Every now and then we hear the word “covering” in church. It’s often used in the context of someone needing a “spiritual covering”. What does it mean to have a spiritual covering? Do we even need one? If so, who would it be? In some ways, this topic overlaps the concept of spiritual authority. For this article, we'll explore the covering only.


What is a Covering?

In general, a covering is something that hides, conceals and/or protects. For example, we use a case to cover a pillow. We use sheets to cover a mattress. These items not only hide and conceal the objects, but they also protect them.

So when we are told we need a covering in the spiritual sense, what does that mean? Well, we are told several things. We should be under submission to spiritual authority. This spiritual authority becomes our covering. We are also told before we can preach or teach, there should be someone we are under submission to. This person or organization serves as an umbrella, hence a covering to protect us if there is a problem or question.

There are other examples but these are common. Notice the main theme of these examples point to submission. Often this submission is one way, like the employee being in submission to the employer. In this context, we should be subject to them, as well as to judges and those who uphold the law. But what about when it comes down to one another as Christians?


Is Covering in Scripture?

Yes it is! A covering is not just something someone made up. It was in place from the beginning. God was Adam’s covering. He concealed Adam’s natural state and protected him from evil. How did he do this?

Genesis 2:17 “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”

Genesis 2:25 “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.”

Adam and Eve did not see nakedness as we see it today. They did not see it as something to be ashamed of, as long as they walked in obedience to God. Yet when they ate from the forbidden tree, they obtained the knowledge of good and evil. They became ‘self' aware. Now their thoughts when looking at each others nakedness brought shame. They became responsible for their sin. Now they were uncovered. So who was Adam's covering? God was. When did this change?


How Does This Relate to the Church?

We are told that our leadership (Elder, Pastor, Bishop) is our covering. They have spiritual authority in the Church. We are to be subject to them. Here are a few of the bible verses used to confirm this:

Hebrews 13:17Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”

Ephesians 4:11-12 “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:”

1 Samuel 15:22-23 “… Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry…”


What Does ‘Obey' Mean?

Note the order of the verses above. In a way, they seems to teach the message of submission to church authority.  But what does it mean to obey and submit? Does it mean we should do whatever we are told to do by church leadership?

Unfortunately, that is what is believed by many. The word ‘obey' in Hebrews 13:17 does not mean to do what someone tells you. The word here is ‘peitho’, which means “to persuade or convince”, not ‘peitharcheo’, which means “to submit to authority”.

Paul is telling the Church to submit to and be persuaded by the Word of God being preached by those left in authority. They have the charge of persuading you to good works according to the knowledge given to them through Christ. It is by the preaching of the Word they watch for your souls. And they must give account to make sure what they preach is right.

Remember that it brings them joy when the Word of God is obeyed and they are grieved when it is not. That is not good for the church. Where does any of the above verses say we must do anything other than obey the Word?


Do We Obey Man or God?

Let’s say we submit to whatever we are told by those who ‘cover’ us. What if they tell us to do something contrary to God’s Word? Should we just blindly obey? Well, some believe because we acted while ‘submitted to authority’, we are justified. That could leave the door open for sin. We potentially have an excuse for wrong doing. Essentially, as long as we do what our leaders tell us, God looks at our obedience and does not hold us accountable. This is certainly not the case.

Philippians 2:12 “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (emphasis added)

We are to obey the Word of God delivered by those in authority. Anything outside of the Word is optional. And this is why…

Philippians 2:13 “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”

So we ought to listen to and be persuaded by the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, as long as the Word is being rightly divided (2 Tim. 2:15). Otherwise Acts 5:29 applies.

Acts 5:29 “Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.”


Can the Pastor Protect Me?

Remember, a covering hides, conceals, and protects. Can our church leaders do this for us? How can they? First of all, that is not their responsibility. Second, is it within their power to do so except through prayer. The effective and impassioned prayers of the righteous will prevail.

