Question:This summer my family and I joined the Church of Christ in Vienna, Austria, after having fellowshipped in Evangelical Churches for the last 20 years. Since the Church of Christ is rather new to us, I did some research about the movement, read a lot about Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell, as well as on various doctrinal topics. I was especially interested in things, that I believe are true but are not practiced today in most of the churches.
I felt well understood, when I read brother Jim Sassers statement, that he believed in the teaching of the headcovering for 52 years of preaching, using 60 translations and a number of commentaries to understand it. In fact, that is a little out of balance, but things are always out of balance when not obeyed. I first came across this topic about 14 years ago in the literature of the Plymouth Brethren and presented an article of these books to one of our Elders in church. We had a yearlong debate about it, but the excuses or explanations, why this is not for us today were never satisfying for me. I decided to submit anyway, for two reasons: First it is the Elders business to teach and lead and not mine. Second, I do obey my part of it anyway (praying with a bare head).
I also have frequent contact with Anabaptists, mainly Hutterites, who practice headcovering as well. I read a number of very good articles from their sources. Then I read Early Christian writings on his subject, and they also are in accord with the Plymouth Brethren and the Anabaptists. So there are several witnesses from different "traditions" to it. Not to mention, that we have 1900 years of church history, in which virtually all sisters covered there heads.
I got the impression from reading the articles on your web site, that you changed your practice "back to the roots" which has been the ideal of the restoration movement from the beginning. If that is so, I would like to know how you did it. How did you bring up the topic without causing a split? How did you "persuade" the sisters with strong resentments?
I still hold to my conviction that deciding doctrinal matters and leading a church is the business of the Elders, and being a "newcomer" I certainly would not like to start a debate on it. But I came across a statement in a Mennonite article, which is challenging our uncovered position from a different position:
"A Mennonite pastor recently prefaced a sermon on the Christian woman's veiling with the statement - "I don't believe this is a salvation issue.” I don't know how he knew that. My question to him would be, "Is obedience a salvation issue?”
If we believe that obedience is a salvation issue (what I do) then we cannot simply skip a passage that demands obedience.
I am looking forward to your answer, the history behind the articles and maybe one or two advices
When I was a young man, I had studied the issue and read commentaries and debates by various brethren. While none of these writings were inspired, I realized that I was inexperienced and could benefit from the insights older brethren had gained over their years of studies. When done, my main sticking point was I Corinthians 11:16, "But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God." I came to the conclusion that it was a local practice of the Corinthian church.
Eventually I married a wonderful woman, who happened to believe that head covering was necessary. Such did not bother me. Following the advice of Paul in Romans 14, I figured that it didn't matter if she decided to wear a covering or not. However, it did mean that I continued to study the issue for quite a number of years on and off. The strange thing is that if it wasn't for verse 16, I would conclude that the covering was necessary. What really bothered me was finding out that there were two ways to translate verse 16 and the two translations contained opposite meanings.
What finally made a difference for me was an article written by Floyd Chappelear many years ago. He pointed out that the head covering practices at that time were different from what was advocated in I Corinthians 11. That got me digging in the history books, but it wasn't an easy subject to research. The article "Images of Head Coverings in Worship" is a summation of what I found, though it continues to be expanded as I find more examples. This caused me to conclude that I Corinthians 11:16 was not stating that the verses earlier only applied to the church in Corinth. Thus, though there are two ways to translate verse 16, one of them is not correct.
You are correct that none of God's commands are optional. However, I've concluded that there are issues which require spiritual growth in order to handle. I now understand that head covering is a symbol of a woman's willing choice to be submissive. But just as I teach husbands that they cannot make their wives submit to them, I also understand that you cannot make women in a congregation submissive. They must choose to be submissive. Insisting that a woman wear a covering won't make her any more or any less submissive. Thus, I teach that it is necessary, but I don't think women should be barred from the worship just because they haven't yet learned -- after all, I misunderstood for a number of years. We discuss the issue periodically. I answer points when people bring up objections. Those who think it is unnecessary are quite willing to worship with us. They understand that a woman choosing to cover her head during prayer doesn't impact their own worship. Those who do practice it see it as their individual choice to follow the teaching in I Corinthians 11. They might be disappointed with those who choose not to follow the teaching in I Corinthians 11, but that is a matter which will eventually be settled by God at judgment -- not by you or I. "Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand" (Romans 14:4).