Honoring God’s Headship Part 1

July 1, 2021
Warren Henderson

What does God desire from the Church during her earthly sojourn? The answer is to reveal “the manifold wisdom of God…to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places”“to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:13, 3:10). We are to glorify God by magnifying Christ in every situation (Phil. 1:20). As directed by God, selfless ministry and willful refrain from defilement accomplishes this high honor. Consequently, we must realize that much of God’s order for the Church is for the purpose of revealing something about Himself. For example, God instituted masculine plural leadership in the Church (first Apostles, then church elders) to reveal that He is a masculine entity with plural personage. Although, believers may ignorantly view some of God’s designs for the Church as unnecessary, we must understand that some commands are right (because they agree with our conscience), but other decrees are simply right because God commands them (these test our conscience).

Glory and Gender

We live in days in which the devil is relentlessly trying to undermine the rudiments of God’s creation order in Genesis 1: What is life? What is the origin of life? What is gender? What is marriage? What is work? Unfortunately, many identifying with Christ today are falling prey to the undercurrent of humanized religion which craves to erode God’s purposes. While discussing creation order, Paul explains that what is created by another becomes the glory of the originator: God created man from the dust of the ground, thus man represents God’s glory. God created the woman (the gender) from the side of the first man, thus the woman symbolizes man’s glory; and the woman’s long hair originates from her and is hence her glory (1 Cor. 11:3-15). What originates from another should not rule over the originator (1 Tim. 2:13-14).

Some have wrongly linked 1 Corinthians 1:3 (ESV) to male headship in marriage only, but Eve was created as a woman; she later became Adam’s wife. Rather, Paul is referring to God’s design for each gender when He created male (to lead) and female (to help). Given our depraved nature, humanity will naturally devalue God and His purposes, but He has given believers a reminder, a reoccurring salute, to preclude us from doing so.

Saluting God

Paul often refers to military illustrations to explain spiritual truths. We will likewise consider such an example to reflect on Paul’s teaching of headship and the head covering practice. If a commanding officer suddenly entered a room filled with subordinates, each soldier would be expected to stand at attention and salute their superior without saying a word. The soldiers’ silence and salute demonstrate a willful yielding to the authority over them. When addressing the group the commander would speak directly to the next-highest ranking officer while the remaining outranked soldiers remained silent. 

The idea of believers visibly saluting God’s authority and demonstrating audible order when they come into His presence is subject matter of 1 Corinthians 11 and 14, respectively. The same verses that command the what of the head covering practice also provide the when: when believers enter the Lord’s presence to pray (Heb. 4:14-16) and when the Lord draws near to us to express His Word (i.e., through prophecy/teaching; 1 Cor. 11:4-7). Church Order in 1 Corinthians 11 is not specifically referred to until verses 17-34 when the subject changes to the Lord’s Supper. In this portion Paul clearly states, “when you come together in one place…as a church” (1 Cor. 11: 17, 18, 20). Thus, constraining the visible salute to only church meetings is contrary to the “when” commanded in the Creation Order section (1 Cor. 11:2-16). Anytime that we come into God’s presence to talk to Him or He comes into our presence to communicate His Word to us, as subordinates to the Lord, we all should give Him a visible salute: men should have uncovered heads and women would have covered heads.

As sisters willingly cover themselves (man’s glory) and their hair (their glory), all competing glories to God’s glory (as symbolized in the uncovered heads of the brothers) are removed. Such a scene is a reflection of God’s heavenly throne room where angelic beings such as Cherubim and Seraphim use their own wings to cover their intrinsic glories, so that only God’s glory is seen by all. Any visible portion of these creatures (such as their differing faces) that is described is a reflective glory of Christ and is hence recorded for our appreciation. The covering behavior of these heavenly creatures ensures that even a woman’s hands covering her head during times of impromptu prayer is acceptable salute to God. May all believers be increasingly aware of God’s holiness and glory when we speak to Him or for Him!

What Does Silence Mean?

Continuing with the soldier illustration, we now consider the matter of willful silence. The meanings of two Greek words connected with silence must be understood to ensure a proper contextual study of pertinent passages. The first word is the verb sigao (1 Cor. 14:28, 30, 34), which means “to keep secret” or literally to speak within oneself or under one’s breathe, but not in a way that would preempt or impede another person’s speech (e.g., Luke 18:39). This is the idea conveyed in the context of 1 Corinthians 14:28-32: anyone speaking in tongues was to yield to someone receiving a word of prophecy. Paul then applies sigao to preclude women from speaking publicly in the church meetings:

“For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. Let your women keep silent (sigao) in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church” (1 Cor. 14:33-35).

Women are not to speak in a way that would impede the male speaker because he is representing God while speaking to the assembly. In a spiritual sense, women in the congregation have voices such as the Seraphim in God’s presence in heaven (Isa. 6:1-6). Their voices in unison praise God in the background of heaven’s throne room, but they never compete with God’s voice or authority. What would happen if a Cherub decided to usurp God’s authority by speaking in God’s place and uncovering themselves in God’s presence? We already know the answer to this question, for that is what God’s anointed covering cherub (Lucifer) did and was cast out of God’s presence (Ezek. 28:12-19; Isa. 14:12-15). Consequently, the devil will always oppose the head covering practice of the Church; it is insulting to him to see creatures of lower estate giving God what he failed to do, submission and reverence.

The second Greek word of importance is hesuchia, a noun rendered “silence” twice in 1 Timothy 2:11-12: “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence” (1 Tim. 2:11-12). Hesuchia conveys the idea of submissive quietness or to “settle down” as in Acts 22:2; 2 Thess. 3:12. Hence, when men and women are gathered for spiritual exercise, the women were to receive instruction from male leaders with quiet subjection, but they were not forbidden to speak altogether. But what types of meetings does this passage refer to? To be continued…

by Warren Henderson