The Spiritual Abuse of Covering Theology – Leighton Tebay

Originally from here.

Who is your covering? While many Christians have never heard that phrase, a growing segment of the church knows exactly what it means.  It means, “Which authority are you submitted to?” Among evangelicals there is a growing movement that teaches all people in the church need to be properly “covered” by God’s “delegated authority” in the church.  The self-styled New Apostolic Reformation is a major component of this movement but doesn’t encompass all of it. Around the world “apostolic networks” are springing up, heralding the return of God’s true authority to the church. While covering theology is more popular in non-denominational charismatic churches it is slowly gaining ground in more traditional evangelical circles. image

More and more people are becoming concerned with the rise of this theology because it has led to spiritual abuse, controlling church leadership and spiritual shipwreck. The goal of this website is to examine covering theology from an evangelical perspective without resorting to personal attacks or underhanded tactics. If you believe I have misconstrued the facts, I invite you to contact me through this website.

The best recently published work espousing apostolic covering and authority is John Bevere’s book Under Cover and his companion video series. Theologically it is a retread of the doctrines of the old shepherding movement of the 70s and 80s. Much of the shepherding movement was rooted in a combination of Watchman Nee’s Spiritual Authority and the doctrines of the Latter Rain Movement.

Covering Theology Emphasizes the Following:

  • Sin is disobedience to God’s authority.
  • Salvation is only available to those who confess and do the will of God.
  • Grace is the power of God to obey him.
  • All authority is instituted by God.
  • God establishes his rule in the church through people he has delegated to be his authority.
  • The five-fold ministry (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) represents God’s authority on earth.
  • Obedience to the Lord requires obedience to God’s delegated authorities (employers, church leaders, civil authorities).
  • Rebellion against God’s delegated authority is rebellion against God.
  • Rebellion to authority opens one up to the demonic realm resulting in deception.
  • People should live by the principle of obedience rather than reason.
  • People should always obey  authority unless they are clearly instructed to violate Scripture.
  • The line of authority extends in the home where the father holds the highest authority.
  • Spiritual authority and blessing flows to those who suffer under authority.
  • God does not judge people on the fruit of their life but on how faithfully they followed authority.
  • Those outside the local church and the covering of its leaders are at serious risk of spiritual attack.

For more see Covering Theology 101.

imageUndoubtedly there are some people reading this page that are currently involved in a church that believes in coverings. For those of you who are seriously questioning these teachings let me reassure you: covering theology has very little basis in Scripture. For those that believe wholeheartedly in coverings let me challenge you to take another look at the Scriptures, our common authority, to see if this teaching is true. The proponents of covering theology often paint their critics as backslidden prodigals who want to be in total control of their own lives and live in rebellion to God’s authority. This may be true of some, but a great many people believe wholeheartedly in submission and accountability, but feel that strong authoritarian structures subvert and destroy life giving fellowship.

Covering theology is based on a patchwork of Biblical texts that are incorrectly interpreted, misapplied, and misconstrued. Despite this, it continues to grow in the fertile soil of the charismatic movement, given its anti-intellectual and anti-scholarly bias.

Scriptures Commonly Used in Covering Theology

Click each one to see how it is used and a Biblical response.

  • 1Chron 16:22 – “Touch not the Lord’s anointed”
  • Rom 13:1-7 – “Be subject to governing authorities”
  • Heb 13:17 – “Obey your leaders and submit to them”
  • Eph 4:8-16 – “God gave some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers”
  • Mat 8:5-12 – “For I too am a man under authority”
  • 2Tim 2:11-12 – “If we endure we will reign with him”
  • 1Sam 15:22-23 – “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft”
  • Num 23:23 – “nor is their any divination against Israel”
  • 1Pe 2:13-14 – “Submit yourself to every authority”
  • 1Sam 24 – “I will not put my hand against my Lord, for he is the Lord’s anointed”

Important Questions About Covering and Authority

The proponents of covering theology often paint a picture of the church polarized into two camps: those people properly submitted in God’s hierarchical order and the rebels that reject God’s governing authority. Ironically it is the covering proponents that risk rebellion, because they claim authority for themselves that belongs only with God. In their attempts to patch together the disparate passages that make up their case for coverings, they have to neglect centuries of orthodox Biblical interpretation and the very foundations of the Reformation and evangelicalism. [Edit:–Such as the concept of Martin Luther not blindly submitting to the corrupt Catholic priests in the 1500s–John Boruff.]

