Who is your covering?
‘Spiritual coverings’ have become a huge doctrine in the body of Christ. Many times leaders do not even teach on this doctrine, it is simply mentioned as a matter-of-fact. Therefore many in the church grow up spiritually, accepting this doctrine as Biblical truth. But where is this doctrine taught in the Bible? Where do the apostles talk about this doctrine in the letters to the churches? When does Jesus teach it in the gospels?
The scripture seems to be silent on the doctrine of spiritual coverings, yet man seems to be very knowledgeable on the subject. Most Christians who adhere to spiritual covering believe they should be accountable not only to God but to a spiritual leader as well. This earthly authority figure serves as an intercessor, and in extreme cases, as a substitute for God in the life of the person being “covered.”
The first-century apostolic church did not teach submission to man like the 21-century church teaches it. They taught submission to Christ. The first-century church did not teach that leaders can provide a spiritual covering, because they understood that the Lord is the one who covers man. “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” (Ps 91:1) The word ‘secret place’ in the Hebrew means to cover, covering, hiding place, or protection. The Hebrew word for ‘shadow’ also means defence. So he who dwells under the covering of the Most High shall abide under the defence of the Almighty. The scripture does not tell us to dwell under the covering of man, but rather God. He is our covering and He is our protection.
Spiritual covering is often referred to in connection with the Shepherding movement and uses verses such as 1 Thess 5:12-13, 1 Cor 11:2-16, and 1 Peter 5:5 as biblical backing. Spiritual covering means that a Christian submits to the authority of another believer in a way that his or her spiritual life or ministry is valid to God only under the direct supervision of this specific person. That person is usually an elder, pastor, or older, more mature Christian. The Shepherding Movement came into being around 1970. This movement began when Don Basham, Bob Mumford, Derek Prince and Charles Simpson came together in a ‘covenant relationship.’ Teachings such as spiritual coverings, submission, and covenant relationships became widespread because of this movement. Much of what was taught, was spread like seed into the Body of Christ. Many ministers believe this doctrine today that came straight from the shepherding movement and they don’t even realize it. Charles Simpson wrote an article in 1972 in “New Wine” magazine stating that “submission to spiritual authority provides the greatest spiritual protection anywhere available for Christian ministers and teachers.” This may sound really good, but where is this taught in the Bible?
The scripture is very clear that in the latter times some will depart from the faith giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons (1 Timothy 4:1). It should raise a red flag with us when a doctrine is being taught that does not have a foundation in the word of God.
Submission, of course, is biblical. Submission to God is necessary. Additionally, Romans 13:1 instructs Christians to respect authority; Ephesians 5:21 instructs believers in mutual submission; John 13:34 instructs Christians about loving one another. As for an individual’s submission to another, looking to the experience and wisdom of others just makes sense. It’s when that practice is mandated with authority that it begins to erode any legitimate practice of spiritual covering.
As Christians, we are ultimately only accountable to God (Romans 3:19; Matthew 12:36). We should consult with others for advice (Proverbs 11:14) and learn from others humbly (Proverbs 5:11–14). We look to God for approval, not men (2 Timothy 2:15). Our service to God is not validated by any person (Romans 14:4) and mandating individual authority within an organization or church can harm a person’s relationship with Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5) and can cause division within the church (1 Corinthians 3:4-9).
Jesus spoke about authority in Matthew 20:25–28: “But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.'”
The proponents of covering theology often paint a picture of the church polarized into two camps: those people properly submitted in God’s hierarchical order and the rebels that reject God’s governing authority. Ironically it is the covering proponents that risk rebellion because they claim authority for themselves that belongs only with God.
There are several passages that make it clear that following God’s authority requires we openly challenge our leaders.
Gal 2:6 – “From those who were influential (whatever they were makes no difference to me, God shows no favouritism)”
Gal 2:14 – “I said to Cephas in front of them all”
Acts 4:19 – “Whether it is right before God to obey you rather than God, you decide”
There is a better understanding, a more biblical understanding of how Christ’s body works. This is the path of servant leadership and mutual submission.
The head of every man is Christ. Leaders in the church are not the head of man. The head of every wife is her own husband (man/husband and woman/wife are interchangeable in the Greek). Every man who is ministering with his head (Christ) covered by another man, dishonours his head (Christ). Man should not cover his head (Christ) with the covering of man, because he is the image and glory of God. The image and glory of God must not be covered up by the covering of man, which is very disrespectful. The wife of a man must be covered by her husband’s authority because of the angels, and because she is the glory of man. The glory of man must be covered, and the glory of God left uncovered. The glory of God (man) is covered by God Himself, not man. The glory of man (wife/woman) is covered by her husband. Please note that a man’s wife is not to be covered by any other man other than her own husband. In Ephesians 5:22-32, the scripture reveals to us that the marriage relationship between a man and a women is a spiritual parallel of Christ and His bride (the church). So in the context of coverings, and Christ and His bride, the head of every woman is man. The bridegroom is the head of His bride. The bride ought to have a (spiritual) symbol of authority on her head, because she is under her husbands covering. The only man who can cover a woman is the husband of that woman. Therefore, Christ is the only legitimate covering for His bride. No other leader can or should take Christ’s rightful place as the covering for His own bride. Any leader who tries to cover Christ’s bride with his/her own covering, is in a sense, attempting to take the bride for themselves. I wonder how Christ feels when leaders try to cover His bride for Him?
