Last week we found that 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 contains both universal truths, and cultural applications. We spent most of our time looking at the universal truths. Here is a summary of what we have learned so far:
Men and women are created in the image of God to be equal
Men and women are created in the image of God to be different and have different roles. The spiritual role of men is “head” and the spiritual role of woman is “helper companion.” (*We did consider how to apply this).
Men and women are created to function as a team.
It seems that one of the most controversial things I said last week is that I sometimes watch “Dancing with the Stars.” I stand by decision, and I stand by my analogy that God created the genders to relate in a way that is something like a dance. The dance can be a beautiful, attractive thing to watch. In the dance, men and women don’t have the same steps. Sometimes their steps mirror each other. I have heard it said, more than once, that Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels. I get the sentiment, but the truth is more subtle than that. She didn’t do the same thing – her steps were different from his A backwards step is not the same thing as a forward step. Rogers’ role may certainly have been more difficult. But she could not have done it without Astaire. It certainly would not have been a dance without both of them. Imagine Ginger had said, “I want to do your steps” and Fred said, “OK, we’ll both do them.” We would not be talking about them today, because the result would not be a beautiful dance.
Now, I heard some jibes about “Dancing with the Stars” from some of you male Neanderthal types who are no doubt insecure in your masculinity (I’m just kidding – I enjoyed the ribbing I got). So, to satisfy everyone, I want include another analogy – gender relationships are like a football game. Ladies, bear with me – apparently your husbands need this.
In a professional football team (apologies to my international friends – I mean American NFL football) the coaches discuss and plan the plays for the upcoming game. During the game, the Offensive Coordinator calls the plays, occasionally checking with the head coach. The quarterback gets the play-call through a radio in his helmet, and then he tells the rest of the team, and they run the play.
On the field, the other players listen to the quarterback. It isn’t that the quarterback is always the best, smartest or most experienced player on the team. But his position or role means that he is responsible to get the team into the right formation, and then get the ball to the right person.
A wide receiver would not technically have to run the route the quarterback tells him to. But if he doesn’t, he ends up hurting the team. In recent memory there have been incredibly talented wide receivers who ended up as liabilities to the teams on which they played. Terrell Owens and Randy Moss are both very able receivers. But they generally choose to act as if the purpose of the game was about their own individual performance. They have both jumped from team to team, not because of lack of talent, but rather the lack of ability to work with others.
Every year some teams lose their starting quarterback, and have to replace him with someone younger and less experienced. Some teams start off with young inexperienced quarterbacks. Undoubtedly, some of the centers, wide-receivers or running backs on these teams know more about the game, and are more talented than their own quarterback. Even so, the quarterback is called on to lead the team, and tell the others the plays given by the coaches. When the other players respect this, they have a greater chance of success.
The quarterback does not have to make all the plays. In fact, usually, teams don’t do well unless everyone is doing what the coaches ask, and working together. The quarterback’s job, in fact, is usually to get the ball into the hands of someone else who will make the play.
The rest of the team has relationships with the coaches also. They don’t have to go through the quarterback to talk to the coach. It isn’t a hierarchy like that. Even so, when they are on the field, the quarterback is the one who is responsible to communicate the play and lead the team so that everyone is on the same page.
Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 that men hold a spiritual position, just like quarterbacks hold a team position. The spiritual position of men is called by the bible, “the head.” This doesn’t mean that men are better than women. But it means that men are responsible before God to lead both men and women in accomplishing God’s purposes. If a quarterback allows a wide receiver to determine which play the team will execute, the coach will still blame the quarterback if it goes wrong. Adam allowed Eve to direct their spiritual choices in the Garden of Eden. The Bible is clear that Eve made the choice, and she took the fruit, and she gave it to Adam, who followed her leadership. Even so, both the Old and New Testament blame Adam, not Eve, for what happened. This because Adam was the head – the player on the field who was spiritually responsible for the team.
It isn’t a hierarchical situation. Women have the same direct relationship with the Lord that men do. But here on the field of life, men will be held spiritually responsible for the care of their families and churches in a way that women will not.
