It has been the usual practice in churches of Christ for brethren who disagree on the meaning of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 to worship and work together without distinction. Preachers who believe that women should cover their heads in worship work together with preachers who do not, and women who cover their heads sit next to women with bare heads in the assembly. And I believe this is the correct thing to do.
Many brethren justify our fellowship on the basis of the teaching of Romans 14. However, I do not believe the principles of that chapter cover the problem of fellowship between us on this question.
In Romans 14 Paul deals with those who are weak in (the) faith and the ones who are strong in (the) faith. The strong one understands correctly that he may eat all things, while the weak believes he must eat vegetables only.
In this case, the strong one can eat meat and the weak one can eat vegetables and both be pleasing to God. There is no law to say that one must eat meat, therefore no law is violated by either. Therefore each should be convinced in his own mind. No one should judge his brother in the matter, and no one should put a stumbling block in front of his brother.
However, the truth on the matter was taught clearly by Paul, so that the one who was weak in (the) faith could become strong. In verse 22 Paul writes, “The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God.” This indicates that on this question your faith is a private matter. You do not have to convert others to your belief.
The matter of the meaning of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 is a different matter. The ones who believe a woman can worship God with uncovered head think of themselves as the “strong” ones. It makes no difference to them whether a woman covers her head or not. So they can tolerate those who cover their heads.
However, to those of us who have studied carefully and come to the conclusion that it is God’s will for women to cover their heads in worship, this is not a matter of liberty or free choice. It is a matter of God’s will. When we offer fellowship to those who disagree with us on this matter, it is not on the basis of what Romans 14 says.
A preacher who does not believe that women have to cover their heads in worship moved to work with a church where the members were strong in believing that women should cover their heads. I asked him, “How did you manage to get along?” He said, “That was their problem. We got along fine.” When he said, “That was their problem,” he was stating the truth. The problem of fellowship is with us who believe that women should cover their heads. How can we consistently fellowship those whom we believe are failing to obey God’s command?
We know that the head covering question is not the only problem in this realm. Those who believe it is a sin for a man to go to war for his country under any circumstances are in the same position. How can they justify fellowshiping those whom they believe are sinning against God? David Lipscomb believed it was a sin to have any part in the government, yet he willingly offered cooperation to those who believed the opposite. There are many positions concerning the Lord’s Supper—whether to offer it in the evening, for instance. We can think of a number of things on which good brethren differ.
Windell Wiser points out some things worth considering. He writes: “We both (those who are for and against the head covering) teach numbers of things, which are a part of the faith, which we do not make a test of fellowship…(Paul) withdrew from one living in adultery. I never find where he withdrew from any of the rest of the Corinthians for not living up to his teaching…Paul withdrew from Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim. 1:20), taught the church at Rome to mark certain ones (Rom. 16:17) but did not withdraw from others who were doing things wrong as we have already mentioned at Corinth…. There are a number of things (we) teach, which are a part of the faith, and (we) do not withdraw from people who fail to comply.” (Booklet Don Quixote Rides Again!, An Answer pp. 21-23.)
I do not know the entire answer concerning fellowship, and I doubt that anyone else does. I know that the consequences of refusing fellowship whenever we conscientiously disagree over the application of Bible teaching will soon be a fragmenting too horrendous to think about.
I also think that those things where we have tacitly agreed to disagree and remain in fellowship are things which require a good many inferences, sometimes not necessary inferences. These things do not seem as clear as other matters. Thus we continue to try to teach one another and leave the judging to God. I think this is right. It seems the only practical course.
However, this has resulted in brethren thinking that the questions on which we differ without breaking fellowship are not important. Instead of there being careful Bible study on those questions, they are dismissed because brethren differ and still get along. I have tried to get thoughtful articles on the head covering published by a leading brotherhood journal, but it has not been possible. Apparently brethren do not want to upset things. And I think this is a very bad attitude.
Brethren, we need to study, and we need to study questions wherein we differ. We must study in a brotherly way, with love for the truth and love for one another. But we must remember that God will hold us responsible for how we handle the truth. We must not stifle controversy when it is for the purpose of finding the truth.
Therefore, let us tolerate and work together with brethren who differ on these questions, while at the same time being willing to study and teach that the truth may always prevail.