When and why should a Christian woman wear a head covering in connection with her worship? Let us consider the apostle Paul’s inspired discussion of this subject. He provides the guidance we need in order to make good decisions, ones that honor God. (1 Corinthians 11:3-16) Paul reveals three factors to weigh: (1) the activities that call for a woman to wear such a covering, (2) the settings in which she should do so, and (3) the motives for her to apply this standard.
The activities. Paul mentions two: prayer and prophesying. (Verses 4, 5) Prayer, of course, is worshipful address to Jehovah. Today, prophesying would apply to any Bible-based teaching that a Christian minister does. Is Paul suggesting, though, that a woman should cover her head whenever she prays or teaches Bible truth? No. The setting in which a woman prays or teaches makes all the difference.
The settings. Paul’s words suggest two settings, or spheres of activity
Paul mentions the congregation setting, saying: “If anyone wants to argue in favor of some other custom, we have no other, nor do the congregations of God.” (Verse 16) In the Christian congregation, headship is given to baptized males. (1 Timothy 2:11-14; Hebrews 13:17) Only males are appointed as elders and ministerial servants with the God-given responsibility to care for the flock of God. (Acts 20:28) Occasionally, though, circumstances may require that a Christian woman be called on to handle a duty normally performed by a qualified baptized male. For instance, she may need to conduct a meeting for field service because a qualified baptized male is not available or present. Or she may conduct a prearranged home Bible study in the presence of a baptized male.* Because such activities are really extensions of the Christian congregation, she would wear a head covering to acknowledge that she is handling the duty normally assigned to a male.
On the other hand, many aspects of worship do not call for a sister to wear a head covering. For example, she does not need to do so when commenting at Christian meetings, engaging in the door-to-door ministry with her husband or another baptized male, or studying or praying with her unbaptized children. Of course, other questions may arise, and if a sister is unsure about a matter, she may do additional research.* If she is still unsure and if her conscience moves her to do so, wearing a head covering would not be wrong, as shown in the accompanying picture.
The motives. In verse 10, we find two reasons why a Christian woman would want to fulfill this requirement: “The woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels.” First, note the expression, “a sign of authority.” Wearing a head covering is a way for a woman to show that she acknowledges the authority that Jehovah has placed upon baptized males in the congregation. Hence, she expresses her love for and loyalty to Jehovah God. A second reason is found in the words “because of the angels.” How does a woman affect those mighty spirit creatures by wearing a head covering?
The angels are interested in seeing that divine authority is recognized throughout Jehovah’s organization, in heaven and on earth. They also benefit from the examples of imperfect humans in this regard. After all, they too have to be submissive to Jehovah’s arrangement
A Christian wife would not normally pray aloud in the presence of her believing husband except in unusual circumstances, such as if he has been rendered mute by an illness.
A sister would not need to wear a head covering when conducting a prearranged Bible study in the presence of an unbaptized male publisher who is not her husband.
For more information, please see The Watchtower, July 15, 2002, pages 26-27, and February 15, 1977, pages 125-128.