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[Editor’s note: This article is adapted from the book, CHARISMATIC CAPTIVATION, by Steven Lambert. 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 adulterated concept of “spiritual covering” itself is problematic enough. Yet, its negative effect is increased by the fact that it is the predicate for several other, related elements of error comprising the heretical Discipleship/Shepherdship doctrines and practices, one of which is the matter of “personal shepherdship.” Indeed, this element has been the basis for at least as much excess, errancy, and authoritarian abuse as the others already discussed. To those who employ these practices for sordid purposes or with less than pure motives, the perverted concept of “spiritual covering” is sanction for a most insidious kind of unauthorized personal domination and control of their subjects under the auspices of this very delusive and destructive version of “personal shepherding.”
As with most other elements of error with these and other false doctrines, this particular component is the result of perversion and adulterization of a valid Truth. The essence of the erroneous concept of “personal shepherding” is that because the spiritual leader, along with the entire chain of leaders emanating from him, provides and in effect IS the “spiritual covering” for his followers (which we have already shown to be a false hypothesis), the leader has not only the right, but also the duty to interlope into the private and personal affairs of the lives of the members of the group. In essence, the leader becomes the equivalent of tribal chief to the group, whose final approval members of the tribe must have for most every important transaction and decision in their lives, with some variability depending on the particular group and leader. In many cases, members must receive authorization from the leadership for the most mundane matters in their lives, including financial matters and purchasing decisions, matters of career and employment, housing, family, friends, social and educational matters, and just about every segment of the members’ lives.
Now, of course there is a very valid role of shepherdship that Fivefold Shepherds (and all Fivefold ministers are under-shepherds, not just pastors) are indeed ordained by the Lord to fulfill on behalf of the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4), Jesus. Indeed, Chapter Eight is wholly devoted to delineating the rightful role of Fivefold ministers as elucidated by the Word of God to the extent that it relates to the errors of the Discipleship teachings. The meaning of the word “shepherd” is to feed and care for, to lead and to guide, and that is the crux of what Fivefold shepherds are to provide on behalf of Christ unto the sheep of God’s Fold.
As I have repeatedly indicated in various ways, what is involved in the case of the Discipleship/Shepherdship teaching and practices, unfortunately, is a bastardization of the shepherding principle. And, the core of that corruption is that adherents of this teaching “exceed what is written” by trying to impose their leadership authority and responsibility in the natural realm rather than limiting it to the spiritual realm.
It is absolutely vital for every minister to understand that the context and sphere of his shepherding is limited primarily to the spiritual. While Fivefold ministers may occasionally be able to proffer some inspired or experiential counsel and advice even regarding natural matters, their foremost calling and enablement is to feed, care for, lead, and guide the sheep of God’s Flock spiritually and in relation to spiritual matters, not so much natural affairs. We are charged by God with the responsibility to feed His sheep spiritual food, to care for them with the spiritual wherewithal of the Holy Spirit, to lead them unto the one and only true Rock of their Salvation and Provider, Jesus, and after the pattern given us by the Chief Shepherd (Ps. 23) we are to guide them “in the paths of righteousness,”which is, the Way, Truth, and Life of Jesus.
When a minister routinely goes beyond the God-set, albeit, invisible, boundaries of his calling and purview of authority, which is the limitation of the spiritualrealm primarily, and habitually interlopes into the natural, physical realm, interposing his own will in the ordinary private matters of his followers’ lives, he is engaging in unsanctioned usurpation and illegitimate authority. In the process, he also leaves behind his legitimate duties, responsibilities, and sanctioning from God as an under-shepherd, as well as his effectuality. To take it a step further, a minister who engages in this sort of imposition and usurpation has essentially taken on the role, totally illegitimately, of the husband/father/head of those households and families over which he has imposed his authority; for, as the Scripture delineating true “spiritual covering” (1 Cor. 11:3-16) indicates, the role of headship (i.e., government or leadership) of a household or family in the natural, has been assigned by God to the husband/father of that house.
Another term for this illegitimate interloping and usurpation into another man’s domain of authority is — “spiritual adultery.” Now to some this attribution will seem to be overkill and a bit melodramatic. Yet, in light of Scripture, it is neither. This is precisely what leaders who engage in these practices are engaging in — spiritual adultery. Allow me to explain.
