Last time we looked at Paul's use of the priority argument in First Corinthians 11:2-16. Paul actually has four authoritative arguments for why men and women should display distinctions in gender through their hair length, but I only mainly looked at the one, because it is his argument for the universality of what he is saying. The other three arguments are arguments from tradition handed down, the lex naturalis (or what is observed by our natural responses and feelings toward the issue when cultural confusions are not brought in), and what is practiced by the church everywhere. The following are just some thoughts on what this passage says and how we should consider it as something that is more important than we have in the past.
Now, undoubtedly, if you've grown up in the evangelical church as I have you know that there are a group of doctrines considered "the essentials." What people usually mean by this is that there are doctrines in Christianity that one must believe when they are presented to him in order to remain in the Christian faith and evidence his salvation. As I discussed yesterday, orthodoxy (as well as orthopraxis) is evidence of one's claim to have Christ as Lord. His sheep will hear His voice and follow Him, not another. Hence, if one is His sheep, he will espouse what Christ has taught, i.e., he will affirm the orthodox gospel and all that supports it. If he denies it, he evidences rebellion against Christ, and his claim that "Jesus Christ is Lord" is forfeit.
Now, what in the world does that have to do with how long you grow your hair? Here's my point. If hearing Christ's voice and following is evidence of our submissive spirit to Christ, i.e., it evidences that we have truly made Him Lord of our lives, and the Spirit of Christ communicates that He wants us to maintain a certain length of hair for the purposes of gender distinction, will not our willingness to listen and follow (if we so come to the conclusion that this is what Christ is saying) or lack of willingness to hear and follow evidence the truth or falsity of our claim to have Christ as Lord? What I'm saying is that what is essential is any issue put before you that you would not normally believe or practice, likely due to cultural conditioning, but are being called upon to believe or practice by the Word of God in response to your claim that "Jesus Christ is Lord/Master." In other words, the only essential is really that you are in submission to Christ as Lord. It is through His Lordship that we are saved. Hence, the only essential for salvation is repenting and believing Christ, but this makes everything He teaches a potential essential, as our claim can be confirmed or denied by whether we evidence a submissive or rebellious attitude toward Him.
The reason why I say this now is not because I think Christianity is going to rise or fall apart based upon whether you cut your hair or let it grow out, but because the issue of our appearance is usually ignored or rejected once presented by people who clearly cannot even stomach to listen to the possibility that Christ may be commanding him or her to maintain a certain appearance for the purposes of gender distinction (which is really just Christ maintaining His creation, as gender distinction is a part of creation toward a human filled world [Gen 2:18-24] against a chaotic one that cannot produce or prosper humanity).
Instead, it seems to these people that cutting or growing out their hair is possibly the worst thing that Christ could ever ask of them. Of course, they are still willing to give their bodies to be torn apart by wild beasts, dying an unthinkable death in the arena, as lions eat them alive; but to be willing to cut one's hair or grow it out? What is God crazy? Doesn't He know that all the ladies love long hair on boys? Doesn't He know that it takes girls an extra thirty minutes to wash and dry long hair? Throw me on the racks, O God, but do not Thou requirest my hair to be cut or grown long, as that is a fate worse than death.
Can you imagine Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego in front of Nebuchadnezzar, as Nebuchadnezzar tells them that he will not burn them alive in one of the most painful forms of death a man can experience if they do not bow to the idol, but he will make them cut their hair? They then respond, "Surely, we were willing to die today, but you have upped the ante, O King, we will worship your idol, as what God would ask of us is just too much to bear."
Can you imagine God no longer commanding Mary to be the vessel through which the Savior would be born into the world by being disgraced in a premarital pregnancy, but instead asking her to grow her hair long instead, and having Mary respond by saying, "My Soul would rejoice in God My Savior if He had asked me to do something grand, but my hair is so much more manageable when its shorter, so not this time"?
The people are fooling themselves if they claim to have Christ as Lord and are unwilling to even consider the possibility that He might require them to look more masculine or feminine in accordance with their gender. I'm not even talking about adopting the interpretation I've given the passage either. I'm talking about even seriously considering whether they ought to do this or that, as opposed to blowing it off because one is so offended or afraid that God may actually require something more of them than going to church on Sunday.
My wife always makes a great point about these issues, and I hope you'll listen to her wisdom here. People always talk about how they are willing to go to the jungles of Africa for Christ, how they are willing to die for Christ, how they want to live for Christ, but are unwilling to do even the smallest things for Christ that are right in front of them, because all of those claims that supposedly express their desire to live for Christ are hypothetical. They know that, since they won't be going to the jungles of Africa, or being put in the fire anytime soon, and that living for Christ is such a generic declaration of a hypothetical future, there is no need to be afraid of their claims because they'll never have to back them up. They're empty declarations. But put something in front of them, even if ever so small, that would require of them sacrifice for Christ, and it is immediately rejected.
