Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Spiritual Covering Doctrine

Who Is Your Covering?

One of the biggest deceptions found in traditional churches today and abusive ones specifically is what is known as the spiritual covering doctrine. This is a doctrine that promotes the notion that unless you are "covered" by some other leader or denomination, you are devil fodder. In their minds, your only real protection from evil is under their umbrella of authority. Originally, this doctrine apparently came about in an attempt to avoid heresy. Trouble is, the doctrine itself is heresy.

Churches that subscribe to this doctrine are more than likely going to have your typical hierarchical, top-down authority structure in place that creates a system of accountability modeled on what you find in the business world.  The idea is for everyone to be accountable to the person over them in the pyramid of authority.  And to the Western business mind, it may sound quite reasonable, but it is anything but biblical.

The model Jesus gave us is found in Mt. 20:25-28, Mk 10:42-25 and Lk. 22:25-27.  Here is a combined version of those three versions as found in the Amplified Bible:
But Jesus called them to [Him] and said to them, You know that the kings or rulers of the Gentiles, those who are recognized as governing and are supposed to rule the Gentiles (the nations) lord it over them- are deified by them and exercise lordship [ruling as emperor-gods] with absolute power, holding them in subjection, tyrannizing over them], and their great men exercise authority and dominion over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors and well-doers.
But this is not to be so among you;  instead, whoever desires to be great among you must be your servant; let him who is the greatest among you become like the youngest, and him who is the chief and leader like one who serves.  And whoever wishes to be most important and first in rank among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to have service rendered to Him, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for ( instead of) many [the price paid to set them free].  For who is the greater, the one who reclines at table (the master), or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am in your midst as one Who serves.
"This is not to be so among you."  We are NOT to copy the typical authority structures found in the world. Our model is one of servanthood, not one that creates levels of authority and all the fallout that goes with it. Hierarchical systems breed envy, competition and, to be rather crude, brown-nosing- systems that promote pursuing the honor of men.

Cease ye from man . . .
                   -Isaiah 2:22

But primarily they create a system of control.  When the question is asked, "Who is your covering?", what is being asked is essentially, "Who controls you?"  This is THE primary doctrine established in abusive churches that creates a mindset in believers that they have to submit to this authority or they will open the door to disaster. And what do you think controlling leadership will do with that? They'll run with it, working to control as many as will put up with this.

 False preachers is free clip art from

The Books

There are several books I know of that are used to promote this doctrine. The main one is a book by Watchman Nee called Spiritual Authority. Apparently this one is widely distributed among groups that promote the covering doctrine, being required reading for leadership in the group I was in. I'm not saying that Nee was a heretic, just that his writings came out of a culture in China that is very different from ours, and his views need to be put in that context. Spiritual covering advocates have taken his writings and used them to serve their own ends.

Another series of books soon became required reading called God's Armor Bearer by Terry Nance. The so-called armor-bearer was someone who would trail around behind the most exalted leader doing his bidding- getting his coffee and dry cleaning, and carrying his stuff. Hello?! This is not to be so among you! If you really want to feed someone's ego, become an armor bearer. Serving willingly is one thing, but requiring servants as a way for them to prove loyalty is an entirely different thing. Once again, I can't speak to the author's intent, only to how these books are used by controlling leadership.

God's Armor Bearer Volume 3 adds this in the title- Running with Your Pastor's Vision. This sums up another problem in these churches- it's all centered on the pastor's vision. You are supposed to trash any vision you have- those submitted to this kind of authority have to lay down anything they feel God has called them to do in favor of the "vision of the church". And they actually manage to justify this in their own thinking. In an ideal situation, churches are supposed to help fulfill the members' vision and calling, not the other way around. The more I think about it, the more arrogant it all seems.

One more book I just recently found out about is a book John Bevere has written called Under Cover: The Promise of Protection Under His Authority. I was thoroughly disappointed to see that Bevere has fallen prey to all this. I don't plan to read this, but if any of you do, feel free to leave comments.

Books image is free clipart from 1clipart.

Who Is Your Mediator?
And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die....and the people stood afar off... Exodus 19:20-21
In the Old Testament, the people of God wanted nothing to do with going to the mountain to speak with God directly. They sent Moses as a mediator. The spiritual covering doctrine takes us backward, requiring a mediator to approach God. That was the whole point of why Jesus came- we now have access! What do we need a person as mediator for?

I've decided that the main reason the covering doctrine is unbiblical is that it places the leadership of a church in the position of mediator between the believer and God. That is Jesus' job, not some power-hungry leader's.  As believers, we now have free access to God's throne with no priest, no mediator but Jesus (Heb. 12:24). This doctrine pulls believers away from complete trust in God into trusting in a leader for their "covering", their protection, and to hear from God for them. And all this leads to idolatry. This is serious error and a doctrine of devils.
Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  Hebrews 4:16
Moses image is free clipart from


Witchcraft uses manipulation, intimidation and domination to exert control. This is very descriptive of what goes on in abusive churches that subscribe to the spiritual covering doctrine- you are manipulated and intimidated into submission to their control, their "covering". When this kind of atmosphere is established, the bewitching begins, and people are lulled into brainless submission, becoming the "dumb sheep" they claim you are.

