Judge for yourselves. Is it right for a woman to pray to God in public without covering her head? Isn’t it obvious that it’s disgraceful for a man to have long hair? And isn’t long hair a woman’s pride and joy? For it has been given to her as a covering. But if anyone wants to argue about this, I simply say that we have no other custom than this, and neither do God’s other churches.1 Corinthians 11:13-16
Women praying in public with an uncovered head, men with long hair, women with short hair and showing it off!. Oh my goodness such outrageous behaviour. Hey a cursory look around this world will convince you the world is full of outrageous behaviour. One thing is true, we humans are varied and different. Paul seemed to be aware of that in this section. He makes the comment, judge for yourselves on matters of culture. To be cultural is to be human. We are all creatures of our culture. Things which seem so cut and dried change when we cross cultural boundaries. That has happened for us in becoming Indonesian Kiwis. Seeing through another culture’s eyes can be freeing. We realise that habits or ways of doing things we once thought were sacrosanct are no longer.
I remember the most serious challenge to my cultural thinking occurred after a brutal murder in the Muslim village where we were staying. I had been faced with the challenges of cultural differences in the hours before this incident but this convinced me my cultural was not always the right one. I was doing some participant observation as they prepared the body for burial and I was asking questions along the way as they washed the bowels. One village friend asked me, “But you know about this Ambena Marissa, why do you ask so many questions?” [I wasn’t called Ian in the village, I was Marissa’s father – another little cultural difference]. “Your father has died. You would have done all this for him.” I explained that I had not seen this before. In my country we give this work to the undertaker. A look of horror came over his face as he said “You mean you gave your father into the hands of strangers for the preparation for his final journey?” The horror of it settled on me as I contemplated what he had just said. Oh my goodness, how could I do that? Why would we not keep that practice in the family? Why would give our loved one to the undertakers to do it for us? How unfeeling and unloving is that?
But think about it for a moment. Not everything about my culture is right. Truth isn’t always and forever to be found in a Kiwi perspective. Neither is it found always and forever in Indonesian culture. And which culture would you choose to represent Indonesian culture? There are 769 languages all representing a different culture. Does one culture hold the franchise on truth? Not possible. Oh all cultures have some truth embodied in their practices but none have ALL TRUTH. All cultures display partial truth but none have it all; including Jewish culture. However over and above them all is God’s truth. Now that is absolute and complete. He has chosen to display the multi-faceted aspect of culture in allowing mankind the freedom of expression – a freedom which shows the creativity of God no less. But let’s hold the universal statements about how we perceive truth in tension realising our cultural perspective may not always be right.
We can see a little clearer how the confusing tensions of the time with the “new woman” dressing as she was in Paul’s time called for decisions to be made, judgements given. But be careful of applying such judgements too widely. Men with long hair, whoever heard the like? Isn’t it obvious that is disgraceful? Not to young men of 10 to 20 years ago. And is that the only time men wore their hair long? No of course it wasn’t. A study of history will show it comes in cycles, in fads. Parent are you struggling now with decisions as to whether your son, your daughter should have long hair, piercings, tatts or whatever else? – I trust this Gem will help you find equilibrium in the process. No I am not about to pass judgement on the rights and wrongs of it all. You work it out.
Oh yes Paul makes his statement (1 Cor 11:16) in a negative way as if to infer there is no other custom than this one we practise. But I think he could also be saying, “Hey when it comes to customs and culture don’t argue about it. There are things which contravene God’s unbending laws. Laws like gravity won’t be broken. There are consequences from the fall. Things related to sin are like that when faced with a holy God. Don’t mess with those. But the stuff in between – work it out and don’t argue. Yes and that includes head coverings in church and lots of other “religious issues”. Get it sorted and move on holding the cultural things loosely and noting the difference between them and big picture God stuff. The difference is for you to work out and not for me to define for you.
I personally think the current practice of wearing jeans with manufactured holes and tears in them is ridiculous. I have sometimes asked people I know well enough why they wear such jeans. “Are you so poor you can’t afford a good pair of jeans? Here’s some money to help. They say, “No Pak Ian, it’s the fashion. These jeans are really expensive.” “Well I hope you got a discount on them, because look, material is missing from here and here. You are missing 5% of the jeans – you should have got 5% off the price or more.” Sometimes we do or accept bizarre things in the name of culture or fashion or fad. Think about it! Who is controlling this?
The problem with us all, both believers & unbelievers, is that no one ALWAYS lives consistent with what we claim to believe.Rick Warren
Legalists must hate Paul for QUOTING 2 PAGAN POETS in his Acts 17 sermon to make his point! & God put it in His Word!Rick Warren
By the time you reach 60, people expect you to be mature, responsible, wise, and dignified. This is the time to surprise them.Ian Vail