This entry is part 3 of 9 in the series Unsound Doctrines

On 1973  a doctrine about the need of ‘Spiritual Covering’ or submitting to a shepherd was promoted by the “Shepherding Movement, this movement affected many church denominations mainly charismatics but also Reformed, not only in America but also around the world.  The teaching of spiritual covering has been blamed for various levels of authoritarian abuse, church splits, families splits, etc. to the point that 2 of its early proponents left the group: Derek Prince, who withdrew in 1983, explained publicly : “we were guilty of the Galatian error:  having begun in the Spirit, we quickly regenerated into the flesh.” & Bob Mumford in 1989 offered a public apology for being involved in it & admitted the movement was a mistake. He  said this resulted in “perverse and unbiblical obedience” to leaders.

The Shepherding Movement was formed by  five leaders or shepherds “The Fort Lauderdale Five” at the top of a  leadership pyramid. (Bob Mumford-Reformed, Derek Prince– Pentecostal, who met Branham, Charles Simpson-Southern Baptist, Don Basham-Reformed & Ern Baxter -Reformed theology (former campaign manager of William Branham, 1). Later joined them John Poole, another latter Rain adherent. On their Council (that they kept documents secret for obvious reasons) they included Roman Catholics: Stephen B. Clark (Sword of the Spirit), Dr. Ralph Martin, Paul DeCelles & Kevin Ranaghan (People of Praise founders) and Cardinal Suenens among others. In 1977, they secretly met Cardinal Suenens (leading voice at II Vatican Council) in the Holy Land where they made a joint covert declaration to work together for the restoration of the unity of the Church. The council agreed to relate directly to Cardinal Suenens & to consult him before planning or implementing anything, which means they gave absolute control to the Vatican.

The Ft. Lauderdale Five – Ern Baxter, Derek Prince, Charles Simpson, Don Basham & Bob Mumford.

Ern Baxter (left) & William Branham








This concept of 5 leaders on the top of the pyramid wasn’t new, it had started in the 1940’s by the ‘Latter Rain Movement‘ which Baxter was part of (1) & was promoted later by NAR apostle C. Peter Wagner (1). Some proponents have also added an ‘Armor bearer‘ to the church office.  But if we study some church history we will notice that the implications of “official” ministry terminology not only don’t appear in the original Greek texts but were unheard of in the first centuries of Christian writings. In other words there is not  passages in the New Testament that refer to “office” of ministry, simply refer to “serving”, “leading by example”, or “being watchful and caring for” the Lord’s flock, not ruling or exercising authority over others.

These leaders were responsible for one another’s spiritual health and keeping each other on track by “covenant relationships” and mutual accountability.  They taught on authority, submission, and discipleship, that God was restoring biblical church government, delegating His authority through the five-fold ministry offices Eph. 4:11 .  When one entered into a discipleship relationship, it was permanent.  Members were in a “Covenant” with one another.  If someone left the group, they were breaking a covenant.  See more practices. These kinds of religious systems same as the cults, place more emphasis on the “spiritual family” than the natural family. 

Bill Ligon gives an example of the abuses of the Shepherding Movement in his book: Discipleship: The Jesus Way (Logos, 1979):

“One teacher stated in an article in 1974 that since the purpose of a true disciple was to carry out the will of Jesus Christ, ‘his own will must be broken.’ To do this, the teacher proposed that the disciple learn to obey his leader as a slave, not ‘knowing the ‘why’ of it.’ Then, he said, the day of recognition would come when his leader would tell him ‘Now you are ready.’ A true disciple, he said, could not be promoted or minister beyond ‘the recognition of his leader.’” (p. 221)

Over the years and after some scandals the movement faded, but unfortunately their doctrines still continue (e.g. the New Apostolic Reformation), most of them offering Spiritual Covering to church leaders (for an annual or monthly fee or tithe), which teaches unquestioning submission to a “Shepherd’ or leader who becomes your ‘covering’ & who in turn receives ‘covering’ & guidance from someone further up in the pyramid.

In order to keep submission most of these churches control information & teach Christians that they have to obey & submit to their leaders misusing Heb. 13:17:

Obey (#G3982 = be persuaded by) them that have the rule over (G2233= leader) you and submit (G5226= yield) 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.” (We can be persuaded because they are teaching us the Word of God, according to the context vs.7 not their own ideas or personal agendas. Please see ‘Misuse of Hebrews 13:17 ‘).

They also teach about obedience to God’s delegated authority, ‘Spiritual Covering, or  Bill Gothard’s ‘Chain of Command or ‘Umbrella of Authority’ , whom is also involved in many scandals of abuse of authority:

‘Silence allows sin and false teachings to continue and many to be defiled by them. It is important that sexual abuse, false teachings, and deceptions be exposed to the light so that others are not deceived and harmed. Jesus has warned us that in the end times: “Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.” (2 Timothy 3:13). We thought it would not happen to us—to be deceived—but it did. I am grieved that I was so easily deceived by a false teacher. I have had to repent and apologize to my family for leading them in the false teachings of Bill Gothard.’ . .

Church’s authority is not positional, does not reside in the Church, or in any office-holder in the Church , but in the Word of God. The Head is the authority & that head of the Church is Jesus Christ alone, (Ephesians 5:23), we all (the body) look to Him for guidance, provision, and protection and submit to Him.

Jesus gave us in His Word the right model to follow and was NOT to copy the world’s form of authority (ruling over another or having superior authority over another). This shepherding concept of authority, promotes the same pyramid shaped organizational structure of authority as we find in the business world & false religions.

