|SPIRITUAL COVERING: COME OUT, COME OUT, WHEREVER
Dr. Stephen Crosby
I AM REVEALED
Sep 16 2012
Christians often live far below their potential. What we express with our mouths often does not match what we express
with our lives: the “profession-expression gap.” While our behavior does not save us, it does have kingdom
impact. Few things hinder Christ’s interests in the lives of unbelievers more effectively than the poor testimony of His
own. Our evangelistic efforts can be near impossible because of the debris of bad testimony left by the Christian who
may have gone before us. This doesn’t excuse the unbeliever, but it sure doesn’t make our task easier! It is not a
matter of living some sort of idealistic, perfect, or fault-free existence in order to qualify as a bona fide Christian
witness. Romans 8:19 says the creation awaits the manifestation of “sons.” That is relational. What the world longs
to see is genuineness in relationships: with God, each other and the world.
A noble goal pursued by ignoble means becomes an ignoble goal. Perplexed leaders throughout history have
attempted to address this profession-expression gap by preaching and teaching various forms of “discipleship” and
“accountability.” However, the press for discipleship is frequently counterproductive and often disastrous. In the US,
approximately 80% of young people raised in the Church will leave by the age of twenty-one and never come back. I
would suggest that indicates something is wrong in our goals, mindset, means, and methods. Bad fruit comes from a
A Bad Idea That Just Won’t Go Away
One of the deficient methods used historically to attempt to close this gap, which is experiencing modified and expanded
resurgence in the emergent apostolic movement, is the doctrine of “spiritual covering.” Those of us over forty are old
enough to remember the discipleship movement of the seventies. It was the poster child of good intentions gone bad.
To their great and eternal credit, many of the primary leaders of the movement later repented for their error and the
excesses of the movement.
There are many degrees and variations on this teaching. At its most benign level, having a spiritual covering is used in
a non-technical sense of relating to someone who looks out for or cares for me. Certainly, the lack of genuine care for
one another, and especially for pastors and leaders, is epidemic in the church. Most people are in it for themselves.
Finding an authentic Christian who genuinely cares for your welfare is a wonderful thing. Caring for one another and
looking out for one another is as elemental to Christianity as chicken to the colonel. The problem is two-fold: 1)
covering is not the term the Bible uses for mutual care (the misuse of terminology can get us in trouble), and 2) though
benign in intent, it easily becomes malignant in expression.
The doctrine espouses that everyone needs a spiritual covering – someone to whom they are accountable. Allegedly,
the divine order is: husbands cover wives, pastors cover their church, apostles cover pastors (and other ministries
submitted to them), and other apostles cover apostles. I have found that the last of this list can be pretty weak. Dr. C.
Peter Wagner honestly points out that the matter of apostle-to-apostle accountability “is not totally resolved.” That is a
kind way of putting it.
Authority can be an intoxicating brew. It is far easier to exercise it than yield to it or yield it to another. This is another
reason why it is a mistake to define apostles and the apostolic movement primarily in terms of authority, rather than from
a center of Calvary-consciousness. Great authority or “visionary leadership” do not distinguish apostles but rather their
patience, power, love, and suffering. We will talk more about this in the next chapter.
Spiritual covering doctrine slides from, at best, a poor choice of swords for benign care to damnable doctrine when it is:
a) defined positionally in terms of position and office, and b) when the one providing the alleged covering becomes a
literal broker for divine blessing to flow or spiritual protection to be in place for an individual or church. Some believe
that a spiritual covering is a power dimension, a literal spiritual force-field keeping “bad things” from happening to
believers and releasing “good things” to the believer. It is alleged that individual believers and the church corporately
must be under the protective shield of an individual apostle’s covering.
What does this doctrine say about: a) Satan’s ability to “get at the saints,” and b) the Lord’s ability to take care of His
own? It is not well thought out. It needs to be rejected for the superstitious spiritual paranoia that it is. The power
of the life of Christ is in participation with Him in His death and resurrection, not in the spiritual covering of an apostle.
Whether or not we have relationship with others who can speak to and care for us is not the issue. It is the
implication of the idea that a man, any man, can take the place of Christ: “Who is your spiritual covering?” as defined by
rank and positioning. When maintenance of “governmental alignment” or “staying under covering” are
contingent for the believer to receive divine blessing or to avoid divine judgment, we have embraced an
anti-Christ spirit, regardless of how well intended our motive may be.
It Takes a Village…?
