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Head Covering in Church Meetings Today
A study of God's Word in 1 Corinthians 11:3-16
1 Corinthians 11:3 to 16
  'Isn't it simply a cultural relict of female-subservience that is inappropriate in our age of equality?'  
Christian practice
has varied through history
from    'women must wear hats as a sign of respect to the house of God',
to    'this Scripture has no application whatsoever today, other than to teach modesty in women's behaviour'
with, of course, this latter view being by far in the majority in modern times.

The central or core concept of the Bible's 'head-covering' instruction in 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 is – 11:3, New English Bible, emphasis mine.
 "...woman's head is man, AS Christ's head is God." 
And the practical meaning of this statement hinges on this little word "as"!
In this study
it will be shown that this issue is not about either 'hats' or 'modest' behaviour. In fact – this is not even a female issue!
Unfortunately however, the commonest opinions found among Bible teachers are –
The word 'head' represents source, not authority, and so has nothing to do with submission. [This really misses the point!].
It is a socio-cultural thing of that time and so today merely means modesty in dress.
•  This only applied to the married women* and so is not really a church matter.
There is a really sad note reflected in these opinions. They show an appalling lack of honest Biblical exegesis of this Corinthians passage, often unashamedly accepted even by eminent scholars. By 'honest', I mean allowing the Bible to explain itself.

*So reflected in the translation BIAS of the –
English Standard Version; God's Word Version; Messianic Renewed Covenant Version; and The Message paraphrase.
Technically, the Greek New Testament word for 'man' and 'woman' could be translated husband and wife but this depends on its context.
Sadly in these translations, its Biblical context is made to take a back-seat to the translators' cultural bias.

Now, let's
take a summary look at the passage itself in Holy Scripture.
The Bible's Argument.
The reasons presented in this passage of Scripture are in essence three:
1.   The leadership difference between male and female at our Creation (v.3, 8-12; Adam before Eve);
2.   The gender shared leadership functions in a church meeting (v.4, 5; 'praying', 'prophesying');
3.   The common practice of all the congregations of that time (v.16).

The Bible's Verdict.
The contrasting use of the head-covering between male and female expresses the submission of each gender to God's leadership-design in His gender distinction at the beginning.
This specifically honours God as Creator of our human design and therefore must also be recognized / respected in the manner of our ministry in the fellowship of the Spirit of God.
The Bible's Presentation
The whole concept conveyed in this passage is explained at the outset by a parallel to the relationship structure between Christ and God. 
Woman is subject to man as Christ is subject to the Father. Christ is equal to the Father. This the New Testament makes clear (Jn.1:1). But, for the purposes of God, Christ is subject to the Father in all things. The key verse is –
"But I wish you to understand that, while every man [everyone?] has Christ for his head,
 woman's head is man, as Christ's head is God"

(I Cor.11:3 NEB).
This places the woman in parallel to Christ! Rather than excluding women from certain fields of ministry, as has often been foolishly practiced in earlier times, this passage actually affirms a woman's legitimate speaking ministry in church meetings; illustrated as 
A.  to 'prophesy' (i.e. speak directly to the congregation on behalf of God)
B.  to 'pray' (i.e. publicly speak to God on behalf of the congregation).
Paul's approach in this Scripture is corrective; hence the strange order of these clauses.  He does not say what would have been the logical order of these clauses if female subservience was the issue, such as: 
God > Christ
Christ > man
man > 'woman'
That is, with 'woman' at the bottom of a hierarchy: because God is the head of Christ, Christ the head of man, and man the head of 'woman'. Error! This is not how the Bible presents it!
  Instead, the order which the Bible presents is –  
  man > woman  
  God > Christ  
other words, in God's design: woman has man as head even as Christ has God as head. 
This statement was aimed at those who had adopted the attitude that church ministry is without sexual distinction, for the Holy Spirit is given to all believers regardless of gender. True, but not concerning leadership.
is here helpful to know the Corinthian cultural context into which this apostolic correction is given.
Hedea's win!
In 43 AD the girl Hedea achieved a great victory at the panhellenic Isthmian Games, for which Roman Corinth was responsible, in winning the war-chariot race (as well as the 200 metres race in the Nemean Games).
This illustrates the exceptionally liberal Corinthian attitude to women in public affairs which characterized the culture into which this Scripture then speaks.
is the mistaken idea that equality means equivalence (so common today), which is the reason for Paul's confrontational tone in verse 6 –
"If a woman is not to wear a veil [head-covering] she might as well have her hair cut off [look like a man]."
the Bible does not give us a line of authority (i.e. God  > Christ > Man > Woman), as though women were at the bottom of the pile (God forbid!).
the Bible teaches a parallel between women and Christ in their submission for the sake of headship, or leadership; a submission for the purposes of Heaven in human history. Therefore Paul says that this is not subservience of the woman but rather the woman is the 'glory' of man (I Cor.11:7).
For instance. . .
The way of the God with Israel amongst heathen nations, among whom temple priestesses were very common, is illuminative. There were prophetesses of God in Israel but never a priestess. The warning of Deborah the prophetess is specially relevant. Leadership by a woman over men shames the men (Jud.4). It contradicts God's natural design.
To Christian women today this means –
Prophetesses –
Priestesses –
This has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Jesus was male (as the Roman Catholic Church claims as its reason for denying ministerial ordination to women). But, it has everything to do with Adam (1 Cor.11:12).
Women preachers? Yes!
Women pastors? No!
The issue is leadership.
When a prophetess leads it is an exception demanded by the needs of the situation (notably, the failure of Adam's sons to fulfil their spiritual responsibility). In contrast, the priestly position was a permanent structure in Israel built into the foundation of the nation at Sinai. It was not simply a response to the needs of a particular situation, such as in the raising up of a prophetess (such as Deborah, Hannah, Huldah, etc.) was. Thus, although in other nations there were, in Israel there were no priestesses, ever!
The ministry of the Spirit, so powerfully evident in Corinth, particularly among its Christian women, was not to appear to contradict the order-of-leadership built into the design of humanity at its creation – of which the angels of God themselves were eye-witnesses ('for the sake of the angels', 1 Cor.11:10).
The ministry of the New Covenant with its full equipping in the Spirit, without discrimination of race or gender, is the true fulfilment of the first calling of humanity to 'subdue' and exercise 'dominion' in the 'image' of God, as more than conquerors through Christ. 
This Genesis command to the first human pair to rule ('in His image' – meaning both to be His representatives) was in harmony with His design at every level of the distinctions between male and female and therefore does not change. (see Marriage)

Sadly, many
trusted translations have added to confusion, as a comparison of their version of the concluding statement in 1 Corinthians 11:16 shows –
  KJV "But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God."
  ASV "But if any man seemeth to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God."
  ISV "But if anyone wants to argue about this, we do not have any custom like this, nor do any of God's churches."

Rather – more in keeping with its context –
  CEV "This is how things are done in all of God's churches, and that's why none of you should argue about what I have said."
  ERV "Some people may still want to argue about this. But we and the churches of God don't accept what those people are doing."
  GNB "But if anyone wants to argue about it, all I have to say is that neither we nor the churches of God have any other custom in worship."
Please Note:
This 'head-covering' truth, like many in God's Word, is secondary or subordinate to other truths, and therefore must never be used to divide believers, for this would contradict their oneness in Christ (a greater truth), which is the context within which this truth is taught. That does not mean compromise, but it does mean teaching in wisdom comes first.

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