Reformed Presbytery In North America, June 4, 2001
It is our sincere desire to lead the people of God under our care in the ways of Christ that has led Presbytery to issue this report concerning headcoverings. We have carefully and prayerfully studied the issue from both Scripture and history. We now urge you, dear brothers and sisters, who are under the inspection of the Reformed Presbytery In North America to read this position paper with a dispassionate and objective spirit, seeking to understand as clearly as possible, the reasons given for Presbytery's conclusions. This report is not intended to offer an exhaustive amount of information on the subject of headcoverings in public worship, but rather is intended to give a summary of the major principles which have guided Presbytery to its present position.
It may be asked, "Why is a report on headcoverings in public worship needed at the present time?"
First, there may be issues concerning which the Presbytery has not, as yet, officially adopted a position, but sees it as necessary to do so for the good of the church. This is true with regard to the headcovering in public worship. Prior to the formation of the Reformed Presbytery In North America (in August 2000), the Puritan Reformed Church of Edmonton had for a number of years practiced and taught the unalterable moral use of the headcovering for women in public worship. Approximately three years ago, the Session moved away from the position that headcoverings were an unalterable moral practice to a position of uncertainty while yet practicing the use of the headcovering in public worship. With the formation of the Presbytery, the distinctive teachings and practices of the Session as an inferior court necessarily came under the judicial review of the whole Presbytery. Such a review was initiated concerning headcoverings, and this report constitutes the judicial conclusions of Presbytery.
The second reason why this report on the headcovering in public worship is deemed necessary by Presbytery is due to increased information that has come to its attention which addresses the issue before us. When greater light on a subject becomes available, our duty before the Lord is to reform. Not to do so would be a grievous sin. Thus, Presbytery considers itself bound by duty to Christ and to His church to submit this report for the clearing of its conscience.
Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing (Philippians 3:15-16).
Thirdly, Presbytery's decision to issue this report involves the significant issue of ecclesiastical authority. God alone has absolute authority. All authority received by man (whether in the familial, ecclesiastical, or civil sphere) is delegated by God and limited by God's Word. Since Jesus Christ is the only head of the Church, the officers of the Church must be careful that they do not exceed the lawful boundaries of their limited authority in their use of the keys of the kingdom by imposing ordinances or practices upon the people of God in public worship which are not clearly warranted by Scripture. To do so is tyranny. For Christ's authority can never be used against the truth, but only in defense of the truth.
For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth (2 Corinthians 13:8).
God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his Word, or beside it in matters of faith on worship. So that to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commandments out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also (The Westminster Confession Of Faith, 20:2).
The Plan And Scope Of This Report
First, the Presbytery, as a covenanted judicatory in moral continuity with earlier faithful courts, will examine the position stated and upheld by these covenanted judicatories as declared in our subordinate documents, along with the private writings of faithful covenanted ministers. Second, we will reference the determinations and declarations made by other non-covenanted, yet faithful reformed judicatories and ministers. Third, having considered the practice and interpretation of Scripture by faithful courts and ministers as it relates to the headcovering, we consider their position in the light of our own study of Scripture.
1. The Subordinate Standards
When approaching a passage of Scripture, it is particularly important to interpret that passage with a clear understanding of the context in which it appears, as well as to interpret that passage in consistency with the rest of God's revelation in Scripture. In our judgment, the heart of the controversy concerning headcoverings in public worship turns upon whether the statements of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 were based upon cultural considerations or upon some other more permanent, moral principle.
In examining our subordinate standards, the critical question in our minds was this: Did our covenanted judicatories understand 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 to teach that the headcovering was a moral sacred significant sign commanded by God to be used in all generations and countries; or did they affirm the contrary, and believe this passage to be teaching that the headcovering was cultural, a mere circumstance of worship which was common to human actions and societies and, therefore, alterable?
We believe it is certain that our covenanted church courts interpreted 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 with a cultural presupposition and that they believed the headcovering to be cultural and, therefore, alterable according to the prevailing national custom of that time. Our proof for this conclusion immediately follows. A. The Approved Practice Of The Headcovering In Scotland (1560-1638)
First, we will demonstrate that men (at least, and most likely the women as well) ordinarily covered their heads during the time when a sermon was being preached and that these same men" ordinarily” uncovered their heads when the Lord's Supper was being served. Demonstrating this to be the ordinary practice within the Church of Scotland will serve to prove that our covenanted General Assemblies and all inferior courts did not understand Paul to be teaching that men were always to remain uncovered in a public worship service. It, therefore, follows that if our covenanted judicatories ordinarily allowed men to be covered for sermons and uncovered for the celebration of the Lord's Supper, then they interpreted the covering and the uncovering of the head in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 as a cultural custom within Corinth at the time in which Paul wrote.
Speaking upon the subject of different signs to be distinguished (namely, natural, customable, and voluntary), George Gillespie, minister of the Church of Scotland states the following concerning one example of a customable sign:
Customable Signs; and so the uncovering of the head, which of old was a sign of preeminence, has, through custom, become a sign of subjection (Dispute Against English Popish Ceremonies, Naphtali Press, p. 247, emphases added).
Secondly, customary signs have likewise place in divine service; for so a man coming into one of our churches in time of public worship, if he sees the hearers covered, he knows by this customary sign that sermon has begun (Dispute Against English Popish Ceremonies, Naphtali Press, p. 248, emphases added).
From the above we learn that the Scottish Church "customarily" (i.e. according to their cultural custom) did not cover their heads until the preaching began. We also note that the sign of uncovering the head, according to Gillespie, had radically changed its meaning over time in Scotland. Of old in Paul's time, it was a sign of preeminence, and now in Gillespie's time "custom" had altered its significance to mean just the opposite (i.e. subjection). This alone is proof that Scotland's ministers did not deem the headcovering to be an unalterable sign (for if it were unalterable, then why did they accept the changed meaning of the sign?), and that they necessarily understood Paul's statements in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 within a cultural context.
Furthermore, we learn from that which is cited below that the Scottish Church purposely removed their headcoverings when it was time to receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Samuel Rutherford proves that the Church of Scotland ordinarily removed the headcovering when receiving the Lord's Supper when he states..