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.
__________________________________________________________Copyright 2014, Dr. Stephen R. Crosby, www.stevecrosby.org. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references. For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact email@example.com. This ministry is sustained by the freewill offerings of those believe in the message of a liberating new covenant grace. If this article has been a blessing to you, would you prayerfully consider making a tax-deductible contribution through our Paypal button to help? Thank you and God bless you.
What you say is so true – I personally know so many whose lives and the lives of their families have been impacted by this doctrine. There is no other way to say it but to state this is base – clear and simple.
It is not just a few “cults” out there, this is a pervasive and damaging practice. Lives are shipwrecked by rules and oppression. There seems no limit to amount of power and control that is exercised and demand by many leaders. I have seen the demand of high levels of time and money given so that the leader can live like a king and get a very big salary – because elders that rule well are counted worthy of double honor, and it included lots of money.
Hi Jay, thank for the comment, though I am sad for it too. People think I exaggerate this stuff, it’s reach, it’s pervasiveness. It is every where. Thank you for being another voice with me.
This was very liberating to read. I came out of a horrific situation regarding this teaching and felt like I was horrible. My “pastor and his wife” told me If I changed these 5 things then we could be in relationship –
a. I am Spiritually arrogant
b. I exhibit signs of mental illness: specifically Borderline Personality Disorder
c. I am not a good friend to anyone
d. You ask me if I thought your wife should work, to pay for any compensation I might want
e. I am institutionalized. You said that I’m like the librarian from the movie Shawshank Redemption that was so used to living a certain way that when it changed he couldn’t handle it so he killed himself. You said I was too afraid to live on the outside and if I did that I would kill myself.
I volunteered up to 80 hrs a week for this ministry. Was promised some compensation after 3 years. I left at the 6 year mark.
Thank you for your post. Sorry for your pain. It is all too common.
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The topic appears to be a gift that keeps on giving! LOL!
Love this statement: it has been reanimated and pumped up on steroids for twenty-first century recirculation in the blood stream of the body of Christ. I lived through those 70s and saw the devastation even in mainline denominations. I was blessed however, not to suffer as such through it, as had a great mentor who taught us well of who Jesus was and our submission to him.
I like this statement especially also:
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 think the greatest lie was not and still is not just in relationship to pastoral authority but the total destruction of families that came through the implementation of this teaching into the family structure. I have been accused by my children of being silent in relationship to my husband concerning issues in our family. What they don’t realize is that they have been addressed. Likewise in the congregation that I attend, I addressed something that the pastor brought up and invited the congregation to do…in relationship to “oughts we hold against one another…or is it aughts? And found my pastor wasn’t interested in hearing anything from me. And the nice thing, is now I am not accountable. I deal with issues in my home the same way. I stand “accountable” to my husband and to my pastor and I have always sought to be faithful in that area, which means sharing my heart and mind “wisely” with my husband. There is a big different in that than insisting they do something I want done.
I worked for 12 years as a certified/licensed drug and alcohol counselor and for many of those years my bosses were active Christians. One of my coworkers was whining to me about the boss and things he was doing she didn’t like. Over a weekend the Lord began to deal with me, reminding me, that I was ACCOUNTABLE TO my boss, not accountable FOR. I told the coworker on Monday morning this and that I was focused on my accountability for what I was doing and what he did was between him and God. These things were not moral issues.
My kids think I am too silent…which is funny anyone would say that about verbal me!! Because I don’t insist, and continue to express things I want done and think are important. I have waited four years for a laundry room to be built that was “promised” four years ago. Have I mentioned it as we would spend $1200 a year at the laundromat ? Of course…but not as insisting but trusting God to be providing for me be it at the laundromat or with my own laundry room. I now have a working laundry room and I so appreciate it and know that it came as HE worked it in my husband…and I know He has provided for me and the finances to do the other these last four years.
To me that is what submission means…and mutual submission means my husband shares his life with me and I share my life with him….and I leave what I share with him…as a free gift to do with what he is able, because my needs are met in Christ and I don’t try to meet his needs…they are met in Christ.
I will start a bible study again this fall on Sept. 2…request your prayers. My goal is to be a part of the equipping process for these ladies or men if they come, to be followers of Jesus…of His leading, NOT MINE!!
Thanks for sharing with His Body what He is speaking to your heart.
Thanks, Meri. I totally understand. Experienced much the same myself. I am glad you are on the “resurrection” side of it all. There is a good life to be had in Him, with one another, unencumbered by a lot of these nonsense things.
Stephen, how do you address this abuse when it happens in a home–in a marriage or in a parent-child relationship, where the arguement is the same: that it is God’s will that one should submit to the leadership of the other? It appears to me that this kind of abuse (I think of it that way) is much more prevalent than cult-controled churches, and I think much more insidious because it happens behind closed doors. How would you minister to someone experiencing coercion to submit to spousal or parental authority?
Great Question. I will be covering it in the next video series coming out late November; “Experiencing and Recovery from Spiritual Abuse.” stay tuned.
Hi! Your links to stevecrosby dot com are broken here. Perhaps you need to re-register your domain?
Yeah, that was an old article and that domain is no good any more. I thought I deleted all references, but apparently not.
Why is it only people who seem to want/need to retain power over others come up with these kinds of ideas?
There will always be a welcome mat in the hearts of those who think the essence of the gospel is about power.
Dr. Crosby, where I attend fully supports and teaches John Bevere’s book “Under Cover”. I am going to go out on a very thin limb and post your thoughts because I believe what you are saying is the truth. Thanks!!
Amy, If people like the rug they are standing on, and you tug on it with the truth, you will be viewed as a threat. You will be attacked. If you believe you must do it, you must prepare yourself for what could be one of the worst church experiences of your life. If you are not called-on-the-carpet, or brought in for some form of church discipline, I will be surprised. I hope not, but it would not surprise me at all.
Steven, I could not agree more with the wording of your title for this article. JESUS became my Lord & Saviour in April of 1976. I attended a non-denominational Church for a number of years which was heavily influenced by the Spiritual Covering Movement.
Even after these many years having separated myself from this type of teaching, I still have a number of deep scars from this false teaching which at the time. I so readily embraced.
People that want to exercise this type of Spiritual Power over people, do so, because of their own insecurities.