Women are definitely called to be involved. Just like on a sports team, things don’t work unless well everyone is playing hard, and people are paying attention to the role they have on the team. God did hold Eve accountable for what happened, but in a different way than Adam. So also, He will hold women responsible for supporting and assisting and helping their husbands and church leadership.
Male Leadership/headship does not mean domination. It has nothing to do with that. It means responsibility. It means that when God calls us to account, he is going to hold men responsible for the spiritual direction taken by their churches and families.
Male headship does not give men the right to control women in any way. In fact, it is about men caring and taking responsibility. If a woman chooses not to respond to male headship, that is between her and the Lord. A leader shows the way, but never forces. So men cannot force women to follow or to submit.
The best leaders exemplify a combination of being personally involved, and delegating. The quarterback on a football team does touch the ball on every play. He calls the plays. But he doesn’t make the plays. Almost always, he hands the ball off, or throws it to someone else. In the same way, male leadership doesn’t mean that men are supposed to do everything while women must sit quietly and do nothing. It just means that men must be responsible and involved while also welcoming and inviting the involvement of women.
To put it another way, male headship does not mean that women need to stay barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. In fact, this very passage contains one of the most clear affirmations of public female ministry – that of prophesy.
New Testament prophesy comes in three variations. There is predictive prophesy – that is the Holy Spirit, through the prophet/ess tells His people about events that are coming in the future (Acts 11:28-29; Acts 21:10-11). There is present prophesy: when the Holy Spirit, through the prophet/ess reveals His will for His people in the present, as He did when He told the church at Antioch to send Barnabas and Saul as missionaries (Acts 13:1-3). There is also a prophesy of exhortation, where the prophet/ess gives a message of encouragement to the people of God (1 Corinthians 14:3).
There is nothing in 1 Corinthians 11, or anywhere else in the Bible, that restricts women from any of these three forms of prophesy. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul assumes that women will prophesy. He also assumes that they will pray out loud in church meetings.
Prophesy and prayer are powerful gifts in God’s kingdom. According to this passage, it is good and appropriate for women to speak out to encourage other believers. It is good and appropriate for women who have the gift of prophesy to say what they believe the Lord wants to do among his people.
When it comes to the application of these things, what Paul is saying is that the Corinthians should conduct their church meetings in such a way that others can tell that men and women are involved in the spiritual gender dance. He wants their public conduct to reflect the image of God, to demonstrate the headship role of men, and the helper-companion role of women – in whatever ministries the church has. In 1st Century Corinth, apparently you could show all this, at least in some measure, through head coverings.
You may think it’s crazy that head coverings could communicate anything like that. And I certainly believe that head covering do not communicate such things in modern Western Society. Even so, I have a young single Muslim friend from South America. We were eating together once, and he remarked that he had seen some ladies at the bank with little white hats on. As he described them further, I realized he had seen some Mennonites. He was very impressed with them. He said, “I want to meet some young ladies like them. It shows that they have good character.” If you know anything about Mennonites, they dress very conservatively. But he was instantly attracted to these young Mennonites because they wore head coverings. It communicated something to him that it does not communicate to most Americans or Western Europeans. So I think it is certainly possible that head coverings did indeed communicate some significant things in 1st Century Corinth.
So what about now? Since in our society, head coverings generally don’t mean the same thing, what do we do?
First I think we should consciously engage in the dance. Some women have the gift of speaking out publicly to encourage others (that is, the gift of prophesy). They should use it. We should all welcome it. Women who have it should use that gift as women, and not try to imitate male pastors or leaders as they share. In addition, they should somehow offer recognition of the spiritual dance, and that the male leadership of church and family will be held accountable – even partially for what they (the women) say and do. In the dance of the Trinity, the Father honors and Son, and the So honors the Father and so on. So, even in public ministry, women can honor men.
Men need to recognize the dance (or the football team, if you prefer) and engage. We are not called to dominate or control. But we are called to take responsibility for the spiritual state of our families and our church. This means we need to be more involved, more relational. We too, need to lift up and honor women, and not relegate them to the kitchen and nursery, unless they feel called to those places.
As with everything, we need to pray and rely on the Holy Spirit as we implement these truths.