are bestowed by the Holy Spirit; a believer has a gift imparted to him by the Holy Spirit. But from 1 Cor.12.5 it must be observed that the administration of the gift, that is, its use in the assembly, is under the direction and control of the Lord. 1 Cor.12.6 teaches that the power to use the gift comes alone from God, and by implication the person using the gift is accountable to God. It is, therefore, a confusion of these principles to speak of a meeting being left open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. The control of gifted brethren in a gathering of the assembly is in the hands of Christ the Lord as Head; and the power to exercise the gift is given by the Holy Spirit. Failure to recognise these principles is failure to give the Lord His rightful place as Head. A meeting may be left without any arrangement about who is to speak, but for it to be profitable to the assembly, those who speak must be gifted by the Holy Spirit for that task, and they must be in the mind of the Lord in rising to speak.
Headship Seen In Varying Roles For Male And Female In The Assembly
We shall now examine 1 Cor.11.2-19 in relation to Headship. In these verses the Scriptures identify how God expects that males and females should show in different ways their submission to the Headship of Christ in the assembly. Paul opens the subject by speaking in a conciliatory way, to commend them for their adherence to the apostolic traditions he had taught them. In chapter 11 Paul is going to deal with two disorders at Corinth, and in his customary way he leaves the more serious matter to be dealt with until last, that is, the drunkenness and disorder at the remembrance supper. While the disorder at the remembrance supper is the more serious error, it does not mean Headship is of no consequence. He takes up fifteen out of thirty four verses to set the matter straight; and he identifies it as one of the apostolic ‘traditions’.
By describing his teaching as ‘traditions’, Paul is not saying that Headship is a tradition because they have adhered to it for a period of time. The word ‘tradition’ is used to describe apostolic teaching that has been handed down by God to Paul and then to the Corinthians. The matters that Paul is going to correct in this chapter have been the subject of his stewardship – they have been handed down to him as a valuable treasure to be guarded. He tells the Corinthians that, even though they have kept the traditions, there are things that need to be clarified and corrected. That is why he says in ch.11.3, "But I would have you know …". His corrective teaching is in the matter of the demonstration of Headship in the assembly, and is built upon three arguments: an argument from Christology, an argument from Creation, and an argument from Comeliness.
The Argument From Christology - Ch.11.3-6
Paul opens his discussion by introducing the Christological foundation for Headship in ch.11.3, i.e., this subject is based upon an understanding of the doctrine of the person of Christ. He discusses the hierarchy of Headship by stating, "the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God". It is important to observe that he states the implications of Headship for the man, then the woman, and Christ at the end. We might think that he should first have said that God is the head of Christ, so as to give solemnity to the subject. The fact that God is the head of Christ is not central to the apostle’s argument in the question of head covering; and that is why he mentions it last. The matter to be corrected is the headship of Christ as demonstrated by the man and then by the woman. As stated earlier in the chapter, the meaning of "head" in v.3 is authority and power: it does not imply inequality or inferiority. Christ is subject to the authority of the Father, as in Phil.2.5-7 and 1Cor.15.28; but the Father is not the "source, or origin" of Christ, as some would have us interpret "head". Eph.5.23 corroborates this interpretation by teaching that the wife should submit to her husband, because he is her head. He is not her head in the sense that he is her source, but in the sense of authority.
This verse also clarifies that submission to Headship has nothing to do with inferiority of women or their domination by men; for Christ was not inferior to the Father nor was He dominated by the Father. It relates to acceptance of a God-given role. It is also important to point out in v.12, where Paul makes an appeal to creatorial order, that even though the words translated "man" and "woman" can in other places be translated "husband" and "wife", the context here shows that the teaching of Headship relates to male and female, and not just to husband and wife. If the passage meant ‘husband’ instead of ‘man’, v.12 would say that the wife is born of the husband, even so is the husband by the wife, which is incomprehensible! In 1 Cor.3.21-23 Paul makes further use of the hierarchy under Christ, where he states that those who teach the Word of God are under Christ, Who in turn is under God.
