The following piece is re-posted with permission and also from the previous format of my website.
I really enjoy the way the author put this together along with scripture and hope in reading both parts you will be encouraged and blessed.
Thanks again to Great South Land Ministries
All scripture references NKJV unless otherwise stated.
“I hope you will be patient with me as I keep on talking like a fool. Please bear with me. I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. For I promised you as a pure bride to one husband, Christ. But I fear that somehow you will be led away from your pure and simple devotion to Christ, just as Eve was deceived by the serpent. You seem to believe whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach about a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed.” ( 2 Corinthians 11:1-4 NLT)
In this two-part edition of Bread for the Bride I am inviting you to take a journey to freedom. Freedom, though, rarely comes without a cost, so be prepared for a few bumps and bruises along the way! My fervent prayer is that by the time you reach the end you will at the least be stirred to do some personal exploring of the scriptures, and at the most some long-held religiously-based mindsets will be shattered beyond hope of repair.
Firstly, though, let me share a little personal history in order to establish the fact that the teaching I offer you in this article has not been arrived at hastily, presumptuously, or with lack of experience in what is commonly known as “the church”. For almost my entire life I have been “churched”. Born to a Catholic-Italian father and an Anglican-Australian mother, anyone might have guessed there would be a few pot-holes along my spiritual path! I do remember at a very early age being taken by an uncle to a Catholic Mass, where the sheer majestic atmosphere of the church overwhelmed me. He must be some God! I thought. Later, I was introduced to Sunday School at a nearby Baptist Church by yet another conscientious relative, where the most important thing I learned was that God loved me. Good start! In my first year in high school a friend and her mother shared the gospel. As a result, alone in my bedroom, I experienced a life-changing revelation of Christ on the Cross. I was born again! Several years were then spent attending a local Anglican church with my friend. After some time I was allowed to teach the kindergarten Sunday School class, but was still forbidden to take communion because I had never undergone infant baptism. (That scenario had been too stressful for my Catholic father and Protestant mother!)
In my early twenties, through the encouragement of the same friend, I was baptised in the Holy Spirit. My husband and I started attending a little Assemblies of God church, where to my great delight I heard for the first time about the gifts and anointing of the Spirit. There followed nearly twenty years in that denomination, and during those years I was certain that I would spend the rest of my life there. God had other plans, however, and after a series of deep family crises which my church preferred not to know about, my husband and I found ourselves fellowshipping briefly at a Uniting Church (Methodist to American readers). Perhaps “fellowshipping” is not the right word. “Attending” might be more appropriate, as fellowship did not appear to be on offer. From there the journey through “churchianity” continued, when a Congregational Pastor friend who’d been Spirit-filled invited us along to his church. Alas, the pastor wanted the Spirit, but the congregation didn’t, so we, as well as the pastor, found ourselves being offered the left boot of fellowship! A major geographical move found our family churchless again, so off we went to find our new “spiritual home” among the local Pentecostals, trying several different flavours, but somehow we knew we weren’t fitting. God came to the rescue again, directing us to a Baptist church with a charismatic pastor, but with the clear message this was to be for “a season only”. This would prove interesting! (Lord, isn’t this where I started???) We spent three years of relative peace there, before He suddenly said “the season’s up.” That was four years ago. These days we fellowship in a house church community. I know this is the place of fellowship the Lord has for me at this time, but I also know that He alone is my spiritual home. It took a lot of years and a long journey for me to discover that truth.
Of course, there are many details I’ve omitted, some not so pleasant, to make this history as brief as possible. My purpose in relating these facts is not to imply any kind of pretentious credentials, or to elevate one type of worship expression above another. My desire is only to establish the fact that there IS a denominational history, and a fairly extensive one, from which I draw upon in addressing this issue of “spiritual covering”.
You see, in a number of the denominations I’ve been involved in, including at leadership level, a “doctrine of covering” was taught and accepted. And for many, many years, I never questioned this teaching. After all, everyone believed it; the leadership upheld it, so it must be right, right? It is only as the Holy Spirit has impressed me to study the scriptures more deeply on this teaching that I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that He never originated it! In His infinite grace, He chose to wait patiently for a time when the Spirit of Truth would become dearer to me than the traditions of men.