There is a  better understanding, a more Biblical understanding of how Christ’s body works. It doesn’t fit neatly in a corporate flow chart. This is the path of servant leadership and mutual submission. The path of “mutual submission” is more complicated, but it takes into consideration several passages of Scripture that don’t fit the authoritarian’s picture.

Other Important Scriptures About Submission and Authority

  • Matthew 20:20-28 – “Those in high positions use their authority over them.  It must not be this way among you”
  • Matthew 23:8 – “For you have one teacher and you are all brothers”
  • 1Cor 16:16 – “Submit to people like this, and to everyone who cooperates”
  • Eph 5:21 – “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ”
  • 1Pe 5:3 – “do not Lord it over, but be examples”
  • 1Cor 14:29 – “Two or three prophets should speak, let the others evaluate”
  • 1Cor 12:17 – “To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all”
  • Rom 2:6 – “He will reward each one according to his works”
  • 1Jn 4:18 – “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear”
  • 1Jn 2:27 – “the anointing that you received from him resides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you”
  • 1Pe 2:5 – “your yourselves…built up as a spiritual house to be a royal priesthood”
  • Heb 8:11 – “no need at all for each one to teach his countryman…since they will all know me, from the least to the greatest.”
  • Gal 5:1 – “For freedom Christ has set us free”
  • 1Ti 2:5 – “one intermediary between God and humanity, Christ Jesus”
  • 1Sam 8:5:22 – “for they have rejected me as their king”
  • Col 2:9-33 – “you also are complete through your union with Christ”

There are several other passages that make it clear that God is the authority whom we follow and sometimes following God’s authority requires we openly challenge our leaders.

  • Gal 2:6 – “From those who were influential (whatever they were makes no difference to me, God shows no favoritism)”
  • Gal 2:14 – “I said to Cephas in front of them all”
  • Acts 4:19 – “Whether it is right before God to obey you rather than God, you decide”


Other Helpful Resources – added by John Boruff

Frank Viola’s Who Is Your Covering?

David Johnson’s The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse

L. Roy Taylor’s “Presbyterianism” in Who Runs the Church? (PCA view)

Video: “Spiritually Abusive Churches – Personal Testimony” by comeflyintothesky

Video: “Signs of Spiritual Abuse” by myfreshhope

Video: “Warnings Against Pastoral Abuse” by John Boruff


About John Boruff

John Boruff is a husband, father, blogger, and insurance agent.
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3 Responses to The Spiritual Abuse of Covering Theology – Leighton Tebay

  1. says:

    very interesting

  2. Patty says:

    When you are filled with the Holy Spirit you have discernment over who is covering spiritually. Of course God is the lead but He puts spiritual leads here for us to grow. If they are off, the Holy Spirit let’s you know loud and clear. Trust me. This has happened to me. Therefore you can definitely be in a church that believes in both philosophies. Thus article is deceiving and trying to get people’s feathere ruffled about authority. Authority is a God-given gift. It is necessary in a church. The reasons are obvious and scripturally supported by any who have received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    • John Boruff says:

      Hi Patty, I think what Leighton is trying to say (and I totally agree with him) is that there is such a thing as abuse of pastoral authority. The Bible calls it “lording over the flock,” and is an unreasonable authoritarianism (a dictatorial, tyrannical, mean-spirited obsession with authority, a power trip). Leadership is not supposed to look like that. 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus show us what a pastor is supposed to be like: a loving father, a shepherd of sheep, a protector. If people rebel against that kind of pastor, then they are just being rebellious, and will have to be disciplined by God for it. However, bad pastors–“wolves in sheep’s clothing”–are abusive, liars, mean, hateful, rejecting, neglecting, dismissive, ignoring you, unloving, greedy.

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