The Myth of Spiritual Covering (Part 1)
So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in MY WORD, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the TRUTH, and the TRUTH will make you FREE.” (John 8:31,32; NASB)
It was for FREEDOM that Christ set us FREE; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a YOKE OF SLAVERY. (Galatians 5:1; NASB)
[Editor’s note: This article is adapted from the book, CHARISMATIC CAPTIVATION. The book exposes the widespread problem of authoritarian abuse in Neo-Pentecostal church-groups, and explains how it became infused into the very fabric, foundation, and functions of the Neo-Pentecostal church arising out of a false movement known as the Discipleship/Shepherding Movement (1970-77). References to “Discipleship” or “Shepherding” (and variables) doctrines, teachings, proponents and participants, and so forth, allude to those pertinences that arose out of that “movement.” The content of this article is contextual to the entirety of the book, and is best understood by reading the book. A small portion of the book’s content is published in the posted articles listed and linked at the end of this article.]
Woe to the rebellious children, saith the LORD, that take counsel, but not of me; and that COVER with A COVERING, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin: That walk to go down into EGYPT [symbol of captivity in Scripture], and have not asked at my mouth; to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh [symbol of Satan and autocratic dictators in Scripture], and to trust in the shadow of Egypt! Therefore shall the strength of Pharaoh be your shame, and the trust in the shadow of Egypt your CONFUSION. For his princes were at Zoan [aka, Goshen, where Pharaoh met with Moses and Aaron; Easton’s Bible Dictionary], and his ambassadors came to Hanes. They were all ashamed of a people that could not PROFIT them, nor be an help nor PROFIT, but a shame, and also a reproach. (Isaiah 30:1-5; KJV; emphases and parentheses added)
The second primary conceptual error on which the heretical hyper-authoritarian Discipleship/Shepherding doctrines are established, is the matter of “spiritual covering.” Indeed, so-called “spiritual covering” is the very centerpiece of these wholly unBiblical teachings and the authoritarian abuse they engender, which is absolutely endemic in Pentecostal and Neo-Pentecostal (Charismatic, “third wave,” and New Apostolic Reformation) sects. Over the course of the 20th Century it became institutionally infused into the very fabric, foundation, and functions of these groups, meaning in their protodenomination and network organizations. Virtually none of those in existence today are free from the influence and attitudes of domination and control over their adherents. It is witchcraft of the highest order for the basest of motivations—mammon—the love of money and self-aggrandizement.
Let me begin by stating plainly and directly: “spiritual covering” as theorized by the Discipleship theosophy is an absolute MYTH. No semblance of the Shepherding teaching version of “spiritual covering” exists anywhere within the pages of Scripture. “Spiritual covering,” in the vein it is presented by proponents and propagators of these hyper-authoritarian teachings, is an outright deception! It is a complete fabrication concocted by the originators of these fallacious doctrines as a supposed pretext for facilitation of entirely self-aggrandizing objectives of subjugation, domination, and control.
[For a detailed history of the Shepherding Movement, READ THIS CHAPTER.]
Indeed, what the Discipleship proponents refer to as “spiritual covering” is really “spiritual control.” However, even the use of the word “spiritual” in this connection requires some qualification, because the only thing “spiritual” about this unauthorized control is that it is inspired by demon-spirits of deception and error. As we shall discuss later in Chapter Nine, what the Discipleship version of “spiritual covering” really is, is nothing less than witchcraft or sorcery. When the myth has been thoroughly debunked, as it will be within these pages, it will be clear that this doctrine of “spiritual covering,” like all the other aspects of the Shepherdship heresy, is a patently false “doctrine of demons” being manifested in these last days precisely in accordance with Holy Prophecy of Scripture which foretells of deception such as this being promulgated by demons in the last days, leading to many falling away from the Lord into apostasy:
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of LIARS seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron.(1 Tim. 4:1,2)
Proofing the Proof-text
Discipleship proponents point to a particular Pauline dissertation found in the Eleventh Chapter of First Corinthians as the primary purported proof-text for their concept of “spiritual covering.” It will soon be evident, however, that, as is typical of the other aspects of Discipleship errors, the assertions made on the basis of these verses are the product of blatant and overt perversion, distortion, misrepresentation, and misapplication of the true import and intent of the passage. The unfortunate effect of this corruption of Canon is essentially the same as that which inured unto the Galatians, which was that they became guilty of “deserting” Christ for a different “christ” and a different gospel:
I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ; for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and who want to DISTORT the gospel of Christ.(Gal. 1:6)
The following is the passage from which the concept of “spiritual covering,” as well as several other assertions made by Discipleship proponents, is extrapolated. Since it will be a basis for much of this discussion, it has been set in verse format for easier reference. Also, I have added some explanations which appear in italics and parentheses, to assist in understanding the true import of these verses.
