There are a great many sincere Christians that wholeheartedly desire to follow God’s will because we want to be like Him and enjoy the full benefits of knowing a God that loves us.  Where we differ with the proponents of covering theology is the best way to discern God’s will?  Is it through “governing authorities” or is it through the whole body of Christ?  Biblical submission is part of this process, but who do we submit to what does it look like?

The best way to discern God’s will is to seek his direction together.  God did not design his church so that he would lead through just one person.  The Spirit can speak through anyone at anytime.

1Co 12:6  And there are different results, but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.
1Co 12:7  To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all.
1Co 12:8  For one person is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, and another the message of knowledge according to the same Spirit,
1Co 12:9  to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,
1Co 12:10  to another performance of miracles, to another prophecy, and to another discernment of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues.

In any church we recognize that some people will have leadership gifts and we intentionally give them the place and the room to exercise those gifts so that we all may benefit.  Those leaders should be respected and we should open our hearts to be persuaded by their leading, wisdom and knowledge.  However even the most gifted among us doesn’t get carte blanche acceptance.  Paul called on the Corinthians to evaluate what the prophets spoke.

1Co 14:29  Two or three prophets should speak and the others should evaluate what is said.

Evaluation necessitates questioning and independent critical thought!

The threat of heresy and abuse is always there.  Every major author warns us to be vigilant about false teaching, other gospels and “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

Jesus

Mat 7:15  “Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves.

Paul to the Corinthians

2Co 11:4  For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus different from the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit than the one you received, or a different gospel than the one you accepted, you put up with it well enough!

Paul to the Galatians

Gal 1:6  I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are following a different gospel —
Gal 1:7  not that there really is another gospel, but there are some who are disturbing you and wanting to distort the gospel of Christ.

Paul to the Thessalonians

2Th 2:1  Now regarding the arrival of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to be with him, we ask you, brothers and sisters,
2Th 2:2  not to be easily shaken from your composure or disturbed by any kind of spirit or message or letter allegedly from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here.

Peter

2Pe 2:1  But false prophets arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. These false teachers will infiltrate your midst with destructive heresies, even to the point of denying the Master who bought them. As a result, they will bring swift destruction on themselves.
2Pe 2:2  And many will follow their debauched lifestyles. Because of these false teachers, the way of truth will be slandered.

John

1Jn 4:1  Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

James

Jas 5:19  My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone turns him back,
Jas 5:20  he should know that the one who turns a sinner back from his wandering path will save that person’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

How can we watch out for false teaching and false brothers and sisters if we don’t question leaders?

Paul gives us some great instruction on how to understand the will of God.  In Eph 5:6 Paul warns “Let nobody deceive you with empty words” and goes on to talk about the deeds of darkness and the light.  He then contrasts this what it takes to avoid such darkness and disobedience.

Eph 5:17  For this reason do not be foolish, but be wise by understanding what the Lord’s will is.
Eph 5:18  And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit,
Eph 5:19  speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your hearts to the Lord,
Eph 5:20  always giving thanks to God the Father for each other in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Eph 5:21  and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

There are a couple of notable items on this list:

  • Be filled by the Spirit
  • Speak to one another
  • Give thanks for each other
  • Submit to one another

Knowing God’s will and avoiding darkness requires the whole body to minister to each other.  Notice “submit to God’s delegated authority” is absent from this list.  In fact there is not one verse in scripture that comes close to saying that.

Why should we submit to one another?  Because of our reverence for Christ!  Some older translations use the word “fear” but given the reality most translations have changed it that rendering might be too strong.  We honour, respect and revere God by submitting to each other because he just might be speaking through through our brothers and sisters.  This is why leaders need to submit to people who aren’t leaders.  We respect that God can work through and speak through anyone.  Therefore we must all be willing to let God speak through us.

Compare that with Bevere’s words:

“We should not take upon ourselves the pressure to discern beforehand whether leaders are right nor not.  Nor should we judge after the fact.  This is not our burden, but God’s  He alone knows and can change hearts as he so desires (Bevere 147).”

We must always recognize that we are not perfect.  We can easily be deceived and easily deceive ourselves.  Which is why need each other to speak to us and call us to account when we make mistakes.  Covering theology cuts leaders off from the ministry of the body and short circuits the proper functioning of His church.


Bevere, John. Under Cover. Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 2001.

4 comments on “How do we follow God’s authority as a Church?