God said the head of every woman is her husband, and every woman, at least every Born Again woman, has a husband, even those who are widowed, divorced, or never-married. Born Again women who for whatever reason do not have a physical husband with whom they are living are joined to and one with the Ultimate Husband — Jesus Himself (1 Cor. 6:17), the effectuality and efficacy of which fact is determined by the degree of each unmarried woman’s receptivity and faith in that fact. When a person other than the legitimate husband/head of a house invades the sanctity of that household by illegitimately interposing his own will and authority upon the woman of that house, that constitutes spiritual adultery. No person, man or woman, including ministers, is authorized to intrude into a household in this fashion.
It is with regard to this very sort of illegitimate authoritarian “home-invasion” that one particular New Testament passage alludes and admonishes with especial attribution to the “last days” in which we are now living:
But realize this, that in the last days there will set in perilous times of great stress and trouble — hard to deal with and hard to bear. For people will be lovers of self and [utterly] self- centered, lovers of money and aroused by an inordinate (greedy) desire for wealth, proud and arrogant and contemptuous boasters. They will be abusive (blasphemous, scoffers), disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy and profane. [They will be] treacherous (betrayers), rash [and] inflated with self-conceit. [They will be] lovers of sensual pleasures and vain amusements more than and rather than lovers of God. For [although] they hold a form of piety (true religion), they deny and reject and are strangers to the power of it — their conduct belies the genuineness of their profession. AVOID [ALL] SUCH PEOPLE — TURN AWAY FROM THEM. FOR AMONG THEM ARE THOSE WHO WORM THEIR WAY INTO HOMES AND CAPTIVATE SILLY AND WEAK-NATURED AND SPIRITUALLY DWARFED WOMEN, LOADED DOWN WITH [THE BURDEN OF THEIR] SINS, [AND EASILY] SWAYED AND LED AWAY BY VARIOUS EVIL DESIRES AND SEDUCTIVE IMPULSES. [These weak women will listen to anybody who will teach them]; they are forever inquiring and getting information, but are never able to arrive at a recognition and knowledge of the Truth. Now just as Jannes and Jambres were hostile to and resisted Moses, so THESE MEN ALSO ARE HOSTILE TO AND OPPOSE THE TRUTH. THEY HAVE DEPRAVED AND DISTORTED MINDS, AND ARE REPROBATE AND COUNTERFEIT AND TO BE REJECTED AS FAR AS THE FAITH IS CONCERNED….BUT THEY WILL NOT GET VERY FAR, FOR THEIR RASH FOLLY WILL BECOME OBVIOUS TO EVERYBODY, as was that of those [magicians mentioned]. (2 Tim. 3:1-9, AB)
I have alluded already to the fact that these false concepts of “spiritual covering” mixed with the “absolute submission” concept makes for an extremely poisonous and potentially lethal rue, which almost invariably eventuates into various forms of authoritarian abuse that frequently entail some kind of illicit sexual exploitation. This, of course, by Bible-definition, is physical fornication and sexual adultery, which obviously is utterly sinful and damning, not to mention the horrendous natural and spiritual consequences such abominable abuse and exploitation engender. Nevertheless, though it may be hard to imagine, the fact is that in these situations where leaders illegitimately interlope into the private affairs of their followers, usurping the role of the husband, even in those cases in which no physical fornication and sexual adultery have yet occurred, the “spiritual adultery” that has been committed is even more heinous and abominable and will produce even graver consequences, both spiritually and in the natural. The reason spiritual adultery of this nature is such a grievous offense to God is that it is His authority, albeit, intermediated in the case of the married woman by a human husband, that is being usurped. The true spiritual Husband is Christ, and it is His betrothed that is being assailed when one of His sheep is abused and exploited. Thus, spiritual adultery carries with it an even greater judgment than sexual adultery.
Abhorrent as it is, that these Discipleship/Shepherdship doctrines and practices constitute spiritual adultery, there is yet another offense they abet which in terms of gravity may even surpass spiritual adultery. In addition to spiritual adultery, adherents and practitioners of this false theosophy are also fostering and participating in “spiritual idolatry” as well.
These doctrines are idolatrous for two related reasons. One, because they lead people away from the objective of whole and complete trust in God alone as the ultimate Source of supply of all things. And, two, because in addition to leading people away from trust in God, they also lead people to put their faith, hope, and trust in mere flesh and bone human leaders for the things God insists we look to Him for, many of the particulars of which I have already addressed.
