Excerpted with slight editing from an Address by Dr. A.W. Pink,
at the Particular Baptist Church, Belvoir Street, Sydney, on Sabbath Evening, 16 May 1926.

Part 1 of 2

[Ed. note: AW Pink was a controversial pastor and writer in his time; and his writings have remained controversial for many. But very few, even today, who are acquainted with his writings will deny that he is controversial simply because he is passionately scriptural. Now, in this modern day, the subject of headship in the church and family, and especially the attendant question of whether women should cover their head in public worship is so controversial that in some churches it can cause a split right in the middle. Therefore, this is a subject we must tread with care. We must not fear to study what the Scripture says. But at the same time, we must understand that this is a confessionally disputable matter. That is to say: Though some of us may be convinced that Pink is right, yet it is a matter for which we cannot as a church impose, nor is it a matter we should quarrel over. Though each one of us must do according to what we believe the Scripture teaches us to do; yet we must allow for differing opinions. Even officers of the church must be allowed differ on this matter. May the Lord by His power and providence bless the truths contained in this discussion for our individual sanctification and growth as a church.

—JJ Lim]

Tonight, instead of preaching a textual sermon as usual, I feel led of the Lord to expound a sixteen-verse passage in the first Epistle to the Corinthians. Before we turn to that, however, let me preface what I have to say by a few exegetical remarks.

The first four books of the New Testament give us the historical foundations upon which Christianity is built, namely, the birth, the life, the death, the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus Christ. The fifth book (the Acts) completes that foundation by telling us of the descent of the Holy Spirit and of the extension of God’s mercy unto the Gentiles. The sixth book (the Epistle to the Romans) contains an exposition of the gospel of God. It is the great doctrinal treatise of the New Testament. It gives an interpretation and it sets forth the application of what is historically given us in the Gospels and the Acts. Now the distinctive theme of the first Epistle to the Corinthians is that of church order and church government, so notice the order in which the truth of God is given us in the New Testament:—First, the historical foundation, laid in the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, followed by the coming of the Holy Spirit during His absence: then the first of the Epistles gives us an exposition of the gospel of God—interpreting and applying those historical principles. That having been done, the next thing the Holy Spirit gives us is a treatise upon church order and government.Now in the 18th chapter of the Acts we learn how that Paul came to Corinth, and while he was there he preached the gospel: how that the Lord appeared to him and said to the Apostle, "I have much people in this city" [Acts 18:10], and in consequence Paul remained there eighteen months preaching and through grace many believed, and those believers were baptised, and, being baptised, they were organised into a local church or assembly—the church at Corinth. From Corinth Paul journeyed to Ephesus, which was a city not very far distant, where he remained three years. After the Apostle settled in Ephesus, Apollos, a man mighty in the Scriptures, went yonder to the church at Corinth, preached the Word, strengthened their hands, but—O the sad "buts"—but after the Apostle’s departure, and notwithstanding the help of Apollos, the tares crept in among the wheat and the leaven was introduced into the pure meal, and it was because of that the Apostle was moved by the Holy Spirit to write this Epistle to this church at Corinth.

That which first gave rise to the need of it were certain disorders and abuses that had crept in among the saints in the Corinthian church, and it was to remove those abuses and to correct those disorders that the Apostle was led to write this Epistle. A party spirit had come in and the sequel was that the saints were divided into cliques—contending and opposing companies—that is dealt with in the first four chapters of the Epistle. Then there was a great laxity to maintain church discipline. So lax were they that even fornication was tolerated in their midst, therefore in the fifth chapter the Apostle insists upon the duty of the church to exclude immoral members. In the sixth chapter, the Apostle rebukes the church because brother was going to law against brother—a most reprehensible thing. Then in the seventh chapter we find him discussing various aspects of the marriage relationship. In the eighth chapter he treats of the lawfulness or the unlawfulness of meats which had been previously offered to idols. In the ninth and tenth he speaks of the exercise of self-denial and the foregoing of our rights for the sake of weaker brethren, and then in the 11th chapter, which we are to look at in a moment, the Apostle takes up certain grave abuses that had crept into the public worship of the assembly.

Now before I proceed further let me say that the Scriptures contain nothing that is solely local and ephemeral. Most of the Bible was written in the first instance to meet local needs, but because human nature is the same in all ages and the same all over the world, and because God changes not, the great principles of His Word are of general application and are perpetually binding. I say that because there are some who claim that much in this first epistle to the Corinthians only had to do with local conditions that then existed and does not apply to the churches of God today. I emphatically deny it. No part of Scripture is obsolete. All Scripture is needed by us and all Scripture is for us today.

Now the passage that I want to take up is found in the 11th chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians. The opening verse of this chapter, strictly speaking, belongs to the preceding one, the second verse beginning a new section. "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" concludes what the Apostle had been saying at the end of chapter 10. The second verse of chapter 11, begins a new section. "Now I praise you brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you." Interpreters are divided as to the meaning of that second verse—whether the Apostle meant what he said, or whether he was speaking ironically. He says, "I praise you, brethren because ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you." Personally, I believe that was the language of irony, because I think it is very clear that in this Epistle there is most conclusive proof that they were not keeping the ordinances as they were delivered to them—far from it. It was because they were not, that he had occasion to write this Epistle to them. But be that as it may. Pass on now to the third verse.

