What is the “Covering Doctrine?” To put it simply, it’s the doctrine that claims all Christians must be under the authority (covering) of a church leader or mother organization to act with ‘authority,’ be protected from the attacks of the devil, or receive God’s blessings. It came from the shepherding movment of the 70’s which was really rooted in the cultural revolutionof the 60’s, and utterly failed a short time afterwards.
The face of the shepherding movement, along with it’s overblown ‘covering doctrine’ was Bob Mumford. Although in 1989 he said:
Accountability, personal training under the guidance of another, and effective pastoral care are needed biblical concepts. True spiritual maturity will require that they be preserved. These biblical realities must also carry the limits indicated by the New Testament. However, to my personal pain and chagrin, these particular emphases very easily lent themselves to an unhealthy submission resulting in perverse and unbiblical obedience to human leaders. Many of these abuses occurred within the sphere of my own responsibility.
It rears its head every now and then and comes from the felt idea that certain Christian movements, parachurch organizations, and even missionaries are too loose and that there’s not enough accountability, credibility, or control ‘over them.’ In the past 5 years, I’ve probably heard the question, “Who’s your covering?” at least 50 times. Other versions of the question are;
“Under what authority do you minister here?”
“Who do you answer to?”
It’s as if legitimate ministry can be determined by “the right answer” to those questions. Answering those sorts of questions in a cavalier way, for example, “Jesus/God is my authority (covering),” is thought to be rebellious, of poor attitude, or having an inclination towards disobedience. If continued, it usually results in one being forced out from under that covering or “umbrella of protection” for the ‘destruction of the flesh so that the soul might be saved’ which is really code talk for trying to justify religious abuse.
It’s one of my favorite exchanges in scripture when the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders approached Jesus saying:
“By what authority are you doing these things?” and they also asked, “And who gave you authority to do this?” Jesus replied,
“I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!”
They responded, “We don’t know,” because either way their answer would have obliterated their ill conceived covering doctrine, (Mark 11:27-33) It was one of the most disassembling questions, doctrinally speaking, of Jesus’ ministry. It was also one of the wisest of all possible answers He could have given to those challenging Him.
Given mankind’s propensity to form hierarchical systems and structures which are diametrically opposed to Jesus’ teachings in Luke 22:25-26, Matthew 20:25 and Mark 10:42, we have purposed to expose these 7 lies of the doctrine;
- Covering encourages accountability.
- Covering procures legitimacy.
- Covering provides safety.
- Covering encourages fidelity
- Covering transfers authority
- Covering ordains ministry
- Covering leads to prosperity
These are just some of the lies that have been birthed from the fundamentally flawed principles within the movement. Sin is redefined as disobedience to God’s ‘delegated’ authorities. Grace is filtered through fickle feelings of generosity in others (those who cover), and is often mitigated without objective reasoning. Obedience to the Lord requires obedience to God’s delegated authorities and across all realms such as employers, church leaders, and civil authorities. Bucking any leadership in any way ‘puts you outside of the covering.’
Further, rebellion against God’s delegated authority is rebellion against God Himself. Rebellion to authority opens one up to the demonic realm results in being deceived. People should live by the principle of obedience rather than by discernment and objective reasoning. People should always obey authority [usually the pastor] unless they are clearly instructed to violate scripture [but he is the final interpreter of scripture, so…] ‘Spiritual authority and blessing flows to those who suffer under authority.’ God does not judge people on the fruit of their life but on how faithfully they followed authority. And, those outside the local church and the covering of its leaders are at serious risk of spiritual attack. While these principles may contain nuggets or even smaller bits of truth here and there, there are none the less widely misinterpreted and misapplied.*
In addition to the 7 lies listed above, I think these are 7 possible negative fruit:
- Covering doctrine distorts the gospel
- Covering doctrine is disobedience
- Covering doctrine is manipulative, fear-driven, and abusive
- Covering doctrine reinforces and widens the clergy/laity divide.
- Covering doctrine usurps Jesus’ authority.
- Covering doctrine is idolatry.
- Covering doctrine creates ungodly dependency.
Those that insist on the covering doctrine as a valid and biblical teaching, can be equated with modern-day shamans, charlatans, and shysters. The doctrine itself is one of the key catalyzers of the destructive prosperity gospel and ultimately kills ministry and mission. In part II of this series, we’ll talk about 7 countermeasures to the doctrine of coverings, but I’d like to ask you a few questions:
1. What truths might there be in the covering doctrine? Point out a few?
2. How would you answer the question, “Who’s your covering?”
3. What lies, or results have you seen come out of those who teach the covering doctrine?
*While primarily motivated by our day to day dealings with the doctrine of “coverings” in our context, much of this post has been inspired by materials found here.