[Read entire article: Spiritual Idolatry]
What all of this speaks to us and what all ministers need to be reminded of from time to time is that for as much power and authority (along with abundant responsibility) Jesus has vested in us as His “stand-ins,” His under-shepherds, to minister unto the Flock of God on His behalf, notwithstanding, and without any equivocation — it is Jesus Christ Himself, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, who is the TRUE and SUPREME SHEPHERD. All of the rest of us are not even worthy, compared to Him, to be called after His name or to bear in any degree the title of which He alone has proved Himself so inimitably worthy — “Good Shepherd.” Those mere under-shepherds on Earth who are so overtly impressed by themselves and their own “accomplishments” would certainly do well to take a cue in humility from the Twenty-Four Chief Elders who, when face to face with “the One who was sitting on the Throne,” did “cast down their crowns before the Throne, saying, Worthy art THOU, O LORD, to receive glory and honor and power.'”
Compared to the glory of the SUPREME SHEPHERD, we are poor and miserable substitutes, mere mortals of flesh and bone, with no worthiness of our own, nothing with which to commend us to God, or in reality even to our own fellows. It is only as we reflect His Image, His glory, His Light, which we do only ever so sporadically and imperfectly, that there is anything comely or of worth within us. We merely reflect, with varying and variable degrees of illumination, unto a lost, broken, downcast, hurting, spiritually bankrupt, and dying world of undone sinners the Image of a glorious and risen Savior who suffered immeasurable shame, disgrace, sorrow, and pain, far beyond anything we could even imagine much less ourselves experience, in order to set the captives free from their bondage and eternal damnation.
It is these sentiments and understanding the Apostle Peter, who over a period of three and one-half years had walked and talked and eaten and lived with this GREAT SHEPHERD OF OUR SOULS, was trying desperately to convey when he wrote:
Therefore, I exhort the elders (Fivefold Ministers) among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Pet. 5:1-4, parenthesis added by author)
The Amplified Bible’s version of this passage conveys in even more graphic terms the sense of what the Apostle was communicating in these words:
I warn and counsel the elders among you — the pastors and spiritual guides of the church — as a fellow elder and as an eyewitness [called to testify] of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a sharer in the glory (the honor and splendor) that is to be revealed (disclosed, unfolded): Tend — nurture, guard, guide and fold — the flock of God that is [your responsibility], not by coercion or constraint but willingly; not dishonorably motivated by the advantages and profits [belonging to the office] but eagerly and cheerfully. Not (as arrogant, dictatorial and overbearingpersons) domineering over those in your charge, but being examples — patterns and models of Christian living — to the flock (the congregation). And [then] when the CHIEF SHEPHERD is revealed you will win the conqueror’s crown of glory.
To me personally there are few things as repulsive and infuriating as a “spiritual” (or, more appropriately, “religious”) leader who is all the very things the above text warns us not to be: arrogant, dictatorial, overbearing, and domineering, over the meek and innocent sheep of God’s Flock under his charge. This, to me, is about as despicable as it gets — to take advantage of and exploit the need people have for a human pattern and model of Jesus they can see, and use that need as a pretext to dominate and subjugate those needy people for sordid and self-aggrandizing personal gain. I know that it is also a stench in the nostrils of God! And, if it is so utterly offensive and repulsive to me, one who is of the same fleshly nature as they, it must only be the expansive and encompassing mercy and forbearance of God that keeps Him from wiping such vile vermin completely off the face of the Earth and taking them instantly to their final and just reward.
I mean, it appears to me that when those in leadership positions engage in such sordid attitudes and activity they have forgotten one very vital and important factor in the scenario, which is that the sheep don’t belong to any man. The true sheep of God, which is every truly Born Again believer, are all the sheep of GOD’S FLOCK. The true sheep, it will come as a shock to many “leaders,” are GOD’S sheep, and Jesus is the true Shepherd of God’s Fold. They are not the personal possession of human pastors, despite the fact that the attitudes of many pastors seem to reflect that they think they are. Human shepherds, it must never be forgotten, are merely custodial under-shepherds.
The Apostle Peter made all this abundantly clear in the passage we just examined, where, in verse two, he exhorted the presbytery of the local church to “shepherd THE FLOCK OF GOD.” Moreover, it is on this foundational fact that he bases his further exhortations to under-shepherds not to lord over the flock, but to rather prove themselves examples, visible models, live representations of the Good Shepherd which the sheep can actually behold with their physical eyes.
