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St Paul on Christian conduct during worship

Sunday word BY PROSPER TINGINI

Worship is a show of devotion to the Lord our God. Christians should worship through Jesus Christ. People express their prayerfulness in different ways. The same differences also apply across the various Christian denominations, be it in churches or the ministries. Some religious groups prefer to assemble and pray out in the open or under trees. The majority, however, worship in temples or church buildings. Certain apostolic assemblies choose to worship while barefoot and others have to put on garments of various colours when in worship to the Lord. Different formalities are observed in Christianity, with justifications for every practice supported by some verses in the scriptures.

St Paul gives us some advice on how to conduct ourselves when in prayer. He writes in Corinthians 11: 3-16: “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonours her head — it is the same as is her head were shaven. For is a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shown or shaven, let her wear a veil. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is in the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man (For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man). That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels. (Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as a woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God). Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that for a man to wear long hair is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her pride? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is disposed to be contentious (to urge), we recognise no other practice, nor do the churches of God.”

St Paul is explicit in his arguments about wearing head gear in church. I reckon this will not go down well with some women of today. They seem a liberated lot. Most of our churches do not observe this pronouncement. The majority of our younger women prefer to worship with their heads uncovered, in violation of this fundamental principle expressed by the Saint. Whatever arguments those who disagree can put across, I find sense in St Paul’s pronouncement. God gave us choices, to follow or not to follow what has been prescribed. However, do not curse the Lord our God if your prayers remain unanswered, as it could be a consequence of going against the above. Covering the head consecrates the head for the woman. It gives her some sacredness and authority over her being, while in prayer. Again, women’s rights activists might find it difficult to accept that the head of a woman is her husband, as St Paul gives his judgement on the matter. I support equal rights for both men and women, but we should be careful to safeguard some God-given principles. There should be a guided selection of spheres of life where equal rights for both sexes cannot function, if applied unilaterally. Paul also clarifies that God is the head of Christ, meaning we have two members, ie, God and Christ. God the Father is above Jesus Christ. I have written about this a number of times, especially when it comes to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

He also touches on another controversial subject. In Corinthians 14:34-35, he writes: “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but they should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” Unless I have misunderstood Paul and taken this literally, it would mean there is no allowance for a woman to speak in the churches, let alone to preach. He even supports this declaration by making a reference to the law. I know he teaches us that we are no longer under the yoke of the law, but why is he still sticking with it here? Many churches and ministries of today are anointing women into the priesthood, which automatically qualifies them to preach in churches. Is this in defiance to the New Testament teachings of St Paul? He is obviously in affirmation of some statutes of the Lord our God, but which in particular?

In his missionary work, Paul worked together with many women and he names them in many of his letters. In Romans 16:1-4, he writes: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cen’chre-ae, that you may receive her in the Lord as befits the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a helper of many and of myself as well. Greet Prisca and Aquilla, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I but also all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks.” Even in St Paul’s time, women were being appointed as deaconesses in church, but it seems they were not allowed to say anything in church.

It would seem a big number of churches, big and small are still prohibiting the consecration of women into the priesthood, most probably basing their views on these teachings of St Paul and of other scriptures. Personally, I have no qualms on the anointment of women into the clergy. However, I would agree that at certain times, women should refrain from standing by the altars of the Lord our God. The laws Paul refers to are obviously from the Old Testament although still applied in the New Testament era, even by the Saint’s standards.

The Lord our God touches on a law as regards women’s purification. In Leviticus 12:1-5, God spoke to Moses: “Say to the people: if a woman conceives, and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days as at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. Then she shall continue for thirty-three days in the blood of her purifying; she shall not touch any holy thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until her days of purifying are completed. But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her menstruation; and she shall continue in the purifying for sixty-six days.”

Mary, Jesus’ mother, as a Jew observed these laid-down rules, so did Christ when he was circumcised on the seventh day.

Prosper Tingini is the president of the Children of God Missionary Assembly. Registration in progress for those who wish to train as Ministers of Religion. Contact 0771 260 195 or email: ptingini@gmail.com

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