When I first began blogging and doing ministry online, I wrote something controversial on Facebook (imagine that). What I wrote offended one of my friends, and she asked me who my “spiritual covering” was.
In some recent movements in the Christian world, a “spiritual covering” is a person who supposedly has more spiritual authority than other Christians – normally a pastor, elder, or priest of some sort. I was taken aback by the question and at that point I did not know the biblical answer, so I wrote back and said,
“My dad is my spiritual covering. He has been a pastor and mentor my whole life.”
My answer makes me cringe now, because it’s not true.
The truth is that the Bible never mentions the need for any sort of “spiritual covering” to do ministry or to make life decisions. The idea of Christians needing a “spiritual covering” originated in the 1970s, out of the charismatic movement.
Many pastors, elders, and husbands have used the idea to manipulate, control, and spiritually abuse less knowledgeable and more vulnerable Christians.
Often, 1 Peter 5 is used to support the need for Christians to submit to their pastors, elders, and husbands as their “spiritual covering.” In the text, Peter is encouraging church leaders to care for their congregation, but there is no indication that leaders have more “spiritual authority” than other Christians.
Rather, there is indication that church leaders have been given a sort of “earthly authority” to do their job and Peter clearly writes, “Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:3).” A godly leader leads by example and never seeks to control others.
“Spiritual authority” comes from the Holy Spirit who lives within every Christian (1 Corinthians 3:16). The Holy Spirit that lives inside of one’s pastor or elder is the same Holy Spirit that lives inside of all Christians.
Therefore, every Christian has an equal amount of “spiritual authority” to minister to the world and to make their own life decisions, with the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
Jesus commissioned and empowered all of us when He said,
“Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned. These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe: They will cast out demons in my name, and they will speak in new languages. They will be able to handle snakes with safety, and if they drink anything poisonous, it won’t hurt them. They will be able to place their hands on the sick, and they will be healed (Mark 16:15-18).”
God calls and equips certain Christians to be pastors, elders, evangelists, prophets, apostles, teachers, deacons, etc., but these are earthly roles, and the type of authority these leaders hold are no different than the authority a political leader holds or a manager at McDonald’s holds.
God certainly calls Christians to respect earthly authorities (Romans 13:1) and to seek out their godly guidance and wisdom (Proverbs 11:14; Proverbs 5:11-14); but ultimately, we are accountable to God alone (Romans 3:19), and we need only God’s approval to move forward in whatever we sense God calling us to do (2 Timothy 2:15).
Jesus Himself speaks against over-the-top earthly authority in Matthew 20:25-28. The Scriptures always point believers towards mutual submission and to Jesus alone as our “spiritual authority.”
In the Old Testament, only priests were permitted to enter God’s presence, which was called the “Holy of Holies.” The “Holy of Holies” was the core chamber of the inside of the sanctuary of the Jewish Temple. This small room was separated from the outer chamber by a heavy and thick curtain.
Only those who were considered “high priests” could enter the “Holy of Holies” on the Day of Atonement. These high priests went through a rigorous purification process before they entered, continuously sacrificing animals for their sin and being sure to obey the Torah (Old Testament Law) to the letter. If a high priest went behind the curtain, without being completely pure before God, it was thought he would die.
This tells us that God cannot stand to be in the presence of sin. Yet, it is evident throughout the Bible that God desires to have a relationship with humans.
This presented a problem, since all humans are sinful to some degree. So, as we know, God became flesh (John 1:14), so God Himself could die for all of humanity’s transgressions. Jesus became the perfect sacrifice for our sins, and made it so anyone (John 3:16-18) who accepts Him as their Savior, is seen as pure in the eyes of God.
In other words, when God looks at Christians, He does not see sin anymore. No, friends, we are covered with the blood of Christ from head to toe, and we have been made spotless and blameless as children of God (1 John 3:5; Romans 8:1).
You see, something extraordinary happened the moment Jesus took His last breath on the Cross – the curtain that stood between humans and God was ripped down the middle.
“At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart (Matthew 27:51).”
Now, this was no ordinary curtain. It is likely that this curtain was about 60 feet in height and about 30 feet in width, and four inches thick. So, it is obvious that no human ripped the curtain in half. God ripped the curtain in half, and exposed the “Holy of Holies.” We no longer need a “high priest” to enter God’s presence for us.
The author of Hebrews says,
“So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most (4:16).”
We don’t have to be afraid any more. We can enter God’s presence boldly, with all of our dirty sin, and the grace of Jesus Christ will cover us and show us mercy. We need no “spiritual covering” to enter God’s presence, to teach the Bible, to minister to others, or to make life decisions.
In fact, the Bible calls all Christians “a priesthood of believers.”
“And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God (1 Peter 2:5).”
Therefore, no priest, pastor, elder, deacon, or any minister has any more “spiritual authority” than lay Christians. We all have equal and direct access to God and the only “spiritual covering” we need is Jesus Christ.
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