- First Corinthians 11:2-16:
2 Now I praise you because you remember me in everything, and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.
3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the Head of every man, and the man (husband) is the head of a (singular) woman (wife), and God is the Head of Christ.
4 Every MAN who has something on his Head (Christ) while praying or prophesying, disgraces his Head (Christ).
5 But every woman who has her head uncovered (not under the authority of her husband) while praying or prophesying, disgraces her head (her husband); for she is one and the same with her whose head is shaved (woman taken captive from vanquished enemies and forced against her will to become an Israelite’s wife).
6 For if a woman does not cover her head (allow the authority of her husband to cover and protect her from the spiritual deception of the fallen angels), let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head.
7 For a man ought NOT to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman (wife) is the glory of man (husband).
8 For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man;
9 for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.
10 Therefore the woman ought to have authority on her head, because of the (fallen) angels.
11 However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.
12 For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God.
13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with head uncovered?
14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair (type for “covering”), it is a dishonor to him,
15 but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for A COVERING (a protection).
16 But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.
Now I don’t want to be unkind, but in my opinion a person must be totally brainwashed to read this text and in all sincerity and earnestness conclude it says what Discipleship proponents and adherents assert that it says. Indeed, this text has been used as a premise for a number of pretty silly and bizarre notions, ranging from the role of women in the church all the way to the assertion that God is saying here that women are supposed to wear little doilies on their heads when they attend church. So let’s examine this passage, and see what it really says and what it does not say.
Pertinent Peculiarities of the Language
First of all, an extremely vital fact to keep in mind in all Bible study and interpretation, and one which I must take a moment to point out here at the very outset of our scrutiny of this text, is that the Greek language, in which most of the New Testament was written originally, did not have a specific word for “husband” and “wife” as in the English language. Instead, the word for husband is the word for “man,” and the word for “wife” is the word for “woman.” The only way to determine whether the reference is to the male gender class or to the office of husband, or likewise to the female gender class or the office of wife, is by deciphering the intent of the context. This fact is absolutely critical to the particular passage we are examining here and to properly evaluating and understanding its import.
So, with this in mind, careful scrutiny of the context of these verses on the backdrop of the whole of Scripture, leads to the unequivocal and incontrovertible conclusion that the words used here which are translated in many English versions as “man” and “woman” really should be “husband” and “wife.” Validation of that is inherent in the fact that the principles evoked in this passage are limited in application to the husband and wife relationship. They are NOT applicable in the context of general interrelations between men and women, but rather only apply in the sphere of the husband and wife relationship.
Identifying the Subject and Scope
Once these peculiarities of the language are understood, the next matter of utmost importance is identifying the subject and scope of the passage we are examining. For reasons that shall become evident, it is vital to understand that the clear and unmistakable subject of this passage is the matter of Domestic Divine Order, that is to say, the order of authority existing among husbands and wives and their children, or to say it yet another way, the government operable within the structure of the FAMILY unit. “Domestic Authority” is the exclusive focus as well as the limits of the scope of this passage. The aspects and applications of the authority addressed in these verses are limited to the purview of that particular ilk of authority, and cannot be universally applied to other types of authority.
Recognizing the true focus and scope of this text is crucial to comprehending its import. Not recognizing these parameters, or blatant disregard of them, whichever may be the case, has been a primary factor resulting in the formulation of the fallacious assertions adamantly proclaimed and staunchly defended by Discipleship proponents supposedly based on this passage. To be specific, the matter of “spiritual covering” is the heart of the issue. And indeed, there is a type of spiritual covering that is addressed in these verses. However, what is critical is that, as stated already, the spiritual covering that is discussed in this context is NOT Ecclesiastical Authority, that is to say, Governmental Authority within the Church. Rather, Domestic Authority is the clear and unequivocal focus of Paul’s dissertation here, which the Apostle makes evident in verse three by specifically identifying the topic of this portion of his letter and by expressing explicitly what it is he wants the readers to understand: “But I want you to understand that CHRIST is the Head of every man, and the MAN (HUSBAND) is the head of a WOMAN (his WIFE), and GOD is the Head of Christ.”
Another way to characterize the focus of this passage, which the enbolded portions of this verse bring out, is: “spiritual headship.” However, the propensity of some to “exceed that which is written” has resulted in the misconstruction and misapplication of this perfectly valid truth, and the manufacturing of a kind of so-called “headship” based purely in human imagination without any Scriptural foundation whatsoever. In point of fact, the only valid ilk of “spiritual headship” or “spiritual covering” there is, and the only one which is supported by the Word of God, is that which is being addressed here, which is the “spiritual headship” and “spiritual covering” the husband provides for his own wife as the God-appointed representative of Christ within the family unit. In no way, however, does this passage contain any evidence or corroboration of the sort of “spiritual covering” Discipleship proponents allege is provided by a shepherd to his followers. To extrapolate from this passage a pretext for some sort of “headship” interposable by “spiritual leaders” over subordinate believers is an act of gross distortion, convolution, and misrepresentation of the Word of God, as well as an act of blatant and extreme irresponsibility.