These things that we consider ever so small are evidences to our claim far more than dying or becoming a missionary in the jungles because these things are in front of us and challenge our immediate claim to have accepted Christ as Lord. The other hypotheticals aren't a challenge to the claim because they are no threat to us, as we know that we're not going to do them or be required to really do them (at least not in the immediate future). Hence, one's love for Christ and desire to have Him reign as Lord cannot be expressed by these empty declarations, but by the submission to whatever He presents before us in the moment. Think of all of the little things God asked of the disciples and prophets (like to go get food, or sit on a wall, or go to this geographical location or that one). Do we really believe that anyone receiving these little commands could just refuse to obey God all the while proclaiming his submission to His Lordship? Lord means master. We are His servants. We obey because we love Him more than we love ourselves. That's the foundation of the true claim that one has Christ as Lord, and that's the claim that will evidence itself in how we receive the little things placed before us. But rest assured, you can fancy yourself a martyr, but if you are unwilling to even let Christ speak His Word to you in the little things, then your fantasy that your "all in" for Christ is just that.
Now, having said that, I think some people who ignore this passage may not do so because they are outwardly rebellious, but because they have been duped to believe the false idea that God doesn't really care about appearance, but only your heart (i.e., what's on the inside). Many people pick this up from God's statement to Samuel about the criteria He looks for in a king: "for God sees not as a man sees. Man looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart" (1 Sam 16:7) But does this teach that God doesn't care about how one looks at all or is it teaching, in context, that God isn't fooled by the outward stature of a man, but can see his inward person directly? In other words, is God hereby releasing everyone from being modest or dressing according to their gender, or is He merely telling Samuel not to be fooled by appearances, which is a different issue altogether? I think it's clear that it's the latter.
In any case, the idea that God looks to the heart and does not care about the appearance, of course, is a false dichotomy, as God cares about what's in your heart as it is evidenced by what you say, do, and look like in terms of sexuality. For instance, we know that God wants women to be modestly dressed, so that He actually does care about what you wear. In fact, if immodest dress provides opportunity for crudeness among one's own sex or temptation toward the opposite sex, then He more than just slightly cares about the issue (see, e.g., Mark 9:42), as it displays hatred for others rather than love (again, the heart evidenced by what is worn). We also know that in the Old Testament God wanted His Nazirites to have long hair in order to display their submission to Him in a special covenant He made with them (i.e., they were like the "wives" of God who were married to Him and were especially dedicated to Him). Thus, that is an instance where if a male wanted short hair instead, he would be in rebellion against God for it. But here in First Corinthians, we are told that God desires gender distinction to be displayed by a man's short hair and by a woman's long hair, so the issue before us, the issue that will display our submission or rebellion, is the issue of short hair for men or long hair for women and how we respond to that suggestion.
Are we offended? Do we scoff? Do we roll the eyes? Do we act as though it's such a trivial thing that God surely wouldn't care about it, and thus, excuse ourselves through that means? Surely, we can all be offended that God would require something we deem as trivial, as did the Syrian general with a skin disease who was told to dip himself in the Jordan river seven times, or we can just listen and obey and be healed, because we trust in God and know that even the trivial things He sets before us are better understood by Him than by us. We can all say there is a practical reason for our disobedience, but look what Paul says in the midst of all our excuses: long hair is a shame to a man and long hair is something that makes the woman beautiful. Is that practical enough. I mean, we all know that men don't want respect, so I'm sure that's why they don't want to have short hair. And we certainly know that women don't want to be beautiful, as we can just look at how the beauty industry makes very little money each year, so I'm sure that's why they want short hair. I'm sure hairstyles have nothing to do with cultural philosophies of gender and everything about wanting to look less attractive.