The teaching on “covering” goes like this. Everyone needs to be accountable to someone who is spiritually his or her superior. This someone may be your cell group leader, the head of a church department or your senior pastor etc. In turn, these leaders receive covering from someone further up the line, for instance a denominational leader or a “recognised” apostle. The necessity for this covering is based on the belief that believers need to be safeguarded from falling into error and/or sin. So covering is provided by those who are more spiritual than we to protect us from such error. At the top of this pyramid of covering there is quite often a well-known and recognised “name” but the chances of meeting or having any kind of relationship with that person if you are at the bottom of the pyramid are fairly slim. Currently, there are several networks offering this kind of covering to those in some form of church leadership or ministry, more often than not for an annual fee. The annual fee usually provides for the running of the network, and conferences where you can fellowship with others under your particular brand of covering. You may also be denied entrance from one of these networks because you don’t have the appropriate credentials.
One of the strange things about this “covering” teaching is that rarely is anyone asked about their spiritual covering, until they step outside their particular church, denomination or network. However, the minute a believer shows signs of having something important to share with the wider Body of Christ, suddenly all and sundry are interested primarily in that one important question: “Who are you covered by?” It all sounds pretty reasonable except for one problem – it’s not found in scripture. In fact, the early church was taught to rely on the inner anointing to discern the spiritual source of potential ministers. (1 John 2:20; 1 John 4:1)
So, where did this idea originate that believers need to be “covered” in order to serve God and minister within Christ’s Body? Are you, like many others, living your Christian life under the shadow of this fear that without “covering” you dare not minister, preach, pray or do a myriad of other things you’re called to do by the Spirit of God, because you will somehow be ministering without protection?
The purpose of this article is to shed some light on this issue based on scriptural truth. To begin with, though, we need to understand that this need to be covered by a perceived spiritual authority, and the scriptural instruction to submit ourselves to God’s delegated authorities, are NOT necessarily one and the same thing. Furthermore, New Testament authority as demonstrated by Jesus and the first apostles, is servanthood-authority, upholding, strengthening, reinforcing and overseeing the Body from beneath, not domineering, controlling and ruling from above. Therefore, it is vital in examining this issue that we begin from a correct understanding of Biblical submission and Biblical authority.
‘LET THIS MIND BE IN YOU’
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought in not robbery to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Phil. 2:5-8)
The current mindset we carry in much of the church concerning submission is quite unrelated to the submission taught and demonstrated by Jesus and the early apostles. There is a desperate need to return to the same mind that was in Christ Jesus. The scripture tells us that though He was equal with the Father, Jesus CHOSE to submit Himself, He CHOSE to humble Himself, He CHOSE to obey. This is the key to Biblical submission, and the model laid down for us by both the Father and the Son. Submission is firstly a choice; a choice that can only ever be made by the giver. Biblical submission can never be demanded or forced. That kind of relationship is subservience, not submission. Jesus chose to subject Himself to the Father, but the Father “so loved the world that He GAVE His only begotten Son.” Sacrificial giving and sacrificial submission are married to each other. In the Spirit, you cannot have one without the other. If you try, you will invariably end up with control, dependence and abuse rather than humility, interdependence and grace.
The New Testament concept of submission, or subjection, is one of a totally voluntary attitude of giving, of yielding one’s preference and deferring to another. In this way, Jesus as a child was subject to His parents, yet the scriptures record that He did not even consult them when He was “about His Father’s business.” (Luke 2:49,51)
“IT SHALL NOT BE SO AMONG YOU”
“Obey your spiritual leaders and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they know they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this joyfully and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit.” (Hebrews 13:17, NLT)
“But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.” (Mark 10:42-44)
“Jesus got them together to settle things down. “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around,” he said, “and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads.” (Mark 10:42 The Message)
There is no question that the scriptures instruct each one of us to submit to God’s delegated authority. It is the understanding and the application of that authority we often stumble over. The Bible records that Jesus taught the twelve this Kingdom authority as they walked along the road to Jerusalem. His face had been set toward the Cross, and it is certain He was keenly aware of the short time He had left with them. Perhaps He was conversing with His Father about what were the most important lessons He could impart to them during the time that was left. We know that He heard them disputing over who among them was the best “leadership material”. Perhaps Peter, having not long before witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration, thought that gave him special status. Perhaps James and John felt they were more likely candidates for rulership than impetuous Peter. Shortly before, they had asked Jesus to give them special places of honour in His Kingdom. Whatever had started their dispute, Jesus certainly knew how to end it! “Whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave…..” (Matt. 20:27).
