Judging by the messages you may hear on Christian TV programs or from the pulpits of many modern mega-churches, you’d think that the idea of “Covering” was a major doctrine of the Christian faith. In fact, there isn’t a single passage in the Bible that supports it in any way, and the generations of Christians over the past two thousand years would not have heard of the concept at all. It is the creation of the pop Christianity of the last two decades, and its purpose is simple – to allow leaders to control their followers.
It seems to me that this trend must have something to do with the modern breakdown of traditional church patterns of decision-making and mentoring upcoming generations within the believing community. We’ve seen this tendency in our own denomination, where many of our churches have moved away from the Baptist distinctive of congregational church government, in which every member has a voice, toward a system of leadership by elders who perpetuate their top-down control by determining who will be allowed to become new elders and join their decision-making group. This can arguably be justified by the rapid changes in society around us, as well as the increasing centralization of evangelical believers into larger church congregations. Church leaders see this more top-down decision-making as necessary for organizing church life in the modern world.
But the teaching of “Covering” is something else, and, in my view can become very insidious, even at times anti-Christian. Here are some of the abuses that are accepted as “gospel” in some Christian circles:
* The Covering Church — There is a popular teaching that individual Christians cannot minister in any way without the permission and guidance of their “Covering Church.” There are accounts of believers sensing the leading of the Lord to begin a neighborhood Bible study, only to be told that such a group meeting must happen on the Covering Church’s campus and must use a church-approved curriculum. Individual response to the Holy Spirit’s leading is systematically stifled. This idea is so popular that it’s easy to do a simple online search and find several congregations with the name “The Covering Church.” Some smaller or younger congregations also feel the need to identify that they exist under the Covering of a larger, better-known church.
* The Covering Pastor — There are certain well-known leaders, and their endorsement seems to be necessary for the lesser ministers of the Gospel. It’s common to hear someone refer to his or her “Covering Pastor.” With the weakening of traditional denominational structures, this seems to have emerged as the de facto alternative way of establishing one’s credentials as a new or lesser-known pastor. Who is the Covering for the well-known and successful pastoral leaders themselves? They tend to be a Covering for one another, forming a sort of “Covering Club” of Super-Pastors, often referred to as having a special “Anointing.” This can present a problem, as we will see below.
* The Covering of Women Leaders — Clearly, many women are gifted ministers, and the Covering movement acknowledges this. However, traditional teachings about male headship still dominate in these circles. Women, who function in leadership roles, including pastors and evangelists, have to be able to identify who their Covering is. It’s usually the woman’s husband, though for an unmarried woman, it may be her father or her senior pastor. It fits into the top-down structure of this movement that a woman needs to have male permission to serve the Lord.
* The Covering as Protection — In the atmosphere of “spiritual warfare” that is prominent in the teaching of many leaders in this popular movement; the sheep (average believers) need to be protected by their leaders. This protection is often described as another form of Covering. What does an average believer need to be protected from? The potential enemies include demons, sinful influences and theological errors. The Pastor or Covering Church is portrayed as an intermediary on behalf of the believer, in spite of the fact that, according to the New Testament, the only intermediary we need is Jesus Christ. However, the price for the promised protection can be high, including the loss of a sense of personal accountability to God and of individual experience of his grace.
* The Covering as Cover-Up — One of the most insidious byproduct of the Covering emphasis is the avoidance of responsibility and accountability for those at the top of the hierarchy. Some of the Super-Pastors who are larger-than-life leaders in the movement have been accused of well-documented moral compromises. Instead of coming clean and submitting to scrutiny and possible discipline, these leaders have many times claimed for themselves another kind of Covering — exemption from criticism. TV evangelist Creflo Dollar has had strong words for those who speak against the moral abuses of certain TV and megachurch pastors (including himself). By criticizing them, believers may be putting themselves “under a curse” for speaking against “God’s Anointed.” He added, “I’m not going to join up with the accusers of the brethren; I’m going to
Cover them, because they are Anointed authority.”
Just as a rule of thumb, when you hear a preacher or teacher talk about “Covering,” run away. This teaching is not from the Bible, has nothing to do with the Good News of Salvation, and can put you under a kind of spiritual bondage.
–Pastor George Van Alstine