W. F. Kumuyi and the Matter of Women Head Covering in Church
By: Deji Yesufu
W. F. Kumuyi is the General Superintendent of the Deeper Life churches. Kumuyi is one of the longest serving pastor in the Nigerian Pentecostal community and, to his credit, one of the few ones whose church has not been laced with the kind of scandal common in other charismatic churches. Kumuyi is a holiness preacher. I know this from first hand experience because I lived in the Deeper Life Headquarters in Yola during my NYSC in 2002 and attended that church throughout. I no longer attend Deeper Life and I am no longer a Pentecostal, but I can confidently state this: if you are Pentecostal and you want to associate with a church that will lead you to heaven, go to the Deeper Life Church.
With that brief introduction and free advert, I must begin here by stating that one unfortunate Achilles Heel of Deeper Life is the dressing of their ladies. I was in that church at a time I had graduated school and was already stretching my neck out to scout out a lady I would marry. Let me confess to you straight up: I found none in that church. All the ladies my age and some ten years younger than me looked like grandmothers. With the head tie woven over their heads, and their faces bereft of no make-up, I could not approach any of them. Of course I was quite conversant with the Deeper Life dress code but seeing it life was quite a challenge.
This is why it is something of some news to hear it reported that Pastor Kumuyi said that the whole tradition of head covering, which has become something of a trade mark for their church, should be done away with. Kumuyi said that he cannot understand why ushers will be handing head covering to people visiting the church. He said that the incessant covering of hair has left some women with stinking hairs since air is unable to get into the scarfs. Kumuyi did not condemn the tradition of head covering entirely; he was mainly saying that it was about time the church relax on the rules.
Now, those who know anything about church life will realize that churches and Bible doctrines usually have a thin line they must walk on, or else they fall into extremes. It is the reason why some of the best churches to be part of are those with tested traditions of no less than a hundred years. Take the example of those of us who are reformed Christians. One of the fundamental tenets of reformed theology is the sovereignty of God. Yet, Calvin was not dead yet before hyper-Calvinism took the stage in Europe. Hypercalvinists are Calvinists who hold to such exalted positions on the sovereignty of God that they make light of evangelism. There is also the dangers of over emphasis on the doctrine of justification by faith. Martin Luther was the one who coined the term “antinomianism” to counter folks who took justification by faith to the point of discarding of all biblical laws. Thus, the church needs pastors and teachers. We need men who will emphasize God’s truth and provide legitimate balancing to them. At this point, we must turn to Paul’s injunction to the Corinthians about head covering.
1 Corinthians 11:4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. 11:5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven… 11:13 Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? 11:14 Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? 11:15 But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering. 11:16 But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.
The literal recommendations of Paul in this text is that women should pray with their heads covered. If some churches make this a rule in their commitment to scripture, they have not done anything wrong. However there are indication in this text that suggest that rather than recommending an unalterable rule for the church, Paul is sharing with us a custom or a tradition that was common in Eastern countries of that time. The very last statement lends credence to this: “…we have no such custom…”
Another thing we may see in this passage is the point of the covering itself: Paul shows us that the woman’s hair is her covering already. He also points out that the man is the head of the wife and thus can direct the wife in the manner he wishes for her to worship God. If a husband does not feel dishonored by the wife not covering her hair during prayer, this passage appears to be saying it is fine for the woman to do away with head covering. It is this, I believe, that informs some other churches to permit their women to do without head covering. If a church permits it, and a husband or father permits it, a woman or girl is free to not cover her head during prayers.
Now, we come to the dangers of head covering. The same Paul who authored 1 Corinthians 11, also authored Colossians 2, where he warned against the sin of legalism: the touch not, taste not, handle not sin. Truth is that head covering can very easily move from the essence of the practice to the legalism of the practice. The reason those who cover their do it is because they want to honor their heads – their husbands or fathers. But the moment head covering becomes a means of salvation or a means of getting answers to prayer, you have entered into the realm of legalism.
After close to half a century in ministry, W. F. Kumuyi has finally recognized the errors in their earlier practice as a church and is now addressing it. Unfortunately it is too late. A lot of people had warned against this but the church will not listen. The dangers of legalism is that one leaves the substance of a practice and begin to pursue its shadow.
In my estimation, I believe that the best response to the head covering debate is Romans 14. The woman who covers her hair, to the Lord and for her husband she does so. The woman who leaves her hair open, it is to the Lord and for her husband she does so. Too many times worthy Christian practices can easily slide into rules and regulations. It is the job of the experienced minister to provide the guard rails and balance for such things.