Hey Todd, love the show. My Wretched TV membership is money well spent and my wife and I greatly profit from your teaching.

It is for this reason it pains me to disagree with your comments in Episode 1562 about “head coverings” being something that is merely “cultural.” You are not probably wrong about this, you are definitely wrong. Here’s why:

1. The context of the passage puts head covering regulations on the bar with the Lord’s Supper.

I know, before you go, “wait, wait, that’s blasphemous,” let us allow Paul to speak for himself.

“Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you” (1 Cor 11:2).

What traditions does he then go speak about? Those pertaining to head coverings and the Lord’s Supper.

2. There is no indication within the passage that the practice is cultural.

Now, we can dig into our ancient history and find that head coverings were not some sort of across-the-board practice in the ancient world. For example, the “mitra” was a head covering that Greek prostitutes wore, and ironically, it is where the word “mitre” come from that Catholic Bishops wear…

However, because I hold to the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture, I believe that the Scripture in of itself is sufficient and “profitable for teaching” (2 Tim 3:16).

For this reason, when I read the passage, I believe that the whole “culture” argument is discounted by Paul on two points:

1. Verses 8 through 10 offer a rationale that instead of appealing to cultural expectations, speak of the creative order and the “angels.”* This is the only rationale offered for its practice. So, to say that the application of the practice depends upon “culture” fails to address the rationale Paul actually offers. This to me is a bad way to approach any topic of the Scripture.

2. In verse 16, Paul says no other church of that time deviated from the practice. We know from Acts that Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome were all converted to Christ early on. To argue that all of these different areas had the same cultural expectations concerning head coverings is like saying that people dress the same in Tokyo, St. Paul, New York City, and Berlin. I hate to break it to you, but people in the ancient world all did not look the same, just as people today all do not look the same.

3. The Church for centuries universally understood the passage to be literal.

Some writers, such as Tertullian commented quite extensively about it very early on in Christian history. Even when we get up to the Reformation, the practices was still in force. So much so, John Calvin himself said in a sermon:
So, when it is permissible for the women to uncover their heads, one will say, “Well, what harm in uncovering the stomach also?” And then after that one will plead [for] something else: “Now if the women go bareheaded, why not also [bare] this and [bare] that?” Then the men, for their part, will break loose too. …So if women are thus permitted to have their heads uncovered and to show their hair, they will eventually be allowed to expose their entire breasts, and they will come to make their exhibitions as if it were a tavern show… In short, there will be no decency left, unless people contain themselves and respect what is proper and fitting, so as not to go headlong overboard (Calvin, Sermon on 1 Cor 11:2-3 in Men, Women and Order in the Church, trans Seth Skolnitsky, Presbyterian Heritage Publications, pp. 12-13).

Now, tradition in of itself is not a compelling reason to continue a practice. However, if the simplest reading of the Scripture admonishes us to follow a practice, and the whole Church for centuries universally followed the practice, I would say that the burden of proof needs to be much higher than, “Uh, I think it is cultural and stuff.”

4. The “cultural” argument can be disproved by argumentum ad absurdum. 

Think about it for a moment. If we can handwave away one passage and just say, “Well, that’s the culture, I just need to follow the spirit of the passage,” where do we stop?

Oh, what the Scripture says about spiritual male headship, we need to understand that the Bible was written to a patriarchal culture. As long as we show mutual respect, we fulfill the spirit of the passage…

Oh, what the Scripture says about fornication, we need to understand that the Bible was written to a culture without birth control, legal means to procure child support, and further they had very specific cultural expectations about sex. As long as people have sex when they are actually in love, we fulfill the spirit of the passage…

Oh, what the Scripture says about homosexuality, we need to understand that the Bible was written to a culture that lacked long-term, committed homosexual unions, and rather had quite abusive homosexual couplings. As long as homosexuals live in the same way heterosexual married couples do, we fulfill the spirit of the passage…

And down and down we go until we spiritualize everything, including the death and resurrection of Christ. If you honestly think about it, the first thing to go was probably the head coverings. Then it was male headship. Then traditional sexual morality was thrown out the window. Now you have “churches,” like in Norway, where almost half the Pastors actually define themselves as atheists.

Calvin proved quite prophetic over what kind of slippery slope something like head coverings can be.

I ask you give the issue your prayerful consideration. It is in the Scripture, so it is worth it.

God bless,

*If you are really curious about “concerning the angels,” I have written about it at some detail here: http://christianreformedtheology.com/2014/05/13/because-of-the-angels-tackling-1-corinthians-1110/

Todd was kind enough to email back and said he would look into it. I am still waiting for my episode of Wretched TV on the topic. Maybe if the Head Covering Movement picks this up, he may be encouraged to do so!