Over the last several decades churches everywhere have been engaged in wars over worship. Some skirmishes have centered upon adoration of God against entertainment and performance. However, most of the clashes have been over worship styles, mythologies, and preferences. Battles over topics such as contemporary worship, traditional worship, high church, low church, praise songs, and older hymns rage. Equally devoted Christians on either side often fight for different avenues of worship that resonate with them and express heartfelt loyalty to the Creator. In 1 Corinthians, Paul dedicates four chapters to dealing with issues about worship (chapters 11-14). In these four chapters, perhaps we can find some principles that can help us navigate the worship wars, aid us in seeing that some wars are worth fighting and others are not, and possibly promote a cease-fire.
Paul begins by praising these Christians because they “maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you” (11:2). Traditions can be either good or bad. Jesus spoke negatively about the religious traditions of men that neglect the command of God (Matt. 15:3ff). But Paul here speaks of “traditions” in the sense of the instructions of God handed down by inspired men. The Apostle is pleased that this church has followed the non-negotiable principles of heavenly instruction. A primary non-negotiable principle that Paul has in mind is the functional gender roles for the human family (11:3). From the beginning of creation, God instituted a principle of authority/submission among the genders (11:7-9). Paul shows that just as there is a functional hierarchy within the Trinity and the same is reflected in the human family (11:3). This does not imply inferiority or difference in value. Rather, there is a difference in function between men and women.
From this commendation, Paul then gives direction concerning a cultural tradition—that of women’s head coverings. Paul shows that the cultural custom in Corinth dictated that it was disgraceful for a woman not to wear a head covering. Paul instructs these readers to “judge for themselves” that “if” it is disgraceful for a woman to be uncovered, she should wear a veil (11:6, 13). In the cultural setting of Corinth, the cultural tradition of women wearing a veil was closely connected to the heavenly principle of the authority/submission principle of functionary roles between genders. If the women of Corinth ignored the cultural tradition of the veil, it would be perceived that they likewise were rejecting the heavenly principle of authority/submission and difference between the genders. In some places in the world, this connection still exists (i.e. Middle East). But in America today, the cultural tradition of women wearing veils is not normally connected to this heavenly principle.
Paul begins this section by commending the Corinth believers for “maintaining the traditions” and holding firm to the non-negotiable principles of inspired teaching. But as the section concludes, Paul says regarding the cultural tradition of the veil, “we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God” (11:16). Paul here shows that the first-century churches did not have an established custom of head covering as a matter of Christian doctrine. Paul makes a distinction between the inspired precepts and cultural customs.
Sometimes the connection between Christian doctrine and cultural customs are extremely close. Christians must learn to separate the two. However, Christians will not ignore cultural customs when it might appear that one is also ignoring eternal principles in the process. Paul says that women ought to have exousia (freedom of choice) on her head (11:10). While there is much debate about the meaning of this verse, it seems that Paul’s continual usage of the term exousia throughout this letter (7:37; 8:9; 9:4, 5, 6, 12, 18) indicates that women have the freedom of choice to voluntarily submit to God’s created order. In their context, this involved a cultural custom of head coverings.
There are many things in our faith that are not themselves inherently right or wrong, but are viewed as such in particular settings. A Christian must be sensitive to the faith of others and not demand his/her rights nor ignore customs (i.e. veil) that might cause a person to ignore a clear Biblical principle (i.e. male spiritual leadership principle). A great example of this truth was given years ago by Roy Deaver who points out that there is nothing inherently wrong with a woman carrying a red purse; but, if there were a place and time where impure women were known for carrying red purses, Christian women should not carry a red purse!
There is a major principle that comes to the forefront in these verses that can help us navigate the worship wars. The first principle is this:
“Learn to separate specific, religious traditions of culture from the instructions (traditions) of non-negotiable principles of inspired truth.”
© 2014, Jonathan Jones II. All rights reserved.