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Posts Tagged ‘women in church’

It’s been over a year now since I began my experiment.  I began it without telling anyone, and only a few people have even asked about it.  (That may be because I am generally so independent in dress and practice that my friends think nothing of an additional quirk.)

Years ago when asked about wearing jewelry in church, I suggested to a group of ladies that we ought to follow the Bible and see what happens, even if we don’t understand it.  To be honest, I have never yet given up braids or gold or other jewelry in church.  And if the spirit of the rule is to avoid displays of wealth, in our American society to have a strand of plastic pearls is not wealthy.  If the rule was to uphold modesty, eschewing distracting appearances even in church, then it might be argued that wearing skirts and hats draws more attention than a braid or bracelet.  But I don’t know.  Maybe my next experiment will be to avoid jewelry and fancy hairstyles.

I’ve known for years that when men take off their hats out of respect: for the Pledge of Allegiance or for a prayer, girls are exempt.  This is a fact I learned from a friend when we were both fourth graders, and her family attended a church that practiced head-coverings.  What has baffled me since is the militant way in which church members of the older generation will go after men and boys wearing their hats in the church building.  They are indignant at the disrespect.  All the while women walk right by without hats or scarves or even those ritualized doilies some denominations employ.  Their own wives sit through church and prayer uncovered.  Women speak in church and teach in church, present special music in church – all without head coverings.

Now I can understand confusion about head coverings.  The passage in 1 Corinthians that goes into the subject is about as unclear as any Scripture you can find.  Hats and hair.  Glory and order of creation.  Nature and angels.  You can do this but we have no such (or other?) practice…  What is strange is the modern hypocrisy.  The same passage that instructs women to cover their heads teaches men to uncover theirs.  And we enforce the distinction for men but completely overlook the women?

This is a relatively new practice, this lack of head coverings.  Even a half-century ago women wore hats to church.  In some parts of the country and in some denominations you can still find the women in proper Sunday attire, where hats are absolutely required.  The “Easter bonnet” is not a unique holiday accessory, but like the rest of traditional Easter dress, it is a fancier edition of the weekly affair.  (We can debate whether Easter ought to be celebrated in this way, or whether Sundays should be distinguished with a unique set of clothes, but not in this article.)

Once upon a time I began to wonder what it meant to be a grown woman.  Or a good woman.  I made myself a list, in theory to refer to it frequently to hold myself accountable.  The list referenced numerous passages of Scripture specifically addressed to women.  It categorized specific instructions under general virtues.  Rather than ignoring the verses about head coverings, I said that a woman ought to respect men and to wear a head covering in church (or some other symbol of her submission).  Then I never tried to practice it, in general excusing myself by reason of having long hair (paralleled with head coverings in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians).

And one day just over a year ago some friends and I were talking about head coverings, how confusing the passage is and how so few Christians we know keep the ordinance.  It was then I remembered that obscure item on my list of godly femininity.  I felt hypocritical to have acknowledged the instruction and never tried to apply it, especially as I debated the subject.  In addition, I became curious.  If I couldn’t deduct from the biblical text the reasons and implications of head coverings, maybe I should try submitting to the custom and see what happened.

First a few superficial observations:  My hat and scarf collection is much larger than it used to be, but I rarely wear the larger hats because I feel so self-conscious in them.  Deciding what to wear to church (or Bible study or prayer meeting) is much more difficult since I must coordinate my outfit to an available head covering.  And when I do other things with my day, my hair and hats must fit with a multi-purpose outfit.  I try to keep at least one hat or scarf in my car in case I spontaneously decide to attend a Bible study.

Some questions that arose:  I don’t want to draw attention to the fact that I’m wearing a head covering, especially since it is more an experiment than a conviction; but isn’t it the point, that there is an outward and observable sign of submission?  Since the instruction is, to be specific, given to women praying or prophesying, if I am listening to prayer at a gathering or not saying anything, should I be covered?  Is the head covering supposed to be only for prayer time and church gatherings, or is it ok for me to have worn the hat all day?  If I’m praying silently to myself, as in spontaneously throughout my days, should I have my head covered?  And if I don’t happen to be wearing a hat when someone asks me to bless the food, should I decline?

In the months since I began my experiment, there have been a few times when I forgot or neglected to wear a hat.  It bothered me.  Partially because perhaps I am developing a conviction on the matter.  The other part is that I feel different.  On occasion I have been at a party when friends started discussing spiritual truth and I felt the lack of something on my head.  I wanted it there.  If you have grown up like me, invited to close your eyes when you pray, you may be able to relate.  Have you ever tried keeping your eyes open during a public prayer?  It’s hard to focus, and you feel a self-conscious.  Or I could compare the feeling to the one I get when I want to lift my hands in worship – or fall to the ground as I pray.

I like to sit on the floor while I’m being taught about spiritual things.  (Which isn’t the same as sitting on the floor during a sermon.)  If I start to realize I’m being taught – or if I crave a Bible lesson from someone who understands something I’m wondering about – I get a mental image of myself getting out of my chair, and going to the floor, back against a desk or a wall or something.  I also get this feeling on my head as though a book has just been lifted off of it.  And I want it back.

Even though Paul says that head coverings are a sign, for other people, I can testify to its effect on me.  I am reminded to be submissive.  To speak for the purpose of edification.  To be mindful of the Holy God I serve.  It helps me to rejoice that men were created first, and women for men – though we certainly benefit from them in their leadership and teaching.

I had been curious whether people would treat me differently if I wore hats and scarves all the time to church.  But it has been hard to determine.  The small reason is that I know that I behave differently wearing them, so that might have something to do with different reactions.  A larger reason is that I have nothing to compare it to.  I started this experiment at the same time that I left my old church, and I have been attending other churches only occasionally.  My regular Bible study is comprised of dear friends who know me so well that nothing like a hat will change how they treat me.

