The term spiritual covering is an authoritarian false teaching that is usually used by the Charismatic movement and various religious cults in relation to authority and submission.
The spiritual covering doctrine basically teaches that your leader, your pastor, your prophet or your apostle is a human “spiritual covering” over your life or the personal affairs of your life. Therefore if you are not under the spiritual covering of your leader then you are not “covered” or “fathered” or protected from spiritual curses or from problems in life.
Believers of this teaching therefore teach that every Christian believer needs a human spiritual covering to protect the believer from deception, curses, problems and even the devil himself.
The spiritual covering doctrine also teaches that without your human spiritual covering, whatever you do will not be blessed by God unless it has the endorsement of your particular human spiritual covering.
The spiritual covering doctrine has its roots in The Shepherding Movement of the 1970s which came out of the Charismatic movement. The Shepherding Movement created cult-like manipulation techniques and intimidation tactics over its followers through its emphasis on the non-biblical concept that every follower needs a human “spiritual covering” in his life.
Today the spiritual covering doctrine is either openly taught or subtly imposed by certain religious sects and charismatic leaders upon their followers as a method of control and manipulation over people’s lives. The acquiring of money and the control over people’s lives is at the heart of this doctrine.
Religious groups that teach the spiritual covering or Shepherding Movement doctrine can be identified by the following teachings and practices:
- Followers cannot make any major life or personal decisions without the input, knowledge or endorsement of one’s spiritual covering
- Approval from your human spiritual covering is more important than approval from God or from God’s word.
- Approval from your human spiritual covering is also believed to be equivalent to being approved by God. Therefore if your spiritual covering does not approve, it is presumed that God does not also approve. Or if your spiritual covering approves – then it means that God also approves.
- Followers must have unquestioned loyalty and obedience to one’s spiritual covering. The doctrines or teachings by the spiritual covering cannot be questioned or challenged even by those considered to be the “lowest” members or followers within the hierarchy.
- Followers have an obligation to confess sins and problems to their spiritual coverings, accountability partners or “shepherds”
- The group has a hierarchical system of accountability; the hierarchical system looks more like a pyramid than the Biblical church body.
- Followers must conform to the group’s traditions and beliefs even if these traditions oppose the scriptures.
- Biblical and spiritual knowledge and revelation only flows downwards from the spiritual covering to the followers. The spiritual covering is seen as a source through which all spiritual revelation flows. Therefore without the revelation and protection of your human spiritual covering – you are deemed to be “lost” or in “rebellion”.
- There is legalism, manipulation, intimidation, fear and coercive control by leadership over members. The followers are taught to be spiritually, psychologically and practically dependent on their human spiritual covering.
- There is total dependence by the followers for their spiritual covering’s approval and endorsement.
- There is information control. Followers are prohibited from information or literature that is likely to free them from deception or from discovering the truth.
- Anyone who disagrees with their spiritual covering can be subjected to humiliation or expulsion for questioning the leadership or its teachings.
- Anyone who questions or does not conform to the standards of his/her human spiritual covering is categorized as being “rebellious” or unsubmissive.
JESUS CHRIST IS THE TRUE AND ONLY SPIRITUAL COVERING
Jesus Christ is the only true spiritual covering that any Christian believer needs. Ultimately if we do not have Jesus Christ in our lives, then we do not have any genuine spiritual covering.
We must beware of any religious group that practices “shepherding,” “submission” and “spiritual covering” concepts. Though these groups may speak about Christ, they do not ultimately point people to Christ but instead they subtly point people to controlling and manipulative men for spiritual direction instead of God. These groups can create a counterfeit Christianity or hinder a genuine relationship with God because it promotes a mere man as being a type of mediator between you and God. It promotes the concept that you should always seek the approval and endorsement of man instead of seeking the approval of God. It also promotes the concept that the human spiritual covering is “perfect” or “infallible” in his advice or teachings when in fact every man is a sinner who is subject to error and deception. Unfortunately many people have fallen for this spiritual covering manipulation, especially in many coercive religious groups where the followers are taught to seek the approval of their “spiritual covering” rather than the approval of God.