Another passage which specifically alludes to the fact that it is to GOD’S FLOCK that the sheep belong is found in the Apostle Paul’s exhortation unto the eldership (Fivefold Ministers) of the church at Ephesus, whom he had called together for a final word of exhortation and admonition prior to his departure to Rome. To these “episkopos” (elders, overseers, shepherds) he said:
Be on guard for yourselves and for all THE FLOCK, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church OF GOD which he purchased with his own blood. (Ac. 20:28)
In this passage we see “the flock” equated with “the church of God.” “The church of God” is the “Ecclesia,” the assemblage of the “called out” saints Jesus referred to when He said, “I will build My church; and the gates (lit., powers) of Hades shall not overpower it.” In this Truth-replete statement, Jesus was succinctly indicating four major points about this “Ecclesia” He was personally engaged in building: one, it was His own personal possession, and no other person or group of persons; two, this particular group of called out, consecrated, and set apart believers, the Holy Race, is the only one He Himself is engaged in establishing; three, those “churches” or collections of peoples being led and built by mere men apart from His personal engagement are imposters and bogus counterfeits, false imitations, of the true Church that He Himself is building; and four, that the identifying and distinguishing mark of the true Church that Jesus Himself is building is that the individuals of this Ecclesia, and thus its collective whole as well, are not being overpowered and vanquished in terms of constitution, character, and conduct, by the powers and assailment of the devil’s kingdom, Hades.
Relating all this with what Paul said to the elders of the church at Ephesus: the bona fide, Born Again, called out, set apart from the world, sanctified, consecrated believers who comprise this Ecclesia which Jesus is building, are the exclusive possession of Christ Himself; they are the sheep of the Good Shepherd, Jesus; they are the sheep of God’s Flock, and not that of any mere human. The true sheep, the sheep of this Ecclesia, are those who “belong to Christ,“ meaning they are His possession, and are those who “have crucified the flesh with its (carnal and worldly and devilish) passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24, parenthesis added by author), which speaks of their having been sanctified and set apart in deed, not merely metaphorically.
Now the portion of the Apostle Paul’s poignant and impassioned exhortation to the Ephesian elders just quoted began with an admonition to “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock….” The subsequent verses specify what it was that the Apostle told them it was their responsibility from God as shepherds and overseers of God’s flock to guard against — the intrusion and infusion of “savage wolves.” He indicated this was an inevitable occurrence following his departure unto Rome (where he would be put to death), inevitable, presumably, that is, if preclusive action was not taken. Though Paul himself was speaking entirely of the churches of that day to whom he had ministerial responsibility, his Spirit-inspired admonition, especially since it is now part of canonized Scripture, is also a dire and rousing exhortation to the Ecclesia of Christ of every era, including the present one. Here is the entire text:
Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which he purchased with his own blood. I know that after my departure SAVAGE WOLVES will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. (Ac. 20:28)
Paul was warning these Fivefold ministers who were charged with edificational and governmental responsibility that there would be persons purporting to be anointed and appointed leaders infiltrating their ranks who were false, self-imposed interlopers motivated by self-aggrandizement, who would exploit the sheep for their own personal sordid gain. Paul seemed to be indicating that some of these “ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing,” as Jesus called them, would emerge even out of this very group of current elders who were assembled before him. He said these imposters would teach perverted, erroneous, and unproven doctrines in order to draw away the disciples after themselves, in effect causing those disciples to fall away from Jesus as their Shepherd in order to follow after and adhere to these errant and bogus ministers.
Now in so deceiving and leading astray those sheep, these seducers would prove they are “antiChrist wolves,” possessed and driven by an evil antiChrist spirit of the devil, because they are actually engaged in seducing the sheep to abandon Christ and the Truth in order to follow after these false shepherds and false saviors and their fallacious doctrines and indoctrinations.
This is precisely what is transpiring in the case of the perverted and invalid Discipleship/Shepherdship doctrines and those who propagate them. Nothing could be a more exact fulfillment of what the Apostle Paul predicted would transpire than the overt abuses and excesses in terms of human shepherdship taking place today in groups and churches under the auspices of these fallacious doctrines. Those teaching and operating in accordance with these deviant doctrines are indeed “drawing away disciples after themselves” and away from Jesus as their true Shepherd and Savior, abrogating Him in those offices, and substituting themselves instead. Discipleship shepherds via the tenets of these errant doctrines pose and interpose themselves as the de facto shepherd and savior of their followers, even though they may evoke the name of Jesus with superfluity in all the discourse of their public ministry. By “speaking perverse things,“ these “savage wolves,“ motivated by sordid and demonic passions and desires for ascendancy, adulation, and personal aggrandizement, have set themselves in the place of veneration Christ alone is worthy to occupy. Such usurpation is overtly and quintessentially antiChrist.