CHRIST—the Only Spiritual Covering for Every Man
Now as I stated initially, ecclesiastical authority is decidedly not the focus of this passage. Indeed, the only mention of the matter of ecclesiastical authority occurs in oblique references in verses four and seven, which actually state the very opposite of what the Discipleship/Shepherdship proponents purport the verses say and the very opposite of the assertions they cite the verses as a proof-text for:
- 4 Every MAN who has something on his Head (i.e., Christ) while praying or prophesying, disgraces his Head (Christ).
7 For a MAN ought NOT to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman (wife) is the glory of man (husband).
In verse four, Paul specifically states that, juxtaposed to the married woman, who must have a covering of spiritual authority, i.e., a spiritual “head,” which role is fulfilled by her husband, any man who covers his Head with a “spiritual covering”—a human, surrogate, intermediary “head”—is bringing reproach, dishonor, and disgrace to his Head, because, as Paul indicates repeatedly in this text, the man’s Head is Christ Himself. Thus, to characterize the import of the text in another, forthright fashion: in this passage, the Spirit is expressly prohibiting human, surrogate, intermediary spiritual “headship” in the case of MEN, in that Christ Himself is the Head, or “spiritual covering” “of every man” who is truly Born Again and has truly submitted to the Lordship of Christ over his life.
Notice also the phrase “while praying or prophesying.” Praying and prophesying are the spiritual activities and functions in which believers are to engage. This phrase gives qualification to this statement, making its import to be that it is in the realm of spiritual activities and endeavors in particular that a man is NOT to have another human being as his “head,” or as a “covering,” for that role and function is to be fulfilled by the Lord Jesus alone. Christ alone is qualified and capable of fulfilling that crucial role and function.
This is vital to the matter of the Discipleship error, because this has been one of the areas of greatest excess and abuse, in that many so-called “spiritual leaders” (especially laymen) in these in-house “chains of command” became extremely caught up in their newly acquired (albeit, illegitimate) authority, for which they were not properly grounded or adequately developed or sufficiently mature spiritually to properly handle, but which they nonetheless began to wield and intrusively interpose into the lives of their “subordinates,” including their most private, personal, and even intimate choices and decisions. The outlandish and totally false hypothesis was that each of the multi-levels of “spiritual leaders” over the peonic, subjugated, and supposedly inferior believer were his “spiritual heads” and “spiritual coverings,” and whatever communication or correction God desired to relate to the believer, He would relay through one of these surrogate “heads,” and so-called “confirmation” of the validity and veracity of the communication would manifest in the form of unanimous “agreement” among all these “heads.” Theoretically, if just one of the “heads” in the chain of “heads” did not have “a witness” for the matter, that meant the communication was not from or of God.
This “no witness” nonsense became a primary mechanism of control, manipulation, domination, and other more nefarious activities, in an array of circumstances ranging from preventing members from leaving the church or group, to sexually-oriented abuse under the color of spiritual authority. The gravely damaging effect of this absurd and wholly false theosophy and system of religious enslavement is well captured in the quoted impassioned complaint of a former member of the Discipleship Movement responding to Bob Mumford’s attempted conciliation with disjoined former followers:
“Saying I’m sorry wasn’t enough….We had been taught that the men who led us somehow heard from God better than we did. Even after we left the movement there was that hidden fear that they might be right and we were somehow less of a Christian and had failed God by not being totally obedient to them.” (Mumford Repents of Discipleship Errors, Charisma & Life, February 1990, pp. 15,16)
Though we are certainly to avail ourselves of the ministry God disseminates through Fivefold ministers, and though we are to maintain a compliant and cooperative attitude toward them, and treat them with due honor and respect, no mere human is ever the “head” or “spiritual covering” of any other man, especially; or woman, for that matter, because “spiritual covering” exists and is effectual only in the relationship of the husband to his own WIFE—no other woman. In other words, even a Fivefold minister—apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher—is the spiritual “head” of only ONE woman on this planet—his own WIFE (if he is married)! That, my friend, is it! FURTHERMORE, a Fivefold minister is the spiritual “head” of absolutely NO MAN! I cannot state it any more succinctly or directly than that.
[For more on the detrimental effects of submitting yourself under the spiritual coverings of men, I urge you to read The Curses of Unauthorized Covenants.]
[To read this article in its entirety, click on the title above. There are links on that page to other related articles.]