Like sequels to a lousy B-grade horror movie, bad ideas often get recycled in the Body of Christ. It happened again for me this week in a painful phone conversation with a dear, damaged, soul. The bad-penny doctrine I am referring to is the concept of absolute submission to an alleged “spiritual covering” as a necessity for your spiritual welfare and advance. The spiritual covering is allegedly embodied in your pastor/leader, etc. This issue has been hit hundreds if not thousands of times over the years by myself and other authors and bloggers. As confirmed by my phone conversation this week, like a zombie, it just won’t die. For Jesus’ sake, and for the well being of His church, I am going to briefly hit it again here.
This doctrine is very popular in independent (non-denominational), charismatic, and “apostolic-prophetic” churches, but it is not limited to those groups. It is a doctrine that had its roots in the Discipleship/Shepherding Movement of the 1970s. Under the guise of some great new insight about authority and submission, it has been reanimated and pumped up on steroids for twenty-first century recirculation in the blood stream of the body of Christ. It goes something like this (with shades and variations, some worse, some lighter):
Your pastor/leader is God’s anointed. You should never touch God’s anointed. Even if the behavior of your pastor/leader is unreasonable, reprehensible, damaging, inappropriate, abusive etc., you should silently submit to it. [I have personally heard it taught so far as to include immoral, degrading, perverted, and criminal acts.] God will deal with him (her). It doesn’t matter how abhorrent your leader’s behavior is, you must honor the “office” with your silence on the matter. If you say and do nothing, God will bless you for honoring your spiritual covering. In fact, God will never advance you spiritually or give you your “own ministry” if you do not learn this vital lesson of never speaking up in opposition to your spiritual covering. If you do not follow this you are a proud, rebellious, and unsubmissive person. God will actually judge you for your lack of submission, not the leader for his/her misdeeds, whatever you think they are. The leader’s inappropriate behavior is God-ordained to teach you how to submit, and God will deal with him/her if He sees fit.”
I am not exaggerating an iota in the above.
I am going to be very plain. This is a doctrine of demons. It is without a shred of new testament exegetical support. It is the philosophical foundation for cult control, the necessary psychological underpinnings for abuse.
Neither Jesus, nor Paul, nor any of the apostles ever used the term “spiritual covering.” You cannot find it in the new testament. It is simply not there. It is an inference! It is normally soft-peddled under: “Well, it just means someone is looking out for you, protecting you, and it is for your benefit, it’s not that bad.” I fully address this illegitimate soft-sell in my book referenced below. I can’t unpack it all here.
The damnable doctrine is an inference from badly exegeted Old Testament typology from the life of David. It is alleged because David did not raise his hand against Saul, regardless of Saul’s behavior, that this is the model for new testament relationships of authority and submission.
New Covenant News Flash 1
David’s life is not our model! Jesus’s is! David points to Jesus! If we teach typology and don’t get that straight, we are creating a cult. When David’s life differentiates from Jesus and Paul, we go with Jesus, Paul, and the apostles of the Lamb, not David!
New Covenant News Flash 2
The reason David did not “touch” Saul is because in David’s time the “spirit” and the “anointing” were not universal. The “anointing” only rested on prophets, priests, and kings in a singular way. One person had it, another did not, until it was transferred. If you metaphorically touched that person you were touching God, making a statement about God’s decision in anointing that person. That all changed on the Day of Pentecost when the anointing of a resurrected king-priest God-man was poured out of heaven and took residence in human hearts for the first time!
New Covenant News Flash 3
We are all anointed in the new covenant! My goodness, the very term Christian means “little anointed one.” Every believer in the new testament era is a prophetic priest in the kingdom of Jesus! We are to treat everyone like he/she is anointed, because they are, not just leaders in the sense of a privileged class.
New Covenant News Flash 4
The new testament teaches the opposite to silent submission! Leaders incur greater scrutiny/evaluation! Those that sin are to be rebuked publicly! Someone’s “position” in some church or group “hierarchy,” does not make that person immune from the admonitions concerning confronting that person as a brother or sister. Our status as brothers, one with another, does not go away just because someone has a supposed position of authority. We meet each other equally as brothers and sisters at the foot of the Cross, not on the platform of our gift, ministry, and alleged office. We can and should confront honorably, without slander, remembering our frame that we are all dust. But silence is not the kingdom response in the face of leadership failure.
I normally don’t name names in the sense of calling people out. It is generally unfruitful and unwise to do so. But since what I am about to say is public and verifiable by anyone inclined to do so, I am not accusing/slandering. I am pointing to verifiable, public, fact.
Another reason this damnable doctrine is so pervasive is due to the reach and success of John Bevere’s book Under Cover. This book is widely used in discipleship training and leadership training schools. It teaches exactly what I have stated above in italics.
Here is my challenge:
There is not a single well-exegeted, new testament passage in 225 pages of that book to sustain Bevere’s convictions. There are only proof texts about authority and submission that Bevere equates with spiritual covering. Why is there no new testament exegesis of spiritual covering? Because it isn’t there. It can’t be done. It can only be done by typology and inference. It’s wholly unjustifiable.
The book is full of Old Testament typology and his own personal experiences and stories. The book includes a veiled threat in a story of a girl who was almost killed in a car accident for allegedly coming out from under her spiritual covering. According to Bevere, only the proud, disobedient and rebellious would resist what, for him, is the self-evident principle of absolute submission to a spiritual covering. Like the girl in the accident, God will use terrible, tragic things to convince you of it if He has to.
I cover, in depth, the matter of spiritual covering and other authority and submission related issues topic in my book, Authority, Accountability, and the Apostolic Movement. If you are interested in understanding this matter in more detail, if you want to know what authority and submission look like in a healthy kingdom relationship of new covenant grace and love, I urge you to make the investment. It is available in soft cover, Kindle, pdf, and e-pub at amazon.com.
If you are in a group or church that teaches this doctrine, I beg you in the name of Jesus, for your sake, for your family’s sake, for the sake of your mental, spiritual, and emotional well-being . . . get out of the group, now.
I am available, as are my partners at Stephanos Ministries to help those how find themselves in such a group and have questions, or who may have recently extracted themselves, but who are confused. Get help. If not from me/us, fine. Get it from someone. There is a good future in Jesus available for you. Don’t allow yourself to be abused under the guise of submission to authority.
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