In ch.11.4-6, Paul sets out the implications of this hierarchy within Headship. A man should have nothing at all on his physical head when he prays or prophesies. If he is wearing something on his head, the man is disgracing his head, v.4. In what way are we to understand the word "head" in the latter part of v.4? Is he disgracing his physical head, or is he disgracing his figurative head, Who is Christ? The use of the article in Greek with "head" in v.4b, lends substantial support to the argument that he disgraces his physical head for that is the nearest antecedent to which the noun "head" with its article can refer. However, the argument by extrapolation must include the fact that, in disgracing his physical head, he is thereby bringing dishonour on his figurative head, Christ. A man, praying or prophesying with his head covered, brings dishonour on both himself and Christ.
Likewise, v.5 states clearly, "every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head, for that is all the same as if she were shaven." A woman, praying or prophesying with her physical head uncovered, brings dishonour on her own physical head; and, in so doing, she also brings dishonour on the man, who is her figurative head. By implication, then, if a woman brings disgrace on the man, that disgrace also reflects negatively upon Christ Who is the head of the man. Some argue that the woman’s uncovered head means that she has cut her hair, since in v.15 "her hair is given her for a covering". The reason for rejecting this idea is that the word "covering" used in v.4 is from a Greek word for "having something down upon the head". The noun form of this Greek word is used by J.N.D. in Isa.47.2 to say "… remove thy veil …". Whereas, the word "covering" used in v.15 is different; it has the idea of something thrown around, therefore referring to a covering that is additional to the hair of the woman.
We must now look at what the Scripture means by "praying or prophesying", vv.4,5. Space would not permit the inclusion of all the various suggestions about this expression. The explanation that creates the least difficulty is that Headship requires a brother to uncover his head, and a sister to wear a headcovering in the assembly, when there is either praying or prophesying taking place. For, as a man leads the company of saints in prayer to God or gives instruction from God, every member of the company engages in the activity. Thus every person is engaged in "praying or prophesying". Praying is speaking to God, and prophesying is speaking on behalf of God. It is not without significance that this was the accepted interpretation of submission to Headship throughout the Church Age, until the rise of feminism and the Women’s Liberation Movement in the last half of the twentieth Century.
The activity of praying or prophesying embraces every meeting in which there is prayer or preaching. Among other meetings, it includes Sunday Schools, children’s meetings and gospel meetings. The question is then asked – does it apply at all meetings, or only those which are meetings of the assembly? In this context it is important to note that in v.1 Paul is speaking about "ordinances": the teachings and practices handed down to the assembly by him as an Apostle. It is clear to the author that this points towards assembly gatherings. In vv.4,5, the activity of prophesying is not likely to take place in private. In v.16, Paul draws his conclusion by reminding them that "… we have no such custom, neither the churches of God": again pointing to this as an assembly instruction. If then these are assembly instructions, is there a requirement for headcoverings in non-assembly gatherings? It is very easy to pose a question about a hypothetical situation that would be difficult to answer clearly. However, if we approach this question as pointed out in the introduction, we will look for a precept, and where no precept is given we should then look for a principle.
The question is often asked, should a sister wear a headcovering at a wedding or a funeral? The precepts of 1 Corinthians chapter 11 are clearly for situations when Christians "come together". If at the wedding or funeral, the saints have "come together", 11.17,18,20,33,34, and are engaged in speaking to God in prayer or hearing communication from God in preaching, then the men’s heads will be uncovered and the women’s heads covered. If an assembly Christian is called upon to attend a wedding or funeral outside the responsibility of the assembly, for instance a funeral of a relative who was not in assembly fellowship, then we cannot expect to find a precept to govern that situation, for the New Testament recognises only an assembly gathered to the Lord’s Name. The New Testament does not give any instructions for a congregational gathering that is not an assembly. However, it is clear that there is a principle involved: the woman should not bring dishonour on her head, and thereby bring dishonour on the Lord, by having her head uncovered when either congregational praying or preaching is taking place. The location is unimportant: it may be indoors or out of doors. The question hinges upon recognising the Headship of the Lord among His people during their activity of praying or preaching. There is another principle involved with equal importance in such a case. There is the matter of the testimony of the local assembly to which that sister belongs: what does the uncovered head convey to the others who are present. This is a serious consideration of principle that should not be disregarded quickly.
