You open your closet on Sunday morning, picking out your favorite dress and a stylish hat that matches perfectly. As you pick up your Bible and head out the door, a thought crosses your mind – is it acceptable for ladies to wear hats in church?
This question has been debated for centuries among various Christian denominations. Opinions differ on whether wearing hats during worship is a sign of respect or distraction. As both fashion and cultural norms have changed over time, so have viewpoints on proper attire for ladies in church.
In this post, we will examine what the Bible says about head coverings for women, look at the historical context surrounding this issue, and explore whether ladies wearing hats in church is acceptable for modern Christian women.
- The Bible speaks about head coverings for women in 1 Corinthians 11, but there is debate over the meaning and present-day application of this passage.
- Historically, wearing head coverings and hats was expected in most churches, but cultural norms have changed dramatically.
- Opinions differ among modern Christians – some believe women should still cover their heads, while others see this as a cultural issue that is no longer binding.
- A lady’s personal convictions and the norms of her local church should guide whether she chooses to wear a hat. Christians should strive to avoid judging one another on disputable matters.
- The heart attitude behind a lady’s choice of attire is most important – modesty, respect for others, avoidance of distraction should guide her decision.
What the Bible Says About Head Coverings
The most direct Bible passage about women wearing head coverings is found in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (NKJV):
Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.
Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering. But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.
This passage references a few key points:
- Women should have their head covered when praying or prophesying
- To pray or prophesy with an uncovered head dishonors her head (her husband or father, depending on marital status)
- It is shameful for a woman to have a shaved head
- Long hair is given to women as a covering
- Men should have uncovered heads when praying or prophesying
- Allowing women to go uncovered is “contentious”
There are some words and phrases here that indicate this instruction was related to Corinthian cultural norms at the time. The mention of having a shaved head being shameful seems tied to Corinthian perspectives. The mention of angels also relates to common first century beliefs about spiritual beings observing human conduct during worship.
Overall, this passage clearly instructs that women should have their heads covered during times of public prayer or prophecy, which would include worship services. It roots this directive in the created order of male headship. The mention of long hair as a covering allows that this covering may not need to be an artificial veil or shawl.
Historical Church Practice on Head Coverings
For most of church history, women covering their heads in church was the expectation in all Christian traditions – Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant. This was seen as a biblical command and reflected social norms of the day. Until the 20th century, female churchgoers wore head coverings ranging from hats, caps, hoods, veils or other cloth coverings.
In many traditional churches today, such as Catholic, Amish, Mennonite, Brethren and more, women still cover their heads in church. This is done to show respect, obedience to Scripture, and submission to male spiritual leadership.
However, in recent generations, head coverings have gone out of style in most Western churches. As modern fashion norms changed, hats and veils for ladies became less common in everyday life. As a result, most Christian denominations began allowing bareheaded women to participate fully in church life.
Today, whether women cover their heads in church depends on the local church culture and an individual woman’s preferences. It is no longer seen as a universal Christian obligation. Some see it as a custom tied to specific times and places in Scripture, while others advocate continuing this practice today. There is room for Christian liberty on both sides of this issue.
Should Ladies Wear Hats Today? Cultural Context
When considering current Christian practice, it helps to recognize that our Western culture differs dramatically from first century Corinth. In ancient Greek and Roman society, respectable married women covered their heads in public as a symbol of their moral virtue and submission to their husband’s authority. Unmarried women went bareheaded, signaling their availability for marriage. Prostitutes also went about with heads uncovered, displaying their immorality.
In that cultural context, for Christian women to participate bareheaded in church would send the wrong message to outsiders and within the church body. It was considered immodest and disgraceful. Paul was addressing this situation in the Corinthian church. He likely wanted Christian women to avoid the appearance of impropriety and not bring shame on the church.
However, today’s culture is quite different. Hats and veils hold no symbolic meaning for women’s morality or marital status. It is perfectly normal for ladies to attend events bareheaded while maintaining pure character and respectability. Therefore, the cultural reasons behind Paul’s injunction do not directly apply.