Apostolic covering does not answer the primordial question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The believing
community does. Responsibility for one another rests on the corporate community, not a single pastor or apostle. Care
is not a leadership duty, nor an apostolic one: it is a believer’s task. The fact that care is so rare and falls so frequently
on the shoulders of leaders is a sign of our dysfunction, not divine alignment with principle. The problem is leaders
illicitly enjoy the feeling of having others dependent on them. Lazy and passive believers are only too willing to comply.
In the New Covenant, believers are to:
Who says it is the pastor or apostle who must provide all care and counseling functions? To think so is to view ministry
from position rather than function, as we talked about in chapter 3 (higher authority). If what you need is a word of
knowledge, why go to a pastor who does not operate in that gift, just because he is the pastor? The notion that a given
individual (pastor, apostle, whomever) is fully equipped with all resource, for every situation and need, simply
because of their positional delegated office, is simply insanity. If you need discernment or prophetic insight, don’t go to
a pastor whose gifts are compassion and exhortation! Go to where the supply is, regardless of the vessel! If you want
gasoline, you don’t go to the library to get it! You go to where the resource is! The doctrine of spiritual covering
inhibits this because only the “set office,” the “set man,” the pastor/apostle/leader, is divinely mandated to give approval
and sanction to such inquiries. By definition, all inquiry and appeal must be made to him. It is a formula for the eternal
infancy of the saints.
I can hear the anxious voice: “Well, what if the person’s advice is wrong? What if they make a mistake?” First, advice
and counsel should never be given with thus-saith-the-Lord authority (unless dealing with biblically explicit sin issues). It
is just advice, one member to another; one member trying to administer the gift of the grace of God in them to another’s
benefit. We must empower and dignify one another by allowing one another the freedom to take what we may advise to
the Lord in prayer and, for better or worse, make our own decisions. If the matter is not one of doctrinal authority, major
sin or behavioral issues (legitimate areas of leadership authority, as we have seen), let people grow by
making mistakes. Give them the freedom to be wrong, stumble, make errors, and discover Him in the process. The
Holy Spirit is surprisingly competent in shepherding His own.
The honest truth is much of what goes for sonship, accountability, and staying “under cover” in the church is based on
two fears: the fear of failure in the subordinates, and the fear of being hurt in the leader (pastor, apostle, spiritual
Under pressure to close the profession-expression gap, we have cultivated a fear of failure in our congregations.
Leaders are afraid that the “sheep” will live carelessly, without holiness, and/or do something wrong bringing reflective
disrepute on themselves as leaders. Individual believers are reluctant to minister or act independently because
they are afraid they will do it wrong and suffer consequences from leadership or the community because of it. Paul did
not look for accountable men, he looked for faithful ones (II Timothy 2:2).
Think about the logical implications of the covering/set-man doctrine as it is widely practiced. What is the implication if
everyone under a leader’s care must submit at all times, get approval for all personal decisions, because it is the
essence of right governmental alignment to the delegated Ephesians 4:11 office as “the covering head” of the ministry?
It requires that the leader functionally proclaim he/she has been divinely endowed to have the insight necessary to meet
all needs, at all times, with all wisdom, for all people under his/her care. Since God is the only one who possesses such
fullness (and has distributed it in His body, not to the leader), the thinking is delusionally grandiose at best and
blasphemous at worst. Dressing it up in the language of “responsibility and care for the people” does not change the
fundamental essence: it fosters dependency on the leader in inappropriate ways. A leader’s job is to raise others to
levels of grace competency so that the resources of Christ are more effectively distributed to the body, through the
body, and not through the leader.
If we are serious about mutual care one for another rather than delegation to a covering leader, it takes on the
feeling of quite a job. Indeed, there is the rub. Americans believe the way to fix a problem is to throw money at it.
American believers are the same. The altar of American worship is time, not materialism and consumerism. We would
rather pay someone to function for us, because, well, we are just “too busy.” We suffer authoritarian abuse by giving
illegitimate submission to someone who will make decisions for us, tell us what to do, when and how to do it, guarantee
its outcome, and take the blame for failure. Why? I am too busy and can’t be bothered. That’s what we pay the pastor
for and that’s why we submit to the covering apostolic father. He will act for me…and if things go bad, I can blame him,
because, after all, I submitted to my covering, did what he said, it didn’t work out, therefore it is not my fault, it is his.
This is not just about over-reaching apostolic authority. The doctrine would never get out of harbor if passive and
insecure saints were not complicit in the scheme of things – consciously or otherwise.