"But I would have you know." Here is where the theme of this chapter begins. "I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God." Now in the verses that follow attention is given to details that many of us may think are insignificant and trifling, dealing with such small matters that one wonders why they ever found a place in the Word of God. It is because God knew that we would think these were trifles that He begins this passage by saying "I would have you know." My friends, there is nothing small or trivial in the things of God. Big doors swing on little hinges. To natural reason it was a very small thing that brought about the downfall of the human race—just the plucking of fruit, yet disobeying the Almighty. "I would have you know," then says the Holy Spirit through the Apostle, "that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God." Here the Apostle takes up the most important, but the well-nigh totally forgotten subject, of headship, and before mentioning the thing which he was about to condemn he states the principle on which that condemnation rested; namely, that order and subordination pervade the entire universe and are necessary to its well-being. Now that third verse tells us the woman is subordinate to and is under the rule of the man: that the man is subordinate to and is under the rule of Christ; and that Christ, in His mediatorial character, is subordinate to and is under the rule of God.

Now then, having stated that fact, having laid down that principle—that of headship or rule pervading the entire universe—in the fourth and fifth verses the Apostle says, Since God has established this order both men and women are commanded to act, in accordance therewith and especially so when they enter one of God’s churches.

"Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head" (v. 4).

Notice it does not say dishonoureth his own head, though that is included; but it says, "dishonoureth his head." Who is his head? Who is the head? Who is the head of man? The previous verse has told us: "The head of every man is Christ." Therefore, for any man to enter a church and to pray or prophesy, speaking as God’s mouthpiece, with his head covered, dishonours his spiritual head which is Christ, and also dishonours himself—his own head. Let me give you a simple illustration. Suppose that a major or a general should appear at the head of his soldiers in the uniform or the garb of a common soldier, instead of in his official accoutrements; he would both dishonour his king and he would disgrace himself. So any man who enters the church praying or prophesying with his head covered dishonours his spiritual head—Christ—and disgraces himself.

"Every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head" (v. 5). That also has a double significance: she dishonours her natural head which is her husband or her father or her eldest brother as the case may be—the head of the household—and she also dishonours her spiritual head, namely, her brethren in Christ who have the rule in the church. She dishonours her head because she refuses to wear the sign and symbol that she is in subjection to another. Go back to the third verse. "The head of every man is Christ; the head [the ruler] of every woman is man; the head of Christ is God." Now God has appointed that because man is the head, because headship or dominion or rule has been delegated by God into the hands of man, God has ordained that that shall be symbolically shown forth when he enters the house of God. His head shall be uncovered; his head shall be revealed; his head shall be manifest, because God has given to him the headship. But because God has not given headship to the woman, because He has placed her in subjection to man, there that must be symbolically shown forth by her having her head covered, her head concealed, showing that she is not her own head and her own ruler. In other words, dear friends, God has given to woman the place of subjection, and all His ways are in harmony with that.

If you go back to the Old Testament Scriptures you will find God never made provision for a woman to occupy the throne of Israel. Woman had no part in the priestly ministrations in the tabernacle or the temple. God never made a covenant with a woman—never. Never once in the Old Testament do you find the woman offering sacrifices unto God, and when the Lord would make known to Israel the weakness of their own government He likened it unto being ruled by women and children. Turn back to the third of Isaiah and the 12th verse:—"As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them." That was when the government of Israel had failed, had broken down, when the king was no longer obeying God, when he was no longer administering the law in righteousness. When government had failed, God spoke of that failure in a figurative way by likening to them being ruled by women and children.

But perhaps some of you are saying in your minds, But that is all in the Old Testament; that all belonged to Judaism; things are very different in Christianity. Why, my friends, if you think so you are sadly mistaken, for Christ observed the same principle that woman has been given the place of subjection. Christ never called a single woman to be His Apostle. Christ never commissioned a woman to preach His gospel. Christ never appointed a woman to hold office in His churches. The woman is created for the home and has not been called by God to take part in public affairs, still less administer government, and, my friends, the very fact that today we find that more and more woman is taking the place of man in public affairs is a moral scandal and is a witness to the decline and corruption of law and order, and is among the solemn signs of the times forecasting that day when the will of God will be finally and openly repudiated.

Now coming back to 1 Corinthians 11, the 5th verse:—"But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven." That is to say, she is not only lacking in respect for others, but she has none for herself. Any woman that will come into the house of God without a hat or without a covering for the head, or removes that covering after she enters the house of God, not only has no respect for her brethren in Christ, but she is without self-respect; for God says it is even all "as if she were shaven." … to be continued

Why has head covering never been insisted confessionally or made a term of communion? Perhaps Calvin’s remarks on 1 Corinthians 11:4 gives us a clue: "Let us, however, bear in mind, that in this matter the error is merely in so far as decorum is violated, and the distinction of rank which God has established, is broken in upon. For we must not be so scrupulous as to look upon it as a criminal thing for a teacher to have a cap on his head, when addressing the people from the pulpit. Paul means nothing more than this — that it should appear that the man has authority, and that the woman is under subjection, and this is secured when the man uncovers his head in the view of the Church, though he should afterwards put on his cap again from fear of catching cold. In fine, the one rule to be observed here is to prevpon — decorum. If that is secured, Paul requires nothing farther." We may add that a woman who fails to put on a head-covering in worship violates a biblical custom, but not a Moral Law. — JJ Lim