A further problem is raised by some who say that a hat, as worn by a woman in Western culture, does not qualify today; and that she should wear a veil. Notice that Paul did not specify any particular item of clothing. Rather, he uses a very general term "cover", and thus any item that covers the head is sufficient, irrespective of what material it is made or what its design is. A headscarf, mantilla or similar piece of fabric that lies down upon the head, is the closest one could go to emulate the word Paul uses for "cover". That does not preclude a hat as is used in many parts of the Western world today. It should also be pointed out that the purpose of a head covering is to cover the head – it is not required to cover the hair, vv.5,10. Consideration must be given to the extravagant styles and expense spent on some pieces of millinery. The primary function of a head covering is to display Headship, not as a fashion statement. It is often stated that the woman’s hair as her glory should be covered by a headcovering when in the presence of the Lord in the assembly. If that is what the passage meant, the woman would need to wear her hair under a headcovering in such a way that it is not visible: clearly this is not the meaning. The woman’s hair is given to her for a covering; it does not say, as is often mis-quoted, that her hair is given to her for a glory. What 11.15 says is: "… if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her". The glory to her is not her actual hair, but the fact that she has retained her long hair in obedience to the Scriptures, and in recognition of the Headship of the man and Christ. This is just the reverse of v.6, where to be shorn or shaved is a shame to her.
Some contend that there is an inherent cultural argument in Paul’s reasoning, and in consequence his argument does not apply to our culture today. That is clearly not the case. History shows that among the Jews, men covered their heads in worship and women uncovered theirs. Among the Romans, both men and women covered their heads in pagan worship. Among the Greeks, both men and women uncovered their heads in pagan worship. Thus Paul is confirming a teaching that was culturally different for every group and society from which converts came to form a Christian assembly. He bases his teaching on a theological foundation, and not on the social customs of the day.
The Argument From Creation - Ch.11.7-12
In the previous paragraph we saw that the man and the woman have responsibilities to Headship because of their links to Christ and His position of supremacy in God’s order. The Apostle now moves on in his argument to show that the man and woman have links together within God’s created order, and that the headship of the man over the woman ought to be shown because of the natural order of things in creation. Creation shows that the woman was created both from the man and for the man. This is why Paul states in v.7 that the man is the image and glory of God but the woman is the glory of man. The woman is not in man’s image; she too is in God’s image (see Gen.1.26-27). For this reason, the man ought not to have his head covered, v.7, and the woman ought to have "power on her head", v.10. Adam, as the first man to be created, was vested with Headship, as seen in five particulars in the creation record in Genesis chapters 1-3:
The New Testament Scriptures emphasise Adam’s Headship in Rom.5.12-21; and the fact that God created Adam first, is the foundation upon which the doctrine of Headship rests, 1 Cor.11.8-9; 1 Tim.2.13. The truth of Headship embraces the man’s responsibility to God and his authority over the woman. The man’s Headship in the home is taught in Eph.5.22-24, and his Headship in the assembly is taught in 1 Corinthians chapter 11. The programme of the creation of the man and then the woman, v.9, and the purpose of the creation of the woman for the man, v.8, are both used to teach the Headship of the man over the woman. It is significant that it is at this stage that Paul adds the qualifying remarks that the man and woman are not independent of each other, nor is the man superior to the woman because of the time order in creation, vv.11,12. The mutuality of their relationship is not dispelled by the Headship of the man. The reasoning in this section is quite straightforward, except for the two expressions in v.10, "power on her head", and "because of the angels", which will now be examined.
"Power on her head" has been explained as a sign of being under authority, (Newberry margin). "For this cause", v.10, points to the preceding verses as the reason for a woman wearing a head-covering: it is a symbol of the man’s priority in creation as Head, and the woman’s purpose in creation as his helper. For a woman not to wear a head-covering in a gathering of the saints is tantamount to her saying two things: "I am not under the man’s authority, and I have an authority of my own." It is just the reverse of what a man would be saying if he wore a head-covering in a gathering: "I have no authority of my own and I am under the authority of the woman." For there is no one else there to whom he can bow in submission apart from Christ, and his submission to Christ would be shown by no covering.