We ALL, but leaders specially should follow His example and be servants of all.  Jesus being God made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant…” (Philippians 2:7). Please let us reflect about this for a moment : Our Mighty God the creator of the universe, on His knees washed dirty human feet & also took in His body our punishment!! (We praise you Lord Jesus! We magnify your name, you are worthy of all our worship Lord of lords & King of Kings!). He is our example to follow!

Godly church leadership (servant-hood) is best exhibited through meekness, sound doctrine, honesty, integrity, respect, good example but mainly through genuine sacrificial love. Sadly this is not what we are seeing today.

But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them.  But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister (G1249Servant): And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all  For even the Son of man came not to be ministered (G1247 = served) unto, but to minister (G1247= serve), and to give his life a ransom for many.  Mark 10:42:44

Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight [thereof], not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over [God’s] heritage, but being examples to the flock. 1 Peter 5:2-3

All proponents of this ‘covering’ doctrine are Dominionist or promote “Kingdom Now‘ theology. They also have twisted Scripture to prove that the blessings we receive from God are proportional to the honor we give to church leaders. (Book ‘Under Cover‘ by John Bevere,  page 122).  He also mentions in his book that God told him He never intended for His people to get all they needed from His Word, for that reason we must have pastors to tell us what to do. This contradicts Scripture 2 Tim.3:17, and sounds like the pope saying: ‘ a direct and immediate relationship with Jesus Christ outside the communion and the mediation of the Church is dangerous and harmful’. Or what Mormons and other sects teach: obedience to their leaders or prophets which are considered God’s delegated authority., so we can be blessed, etc.  But we are in a New Covenant! We have the Holy Spirit & the Word of God to tell us what to do.  

But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him. 1 John 2:27

That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him. Ephe. 1:17

These movements use the word  “covering”  in the sense of ‘protection’ & ‘authority‘, many of them teach that having a covering shepherd was like having a “divine insurance policy”, that if you make mistakes you wont suffer loss because you were “covered” & were in submission to a leader. In other words your sins & mistakes for obeying men are covered because of your submission to men. But the Bible says:

Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD. Jeremiah 17:5

The  ‘Covering’ theology is dangerous, it creates a system of control masked as protection, that promotes ‘honor of men’ rather than God, and have wounded many believers. It’s a fertile ground not only for spiritual abuse but also to cover all kind of abuses ( e.g.  see Bill Gothard creator of ‘Chain of Command’ & ‘Umbrella of Authority’).  Also this worldly structure is preparing the Church to submit obediently under the coming leadership of the New World Religion.

This ‘Covering’ doctrine is unbiblical because it places the leadership of a church in the position of priest or mediator between God & the believer, it has applied to men what belongs to God. We now have free access to God’s throne with no priest, no mediator except Jesus Christ (Heb. 12:24).

The concept of spiritual covering makes an earthly authority figure a substitute for God in the life of the person or ministry that has the “covering.” (or puts the submissive person in a position of having two masters – Jesus Christ and a personal shepherd). This Christians had to consult their ‘Spiritual Covering or shepherd’ prior to making career or family decisions. Sadly this doctrine leads to idolatry & to apostasy, over time the shepherd gains more power and control over the one submitted, but Jesus Christ is overshadowed. It  also pulls believers away from complete trust in God into trusting a leader for their “covering” or protection, to hear from God for them & to lead them instead of learning to be led by the Holy Spirit.  The Word of God warns us over and over again to beware of those that would deceive believers.

For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.  Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works. 2 Cor. 11:13-15

In the New Covenant there are no high priest (Heb. 4), no covering by shepherds (John 10:11) nor mediators ( 1Tim.2:5) except Jesus Christ. We all are priests, (1 Peter 2:9). If we have the Holy Spirit we ALL are ‘anointed’ and believers are all brethren.  The bible discourages putting any men above the others like the Pharisees did at the time with their spiritual leaders, we still have the same problem today of men working to exalt themselves, bearing titles e.g ‘apostles’ & having men address them as such. There is a saying that bears so much truth “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:. . . But all their works they do for to be seen of men: . .

and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.  (G4461: my master, teacher i.e Rabbi, as an official title of honor).

But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. . And call no man on earth your father (G3962 see 2 – a title of honor) upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. 10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. 11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted. Matt. 23:1-12.

The Bible says the Lord is our covering and not man:

“O GOD the Lord, the strength of my salvation, thou hast covered my head in the day of battle.” Psalm 140:7. See also Psalm 91:4, Psalm 28:7, etc.

In the books of Jeremiah, Ezekiel 34 and Isaiah we can read what God said about shepherds who lead His people into false teachings.  We are all responsible for our decisions & are without any excuse, we have the Word of God. Let us draw closer to the Lord and trust in GOD as our only & true covering.   Proverbs 3:5-6 .

Jesus is our true & only  Shepherd!


NOTE: We believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the church today, but those gifts are only for ‘humbly’ serving God’s people, and do not prove a superior spirituality (Matt. 7:22-23). We, as well as many believers, consider that this restoration movement of the 5 fold ministries as taught by Later Rain Movement (& their followers, like apostolic movements etc,) is wrong and not biblical. We don’t believe in apostles dictating new doctrinal revelation today or adding to God’s Word. We also disagree with teachings that say the 5 fold ministries exist only for the leadership in the church (see Acts 21:9), or that present-day apostles & prophets should govern the church.

Related articles:

General Council Minutes of the ‘Fort Lauderdale’ Elders

Christian: Who is Your Covering?

Biblical Answers to Shepherding-(Spiritual Covering)

Some Shepherding Churches

The Gnostic Roots of Later Rain



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