What does the Bible mean by “a women must have a head covering to pray and prophecy in church? ”
“And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head.” Corinthians 11:3-16
Paul is using “head” as a metaphor for authority: Christ has authority over the male, the male has authority over the female, and God has authority over Christ. But also the head covering was a cultural sign of submission. In Corinth head coverings were a social custom just as it is today in some cultures. However, in some cultures hats can also be signs of worldly significance. So, we must remember that Paul was addressing an attitude not presenting a ritual observance.
“Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” Corinthians 11:3-16
The man on the other hand must not have his head covered or long according to scripture. This is because the head represents authority. Long hair in Corinth was a sign of rebellion and promiscuity. We must remember that just as our culture today has symbols of rebellion so did the past. Today maybe the over emphasis on piercings might qualify as a display of rebellion as well as the pants falling off the backside of men which originated in USA prisons to declare availability for sexual relationships.
So, we can see that it is the display of worldly rebellion that is being addressed here rather than a religious ritual. This may differ from culture to culture.
Each culture has different views on what is socially acceptable for church and as women we need to be sensitive to this. While women of the west will wear a swim suit at the beach it is not socially acceptable to wear one to church and while women may wear hats or coverings in other countries to church it is not necessary in the west.
What about a women speaking or teaching in church? First of all when we read any historical document we must remember to read within the social context of the time and not try to apply everything literal to today. Paul said that both men AND women were being moved to speak by the Holy Spirit in church but it was not socially expectable at that time for a woman to speak with her head uncovered as it showed rebellion to the head, or authority, both of God and men.