"Because of the angels" is mentioned as an additional reason for the head-covering. They are the agents who watch over God’s interests, especially in spiritual activities. The seraphim in Isaiah chapter 6 who cried "Holy, holy, holy" covered their faces and their feet because they were in the presence of God. The Greek word for "cover" in Isa.6.2 in the Septuagint, is the same word that Paul uses in v.6 for the head-covering to be worn. If the angels, who are not in the hierarchy of Headship in v.3, cover themselves in God’s presence, then the woman, who is subject to the Headship of man and Christ and God, should be wary of succumbing to any action that replicates the rebellion against authority that the angels witnessed in Genesis chapter 3. The angels were witnesses of the fall of man by female usurpation of man’s and God’s authority. The far-reaching implications of that have been seen throughout mankind’s existence; and now it is the privilege of redeemed mankind to demonstrate that the God-given authority in the man has been restored in the assembly where Headship is being honoured.
In this section of the teaching on Headship it is useful to point out the structure in the passage as Paul teaches.
- 11.7 Men should not wear a head-covering, because of reasons in vv.8-9,
- 11.8-9 Supporting reasons for commands on head-coverings,
- 11.10 Women should wear a head-covering, because of reasons in vv.8-9.
The Argument From Comeliness - Ch.11.13-15
Up until this point Paul has argued from a theological standpoint, but at v.13 he introduces the argument of what is "comely", or "seemly". In the earlier paragraphs we identified our responsibilities because of our links to Christ and because of our links together within the created order. In vv.13-15, Scripture now shows that the man’s and woman’s own innate nature also has a bearing on the subject, by asking them to judge for themselves: in spiritual order, is it seemly that a woman should pray to God uncovered, in light of what he has earlier stated? Bearing in mind the arguments from the Headship of the man, from creation and from angels, would it be right for a woman to pray uncovered? The unspoken answer is - never! Paul makes the point that since nature has given a woman one type of covering for the natural sphere, she should be willing to wear another type of covering in the spiritual sphere. In the cases of a woman praying uncovered, v.13, and a man having long hair, v.14, Paul appeals to their nature as it came from the hand of God at creation. At creation, God implanted within man and woman an appropriate sense of what is right and wrong. Rom.1.26-27 is a parallel passage, presenting a similar concept of what is right and wrong being identified by our nature as imprinted by the finger of God in creation. There is something equally repulsive to nature about both long hair on a man and shorn or shaven hair on a woman. For a woman to wear her hair long, in a womanly manner, is an outward sign that she is fulfilling her role in creation. Similarly, for a man to wear his hair short in a manly way, is to fulfil his role in creation. How men or women wear their hair is an outward indication of whether they are abiding in their created order.
It is significant that at this point Paul speaks only of praying and not prophesying as in v.5. This highlights the fact that prophesying by a woman in the congregation was forbidden, 14.34; but every woman participated in the prayers of the congregation, and therefore every woman must have her head covered.
In the section where he appeals to comeliness, Paul then introduces the subject of hair, which is closely associated with the head-covering, vv.14-15. This links back to vv.5,6, where Paul speaks about the shame for a woman of being shaved or shorn. The "shame" and "dishonour" of vv.5,6 should be understood in light of what he states here in vv.14,15. Paul asks a rhetorical question regarding the order of things in the natural realm. He asks them to consider that, since the man wears his hair short and the woman has long hair as a natural covering, is it not the case that nature is teaching that a man should be without a covering, and woman with a covering in the assembly? The question is posed and worded in such a way as to suggest an affirmative answer.
When Paul speaks about nature, he is referring to the way things are done naturally in society. He is not saying that physiologically a man’s hair is short and a woman’s long: he means that men cut their hair short and woman leave their hair long. This is not to say that the woman can dispense with the head-covering; but rather that, since she already has a covering supplied for the natural realm, she should wear a head-covering in the spiritual realm. Looking back, the argument of v.6 now becomes clearer: if she refuses to wear a head covering in the spiritual realm, then let her be consistent in her actions and go without a covering in the natural realm by shearing or shaving off her hair! The implication is that no woman would ever think of doing such an outrageous thing against the very order of nature, as shearing or shaving off her hair. So why do something more serious in the spiritual sphere by removing her head-covering?
