Covering theology is wrong on several levels. First and foremost it distorts the gospel of Jesus Christ. It redefines sin, grace and faith through an authoritarian lens. It takes the precious things the bible tells us are available to us solely through faith like God’s protection and provision and makes them conditional upon submission to a church leader. This is no different than the false teachers of Paul’s day who tried to teach that circumcision was necessary to have a complete relationship with God. Paul’s response? Gal 3:3 “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”
Covering theology teaches that the kingdom of God operates like the Roman Empire with a clearly defined hierarchical order. The one verse that is used to support this notion is Romans 13:1-7 but the original context of the passage has to be ignored to make this fit. In this passage Paul wasn’t talking about the church, he was talking about the Roman Christians should relate to the Roman empire. Jesus makes it very clear in Mat 20:25-26 that the church should not operate like the Roman Empire.
Covering theology is coercive and inevitably leads to spiritual abuse. It compels people to submit through the threat of spiritual disaster. It is manipulative because the threat is not real. There is no scripture that indicates people put themselves at peril if they aren’t completely submitted to authority.
Most of the Christian church doesn’t believe in covering theology. It appeared on the scene in North America about 40 years ago through something called the shepherding movement. That movement was completely discredited and some of the leaders have publicly repented of their involvement.
Covering Theology focuses on a couple of scriptures but ignores several others. It just doesn’t fit with Jesus’ words about leadership. It doesn’t fit with Pauls concept of the church as a body. It doesn’t fit with how Paul conducted himself with Peter and what he thought of Christian leaders in Jerusalem.
Several questions have to be answered before Covering Theology can fit with the greater biblical story. If submission to church leaders is based on their position is so important why isn’t it clearly laid out in scripture and reinforced by example? Why would Paul go to such great lengths to the convince the Corinthians that they should listen to him because of his life and ministry and not the people who had “letters of recommendation” and judge things according to the flesh? How could prophets like Jeremiah and John the Baptist say such negative things about their leaders if we are called to be unconditionally submitted to authority? Why aren’t we warned in the New Testament that we open ourselves up to demonic deception and spiritual disaster if we don’t submit to the authority of church leaders? This would be a really big deal if it were true and yet the entire New Testament is silent on it? This just so much in the bible that doesn’t fit with Covering Theology.
We must also consider the fruit of this teaching. Jesus tells us that a good tree will bear good fruit. Have the churches that implemented this teaching ever experienced the revival that is promised will accompany this so called alignment? Why are there continual reports of abuse and spiritual shipwreck in the lives of the people? Why do so many sincere Christians have such a problem reading “Under Cover” because there is such a check in their spirit?
I have no doubt there are sincere Christians that have accepted covering theology and a great many others that could rightly be considered wolves in sheep’s clothing. To those who are sincere I ask you:
- Do you really want to reject hundreds of years of protestant/evangelical biblical interpretation?
- Do you really think that you’ve discovered some hidden structural change to bring about revival? Has it worked so far?
- Do you really want to accept a theology that redefines the central concepts in our understanding of salvation such as faith, sin and grace?
- Have you ever winced inside when you observed the application of this theology and watched people go in to great distress?
Being a leader isn’t easy. Watching people make their own choices and their own mistakes is difficult. However we cannot fix that by scaring them in to listening to us. It doesn’t work, it doesn’t help, it is isn’t leadership and it certainly isn’t biblical.
- Covering theology usurps the rightful place of Christ in our lives and replaces it with a person.
- Not all authorities are established by God nor do they directly represent God in our lives.
- We are not called to obey leaders because they have the authority to control us, but we are called to allow ourselves to be persuaded because so we may gain the profit of their counsel.
- God provides our spiritual protection, not human leadership.
- If we are mistreated by an leader we should follow proper biblical protocol rather than suffer silently and wait for God to exact vengeance.
- We are judged not on our level of submission to leadership but on the fruit of our lives.
- Our leaders gain the authority to build us up by several criteria, not just rank or position.
- We follow God’s authority by discerning his will as a church body. God is not funnelled exclusively through human leaders.
- Biblical submission is a voluntary attitude, not derived from fear, manipulation or coercion.
- Covering theology subverts and destroys effective accountability
- Personal freedom is required for sincere and genuine love and sacrifice
- Freedom is an inherent part of salvation
- Christians are not called to live in perpetual fear and anxiety about their relationship with God
- Paul calls on all Christians to submit to each other, and anyone devoted to ministry.
- Jesus instructed the disciples not to exercise authority over one another, but to serve
- Peter instructed elders not to exercise authority over their flock, but to lead as examples
- Jesus instructed the disciples to be discerning about the teaching and example of leaders
- We must obey God rather than people
- David never stayed submitted to Saul, he just respected his position
- Paul did not follow people solely on the basis of their position
- Covering theology redefines the central tenets of the gospel distorting and subverting its message
(NRSV) Gal 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.