Of course, Paul bases his teaching on deeper theological truth as well – the concept of male headship and submission in marriage. This principle remains relevant today even if the cultural symbols have changed. But the way this biblical truth is demonstrated through head coverings in worship services may depend on current social norms. The principle remains, but the application can be adapted.
Modern Opinions Among Christians
Given the dramatic shift away from head coverings in most modern churches, opinions vary today on whether it should still be practiced. Some groups teach that wearing head coverings is a biblical command for all women that should continue to be obeyed today. Others see it as a contextual teaching that can be adapted.
Here are some perspectives from various Christian groups and theologians:
Groups Advocating Head Coverings
- Conservative Anabaptist Groups (Amish, Mennonite, Brethren, etc.)
- Independent Bible Churches
- Traditional Catholics
- Some Strict Calvinists
They emphasize that Paul appeals to creation order, with principles that transcend culture. They say Paul presents head coverings as a command, not a suggestion. The practice demonstrates female submission and humility.
Groups Allowing Bare Heads
They view head coverings as a cultural symbol not required today. They highlight how Paul says to judge for yourselves what is proper and refers to no such custom among the churches. They see it as amatter of Christian freedom, although some encourage veils as an option.
Some Theologians Affirming Head Coverings
- Charles Spurgeon
- John Murray
- R.C. Sproul
- John Piper
- Wayne Grudem
They make arguments based on male headship, female modesty, the angels watching worship, and the timeless principles indicated in this passage. They allow some flexibility about styles but advocate continuing the practice.
Some Theologians Seeing it as Cultural
- Gordon Fee
- Craig S. Keener
- William Barclay
- Kenneth Bailey
They point to Scripture passages that encourage adapting traditions like circumcision when spreading the Gospel cross-culturally. They highlight Paul’s statement about judging for yourself what is proper as indicating a culturally bound custom, not a universal requirement.
Principles for Christian Women Today
In studying this issue, we see that there are good arguments on both sides by scholars who respect Scripture. This seems to be a disputable matter where Christian charity and liberty of conscience should prevail.
The decision about whether to wear a head covering in church should be based on your personal convictions before God, the teaching of your local church, and maintaining Christian unity.
Here are some guiding principles as you make this decision:
- Pray for wisdom and study all Bible passages related to this topic. Seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance for your personal life.
- Talk to your pastor. Find out your church’s teaching and expectations for attire at services.
- Consider your motivations. Ask yourself why you want to cover your head or go bareheaded. Is it based on personal preference or a desire to honor God?
- Avoid pride or shame over custom. Don’t look down on other sisters based on their choices regarding head coverings.
- Maintain unity. Don’t let this become a point of contention or division. Show grace and understanding to those with different convictions.
- Focus on the heart. Most important is having a gentle and quiet spirit, not letting your apparel be a distraction to others.
- Dress modestly and respectfully, whatever you choose regarding a head covering. Be sensitive to how you may affect others.
- Represent Christ well with grace, love, and character – whether you wear a hat or not!
The most important thing is that ladies honor Christ in their personal choices about attire. Seek to be modest, respectful, gracious, and Spirit-led in how you present yourself.
Pray for wisdom as you think through this issue. The Holy Spirit can lead each Christian woman to make a decision about head coverings that maintains biblical principles while adapting to culture.
Stay focused on representing Christ well through your character, not just your clothing. Whether you cover your head or feel freedom to go bareheaded, let your inner beauty shine for God’s glory. When it comes to hats in church, aim for God-honoring principles over legalistic rules.
In summary, ladies today have liberty in Christ to make personal choices about wearing hats in church based on biblical study, prayer, and consideration of church culture. Focus on inner beauty and character more than outward appearance. Seek unity, avoid pride, and let love rule in non-essential matters of Christian practice.