The current church has made an argument that states, “Being under a man’s spiritual covering will protect you from deception.” Actually the opposite is true as we will see. In the context of deception being released through antichrist spirits, John states: “These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you. But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.” (I John 2:26-27)
The Shepherding Movement taught that every believer needed to be submitted to the authority of a shepherd (pastor) and be discipled by them. There are great flaws in this line of thinking. Jesus commanded his disciples to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). Jesus was not telling his disciples to go make disciples for themselves. He was commanding them to make disciples of Himself. We should never be discipling people but to lead them into a discipling relationship with Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit should be the only one discipling believers. We can be there for believers to give counsel and wisdom, but we must not overstep our role.
Grace does flow from leaders to those who are connected with them spiritually. Grace flowed from Paul to Timothy, because Timothy was a spiritual son to Paul. It flowed from Moses to Joshua, because Joshua was a son. Grace is released through this family relationship. It’s not about the coverings of men and submission to men, it’s about family.
Paul was not ordained by the spiritual authority of man or under the covering of man. The scripture makes it clear: “Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead),” (Galatians 1:1) There will always be those ministers who boast in the flesh about their ordinations of men. And those who have truly been ordained by the Lord, will not need to boast. They know they carry the authority and backing of Heaven when they minister, so they don’t have to try and make men believe in their human credentials. Who raised up Moses and sent Him? God or man? Did man commission Elijah or did the Lord? John the Baptist carried around his ordination papers from the well known ministry that commissioned him, true or false? Or Did John move in the fire of the throne, and the proof of his ordination was demonstrated in the anointing that moved the multitudes to repent and be baptized? The Holy Spirit is the only one who can truly send out a messenger of Jesus Christ. (Acts 13:1-4)
I Thessalonians 5:12-13
The scripture is very clear that the five leadership gifts of Eph 4:11, do carry spiritual authority. We must obey the scriptures so we do not go into deception. The Lord will place us in ministries and put us in relationship with leaders. When He does this, it is important that we submit to Him and His Word. He is our covering, and in order to stay under covering we must be walking with Him in obedience. If the Lord has placed a leader ‘over’ us, then we must submit ourselves to the Lord’s process. True leadership is in submission to the Lord and under His government. Leadership should allow the Lord to govern the people through them, just as Moses did. The people in the congregation would then be under the government of the Lord, just as the leaders are. The leader should never be governing or ruling the people. The people should never be under the government of man. The Lord’s will is for His people to be under His rule and His government. He is the King and we are all His subjects.
I Peter 5:5
It is important for believers who are young in the Lord, or not spiritually mature, to be under godly leadership. Just as children are under their parent’s authority until they are grown up, it is important for spiritual children to submit to spiritual elders until they are grown up spiritually. Leaders should be maturing spiritual children, and not keeping them in a place of spiritual immaturity. The more mature a believer is, the less they need the leader.
Apostles are given authority to bring people into obedience of the faith. This is not an authority that is lorded over believers, but it is used in love with the purpose of serving. Spiritual authority is also given to leaders to address sin in the church. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul addresses the church for allowing unrepentant sin to continue. Another aspect of true authority being exercised by leaders is the addressing of false doctrine. Paul publicly confronts the false teaching of two men in 2 Timothy 2:17-18. The Lord releases this authority to keep His body free from error. Leadership possesses the authority to bring believers to maturity and to see Christ formed in them. Leaders are also given the grace to equip believers for the work of ministry. Apostles can use their authority in an abrupt or sharp way if they absolutely have to (2 Corinthians 13:10), but it is never their desire to do so. True apostolic ministry does not want to use their authority for control or claim to have dominion over believers (2 Corinthians 1:23-24). They simply want believers to become dependent on the Lord, and be transformed into His image. True leadership points to Christ and not itself. True leadership exalts Christ, and not itself. True leadership has been crucified with Christ and is no longer living because Christ is living through it.
Leaders who are lording over the sheep will be judged. The false shepherds who are after their own things, building ministries unto themselves, and ruling God’s people in an unrighteous way; will be removed from their position of power as the Lord wills. True leaders are under the control of the Holy Spirit. A true leader has been broken by the Lord to the point where their self-will is no more. They have been through the fire with Jesus Christ and they know His heart and will. Real leaders are content with only seeking the Lord in the secret place in order to know Him. They do not want or seek a position of authority. Legitimate leaders do not want to rule over people. Their heart is like that of Gideon. They desire the Lord to rule over His people. This is the kind of leadership that the Lord is looking for.
Then the men of Israel said unto Gideon, Rule thou over us, both thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son also: for thou hast delivered us from the hand of Midian. And Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the LORD shall rule over you.