You can tell someone’s true value system, not by where their offerings go, but where his/her time is spent. In a culture
of prosperity and abundance like ours, money is no longer the most valued commodity, time is. In a climate where
money abounds, it is just too easy to throw money at a problem and think we have “done our bit” for the cause. Ask for
time and relational investment and you will get a reaction. We are simply unwilling to make the time investment for New
Covenant life to be a reality and have soothed our conscience with the false belief that money will do the job practically;
and staying under cover and governmental alignment will do it spiritually.
Leaders who like the attention and authority, and passive saints who like to have it that way, are the life support system
of the spiritual-covering doctrine. They form an unholy partnership of silent commitment to keep the whole thing
running, though founded on a lie.
The Real Two-Headed Monster
As mentioned in previous chapters, leaders who believe their calling is to execute divine initiative on behalf of the saints,
often use the analogy that anything with two heads is a monster. The implication is that being “head’ means the
executive in charge authorized to provide leadership direction in the church and that cannot be accomplished where
there are two executive heads. Well, as I have stated earlier, this is unsound theologically and as an analogy, but let’s
go with it for a moment. There is a genuine two-headed monster in the church, and it is not aggressive congregants
trying to grasp for executive control. It is the emergent apostolic and its emphasis on apostolic authority and staying
The New Apostolic Priesthood
Our Protestant forefathers gave their life’s blood at the stake to do away with the belief system that required a class of
religious professionals to broker or mediate the blessings of heaven to the believer. They must be rolling over in their
graves. It is beyond painful to see the resurrected form of this doctrine being espoused in apostolic circles and foisted
under the banner of “new revelation,” “restoring apostolic covering,” and “apostolic authority.” It is not new
revelation. It is old heresy in a new dress.
The notion is put forth by some in the apostolic movement that apostles connect the body to Christ the Head, thereby
providing a covering for the body and that without this apostolic connection, the full measure of blessing cannot be
realized by the believer, because life and power flow through the apostles to the believer. This is not viewed mystically
or spiritually, but rather quite literally, methodologically, and governmentally. Individual apostles allegedly provide
divinely designed and necessary protective spiritual covering, and broker divine blessing to individuals “under their
covering.” Variations of the teaching abound:
Words from a Father)
authority – submission and obedience. (John Bevere, Under Cover)
and that person is now ministering without a spiritual covering of protection. (David Jonathan, Apostolic
Strategies Affecting Nations)
is ministering without any spiritual covering over his life and thereby opening his life and the church he is
ministering to for demonic attacks. The other is that the enemy has already gained grounds in the
loose structure of that church and with opportunity will find someone to exploit and hold the church at ransom.
(David Jonathan, Apostolic Strategies Affecting Nations)
Signs of a Solid Spiritual Covering)
surrendered and in place. (David Cannistraci, Five Signs of a Solid Spiritual Covering)
(David Cannistraci, Five Signs of a Solid Spiritual Covering)
over us. (David Cannistraci, Five Signs of a Solid Spiritual Covering)
Signs of a Solid Spiritual Covering)
Is it my imagination or is some of this blasphemous? In the New Covenant era, there is no need of a second head to
broker, cover, or protect. The Holy Spirit is the Agent who administers the blessing of Christ to individuals, not covering
apostles. Don Rumble says it like this:
functioning as “second head” to the work. There is only one head of any expression of Christ’s body: Jesus.
leaders (the five-fold ministry, the apostles, etc.) are to reveal the headship of Christ. Such thinking
is dangerous. Instead of leaders seeing themselves as simply part of Christ’s body, with distinct giftings and
responsibilities, they begin to see themselves as uniquely joined to the Head. A basis for clergy/laity distinction is
those representing the head; He entrusted them to Christ. (I might add he did not commend the believers at
Corinth to a “covering apostle” either!)
You can tell a church culture has crossed the line of healthy mutual submission in the realm of advice and counsel into
an ungodly spiritual covering paradigm when the common interior language of the church or ministry regarding personal
decisions is made up of phrases like this:
As we have shown in earlier sections, if it is not a matter of biblical doctrine, major sin, or behavioral issues, the
matter is none of the apostle’s or pastor’s business! If an individual desires to receive their input, fine and dandy! If
they are free to ignore the input, double fine and dandy! If they are required to get it, or required to comply with it, or
made to feel like they are coming out from under cover if they do not get pre-approval and yield to it, this is simply a
control spirit dressed up in clerical garb, and the line into cultic behavior has been crossed.
Whence Cometh Such Things?