The Lord was speaking to a group of people who had grown up under the rule of the Roman Empire. The Romans exercised their authority through forced subjection and harsh cruelty. In fact, the literal translation of the words Jesus used in reference to Roman rule mean “to be under the power of” and “to be subdued.” Despite having witnessed Jesus using a very different kind of authority and power, the disciples had not yet understood exactly what He would require of them. The Romans were, in the political sense, their masters. Yet here was Jesus stating that to exercise the authority He was going to invest in them they would need to become slaves to one another, and not masters. One might safely assume these weren’t words any of them particularly wanted to hear that day!
Kingdom authority has nothing to do with titles, positions, educational qualifications or reputation. Kingdom authority is granted by the Lord according to the measure with which He can trust us to wield it with humility. The greatest authority in the kingdom is reserved for His bondslaves.
WHAT ABOUT ACCOUNTABILITY?
In today’s church system we have confused the word “covering” with the need for accountability. Consequently many are holding themselves accountable to people with title and position, regardless of whether or not they are developing an ongoing transparent relationship with that person. In the Kingdom, it is not possible to be truly accountable to those with whom we are not actively growing in relationship. How can I be trusted to call you to account righteously if I don’t love you in Christ? How can you love me with Christ-like love and not call me to account?
Paul was able to correct the Corinthians because he had true relationship with them. He had travailed over them, nurtured them, wept for them and rejoiced with them. Therefore he was able to reprove them, for their edification and not for their destruction. (2 Corinthians 13:10)
When we turn to the scriptures for guidance on this issue of accountability, a startling fact confronts us. The News Testament mentions accountability ONLY in terms of the believer towards God. The scripture teaches that we will give accountability TO GOD ALONE in the following areas:
*stewardship (Luke 16:2)
*ourselves (Rom. 14:12)
*fruit (Phil 4:17)
*what we do in the flesh (1 Pet. 4:5)
*leaders shall give account for the souls they watch over (Heb. 13:17)
What then, DO the scriptures teach about how believers, as members of the corporate Body of Christ, are to relate to one another?
“… all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5)
In Galatians Chapter Two we read of a journey Paul took to Jerusalem. He states that he went up “by revelation”, that is, at the instigation of the Holy Spirit, in order to confirm that the gospel he had been preaching was approved by the eldership of the Jerusalem church. He goes on to state that “those who seemed to be something, whatever they were, it makes no difference to me,” had nothing to add to his teachings. He further adds that when James, Cephas (Peter) and John perceived the grace God had shown him, he was given the “right hand of fellowship.”
At the instigation of the Holy Spirit, Paul had subjected himself to the Jerusalem eldership, including Peter, for the purpose of accountability. One may safely assume that Peter, having spent around three years day and night with Jesus, and highly regarded by the early believers, held very great authority in the church. Paul, however did not ask Peter to cover him. Instead, he did not hesitate in calling Peter to account when Peter was later swayed to go back on his word by the fear of men (Gal. 2:11-14). Bear in mind this is the same Peter who stated “We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
These men understood the nature of relationship through the Holy Spirit; ALL of you be submissive to one another, ALL of you be clothed with humility. Each of us is accountable to one another, whatever our function in the Body, whether apostles, teachers, deacons or helpers. This is the church Christ is building.
To say that we are demonstrating accountability to a person or group of people we may briefly rub shoulders with at a meeting once or twice a week, or perhaps once or twice a year, is ludicrous. True accountability is about how we express Christ in us – our lifestyle, our character and our integrity in families, jobs and church community. This cannot be measured outside Godly relationships, and without a humble willingness to be in subjection one to another. Each one of us needs to seek out and submit ourselves to those in the Body the Lord has placed close to us to provide that accountability, regardless of their position, title or function. Each one of us needs to be willing, in humility and service, to provide that same accountability base for others in the Body. This applies to leadership equally as it does to the newest, most inexperienced member of the Christian community.
Sadly, what we see today in so much of the church, is a frenzied jockeying for position under the supposedly protective umbrella of some ministry name or reputation, in order to prove ourselves “covered”. “Who covers you?” has become one of the most frequently asked questions among Christians, and too often it is the deciding factor in assessing a ministry’s integrity or otherwise. Consequently, an unsatisfactory answer to that question in some church circles can label you “outside the camp” and almost certainly not to be trusted. Christians are judging each other’s worth and relationship with God on this issue of covering, and using it to justify self-righteousness and spiritual elitism.
In Part Two of this study we will talk about what is at the root of this distorted doctrine, and the clear choices that lie before us in order to be free from it.
Great South Land Ministries,
Copyright Cheryl McGrath, Great South Land Ministries, 2003 This article may be distributed freely with copyright intact. Permission is needed for reproducing this article or any part of it on a website.