In vv.5,6, the shame and dishonour of the woman is by either shearing or shaving off her hair; whereas, in v.15, it is a question of long hair as a glory (the opposite of shame). There has been much discussion around this subject over many years. The only way to resolve the questions is to approach the matter in a spirit of willing obedience to Scripture by asking, "what does the text say?" and "am I willing to obey it?" V.15 helps to explain v.14, so we will start there. In v.15 it is a glory to a woman to have long hair. Some argue that the word "long" is defined as uncut, or hair at its natural length whatever number of inches that may be. A clearer way to arrive at the interpretation of the verse is to allow the opposite to help us to understand what "long" means. What is the opposite of long? In the context of this passage, it is to shear or shave. How much hair is shorn or shaven is not stated. Many think that the old question "how long is long?" stumps the thoughtful interpreter of 1 Corinthians chapter 11. Again, we should allow the passage to speak for itself. Putting vv.14,15 alongside verses vv.5,6, it shows that long hair is hair that has not been shorn or shaven. No amount of clever reasoning or evasive questioning will alter the implications of the apostle’s argument: hair that has been shaven or shorn is not long, and is a shame. This is the opposite of what brings glory to the woman. In light of Paul’s argument, it is not satisfactory to say that it is enough for the woman’s hair to be sufficiently long to show her femininity and distinguish her from the man. The passage is not about the demonstration of masculinity and femininity; it is about the demonstration of submission to the roles of male and female in Headship. This is borne out by the fact that two different words are used for shear and shave. To shear (Strong’s 2751) is to use shears to cut off. To shave (Strong’s 3587) is to use a razor to shave the hair or beard.
Nothing in this should be taken to imply that there is shame for a sister who loses her hair through either illness or its treatment, or some unusual natural occurrence, or for a sister whose physiological features includes hair that doesn’t grow as long as some others. Nor would any but an extreme legalist infer fault on a sister who trimmed the ends of her long hair to maintain it in a good healthy condition. Likewise, only one wanting to take liberties with the Word of God will use the excuse of "healthy trimming" to have hair that is obviously not long.
The Argument From Assembly Life - Ch.11.16
The summing up of the apostle Paul in this verse is very weighty and solemn. He is pointing out that what he is teaching is not some new thing among the assemblies, or something that isn’t taught in other assemblies. He is stating that what he has taught on head-covering and hair is the universal principle and practice among the local assemblies of God. In setting forth the arguments from Christology, Creation, and Comeliness, he is not appealing to any particular culture, but shows that these doctrinal arguments form the norm for every assembly in every culture, in every period of this dispensation. This was not something he had made up by himself: it was apostolic tradition handed down to the assemblies. That makes it a very solemn thing to set aside what Paul has taught: it amounts to disobedience! Paul is showing that for an assembly to be in breach of what he has taught means it is out of step with the assemblies of God. To do otherwise than what he has taught on Headship, is contrary to the very character of what an assembly is. It is incongruous for a company of saints to claim to be an assembly of God, and set aside what God has decreed through His Apostles and Word. V.16 has been translated by F. F. Bruce in his book The Letters of Paul, as "we have no such custom as you are trying to introduce, and neither have the churches of God elsewhere."
Some will interpret the passage accurately in so far as its meaning goes, and then conclude by saying that the application of what is interpreted can vary depending upon the society in which one is found. That in itself is a poor method of exegesis, for the interpretation of any passage must govern the application of it, not vice versa! Furthermore, if by that reasoning, we are to dispense with the symbols of Headship in the first half of the chapter, by the same reasoning we could dispense with the symbols of remembrance later in the chapter. To do so would never be accepted in any community of genuine believers; and it shows the folly of changing the symbols of Headship in vv.2-16. The symbols which God has chosen to display the truth of Headship are His, and to tamper with them is not only folly but spiritual impudence.
We have seen that control in a local church is manifested by the display of the truth of Headship. Where Headship is recognised by the man’s short hair and uncovered head, and the woman’s long hair and covered head, it contributes to the glory of the local church.
Correspondingly, it will be impossible to be in breach of the teaching of the Scriptures relative to Headship without detracting from the glory of the local church. No spiritually sensitive believer would want to be responsible for that!
A full recognition of the three principles of authority with which we commenced the chapter will bring spiritual prosperity to the assembly and glory to God. Thus, we should always strive to honour the authority of the Holy Scriptures, the Holy Spirit, and the Lord Jesus Christ.