1 Thessalonians 2:4
But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
When leaders view themselves as a “spiritual covering” over others, they also directly make themselves to become spiritual mediators between God and their followers.
1 Timothy 2:5 says: For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus
Christ died for our sins and His blood provided the ultimate covering from curses and from all kinds of sin so that because of His blood there is freedom in Christ and forgiveness of sins. We have been bought by the precious blood of Christ Jesus and “brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).
Jesus Christ is our true protection and our only covering from all curses, bondage and sin because of His finished work on the Cross.
There is no human being who can copy or imitate the effects or results of what Christ did on the Cross and the functions that Christ plays in the life of an individual. Without Christ we are nothing.
Jesus Christ is Lord over your life – not man. Colossians 3:23-24 says that we are to do everything “as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ”.
Therefore Jesus Christ is your true and only spiritual covering because He is with you wherever you go; He resides in you and He knows you more than you know yourself.
Therefore when various leaders, false teachers and cult leaders elevate themselves to the unbiblical status of a “spiritual covering”, they’re in fact making themselves a “false christ” over the people they lead because they claim to mediate between God and man. The “spiritual covering” leaders claim that their approval or disapproval of what you do is equivalent to God’s approval or disapproval.
But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
A “spiritual covering” leader is the exact opposite of what Christ expects from a Biblical leader. A “spiritual covering” leader lacks humility but instead seeks to be served by his followers rather than to serve them. The spiritual covering leader sees himself as a “spiritual father”.
In the body of Christ there are no “spiritual coverings” or “spiritual fathers” – but instead according to Matthew 23:8 we “are all brothers”.
In the body of Christ we have different gifts and different functions (Romans 12:5-8) but we are all brothers and sisters in the eyes of God. Nobody is more important than the other in the body of Christ. The functions and gifts may be different but we are all equal and play a pivotal role in the body of Christ.
According to Romans 12:5 we are “members of one another” and NOT members over one another.
However, the spiritual covering or Shepherding Movement doctrines are used by leaders and false teachers who seek to have unbiblical control, power and influence over people’s lives for their own self-ambition and personal gain. The spiritual covering doctrine creates a culture of manipulation, control, fear and intimidation of which the followers become the victims and false teachers become the benefactors. It also opposes Christ’s leadership model of servant leadership.
But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
Many religious cults and high control groups control the lives of their followers because of the spiritual covering doctrine. Many people are controlled and manipulated both for selfish and monetary gain by their leaders because of unbiblical methods of leadership that are being used. We must therefore beware of leaders who demand or coerce people into blind loyalty and submission. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 and 1 John 4:1 says that we must “test everything” or “test the spirits” because “many false prophets have gone out into the world”. God’s word therefore encourages us to test, question and verify whatever we are are taught in order to avoid being deceived or being led astray by false teachings.
The spiritual covering doctrine shifts the focus of our spiritual relationship away from Jesus Christ and His Lordship. Instead the false doctrine shifts people’s focus into following man or the “spiritual covering’s” personal desires instead of following God. Such an unbiblical relationship indirectly blinds people from individually exercising discernment regarding their spiritual life.
The Bible indeed teaches us to obey those who are in authority – but only as far as what they teach and say is in agreement with God’s word. It’s therefore important for every Christian believer to study the word of God as a Berean and Biblically research and verify the things we are taught (Acts 17:10-15).
Christian believers should not rely on a human “spiritual covering” for truth and revelation but instead Christians must learn to check what they are taught against the word of God to see if what they are taught is actually true. Christians need to get into the habit of personal study of the word of God (2 Timothy 2:15).
Christians need to be led by the Holy Spirit who is the revealer of all truth (John 16:13) and not only look to man as a revealer of truth.
The reason why so many people are led astray is because they look towards man or “spiritual coverings” to lead them instead of looking towards Jesus Christ who is the Author and Finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).