As I bring to a close this already full chapter in which we have focused on the folly of the notion of “spiritual covering” provided by mere human shepherds, please allow me to make one final, but no less important, point related to the subject of this chapter that further establishes the complete absurdity of this notion. It has to do with the individual believer’s completeness in Christ.
In his letter to the believers at Colossae, the Apostle Paul summarized his ministry and calling in this statement:
And we proclaim Him (Christ), admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man COMPLETE IN CHRIST. (Col. 1:28)
Though his intent was to summarize his own ministry and calling, his statement has afforded us a succinct synopsis of what the ministry per se is about. All of the elements of valid ministry are represented in the verbiage of this verse. The primary function of all ministry is to: proclaim (preach) Christ as Lord, Master, and Savior of all, juxtaposed to human lords, masters, and saviors; admonish (warn) every human being of the perils and consequences of disregard and disobedience of God and His Master Plan; teaching every human being of the principles of the Kingdom of God (i.e., the authority of Christ [Rev. 12:10]); and, to present every human being (who will give heed to what we minister to them) back to God COMPLETE IN CHRIST.
The ultimate goal of all ministry is to make every person who has submitted themselves to the gospel of the authority of Christ over their lives totally COMPLETE IN CHRIST; which is to say, spiritually WHOLE; which is to say, HOLY. This is the ultimate mission of all true ministry and every true minister, to make everyone to whom they minister spiritually complete in CHRIST.
Conversely, whether those who subscribe to and engage in them realize it or not, and I am sure there are some who genuinely do not realize it, Discipleship/Shepherdship doctrines and practices by their very nature do not promote the complete dependence on Christ that produces spiritual completion in Christ. Rather, as already discussed, the disposition of these doctrines are decidedly antiChrist in that they teach adherents to place their faith, hope, trust, confidence, and essentially their destiny in the spiritual efficacy of their human leaders, who, the heresy purports, are their effectual mediators unto God. Simply put, Shepherdship followers are taught to place all of their faith in their leaders, rather than looking through them to see Christ Himself as Lord and Savior.
As we shall discuss in the next chapter, those who have been genuinely anointed and appointed by Jesus to Fivefold Ministry offices certainly have a very valid and important role with regard to the spiritual edification of individual believers as well as the collective Church. However, Fivefold Ministers are like the moon to the sun, they have no glory or light of their own, but merely reflect “the True Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man” who believes in the Light (Jn. 1:9). As John the Baptist, Fivefold Ministers are not themselves the light, but rather merely “bear witness of the Light, that all might believe [in the True Light] through (them)” (v. 7). Ministers are not the source of the Light, they merely reflect and impart unto others the Light and Life of Christ through the proclaiming aspect of their ministry, that is, the revelation of Christ via preaching and teaching, coupled with the portraying aspect of their ministry, which is the revelation of Christ via their own exemplary conduct after the pattern of Christ.
It is by the True Light, Christ Himself, shining on us and in us that the darkness of sin is dispelled and vanquished by the Light of God’s Nature. Only Christ, the True Light Itself, the source of the Light, can do that. And, it is this, and this alone that makes us “complete.” Thus, our spiritual completeness can only be “in Christ.” But, in Christ, we are indeed complete. And, so absolute and perfect is this condition of “complete” that it is intrinsically impossible to improve upon it. Complete is complete. You cannot be more complete than complete.
Hence, when it is all said and done the only role that any human being has played in that completion that is attained “in Christ” is that of merely being a reflector of the glory of the Light, and even that is at best sporadic and imperfect, hindered as it is by the voids of darkness remaining yet within us all.
No, make no mistake about it: all the glory belongs exclusively to the Light, and not the imperfect reflectors.
Let us all therefore resolve to ascribe all glory to the One to whom it belongs, claiming none for ourselves, thereby sparing ourselves the eternal embarrassment and shame that will otherwise be ours when finally we stand before the Throne of the Light and witness firsthand the blinding brilliance of His Glory, which shall reveal our utter inanity, insanity, and hubris of having supposed that we ourselves were anything other than a mere reflector of the Light.