Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at roger@preachitteachit.org.

Dear Roger,

Hi, Roger I would like to know if it is a sin if a woman doesn't cover her head when praying and worshiping the lord. Or even to step inside God's church with her head uncovered?

Naki

Hi Roger, Please explain “head covering” as in 1 Corinthians 11:5. Should women be covering their heads with scarves or doilies or is it referring to hair? Thank you.

Susan

Dear Naki and Susan,

The problem with women's hair mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11 is that some women were praying and preaching in church with their heads uncovered. They refused to wear a veil or to wear their hair long. Some of the men were praying and preaching with their heads covered. They were wearing caps or long hair.

At first glance the hair issue in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is totally irrelevant to us today. The problem with dismissing it out of hand is that Paul turns this into a theological issue. The reason women are to have their heads covered and men are to be uncovered is "because of the angels" (1 Corinthians 11:10).

If wearing the right or wrong hat might adversely affect angels then we had better get our head covering correct.

Only in recent times have women abandoned the practice of wearing hats and long hair in church.

Women of past generations all wore hats, shawls and coverings in church. I remember my mom and her friends would never go to church without a hat. Things have certainly changed. This verse has fallen out of favor and the teaching is generally ignored today.

In addition to Angels Paul brings up another theological issue when he wrote: "Does not the very nature of things tell us that it is a dishonor to a man if he lets his hair grow long? But if a woman lets her hair grow long it is her glory because her hair was given to her as a covering."

This observation seems to transcend time and eternity.

Of course, Samson in the Old Testament took a Nazarite vow, part of which was for his hair never to be cut. Was his long hair wrong since the Nazarite vow was both a religious and spiritual vow of devotion to God? Apparently not.

Much of Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is seen in the backdrop of the culture of Paul's time. This letter is to the church in Corinth which was known as the most liscensous in the Mediterranean world. Women (and men) were breaking all bounds of decency. Too often the church becomes a reflection of society. That was the case in the First Baptist Church in Corinth.

Let's try to get a relevant teaching for today from Paul's instructions to both men and women.

To this day Middle Eastern women wear the "yashmak" which is a long veil leaving the forehead and eyes open but reaching down almost to the feet.

Veils had (and still have) four main purposes: respect, protection, modesty and submission. No respectable woman would think of going outside without it. (Of course, we are seeing more and more "veils" as Middle Eastern immigrants move into our country.)