Moving Outside the Walls
Well, maybe we don’t have all the answers. What if someone steps outside the well worn paths? What if we stop assuming that the Sunday gathering should be the pre-eminent experience of the Christian life?
Suddenly a lot of other answers that were taken for granted are less than obvious. The journey in search of Christ outside the structures is not an easy one. I’ve found the journey to be far more emotional and upsetting to my life than I thought it would be.
First I dealt with guilt and self doubt at leaving the church. Am I a rebel? Do I just have trouble fitting in? Is there really a serious problem with this structure or am I getting paranoid?” There were plenty of voices willing to answer those questions in the affirmative!
The inner dialogue heated up. Who am I to think I can do better? Aren’t I just being divisive and proud, thinking a few are finding the answers when the many are not, but are lost in the system or merely going through the motions?
The internal questions didn’t stop. I could clearly see that I had not become perfect, and that I didn’t have all the answers. In fact, if anything, I had fewer answers than ever. But I was bothered by the certitude of those around me. “Surely everything is just fine,” reminded me of Jeremiah 6:14, “And they have healed the brokenness of My people lightly saying, “Peace, peace,” but there is no peace.”
Over time I did see my own motivations more clearly. I saw my own need for recognition and for power. This wasn’t a pretty sight.
As my family and myself resigned our membership and stepped outside the IC, we began to deal with other issues of identity. More than one minister asked us, “Who will be your covering?”
I went to the New Testament. The word “covering” never occurs. I began to wonder what these men meant by the question, which I had always assumed was a good one.
After some thought and dialogue I realized that their question had to do with authority, and was based on the assumption that if we resigned our membership and were simply to meet with other believers casually, we would no longer be “under authority.” We would thus constitute an “illegal” meeting and we would be unprotected, possibly in rebellion against God, and vulnerable to attack by the enemy.
That was the positive side. On the negative side, they felt that their authority was being challenged. It was. Some feared the loss of financial support, particularly if the movement outside the walls became more widespread. It requires a great deal of money to support the structures and buildings of the typical large church.
About this time I ran across a book by Frank Viola titled, “Who Is Your Covering?” In the introduction Frank states,
“If the Bible is silent with respect to the idea of “covering,” what do people mean when they ask, “Who is your covering?” Most people (if pressed) would rephrase the question as: “To what person are you accountable?” But this raises another sticky point: the Bible never consigns accountability to human beings. It consigns it exclusively to God (Matt. 12:36; 18:23; Luke 16:2; Rom. 3:19; 14:12; 1 Cor. 4:5; Heb. 4:13; 13:17; 1 Pet. 4:5). Strangely, however, the Biblically sound answer to this question (“I am accountable to the same person you are–God”) is often a prescription for misunderstanding and a recipe for false accusation.
“Thus, while the timbre and key of “accountability” may differ from that of “covering,” the song is often the same. And it is one that does not harmonize with the unmistakable singing of Scripture. (Please note that there is a healthy form of accountability in the church, which we will explore later. But the brand of accountability connected with the “covering” doctrine lacks Biblical merit.)
“What do people really mean when they push the “covering” question? I submit that what they are actually asking is, “Who controls you?” The common (mis)teaching about “covering” really boils down to questions about who controls whom. In fact, the modern institutional church is built upon this idea of control.
“If we critically examine the “covering” doctrine, we will discover that it is rooted in a one-up/one-down, chain-of-command style of leadership where those in higher ecclesiastical positions have a tenuous hold on those under them. And it is through such top-down control that believers are said to be protected from error (a la “covered”).
“The concept goes something like this: everyone must answer to someone else who is in a higher ecclesiastical position. In the garden-variety, post-war evangelical church, this translates into the “laypeople” answering to the pastor. In turn, the pastor must answer to a person who has more authority.”
Frank goes on to reflect that this line of reasoning generates many more questions, like who covers the mother church, and then who covers the denominational headquarters?
“The answers beg the question, for why can’t God be the covering for the “laypeople,” just as he is for denominational leaders? The real problem with the “covering” concept is that it violates the spirit of the NT; for behind the pious rhetoric of “providing accountability” and “having a covering,” there looms a system of government that is bereft of Biblical support and driven by a spirit of control.”
Suddenly aware of the convoluted structure of the IC and the cultural nature of assumptions commonly held, we began to discover a new freedom and authority. We began to look again at our identity in Christ. By whose authority do I presume to proclaim Jesus to my neighbor? By the authority of the church on the corner, or by Jesus direct commission to all His disciples? By what authority do I question established thinking like that above? What does it mean to be a priest and directly connected to the head? How do I fit in the body now? Who and where is my “church?” All this soul searching, and searching of the Scriptures, can be exhausting!