7 Debilitating Lies Of The ‘Covering Doctrine.’

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?”

or

“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:

      1. Covering doctrine distorts the gospel
      2. Covering doctrine is disobedience 
      3. Covering doctrine is manipulative, fear-driven, and abusive
      4. Covering doctrine reinforces and widens the clergy/laity divide.
      5. Covering doctrine usurps Jesus’ authority.
      6. Covering doctrine is idolatry.
      7. 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.

 

14 thoughts on “7 Debilitating Lies Of The ‘Covering Doctrine.’

  1. Marshall says:

    Great article. It’s been my understanding that the Covering Doctrine is closely related to the disciples’ frequent arguments over who will be the greatest in the Kingdom. Sadly many of us are so indoctrinated in such false doctrines we cannot comprehend the freedom received thru Messiah.

  2. wbmoore says:

    I am sure you are dealing with a specific issue, but how do you address these verses?

    Hebrews 13:17

    Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

    Romans 13:1-8

    1 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7 Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.

    8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.

    1 Peter 2:13-20

    13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16 Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. 17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.

    18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. 19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.

    • David Woods says:

      These are Scriptures concerning governmental authorities, not church authorities. The correct interpretation of such is that we are to follow God, and still be part of society. We are not to disconnect ourselves from society, and act like our Christian faith allows us to be “above the law”. We are still to obey the laws of the land (as Daniel did, for example) until they forbid obeying God’s laws. Only then, and only in that instance, are we to disobey the laws of the land (as Daniel did).

      The Bible must be taken as a whole, not just verse-by-verse according to the interpretations of each verse by men. And especially not “other men” or, more specifically, the interpretations of “the covering”.

    • Jim Wright says:

      Good questions.

      “Obey” in Hebrews 13:17 is a very, very bad translation. Any major commentary will point this out. In the Greek, it is actually in the passive voice and it means “be persuaded”. Also, “leaders” simply means, in the original Greek”, one who is ahead of you on the path – thus, one who is farther along in their walk with the Lord. There is no sense of organizational hierarchy, other than to listen to those who are farther along in the Lord, and submit to what they say (not to them as a person) if you are persuaded that what they say is right.

      Your other two verses deal with obeying civil authorities in the sphere and jurisdiction of civil government and civil law. We make a huge mistake whenever we take God’s plan and purpose for one sphere of authority and impose it on another. I know of no verse in the New Testament that suggests that the rights, responsibilities and obligations of civil government are a model for the church. In fact, in the verses Miguel cites, Jesus says exactly the opposite – to not use that model!

      • wbmoore says:

        Jim,

        I agree that elders should not lord it over their charges, but should be servant leaders. And certainly two of the above verses can be taken as only speaking of man-made institutions.

        Yet, I think it is purposefully being obtuse to suggest elders of the church are not to lead with love and sacrifice and part of leadership involved people submitting to the leader (not because the leaders lord it over the followers, but because of love and persuasion).

        Romans 12:6-8

        6 Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith ; 7if service, in his serving ; or he who teaches, in his teaching ; 8or he who exhorts, in his exhortation ; he who gives, with liberality ; he who leads, with diligence ; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

        1 Timothy 5:17

        17 The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.

        1 Thessalonians 5:12

        12 But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction,

        Interestingly, the same word, Hupotasso, is used for ‘submit’ and ‘be subject’ in:

        James 4:7

        Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

        1 Peter 2:13

        Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority,

        and 1 Peter 5:5

        You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders ; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE

        In all cases, this is a voluntary submission. Its always an option, but it is the same idea whether its to God, government, or church elders. We are to submit to them – obey them (so long as they are not asking us to sin).

        Taken in context, the leadership is not supposed to be lording it over people, but are to be guiding and humble.

        But I dont think we can say ignore and dont obey elders of the church.

  3. David Woods says:

    1. No
    2. Jesus
    3. Both the Kool-Aid drinkers, and the UFO suicide cult incorporated Scripture with the “covering doctrine”. Once the covering doctrine was firmly established, the leaders interpretation of Scripture, and authority to interpret Scripture, ran amok, and spiraled out of control.

    To be fair, of course, things other than Scripture were taught, but Scripture was part of the lure, the “covering doctrine” was the controlling factor, and then all other doctrines arose. Sure, these are extreme examples, but sometimes you gotta look down into the river to see where the slippery slope leads.

