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American Covering Theology

August 5, 2011

Who is your covering?  While many Christians have never heard that phrase a growing segment of the church knows exactly what it means.  It means “which authority are you submitted to.”  Among evangelicals there is a growing movement that teaches all people in the church need to be properly “covered” by God’s “delegated authority” in the church.  The self-styled New Apostolic Reformation is a major component of this movement but doesn’t encompass all of it.   Around the world “apostolic networks” are springing up heralding the return of God’s true authority to the church.  While covering theology is more popular in non-denominational charismatic churches it is slowly gaining ground in more traditional evangelical circles.

More and more people are becoming concerned with the rise of this theology because it has led to spiritual abuse, controlling church leadership and spiritual shipwreck.  The goal of this website is to examine covering theology from an evangelical perspective without resorting to personal attacks or underhanded tactics.  If you believe I have misconstrued the facts  I invite you to contact me through this website.

The best recently published work espousing apostolic covering and authority is John Bevere’s book “Under Cover” and his companion video series.  Theologically it is a retread of the doctrines of the old shepherding movement of the 70s and 80s.  Much of the shepherding movement was rooted in a combination of Watchman Nee’s Spiritual Authority and the doctrines of the Latter Rain Movement.

Covering theology emphasizes the following:

  • Sin is disobedience to God’s authority
  • Salvation is only available to those who confess and do the will of God
  • Grace is the power of God to obey him
  • All authority is instituted by God
  • God establishes his rule in the church through people he has delegated to be his authority
  • The 5-fold ministry (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) represents God’s authority on earth
  • Obedience to the Lord requires obedience to God’s delegated authorities (employers, church leaders, civil authorities)
  • Rebellion against God’s delegated authority is rebellion against God
  • Rebellion to authority opens one up to the demonic realm resulting in deception
  • People should live by the principle of obedience rather than reason
  • People should always obey  authority unless they are clearly instructed to violate scripture
  • The line of authority extends in the home where the father holds the highest authority
  • 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
  • Those outside the local church and the covering of its leaders are at serious risk of spiritual attack

For more see Covering Theology 101.

Undoubtedly there are some people reading this page that are currently involved in a church that believes in coverings.  For those of you who are seriously questioning these teachings let me reassure you.  Covering theology has very little basis in scripture.    For those that believe wholeheartedly in coverings let me challenge you to take another look at the scriptures, our common authority, to see if this teaching is true.  The proponents of covering theology often paint their critics as backslidden prodigals who want to be in total control of their own lives and live in rebellion to God’s authority.  This may be true of some, but a great many people believe wholeheartedly in submission and accountability but feel that strong authoritarian structures subvert and destroy life giving fellowship.

Covering theology is based on a patchwork of biblical texts that are incorrectly interpreted, misapplied and misconstrued.  Despite this it continues to grow in the fertile soil of the charismatic movement given its anti-intellectual and anti-scholarly bias.

Scriptures commonly used in covering theology.

Click each one to see how it is used and a biblical response.

  • 1Chron 16:22 – “Touch not the Lord’s anointed”
  • Rom 13:1-7 – “Be subject to governing authorities”
  • Heb 13:17 – “Obey your leaders and submit to them”
  • Eph 4:8-16 – “God gave some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers”
  • Mat 8:5-12 – “For I too am a man under authority”
  • 2Tim 2:11-12 – “If we endure we will reign with him”
  • 1Sam 15:22-23 – “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft”
  • Num 23:23 – “nor is their any divination against Israel”
  • 1Pe 2:13-14 – “Submit yourself to every authority”
  • 1Sam 24 – “I will not put my hand against my Lord, for he is the Lord’s anointed”

Important questions about Covering and Authority

The proponents of covering theology often paint a picture of the church polarized in to 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.  In their attempts to patch together the disparate passages that make up their case for coverings they have to neglect centuries of orthodox biblical interpretation and the very foundations of the reformation and evangelicalism.

There is a  better understanding, a more biblical understanding of how Christ’s body works.  It doesn’t fit neatly in a corporate flow chart.  This is the path of servant leadership and mutual submission.  The path of “mutual submission” is more complicated but it takes in to consideration several passages of scripture that don’t fit the authoritarians picture.

