1Co 16:15 Now, brothers and sisters, you know about the household of Stephanus, that as the first converts of Achaia, they devoted themselves to ministry for the saints. I urge you
1Co 16:16 also to submit to people like this, and to everyone who cooperates in the work and labors hard.
1Co 16:18 For they refreshed my spirit and yours. So then, recognize people like this.
Covering theology employees the imagery of an army to describe the church. Everything in the church is viewed through the lens of an authority structure. God’s kingdom is viewed as a global hierarchy with different levels of authority at each tier. Proper submission in this authority structure is very important. For breakthrough to occur God’s authority has to be established. Rank has to be respected as God’s rule over the church is established through the hierarchy. Resisting anyone in authority in the hierarchy is equated with resisting God. In covering theology submission is almost always submission to authority for the purposes establishing God’s rule.
There are a couple of scriptures that don’t fit this explanation. One of them is 1Cor 16:15-16. In Paul’s letter to Corinth he advises that the Corinthians should submit to people like the household of Stephanus and to everyone who cooperates in the work and a labours hard. It can’t be argued that submission is connected to an authority in this passage because Paul provided criteria which each individual could use to decide whether they should submit to them or not. The NRSV renders the passage this way “I urge you to put yourselves at the service of such people, and of everyone who works and toils with them.” The Good News Bible says “to follow the leadership of such people as these, and of anyone else who works and serves with them.”
Biblical submission is much more about allowing oneself to be persuaded rather than following an authority structure. This kind of persuasion is done in an environment of freedom. Paul clearly instructed people to submit to others based on criteria that did not involve rank or position. How can this be possible in a hierarchical system like an army? It would completely break down the chain of command. In this example the submission is clearly about persuasion, about opening up ones life to learn and be guided by others. Paul respected the Corinthians freedom in Christ.
Paul didn’t believe in democracy as we do in western society but he did believe in freedom. Paul believed that we should take that freedom and voluntarily engage in acts of sacrificial love for each other. For that to have any power or impact it has to be real. The freedom must be real freedom. This means people have to have the freedom not to follow. Getting people to follow using coercion, manipulation or fear is tainted and sour. Real change, real life, real hope comes when we come to truly trust in Christ. Not when we are manipulated in to living life a certain way.