At Christ Church we are teaching through the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Not a few “difficult passages!” I called the teaching on 1 Cor. 11:2-16, Mutual Respect: Men and Women Together. The section in chapters 11-14 is answering questions about worship in the community. This first section on “head coverings” would, at first, seem irrelevant or confusing about the relationships of men and women in the church. Actually, it’s a great passage to teach principles of interpreting Scripture.
Later (after preaching 4 variations of the sermon) I was looking at Stanley Grenz’ Women in the Church. (I highly recommend it as a scholarly and balanced work.) I looked up his comments on 1 Cor 11 and was blown away by the clarity (and agreement with the sermon!) Here it is:
Lying behind 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is a radical assumption: that women prayed and prophesied in the public gatherings of the early community. Paul affirms, then, the prerogatives God had already given women in the Old Testament. These privileges had been suppressed by Judaism, but were restored in Christ through the Spirit. Thus all Christians, without regard to gender, share in the one Spirit (1 Cor 12:13) who sovereignly bestows gifts on all (1 Cor 12:7). Hence in a social context that marginalized women, the gospel restored their freedom to participate in worship as full partners with men, even to the point of being the vehicles through whom the Spirit brings authoritative communications to the entire community.
The text therefore does not lay a foundation for eliminating women from leadership in the church. Paul places no restrictions on the breadth of women’s use of their gifts in public worship. He speaks only to the demeanor in which women are to serve, as those mindful of cultural sensibilities concerning male-female relations. The apostle cautions the Corinthians lest the manner in which women ministered might violate cultural norms and therefore bring the Gospel into ill repute. (p. 117)
Again – as in earlier chapters – it’s all about “undistracted devotion” “for the sake of the Gospel.” There are other difficult passages on the subject but this one is hopefully clearer.
It’s a beautiful thing!