Other important scriptures about submission and authority

  • Matthew 20:20-28 – “Those in high positions use their authority over them.  It must not be this way among you”
  • Matthew 23:8 – “For you have one teacher and you are all brothers”
  • 1Cor 16:16 – “Submit to people like this, and to everyone who cooperates”
  • Eph 5:21 – “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ”
  • 1Pe 5:3 – “do not Lord it over, but be examples”
  • 1Cor 14:29 – “Two or three prophets should speak, let the others evaluate”
  • 1Cor 12:17 – “To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all”
  • Rom 2:6 – “He will reward each one according to his works”
  • 1Jn 4:18 – “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear”
  • 1Jn 2:27 – “the anointing that you received from him resides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you”
  • 1Pe 2:5 – “your yourselves…built up as a spiritual house to be a royal priesthood”
  • Heb 8:11 – “no need at all for each one to teach his countryman…since they will all know me, from the least to the greatest.”
  • Gal 5:1 – “For freedom Christ has set us free”
  • 1Ti 2:5 – “one intermediary between God and humanity, Christ Jesus”
  • 1Sam 8:5:22 – “for they have rejected me as their king”
  • Col 2:9-33 – “you also are complete through your union with Christ”

There are several other passages that make it clear that God is the authority whom we follow and sometimes 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”
“The question is do we want truth, The Word of God properly taught in context? Or do we want man made religion? Do we want Christianese or to really understand what God is asking of us?
This is not a fight against Leadership, instead this is about true Biblical Leadership in the church.
This is not a fight against having people who cover you, instead it is about having Godly people (not just in the church, but that are the church) covering you through accountability, prayer, relationship and love.
This is also not about authority figure problems. It is about the Holy Spirit and The Word of God as your Authority, rather than a man as your authority, no matter how learned he is. You bring everything to people who are close to the Lord and you should always humbly and sincerely receive their wise council and advice, but at the end of the day you follow The Word of God and The Holy Spirit no matter who says what.
This is a challenge for some and a rebuke for others towards the man made doctrines and theologies that men begin to place as The Word of God, by taking scripture out of context or twisting them enough that no one notices. This is a challenge. Sometimes God asks you to serve, submit and study under a man of God and then a season later, against that same man’s blessing, God may call you to go out and send you out to serve God in another way. It is not up to this man, but up to God. This is when you will find if your authority and covering is truly God, a man or a church, depending on what you do when God sends you out. My goal is not rebellion in the church, in fact I will rebuke a rebellious person, even more, who tries to destroy the name, teachings, etc of someone in the church that is serving the Lord in love and truth.
I believe we are all to meet first one on one with God, then within our families with God, hopefully also having a small group with God then finally as a congregation to learn, get excited, realize that we are not alone and hear teachings that knit us together in love and in Christ. Each and everyone of these meetings will hopefully be filled with listening, confessing, the Word of God, prayer, worship and hunger to follow the Holy Spirit.
My goal is truth. Truth is Jesus. Jesus has set us free and God has positioned Jesus as the one and only Way, Priest, Father, Teacher, etc, etc, etc. We are to submit unto and love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ and we are now free from having any man between God and us.
Biblical and godly teachers and leaders are key key key in the Body of Christ. Humble men that are like Christ. May we bless, be blessed and taught by the teachers, may the Pastors be blessed and greatly respected by those whom he shepherds, may we be ready to give our lives in love even unto our enemies if need be. May we serve faithfully a body of believers and work together to teach and bring the lost to Jesus. But may it be far from any man or woman, who calls him/herself a follower of Christ, to set him or herself up as the Authority of God. The Holy Spirit and The Word of God stand alone in that Gap. He who has ears to hear I pray they listen and understand. I speak not of my own desire or opinion, but may the Holy Spirit and The Bible, which is The Word of God, confirm that what I write is under God’s Authority.”  – Ethan Holub

Galatians 1:1

(NET)  From Paul, an apostle (not from men, nor by human agency, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead)

(NASB)  Paul, an apostle (not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead),

(NRSV)  Paul an apostle–sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead–

(NLT)  This letter is from Paul, an apostle. I was not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ Himself and by God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead.

(TNIV)  Paul, an apostle—sent not with a human commission nor by human authority, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—

Hebrews 8:10-12

8:10 “For this is the covenant that I will establish with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and I will inscribe them on their hearts. And I will be their God and they will be my people.

8:11 “And there will be no need at all for each one to teach his countryman or each one to teach his brother saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ since they will all know me, from the least to the greatest.

8:12 “For I will be merciful toward their evil deeds, and their sins I will remember no longer.”

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