One friend noticed the first time I ever went to church with her that I had my head covered.  She asked whether I always did.  It was early in the experiment and I haltingly said something about trying it out.  Another friend also mentioned it, but not as a question.  Like so many things, she had just taken this aspect of my behavior in stride, made note of it, and accepted it as a reality not requiring discussion.  My parents and siblings and other friends have never brought it up.  I don’t know if they’re afraid to, don’t need to, or haven’t noticed.

For me, I like wearing head coverings when I pray and study the Bible with other people.  I haven’t gained any great insight to the topic.  But it isn’t too hard to keep doing it, so I suppose I will.  With the promise of updates if I ever learn anything else.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I’m in between churches right now – between congregations. All summer and fall I’ve been casually attending the meetings of various friends. I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to not be obligated to make an appearance at any one building on a Sunday morning. I might tell a friend I’m coming, or I might decide Saturday night. Some Sundays I sleep in. Sunday morning heathenism is rather refreshing.

Except it isn’t heathenism. A lot of what happens in those buildings on Sunday mornings is of heathen origin. But heathenism is a lot more than skipping a sermon and praise concert. It is a lifestyle of rejecting God, and that I certainly have not done.

I believe the Bible teaches Christians to gather regularly with each other. That isn’t something I have abandoned either. My recent experience is filled with times of fellowship and encouragement with other believers. We do ministry together, hold each other accountable for our walks with God, philosophically tackle the dilemmas we’re facing, study the Bible, and pray. During these times we also tend to eat, to play games, to laugh and tease, sometimes to work. Kids running around get swept up by disciples of Jesus, who – like Him – love children.

About a month ago some friends invited me to their church. I went that weekend. This week they asked me what I thought, and didn’t I like it (since I hadn’t been back). And I froze, because, well, I did like it. The people were friendly and the teachings were biblical and stimulating. But I don’t think I’ll join. This Sunday I did go back there, though. And my friends’ thirteen-year-old son confronted me, “I thought you said our church was just ‘ok’.”

Hard to explain. This particular church is on the good end of mainstream churches. They have good doctrine. A lot of their money goes to missions. Kids are with parents in church for most of the time, and youth aren’t separated from their families. The music isn’t too loud or too self-centered. With a congregation of about 50, the pastor and teachers can know everyone.

After pondering for a day or so, here is my answer to the thirteen-year-old friend: (it’s alliterative so I can remember!)
1) Plurality. There is only one pastor at the church. He’s the head man. I believe Jesus is the head of the Church, and that leadership beneath Him must be shared among more than one equal. Whenever real life cases are discussed in the New Testament, the word is used in the plural. (Elders) In this way they can model cooperation and problem solving. Congregations and pastors are kept mindful that Christ is the true head, and that the Church is His project. Also, when one is weak, there is another to be strong, the proverbial man to pick you up when you fall. Two are better than one and a cord of three strands is not easily broken. Pastoring is a lonely job, being at the top instead of a part of your congregation as friends and brothers. My Bible describes a different sort of dynamic, where pastors are respected for being respectable and where everyone is exercising his gifts for the good of all: pastors, prophets, discerners, helpers, administrators, on and on.
2) Property. This was quite confusing to my friend, who expects people to scorn his church for meeting in the club house of a condominium complex. Whether you own a building, rent it, or have borrowed money from a bank to claim that you own it, all represent instances where the Church of God has used resources God entrusted to them not to do what He has instructed: caring for the poor, widows, orphans, and missionaries – but to have a separate place to meet. I believe churches are meant to be gathered in homes. Limited in size, surrounded by hospitality and everyday life, the atmosphere of house church encourages the participation of everyone, the familial fellowship of believers, and the synthesis of sacred and secular.
3) Preaching. The New Testament describes and even commends preaching. Except almost always the lecture style sermon was delivered to an unsaved audience. It is a tool of evangelism. And evangelism is not the purpose of the regular gathering of believers. In fact, the church meetings described in 1 Corinthians are much more open and unstructured than what we usually think of as church. No one was scheduled to speak. Anyone (any man?) was allowed to bring a word, be it a prophecy, a teaching, a tongue – as long as he spoke it for the edification of the group. He may share a testimony of God’s work or an instruction or challenge the Spirit laid on his heart to give to his friends. A teaching might be towards an identified deficiency of understanding or may flow out of the studies individuals are making during the week on their own. Prophecy may correct the direction the congregation is going, may identify weaknesses and strengths among them, may warn them, or may give them hope and vision for the future. Some verses indicate that individuals may also bring songs of their choosing to the meetings of believers, with which to encourage each other.

Now that I’ve said those things, I do believe that there is a place for the lecture-style teaching we call sermons. I really enjoy Bible conferences, and am not opposed to worship concerts where the band has practiced and is intending to honor God. When I visit my friends’ churches, I usually view those services as conferences, and I look for the Spirit-driven gatherings elsewhere. At this stage of my life I’m not content with the small groups and Bible studies that have been getting me by. So I’m still looking, reading books and searching websites from people who are practicing what the Bible teaches about Church. I’m excited to see where that leads.

Some questions remain, stronger tensions between the familiar and the ideal: how is authority supposed to work in the church? Is it important? Is it a matter of exercising authority or of submitting to authority? How much should we submit? What shall Christians do for evangelism? Wouldn’t it be better to team up? But is it wrong to invite people in to hear the gospel, or should we go out to them? Are women to speak in the church meetings? If not, why on earth did Paul say so? – Just to prove I don’t think I know everything!

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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