Response to William Stewart’s Second Article

Brent Sharp | Shannon Hills, Arkansas, USA

In his second article Brother Stewart spends his first three paragraphs discussing the holy kiss and foot washing, emphasizes that both those were customs of a certain time and place, and apparently draws the conclusion this proves Paul’s instructions in I Corinthians 11:2-16 are likewise only local customs limited to Corinth in the first century. Our brother’s logic is, however, quite unsound in this matter.

First of all, Paul is speaking by inspiration, with apostolic authority, giving a series of direct commands as to the conduct of the members of the church. It is not my responsibility to prove that these commands are not just a local custom; if a brother is going to reject these commands for such a reason it is his responsibility to prove beyond any shadow of a doubt that such is the case. Would Brother Stewart apply the same reasoning to Paul’s commands concerning the Lord’s Supper and social meals immediately following? If someone else did so, how could he object? Would Brother Stewart apply the same reasoning to Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians to sing? How can he object to those who introduce instruments using the same line of reasoning? Would Brother Stewart apply the same reasoning to Paul’s prohibition of women teachers? Already many, including brethren, assert this, too, is just a “local custom” of time and place Paul is referring to in I Corinthians 14. How can Brother Stewart correct them?

Brother Stewart is likewise concerned about my “broad statement” concerning the wearing of the head covering by women for 18 centuries. I would like to remind Brother Stewart that sources such as and esword are readily available. Early church historians, including Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Hippolytus of Rome, Origen of Alexander and John Chrysostom, among myriad others, spoke definitively on the issue. I listed numerous historians and word scholars previously on the matter; I could continue on more or less indefinitely were we not constrained by the number of words to be published in these articles. Once again, prior to the 19th century there was no disagreement, and not until the 20th did the practice of ignoring Paul’s instructions in this passage gain a majority practice in the West.

I did indeed refer to Brother Willis’ commentary on this passage, and especially for the reason that although he shares Brother Stewart’s position, he concedes in his writings on this passage that it was indeed the universal practice of the first century church for women to be covered and men uncovered. Brother Stewart also seems quite concerned that this is the only instance we have recorded in the New Testament of this command, which I concede. And what of it? God gave a direct command through His apostle and had it recorded for us in this book. How many times must He do so before the command is valid? I maintain that number is one. If God’s giving the command one time is not enough for Brother Stewart than perhaps he could enlighten us as to how many times a command must be given to be valid, and by what hermeneutic he has arrived at such a conclusion. I suppose that could prove an interesting topic for a follow on debate.

Now Brother Stewart is grammatically perplexed by his misperceived double negative. “We have no such custom” means we (the apostles and all other congregations) have no (do not have what you do) such custom (a custom of allowing bareheaded women or covered men in the church). If our brother is still concerned about a possible “double negative” I encourage him to familiarize himself with the wonderful “neither-nor” construction; as in we neither teach that women may be uncovered nor do we allow men to wear hats.

Now Brother Stewart is disappointed in my time spent on verses 2-15. This is easy to explain; those verses are clear instructions and should be followed in all times and places throughout the world. I’m sure Brother Stewart understands that this passage requires men to abstain from wearing a head covering in church and to have short hair, and for women to do the opposite. If we agree on that then there is no reason to spend time on it other than to evade the true point of disagreement, which is whether this is just a matter of local custom. It is not.

Brother Stewart also dismisses the idea that the abolition of the women’s head covering in the West, specifically the Untied States, was in any way connected to the rise of feminism. On this he should have done more reading before speaking on the matter. The Brother Johnson he quotes did indeed say that this was a matter of custom, but then went on to say women in the U.S. ought to wear a covering because that was still the custom; Brother Johnson wrote this in the latter half of the 19th century. The next great opponent of the head covering, McGarvey, conceded that it was indeed a universal command, but that we have now outgrown it; a position which he also applied to Paul’s teaching on women in I Corinthians 14, in which he argued women of exceptional ability should now be able to take leading teaching roles in the church. Additionally, C.R. Nichol, in his book “God’s Woman” openly rejected the Biblical pattern for male headship in the home as well as the church, and in so doing went out of his way to attack the head covering as sinful in and of itself.

Brother Stewart has spoken much of the principal of headship in I Corinthians 11, but the fact of the matter is that in most Western countries, including the U.S., that principal has been abandoned, including in most public worship. At the same time this abandonment took place, so to, for the first time in history, was Paul’s instruction from this passage abandoned. Judge for yourselves indeed.

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