Can they protect us from the attacks of the enemy, Satan? Again, not outside of prayer! And then they are not exempt from Satan's wiles, especially if their lives are not circumspect.

Does obedience to them personally open doors of blessings and not obeying close the windows of heaven and open us up to demonic attack? Where is that in the bible? These sound like attributes that belong to God alone, doesn’t it?

In truth, God is the one who protects and shields us as we pray for one another. If an individual or congregation is under demonic oppression, according to God’s Word, they may have sin in their midst and may not be praying for each other as they should.


Is It Rebellious to Ask Questions?

Absolutely not! Many believe they have Delegated Authority (God’s authority given to man to rule). They believe any words they speak over the pulpit are the words of God, and for that reason, their words should not be questioned.

Isaiah 5:21 “Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!”

Derek Prince, in his book, Discipleship, Shepherding, Commitment, says: “Also, as Christians, we do not obey those in authority because they are right; we obey them because they are in authority, and all authority ultimately stems from God Himself.” Yet, the Apostles questioned one another about the early church doctrine. The Church at Berea carefully examined the words of Paul. While they gladly received the Word, they still studied what Paul taught to make sure what he preached was real and true!

Acts 15:2 “When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.”

Acts 17:11 “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”

The Church has fallen so far from such diligence. This is why so much error exists today. And it is so cleverly disguised, only through the Holy Spirit can we know the difference.

Matt 24:24 “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.”

2 Timothy 4:3-4 “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”

To reiterate, it is the Word we are to obey, which is what our church leaders should be compelling us to do anyway.


Where Did it Come From?

The doctrine of spiritual covering did not exist in the early Church. It was born as early as the 70’s as church leaders sought for answers about why new converts fell away so soon after conversion. This gave birth to the Shepherding concept and was developed within the Charismatic movement. It has since been adopted by New Apostolic Reformation and others.


What is a Shepherd?

A shepherd is someone who takes care of sheep. God often refers to His people as sheep. It is a metaphor. Jesus used it when he questioned Peter three times in John 21:15-17 concerning the feeding of God’s people.


When Did God Make Church Leaders Shepherds?

Well, I cannot find that he ever did! But what I have found is this:

Psalms 23:1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

Hebrews 13:20 “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,”

According to scripture, Jesus is the Shepherd of us all. Even when he questioned Peter, he told Peter to feed his sheep and his lambs. He did not give that title, position, or authority to Peter.


Does ‘Being in Submission' Indicate a Covering?

No, it does not. We are to submit ourselves to God in all things AND to one another in the Word. Even church leaders have to be in submission. The only difference is that leaders have the responsibility for the Word. Nothing more.

We all have the same Spirit of God, the same Holy Ghost, the same anointing. We have different gifts but the same Spirit divides them among us as he sees fit. Mutual submission and servant leadership is what the bible teaches. We are all servants of God and we all serve one another. Leaders do not get to lord over anyone because they minister the Word.

In fact, they do more to serve the people than anyone else because they must labor in the Word of God and prayer for the people! That's why they are to be given honor when they do well in this. Ministering in the Word takes great effort when done properly.

1 Thess 5:12-13 “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves.”

As I stated before, it is God who covers us all. What we do is is done as the Church. And what we do is pray. By knowing what is and isn’t taught in scripture, we can avoid a lot of the issues that plague the church today:

  • Spiritual Abuse (causing people to think that serving leadership as a way to gain favor with God, among other things)
  • Delegated Authority (God gave His authority to man to rule on earth)
  • Controlling Leadership (leadership that manipulate and control the personal lives of congregants)

These are reasons people fell away in the past and still are falling away. Love (God) and the Holy Spirit draw us to the truth. Only Love and the Holy Spirit will keep us and cover us. I hope this article was helpful. Thank you for visiting!   Source: Derek Prince, Discipleship, Shepherding, Commitment, Ft. Lauderdale Fla.: Derek Prince Publications, 1976, pg. 18.