“I’ll Cover Smother You!”
Some of you may remember the old western TV shows of the fifties and sixties. “I’ll cover you” was a frequently heard phrase in those shows. It usually meant one cowboy would make a run for it while his/her partner engaged the bad guys with a few well aimed pot shots. The purpose was twofold: to provide some protection for the one going forward and to hopefully take some of the bad guys out at the same time. It was an equal partnership based on trust and unity of purpose.
Somehow, “I’ll cover you” has come to mean something entirely different in today’s Christian circles. Instead of ‘we’re in this together’, it now means “you answer to me”. Instead of “I’ll lay down my life to protect you”, it means “I’ll do all I can to control you so you don’t outshine me.” Instead of “we need each other” it now means “you need me and I aim to keep it that way.” And instead of “I’ll pray for you, minister to (serve) you and support you in Christ’s love” it means “you will pray for me, obey me and support my ministry with all your resources, including your time, your money and your children”.
Sad how humans have this knack for taking a good idea and corrupting it, isn’t it?
But corruption is corruption, even when it’s dressed in religious clothing. This ‘covering’ teaching is twisted truth. It’s founded on a self-serving version of Christianity that’s not found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus actually rejected authority wielded through position or title and taught a new kind of authority, one not based on human might but on sacrificial service and humility (Luke 22:25-27).
For many years I was part of denominations that strongly champion the need for “spiritual covering” under the guise of “accountability”.
Accountability is a good thing, right? I am totally 100% behind every born again Christian both being accountable to other Christians and providing accountability for other Christians, through relationships established by the Spirit of God. So what’s the problem? The problem is that in the ‘covering’ system, those who supposedly provide accountability for you, are not in turn accountable to you! You will find yourself on an organised ladder with some above you and some below you. And if you are at the bottom of the ladder and humbly desire to serve God, the only way you will be permitted to do so is to start moving up this hierarchical ‘covering’ structure in the hope one day your spiritual gifts will be recognised and you will be allowed a little freedom to be who you are in Christ (while still maintaining your man-made ‘covering’ of course).
That’s not spiritual accountability, that’s the system of the world. That’s not relationship, that’s subservience.
True spiritual accountability is established and maintained on mutual respect. It is forged between people who invest time and truth into their relationship. It is knowing each other well enough to recognise both strength and vulnerability in the other. It is caring for one another enough to speak truth in love without intimidation or fear. It is the freedom to both receive and to give out of one’s spiritual gifts and callings on an equal basis. Above all it cuts both ways. Only the Holy Spirit can initiate and maintain such relationships. I believe it is better to be building even one relationship like this with another trusted Christ follower than to be able to name any of the best known names in churchianity as our spiritual covering.
Ultimately, whether we have access to such mutually accountable relationships or not, (and I realise many don’t), our accountability is to God and the only covering we need is Christ. Anyone offering us their ‘spiritual covering’ has stepped between us and Christ, who is the only Man able to mediate between God and humanity (1 Timothy 2:5).
The danger of the ‘spiritual covering’ teaching is its power to shut down large sections of the church with Christians fearing to move out and obey the voice of the Holy Spirit while they wait for the approving voice of their ‘spiritual cover’ to give them permission. Let’s be clear, rebellion born out of frustration is never the answer and will only bear bad fruit. However, the Bride of Christ needs to grow up into the fullness of the stature of Christ, not the fullness of the stature of the pastor, prophet or apostle whose covering she supposedly sits under.
Another danger is the potential for spiritual, emotional and even sexual abuse. Why are these things so prevalent in the church system today? At the heart of it is misuse of power and position afforded by the ‘covering’ doctrine.
If you’re caught up in this false doctrine, next time someone asks you “who covers you?” try answering with the truth: “Jesus Christ”. You’re sure to attract some ifs and buts. Relax, He’s got it covered:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:38-39)
Uncovering the Covering Doctrine (a much longer article)