  1. Sir,
    Your entire website reminds me of a person that has been through an abusive bad marriage and has now decided to develop a ministry/website to tell everyone the dangers and downfalls of marriage. I read and understand that you were under a bad situation and there are a bunch of them in the church world, denominational or independent. There are the toned down versions of Jim Jones wanting people to follow and believe them simply at their word. The ignorance of people today in church is unfathomable to follow some of who they follow. I understand all of the misuse but the authority structure of any organization, religious or secular, is it’s strength. Somebody has to be in charge and those following will not always fully understand every decision. There will be a number of different opinions on how anything should be done but someone has to make the final decision. God’s kingdom is not a democracy either. The church world has tried to use this model because it seemed to be the best for secular government. God’s kingdom is a theocracy and He does call and appoint leaders. The problem is that the main body of the church today is, as I said, ignorant of His word and ways. It seems clearly taught by John Bevere that the highest authority is the bible and when any person or institution tells you to violate what the bible says you should never listen to them and moreover get out from under their teaching. I read John’s book and didn’t have any trouble at all with it. For you to take such a radical step to develop an entire website around this issue and matter of factly say that it is definitely wrong seems more harmful that anything I read in the Under Cover book. It looks like it hit the part of you that has not healed from obvious abuse. On the other side, what if God is dealing with the rebellious side of someone that He has called. They simply need to submit under their authority in or out of church. They decide to research biblical submission and authority and run across your website. Your material would allow the rebellion to set in and they possibly will miss the advancement God had for them because now they can’t be trusted with any position due to the fact that they’ve allowed an unsubmissive, rebellious attitude to set in. And again, I don’t mean following biblical error or submitting to what is biblically wrong (and I didn’t see where John said to either). Just simple church rules and procedures the person just doesn’t want to follow. I do realize that after developing an entire website and making all this to do about this issue it will take an enormous amount of humility to back away from it but I really think you need to re-evaluate what you’re saying here. Thank you for your time and because I flew through the typing there are probably gross spelling and grammar errors I apologize for the mistakes.

  2. Robert

    I try to keep things from getting personal on this website and it is a little disappointing that you have here. First of all you really know very little about my past. My difficult experience didn’t actually involve covering theology and it was more than 10 years ago. Most of the theology you see here is very consistent with my faith tradition (Mennonite/Anabaptist), and it isn’t a long drawn out rationalization for why I don’t want to submit.

    What is motivating me isn’t hurt or rebellion. I’m trained in the interpretation of scripture and I’ve observed a global movement that holds to a false teaching. I’m motivated to provide a safe place for those discerning the truth of this theology to get another perspective. I also desire to expose this false teaching for what it is. I`m motivated by my love for the church and my love for the truth.

    I’ll acknowledge that someone in true rebellion might read my words and they might add fuel to the fire. But what I’ve taught here is biblical truth as far as I can tell. I wouldn’t stop proclaiming the love and grace of Christ just because people my misinterpret and misapply it.

    In my ministry I’ve personally come across dozens of people that have terribly wounded through the application of covering theology. I`ve personally walked with people that took years to recover from their spiritual abuse. I get email and comments every month from people thanking me for this website.

    If you really want to convince me to change my website then study the scriptures and come back and post a solid biblical critique. I have changed my material on this website based on constructive criticism in the past.

  3. Sorry i don’t have a website.

    I love the teaching on this website. It has helped me enormously. Christ came to set us free any bondage is not of Him.

    Christ is in charge of his church. The Word says unless the Lord builds the church we build in vain. We have to move away from seeing the Church as a religious organisation. Christ came and dismantled that. The Church is living; a body. Religion is set up by man and serves man; it stifles the true worship of God. Christ is about personal relationships first with God through Him, then with ourselves and others. We are to submit to each other; not lord it over each other. God’s leaders are called by Him and therefore will have followers no conjuring, threatening is needed.

    LT be encouraged. God is using you to provide understanding on the serious problem of how man in religious systems are upsurping God’s authority. Rebellion!!! There is very little you can say to them but pray that scales will be lifted from their eyes. He did it for Saul!

    I too read John Bever’s book and have discarded it. You see the Holy Spirit is the teacher and we have to trust He will do so. He leads us in on all truth.

    Mr Petersen please seek God on his matter.

    Much Love viv.

  4. Let me say that this site is very well researched, and very well written. What has bothered me by the covering theology and absolute submission to authority teachings, is the fact that very few leaders are accountable to anyone.

    I was recently ejected from a church, for disagreeing with the Pastor about spiritual authority. Never mind that just weeks earlier, I heard a sermon on how it was ok to disagree…until I disagreed.

    My take on the whole thing is this:

    Pastors willingly separate themselves from congregants, and only take imput from the “higher ups”. This causes a distance between church members, that often leads people to feel alienated from the heart and vision of the church. The Pastors often do not share their heart with the church, and only take council from outside of the local body.

    Many Pastors are leading as wounded, hurting people. Rather than allowing the church to come around them, and allow community to aid in the healing process, they often set themselves up as untouchable. The problem is, with their own hurts, they hurt other people, and then place blame when a member reacts to pain inflicted upon them, or is mishandled. In this, there is a great lack of identity among Pastors. Many draw their identity from knowledge, wowing the congregation with the newest theological words they’ve learned this week, or setting themselves on a higher plain. Identity can only come from Christ, and when it does, there is no need to demand submission to authority. When Pastors demand submission, they are simply crying out for someone to notice and respect them, because they have not learned to draw those things from Christ.

    Covering and absolute submission theologies are biblically indefensible. One can make a theology out of anything if you twist enough scriptures.

    At my last church, there were even leaders who denied the inerrancy of scripture. They argued, that parts of the bible shouldnt even be in the bible ! Maybe it was Gods best that we got kicked out. Now that we are gone, God has been opening doors that were previously closed due to our church leadership.

    Submit to God, he does a pretty good job in taking care of you. God bless.

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