Of course, you may argue with the Bible in your rebellion and say that you like longer hair on men and shorter hair on women, but the text isn’t about your personal preferences. In fact, I don’t even think that reality exists this way, as Paul himself will appeal to the reality of our built in preferences and say that a woman with short hair loses beauty. And I think we respond to the opposite sex in terms of how feminine or masculine one looks, and that is, in fact, tied somewhat to hair length. I think this is what the Spirit of Christ means by saying that it is a shame for a woman to have short hair (1 Cor 11:6). I’m not saying you’ll lose all beauty, but my point is that the girls that guys pin up in their garages in our culture, the girls that other girls are actually jealous of, the girls considered icons of beauty in our culture, have long hair, which means that women aren't chopping off their hair in order to become more beautiful. Likewise, if you're a male, you'll notice that all the people telling you that your long hair looks attractive are women. That's because women also find femininity attractive, which is why they judge each other so much on their looks. Guys don't usually judge the attractiveness of other guys, but they do judge how much a guy should be respected based upon his appearance. My point is simply that we evidence our rebellion even in the face of what we consider to be better by running even against what we would judge to be beautiful or respectful if we were without so many voices telling us to think differently about it, because we aren’t interested in obeying God in terms of gender distinction. Our culture and our cultural tendencies work hard to convince us to blot out our gender distinctions and that we actually still look great doing so. And it does this even against our created, natural response toward the opposite sex which has been created to look more like the opposite sex, and stir a response in us, than to look more like our own. That's why I would say that if you look at models on the runway, who are often styled as the artistic expression of a genderless culture and the models of advertising, i.e., models that are made up to entice us by beauty to buy something, their feminine qualities are emphasized. This is a good expression of the conflict between our cultural philosophies and our divine programming to be attracted to the opposite sex in creation. Of course, people will always say, "Well, I think it looks good and that's why I do it," but is that really true? If you thought wearing a hairdo in the shape of a kangaroo on your head looked great, but everyone made fun of you and thought you were horribly ugly with that look, would you still wear it? Maybe in our culture it is true that people would simply because we are narcissistic and want to be different and stand out, but we usually get our ideas of "what looks good" from others, so our differentiation usually takes upon itself culturally accepted norms; and when it doesn't, there is usually some major mental issue involved with the person (e.g., people who tattoo themselves to look like jungle cats and whatnot).
My point, of course, is not to say that what we prefer ought to be the norm, as preferences can be distorted (which is why Paul’s lex naturalis argument is the weaker one and he therefore starts out with the better priority argument from the creation of Genesis 2). Instead, even if we did not prefer long hair on women in terms of beautification and short hair on men in terms of respect, we ought to let our hairstyles convey the message that the Lord Jesus Christ would have us convey with them because He is our Lord—or, at the very least, make it a serious consideration as we should make anything set before us in Scripture something to be seriously considered. I mean, God actually included this passage in a Scripture where He left out a host of other things. That should make us think as to why among all of these other things, God chose to communicate this passage instead. It’s there for a reason, and I would submit that it’s there both for the purpose of order (displaying our gender distinctions and worshiping God through them rather than in disregard of them), and as with anything else put before us, it displays the truth or falsity of our claim to have made Christ as Lord.
Again, one can argue over what's considered long and what's considered short, but that too can display a heart of submission versus rebellion, as we are often asking that question to see how far we can get to the outer limits from what is pleasing to Christ rather than asking how far we can get toward what is most pleasing. Obviously, there is a point where long hair and short hair are no longer confused. Maybe that's the boundary line. But, whatever we decide on the matter, we ought to be seeking to obey rather than seeking to get away with as much as we can. One attitude evidences love for Christ more than ourselves and the other evidences obligation toward someone we do not love more than ourselves.
So, you see, hair length is an essential for your salvation, because the truth or falsity of the claim that Christ is Lord of your life is the essential for your salvation, and it is displayed in how you approach the issue. It's not essential because the issue itself is essential, but because, like all issues, it shines a light on the heart. In other words, this isn't really a head issue (pun intended), but a heart issue. If you reject my interpretation of the passage after you have looked long and hard with much study and in much honesty and desire to obey the Lord no matter what the text asks of you, that’s a different issue. My issue is that most who reject what I’m saying blow off the passage completely, or just give it a cursory reading and immediately declare with every pastor who has done the same, “It’s just cultural.” Well, nice of God to include a purely cultural, non-applicable, historical sociology lesson for us in Scripture that has no implications for our lives when He could have included a host of other things more applicable. Or is it that this is applicable in so many ways, as it hits against even our own modern culture in telling us to remain male and female in Christ and to display those distinctions, regardless of the change of fabric in clothing or style, in the length of our hair, because displayed gender distinction, along with modesty, is just that important to God? In fact, maybe we need this passage, not less, but more than any other generation that has existed thus far, simply because our cultural philosophies, working toward the destruction of true humanity, work harder than ever before to reverse our creation as male and female for the propagation of humanity. You decide, but decide with a pure heart toward pleasing the Lord in accordance to what He says in Scripture. If you do so, you may be able to rest assured that you would, perhaps, die in the jungle for Him too.