While at least attributing good motive to those who espouse this doctrine, as attempting to close the profession-
expression gap, one has to ask, what is the scriptural base for the teaching? The answer: thin…lean…none.
In the New Testament, there are two words used for cover or covering: kaluptō and peribolaiou. Kaluptō is used
for the generic sense to cover something. It is never used to describe any relationship between believers. Peribolaiou
is used in one of the most notoriously difficult passages of Scripture (I Corinthians 11:15) where it is sometimes
translated as veil and sometimes as head covering. In Hebrews 1:12, the King James Version translates it (for better or
worse) as vesture. The word is not used anywhere else in the New Testament. That is it! Neither word for cover or
covering is used to describe any relationship between any believer and leader. It is simply not there. In his
characteristically straightforward fashion, Gordon Fee suggests the following:
For our purposes, the key passage is I Corinthians 11:16: “If anyone is philoneikos (contentious,
quarrelsome, wrangler, quarrel lover, disputatious), we have no such custom, neither do the churches of God."
Clearly, the matter was a local issue of custom at Corinth, not a universal principle from which (allowing even the widest
berth of inference) a universal spiritual-covering doctrine can be legitimately squeezed out.
Since there is simply no exegetical base in the New Testament for the doctrine of spiritual covering, where do its
practitioners get it? Primarily from three sources:
Old Covenant Coverings
Coverings everywhere characterize the Old Covenant in stark contrast to the New. A quick reading or word search will
make it plain. This is a significant difference between the two covenants. Adam and Eve covered their
nakedness. God himself, providing the skin for the task. Coverings and their details take up large portions of text
concerning the tabernacle of Moses. The cherubim over the ark of the covenant are the “covering angels.” They cover
their faces. Moses covered his face after the Sinai encounter, and on and on. The theme is everywhere.
In Genesis 9, the Scriptures record the commendation of Noah’s two sons for covering their father’s nakedness when he
got drunk after the flood. It is completely biblical to speak of covering one another’s offenses, weaknesses, sins, etc. It
is a manifestation of love to do so: love covers. However, this covering is not a governmental order limited to a few
apostolic office holders. It is a body-relational dynamic. We are all supposed to cover one another in this sense, not
just leaders over subordinates. It is completely unbiblical to speak of covering one’s person in a governmental or
The glory and message of the New Covenant, without exception, is about the removal of veils, coverings, limitations,
fears, and mediators. The covering veil of the temple was rent at Calvary! The New Covenant is characterized, not
by a covered relationship but an open (anakalupto) – face relationship. In II Corinthians 3:14, Paul explicitly contrasts
the difference between the two covenants in terms of covering: the Old is covered, the New is not. Our glory in Christ
as stated in Hebrews 4:16 is that we might come boldly (Gr. parrhesia: outspokenness, frankness, bluntly, publicly, fully
assured) to the throne of grace, not hesitantly. The coverings of the Old Covenant were temporary until the coming of
Him who would in His person render them unnecessary.
Those who want to teach the doctrine of spiritual or apostolic covering from Old Covenant stories and verses simply do
not understand the change in the cosmic order that took place at Calvary/Pentecost. The reestablishment of a
governmental order based on covering is not new apostolic revelation, it is regression into the covenant of bondage,
and the fruit of the doctrine will be bondage, not safety, blessing, and divine order.
Nice Tune, Bad Theology
The first-century heretic, Arius, got his doctrines established by putting them to catchy melodies and getting
the common man to whistle and sing his tunes. His doctrine was absorbed in the mind through the wings of an airy
melody. Unfortunately, the same thing happens frequently in the church, especially since the explosion of worship
choruses in the last thirty years, which while helpful in terms of singability and beautiful in arrangement, are often not
exactly pillars of deep theological thought but rather quite inaccurate.
Nowhere is this truer than our understanding of the blood of Jesus and its relationship to sin. Much of the impetus for
the doctrine of spiritual or apostolic covering is absorbed through unfortunate hymns and choruses that emphasize the
believer being covered by the blood of Jesus. The connection is made along this line: if the blood of Jesus needs to
cover us to protect us from danger and harm, it is not too big a step to believe we need other coverings to protect us
from danger and harm, obligingly provided by apostles or other ministers.