Many pastors say that they are responsible for your soul. Yes, they watch over you, (assuming they are true pastors and are submitted to God) but they are not responsible for you. There is a difference. Leaders can watch over you and speak into your life, but YOU are responsible for you, and you are responsible for putting your trust in God, not in the leadership. No one gets it right all the time. Often the easy route is to relinquish authority to someone else, but this is not what God intends. We are responsible to hear from God for ourselves, we are responsible to test spirits, we are responsible for our own spiritual state, and we are responsible to weigh everything against the Word and the Spirit within. And everything includes every word that comes out of a leader's mouth. They are only human.

It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that the church I was in was abusive simply because the pastor was such a "nice guy".  He honestly believes that the spiritual covering doctrine is biblical and mandatory. And he did a great job of convincing the rest of us, mostly because he is so convinced himself. Don't allow yourself to be deceived like I did.  Just because the leadership is sincere and "nice", that doesn't make it right. Jesus is your covering. You don't need any other person between you and God. In fact you must NOT have any other person between you and God.

WE are responsible to test the spirits. No one is 100% right. Ever. Never put your complete trust in any man; we are all fallible, and we all have the Holy Spirit to help us discern truth from error. Don't ignore that still, small voice. He's trying to guide you into all truth.

Pointing finger is free image from Pixabay.

Abide in Jesus, not in a Leader
But as for you, the anointing (the sacred appointment, the unction) which you received from Him abides [permanently] in you; [so] then you have no need that anyone should instruct you. But just as His anointing teaches you concerning everything and is true and is no falsehood, so you must abide in (live in, never depart from) Him [being rooted in Him, knit to Him], just as [His anointing] has taught you [to do].  
1 John 2:27 Amplified

See my blog post

A great site to check out:

For More Information


Stephen Lambert does a great job of nuking this doctrine in his article The Myth of Spiritual Covering.

Uncovering the "Covering Doctrine"  is a very detailed and excellent site for more information on the spiritual covering doctrine. Cheryl McGrath of Great Southland Ministries has done an excellent job- I highly recommend checking this out.


Frank Viola wrote a book called Who Is Your Covering in which he does a more than thorough job of dissecting this doctrine. I believe this book is out of print, but copies are still available through amazon.

My book Red Flag Churches: Distinguishing Protection from Control recounts my experiences in an abusive church and what I found out about that kind of system since leaving. This is a free download in several different formats at  You can find a summary of the book at my blog post Red Flag Churches.

Cultwatch is a great resource for information about how cults operate. And yes, if your church promotes the spiritual covering doctrine, it could very easily be slipping into cult practices. You need to see this one.

Find out if your group is listed as a cult or part of a controversial movement here at The Ross Institute.  Here you will find a huge archive of information along with a forum and a search feature to see if your group has been listed.

Blog Posts

Red Flag Churches

Red Flag Churches
Be Not Deceived- Learn to Test the Spirits
What Does a Wolf Look Like?
Making the Decision to Leave an Abusive Church
Spiritual Abuse Is Not Obvious
Hold Fast to the Head
To Tithe or Not to Tithe

The Dechurched and the Next Move of God

Righteous Judgment
The Dechurched, the Wilderness Experience and the Next Move of God
Liquid Church- The Shape of Church to Come
Boxed Christianity
Church and Spiritual Abuse
Clergy- Invitation to Idolatry?
Church- Consider Your Ways

Faith, Grace and the Promises of God

Quill pen is free clip art from Wikimedia Commons.


  1. I was in a church for 10 years. In leadership for about 6-7 years of that time. The Undercover book, unfortunately, was taught. Leadership was to not be questioned (the Pastor and his wife the Apostle). Other "leaders" were run off if they didn't submit to absolute submission to their covering. I was told I was out of order because I married someone she didn't approve of and I was outside of Gods protection. The stories I could tell go on and on. But your site took the blinders off and allowed Gods word, about all this, to penetrate my heart and I was finally able to leave (only 1 week ago). It was not pretty. I was ordained as a Minister but had absolutely no authority to make decisions without passing EVERYTHING before them first. NO room for ideas that were not the Apostle of the Houses ideas, etc., etc., etc. I excused this behavior for MANY years because it was all I knew. I didn't grow up in church and when I decided to be committed to Jesus, I was already in my early 30's. I thought I was doing the will of God. That is the only thing I don't agree with in this article. I do not think most people go in knowing that they are in abusive church. They are happy to put their feet to the plow and put work with faith together. It subtlety happens over time. I don't think we "chose" to be brainwashed. I know for me, I thought genuinely it was God's will. Again, I thank you for your blog, articles and information. It allowed me to finally get the nerve to leave. I do feel a bit of guilt because I was told I would miss Gods purpose for my life if I stepped out of His protection. I trust God is working on healing that in me, so I can continue with Him and in ministry.

    1. Oh my. I am always so grieved to hear stories like yours, but I do appreciate your willingness to share it. It will help others in the same position. God does heal in time, but it's something that will never leave you. Praise God you were able to extricate yourself. I still find it amazing that these places all use the same tactics. I surely didn't mean to leave the impression that you have any idea these places are abusive when you start. Like you, I surely didn't either. It's so slick and deceptive, you just don't see it until you're so frustrated you start looking for answers. But there are those that, in spite of others leaving in droves, they want to be controlled, though I'm sure they don't realize what they're doing. Yep, they always tell you you're opening yourself up to danger if you leave. I pray you find your place in the Body and are able to continue to grow in God.