This is part 5 in a series on the theology behind house churches. To see the other posts in this series you can find a link to them at the bottom of this entry. As stated previously, these posts are about the nature and practices of the ekklesia. They are not meant to be taken as a criticism of the people of God regardless of how anyone chooses to ‘assemble’. Today’s post is all about how we view authority, submission, coverings and accountability.
The two most frequent asked questions that I receive regarding our house church are, “who is your leader” and “who is your covering?” My answer to both of those questions is the same and it usually is met with skepticism. The response might sound something like this, “Yeah, yeah, but how do you know which Jesus you are following?” So today I want to unpack my thoughts a little, specifically relating to the covering question.
Before moving directly to coverings, we need to be reminded about what the bible teaches about authority. In Matthew 20:25-28, Jesus speaking to His twelve disciples warns them not to be like the Gentiles who exercise authority over each other and how He exhorts them that desire to be great to be as slaves and servants to others. Similarly, In Matthew 13:8-11 He warns His disciples and the multitudes not to call each other by titles such as leader, teacher or father and reminds everyone that there is only one true leader, teacher and Father. Then He wipes out any form of hierarchical inclinations among them by stating that “you are all brothers”. Furthermore verses such as Matthew 28:18 and John 17:1-2 insist that all authority belongs to Jesus alone which means that, biblically speaking, we are forced to conclude that the church has a flat structure (everyone equal under Christ) which is devoid of human hierarchy or power over one another. This thought is daunting for a lot of people, does it not put us in danger of each man going his own way and doing what is right in their own eyes?
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely” – John Dalberg
Rather than being under the protection of one man, who in turn is under the protection of another, who in turn is under the protection of another until you get to the top of the ladder; the bible teaches that we are all under one another’s feet and to submit one to another (Ephesians 5:21). In the event that disagreements arise within the church or someone falls into sin, things should not get settled by people pulling rank on each other. Rather than one way monologues being delivered by the guy with the microphone, when I bring something to one of our gatherings I know that there are guys 20, 30 and even 40 years my senior that can correct me at any moment. And if a lady half my age brings correction to me it will be received in the same manner. In 1 Peter 5:1-5, we see Peter saying the same thing that Paul does but adds that we are to cherish the advice and example of those who are more mature in the faith even more so. He adds that they are not lords over you but simply that they are more worthy of imitating because of the godly example they have set for us.
While power over others often leads to abuse and control, there is a safety in numbers and equality. Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no council, the people fall; but in the multitude of councilors there is safety.” (See also Proverbs 15:22 and 14:6).
Looking into the idea of ‘coverings’ I was surprised to learn that it is a relatively new doctrine. It was only birthed in the shepherding movement of the 1970’s in an attempt to keep people from falling into error and going astray. One has to wonder if institutionalized covering has much effectiveness in protecting anyone. The mere fact that there are more than 40 000 Christian denominations in existence is testimony that it simply does not work. One could even argue that hierarchical covering contributes to error. When one man who is considered the leader, teacher or father starts teaching error; his ideas spread to all that are under him. Very few people in that position will receive correction and if anyone stands in disagreement the only option available is usually to leave and start looking for a new church; leaving the old one to continue on in their error.
Yet while the modern doctrine of covering is not found in the bible, we do discover that the concept itself is not an alien one. Psalm 91:1-4 says:-
He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust.” Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence. He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and your buckler.
Similarly, Proverbs 3:5-6 says:-
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all you ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.
While scripture essentially teaches that we are accountable to God alone (see Matthew 12:36, Romans 14:12, 1 Corinthians 4:5, Hebrews 4:13 and 1 Peter 4:5), it is not an excuse for us to wear a mask around people, we are still to submit and confess our faults one to another (James 5:16). Likewise, scripture clearly contains instructions regarding the administering of church discipline (Matthew 18:15-20) and how to correct someone who falls into error (Ephesians 4). The church, as Christ’s body, will often be the medium that God uses to correct, rebuke, encourage and restore people through. The bible also clearly speaks of the role of overseers or elders in the church which cannot be overlooked and will be addressed separately in a future post.
Trust in the Lord
The danger in the covering doctrine is that it requires blind obedience to men and we run the risk of one day standing before God and, like Adam and Eve, not claiming responsibility for the things that we have done and blaming others for our mistakes. To attribute covering and authority to men we have to first remove it from God. It is the same mistake Israel made when it asked for a King so they could be like other nations (2 Samuel 8). The bible explicitly warns against coverings apart from God in Isaiah 30:1:-
“Woe to the rebellious children,” says the Lord, “that take council but not of Me, and that cover with a covering, but not of My Spirit, that they may add sin to sin…”
Can we trust directly in the Lord to be our covering?
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God - Romans 8:14
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have freely been given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For “who has known the mind of the Lord that He may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ. - 1 Corinthians 2:12-16
Christianity is NOT a lone ranger deal; corporately we have the mind of Christ and can trust the Holy Spirit to lead us, protect us and guide us into all truth. Yet at the same time there is to be no mediator or special class of believers between the body and the head as the covering doctrine promotes. The beauty of mutual submission is that we are not only better protected against falling into false doctrines but also against abusive authority figures (Rev 2:6, 15).
Other posts in this series
Gathering to Christ
Two kinds of church
the Lords supper
A church without tithing
I also found this article to be extremely insightful regarding coverings and the shepherding movement.