Shocking as it may be to some, there is not a single New Testament verse that says the blood of Jesus covers
us. Blood covering is a thoroughly Old Covenant concept; one that is temporary, not permanent. One of the most
significant changes from the Old to New Covenant is what was only covered in the Old is washed, purged,
cleansed, and utterly removed in the New. Sin that is covered is sin that is still present. Jeopardy exists if the covering
is removed. Sin that is washed has been removed. There is no jeopardy, no danger. The pitiable psychological and
practical reality is that most Christians live like their sin is covered, not gone. They live their lives in the constant dread
of being discovered as not being up to date on their sin, as if some of it was going to leak through the blood covering
like ice cream on a dip-top cone on a summer day. They live in perpetual fear of sin leakage and the risk of the
punishment it entails.
Even in the Old Covenant era, the psalmist speaks of sins being removed as far as the east is from the west, cast into
the sea of divine forgetfulness; not covered, lingering under the surface just waiting for the first error to cause them to
be manifest. The psalmist got a peek into the future glories of the New Covenant era. The glory of the New
Covenant is that our sins have been removed, not covered.
There is no greater jeopardy than to be confronted with ones sins before a holy God. If Christ has taken care of this
dread, not by covering but by washing, from what do believers need protection, and who on earth is going to provide it
more than Christ has already done? Apostles? Hardly.
On Account of Being Accountable
Perhaps a reader might be thinking, Crosby, all we are trying to do is assure responsible and accountable behavior,
what is wrong with that? First, like covering, accountability is an unbiblical term, and in application it can, and often
does, exceed biblical grounds. Do a word search (King James Version) sometime on accountable or accountability. It
is not there. We use the term in our language as an attempt to approximate the biblical term submission.
Second, as the concept is taught in apostolic circles it is interpreted and practiced as being under someone else and
being “accountable to them” in an upstream, individual, and positional way: accountability is to the person “over you,”
your spiritual covering. The Scriptures teach no such thing.
Issues of accountability are nowhere in Scripture limited to a covering minister or apostle. The burden is on each of
us, for each of us. The responsibility for ministry is with the saints! For all the talk during the last fifty years of
“equipping the saints,” we have done a fairly poor job, and principles of biblical accountability only exacerbate the
External accountability is like driving with the sheriff in the backseat of your car. As long as the sheriff is there, no
one is going to speed! Remove the external presence of authority and a speeder is reborn! Accountability only
enables performance-based religion. It is the self-aware, self-monitoring Adamic counterfeit of biblical discipleship. All
restraints, codes, and principles of accountability are impotent to change the nature. Accountability can be, and often is
faked. The Adamic nature can comply with the accountability expectations of spiritual covering:
What a good boy or girl you have been!
This so-called “accountability” doesn’t touch the realm of death and resurrection life of the Son. It is all
about performing tasks to standard. This is not biblical submission or discipleship. It does not produce spiritual
maturity. It assures eternal infancy. In fact, it is a stupefying inoculation against Spirit life, because as long as someone
has completed their “accountability sheet” for the week, he or she will think they are just spiritually fine when they are
the walking dead. They can be relationally a disaster, but if they have submitted their discipleship worksheet on time for
the week to their “mentor,” or “spiritual covering,” they will have the false impression that all is just fine. Accountability is
better than unbridled sin, but the manifestation of the life of the Son is superior to policed accountability.
There is simply not a single New Testament verse to support the doctrine of spiritual or apostolic covering. It is hard to
understand how so much has been made based on so little. It must be inferentially supported from other Scriptures.
First Timothy 2:5 and Hebrews 12:24 tell us clearly that there is only one mediator between God and man, the One
Mediator, Christ Jesus. The notion that a pastor or apostle acts as a mediator to protect, sanctify, or otherwise broker
divine blessing to the believer is not new revelation but warmed-over Romanism:
standing as he does, before the Lord.
is disobedient to these is disobedient to Christ.
God…and that being subject to the bishop and the presbytery, ye may in all respects be sanctified. (St. Ignatius
in Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians)
The doctrine of apostolic covering is super-sized discipleship teaching dressed in the garments of new apostolic insight
and the alleged recovery of God’s divine governmental order. We have substituted apostles for bishops, networks for
denominations, and think we are progressing. It must be called for what it is: baseless fantasy of the ambitions of man.
Jesus is the Head of each local church. Apostles do not hold a hierarchical position of authority over the churches
as a mediator between them and God. Their desire is to see local churches founded on Jesus Christ and overseen
by a group of elders. Then they can move into new territory in order to see new fellowships of believers established.
AUTHORITY, ACCOUNTABILITY, AND THE APOSTOLIC MOVEMENT, by Dr. Stephen Crosby, Copyright 2006,
Pleasant Word (WinePress Publishing).
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