    Most churches will never get this far, or anywhere close, but how far from Scripture WILL they stray? The “covering doctrine” itself IS a stray from Scripture, so churches that hold to it are already going down the wrong road. How far down that road are their congregants wiling to follow them? One warning: don’t drink the Kool-Aid.

  4. Ricky Parker says:

    Hi I am a missionary in Mexico

    The covering doctrine is super strong in Mexico I have been (under the covering of pastors and apostles over the 30 years in ministry. Now I am not and I am free) People continue to ask me (Who are you with?) or (What is your covering?) I answer them by saying my covering is Jesus He is the only one that can cover me. For two years I studied and began to teach on the prayer shawl or Talit and discovered that Christ alone can be my covering. How could any man cover my sins and protect me only Christ can do that.
    The covering doctrine brings people under the control of those that require their obedience it robs precious brothers and sisters of their calling and ministries it sits them down in a (church) only to sing and listen. Only the elected by the covering leader can open doors of service and ministry. The covering doctrine is human politics at it’s best. And a world of Christians are trapped in it.
    Thank you much for this post I thought I was the only one

  5. Laurie Norris says:

    “Next time someone asks me “Who’s your Covering,” I’m jamming a soprk into my heart.”

    I don’t know what a soprk is but I don’t think I’ll follow your lead on this one. Kick me out if you like 🙂

  6. David Croom says:

    Hebrews 5:14 – But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

    When people are dependent on leaders they remain children. There is little mention of leaders in the New Testament. The context is that the more mature set the example for others rather than do the thinking and seeking of God’s voice for them.

    Christ is the one and only head of the Body. He does not delegate His authority, but rather distributes it by His indwelling presence through the whole body. Authoritarians believe they are delegates and that people must do what they say because of their “position.” We don’t need leaders as much as example setters who serve others. This eliminates selfish ambition and politics.

    Matthew 20:25-29
    But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

  7. Laurie Norris says:

    Me again. I think this has to to with taking your hat off in church. We have temporal identities and duties and they can be represented in various ways but getting between God and those he loves is dangerous and foolish. Even if we don’t take our relationship with God as intimate and personal, I’m pretty sure he does. There is no cover to hide under and no protection required from a Loving God.

  8. Sean Steckbeck says:

    Miguel,

    This is a crucial article. Leadership/eldership is very biblical, but hierarchal authority structures are not.
    We do need to listen to our spiritual fathers and those who are mentoring us, but the authority structure is relational and stops short of only encouraging people to obey Yeshua’s commands, not ours.

  9. Tom Caylor says:

    I think a good answer to this question of covering or authority is the answer Jesus gave. Even today it would be a good answer, to ask them by what authority John the Baptist baptized.
    The reason it’s a good answer is that John the Baptist rejected the need to be under the authority of the temple or the priesthood, the very kind of rejection that a modern day person is questioning when asking about “covering or authority”.

    Here is an interesting scholarly article about this passage. It doesn’t address the covering issue directly, but it does given some insight from the author’s expertise in ancient Mediterranean culture, specifically that this encounter was about honor and shame, which was very important in that culture. Perhaps in modern times the “covering” question is really about that too. By the way, this article was written by the man to presided over my wife and my wedding, Joseph Hellerman. 🙂

    http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/43/43-2/43-2-pp213-228_JETS.pdf

  10. guy muse says:

    You say above that in the past 5 years you have heard the covering question asked 50 times. Our experience has been very similar. It seems any forward motion comes to a complete halt when the question is posed. Fear is instilled and the church planter/missionary balloon is instantly deflated at not being able to answer adequately the question of covering.

    What we teach and hammer early on is the absolute necessity of understanding WHERE our authority comes from. It comes from Jesus in Matt. 28 where he says “ALL AUTHORITY IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH IS GIVEN TO ME…” Not to any institution, pastor, apostolic covering, organization, etc. Our authority, permission, blessing, covering, comes DIRECTLY from Jesus. If we are his disciples, we are authorized, covered by Jesus to GO, MAKE DISCIPLES, BAPTIZE AND TEACH. Until the people we are working with know this in their hearts the covering issue will wipe them out.

  11. Katie Mather says:

    Lots of good responses. Have heard the same question posed to us ministering here in GA. A really good recent read is Jon Zens book, 58 to 0:How Christ Leads Through the One Anothers.

    Our response has been, “Isn’t Christ enough?” And we have a group who function as our directors of the ministry to keep things going legal both in this realm and the spirit realm.

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