I believe in unity among believers—wholeheartedly. I believe it is vital to the Body of Christ in order to accomplish the purposes and plans of God on Earth. More importantly, beyond believing in it, I want it. No, I covet it! That is, I have a strong desire for it. I much prefer unity over disunity, harmony over disharmony, accord over discord, concord over controversy, agreement over disagreement, amity over animus. Don’t you?
We know God likes unity too. God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit spoke about it in Scripture:
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! (Ps. 133:1)
I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, that the world may know that Thou didst send Me, and didst love them, even as Thou didst love Me. (Jn. 17:23)
being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph. 4:3)
until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. (Eph. 4:13)
And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. (Col. 3:14)
I believe in and strongly desire unity, but I believe in Biblical unity. There are more versions of unity than just the Biblical one, however, that are not based in the principles of God’s Word, Will, and Ways, but in a far different philosophy and agenda. For example there is the Muslim version of unity in which everyone in the world believes in Allah and practices the Koran, and the entire population of the world is divided into two classes—believers and infidels. There is the Catholic Church’s concept of unity, in which all the religions of the world are coalesced into a single “unified” universal church. Then, there is the humanistic, Age of Aquarius, concept of utopian unity poetically and melodiously articulated by the hedonistic pied piper of the 1960s, John Lennon, in his idyllic ode to Godless one-world collectivism, Imagine. And, that’s just to name a few!
Pentecostals and Neo-Pentecostals have been taught yet another adulterated version of unity that has actually become chains of bondage to them. The centerpiece of that version is the hypothesis of “covenant relationships.”
In a nutshell, the premise of “covenant relationships” is that since all believers have come into a covenant-based relationship with God through Christ and His shed blood, and consequently have been “adopted” into the Divine Family (all of which, of course, is most true), then therefore, by virtue of that union, all believers have also automatically entered into a permanent, binding covenant with every other professing “believer” who has likewise become a partaker of the same transactions. Hence the term “covenant relationships.”
This precept of “covenant relationships” with which most Charismatics are familiar had its origins during the Latter Rain Movement that began in 1948, introduced in the writings of a small number of proponents of the teaching associated with the movement. It is important in scrutinizing this concept for the purpose of assaying its validity to keep in mind that it was an important patch in the fabric of “the manifested sons of God” doctrine—a primary component of Latter Rain theology—which the vast majority of theologians consider heretical. Nevertheless, Latter Rain adherents continued to promulgate their version of “covenant relationships” during the Pentecostal Movement during the 1950s, the Charismatic Movement with all of its sub-movements that began in 1960 and ebbed in the mid-1980s, as well as the nascent Prophetic and Apostolic Movements. It was during one of the submovements of the Charismatic Movement—the Shepherding Movement of the 1970s—that the fallacious concept of “covenant relationship” became widely accepted and thereby was woven into the very fabric, foundations, and functions of the Neo-Pentecostal Church.
The primary emphasis of the “covenant relationships” teaching is the interdependence and “koinonia” (i.e., commonality) among believers that it predicates on the fact that we are now “blood-brothers/sisters” by virtue of our having been adopted into the Family of God. Typically, purported scriptural support for this version of interrelations among believers relies heavily upon Luke’s account in the Book of Acts concerning what took place in the Early Church in the days immediately following the original Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit:
And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common [Greek, “koina”; hence, “koinonia”]; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
This passage is indeed a key source of information about the supernatural atmosphere in the Early Church following Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, appearance, and ascension that transpired as a result of apostolic anointing and impartation. It truly was an ecstatic time! As the Body of Christ, individually and collectively, were being transformed into a collective Holy Habitation of the Spirit of God, and were gradually becoming more and more cognizant of who they were through the apostle’s teaching, their commitment and dedication to one another increased commensurately. There was a commonality, koinonia, that developed among them, in which they were bearing one another’s burdens in both prayer and practice, and living a life-style that was a daily practice of vivid connection with the Spirit of God and one another.
In trying to understand this commonality, it is vital to understand that it developed as a direct result of their devotion “to the apostle’s teaching,” preeminently. The apostolic dimension, when a group of people truly receive and devote themselves to it, will produce a supernatural atmosphere—an anointed ambiance—in which the supernatural is commonplace. And when I say, supernatural, I am not referring only to the signs and wonders of healing, deliverance, and the miraculous, that were taking place through the apostles, but also to the signs and wonders—the supernatural—that was taking place in the interrelations and interactions of these people.. It is not “natural,” that is, normal human nature, for a group of people to be collectively and individually “devoted” to much of anything. It is not natural for a group of people to “day by day,” consistently and persistently, “continue” in anything, much less something good and noble. Moreover, it is certainly not natural for a group of people to day by day continue in something “with one mind,” and especially not in the Temple (church). But then to continue with one mind not only in the Temple but also as they broke bread together in Christian Communion in one another’s homes, even doing it with “gladness and sincerity of heart,” confirmed beyond doubt that what they were living in was truly a supernatural atmosphere! No wonder they were “having favor with all the people!”
This was genuine commonality, koinonia, or interdependence at its finest! This was living out in daily life Jesus’ Commandment, which He said summed up all the law and the prophets—Love God and love one another. This was the essence and summation of the “Christian Life.” For this brief moment in time described in Luke’s account, the Early Church was a living paragon of Truth. They were “true worshipers,” because they were worshiping God both in spirit and in truth, simultaneously. There was no separation between the spiritual truths they espoused and the application of those truths in their daily lives. This snapshot of the Early Church when koinonia was its centerpiece, is the model that the End-times Church should be attempting to emulate and regain.
So, lest I be misunderstood, let me hasten to say I wholeheartedly believe the principle of interdependence and commonality among believers is a valid principle, that is, within its Biblical bounds and framework. It is an incontrovertible fact that all genuinely Born Again believers have been “adopted” into the Family of God, and as a result have become spiritual brothers and sisters in the Lord. So also, the New Testament especially is replete with passages reminding us of our especial responsibility toward “the Brethren.” Thus, in no way am I demeaning or diminishing the validity of the special familial-type relationship in which the Brethren all share, or the special responsibility incumbent upon each of us regarding our brothers and sisters in the Lord. A study of the “one anothers” in the books of the New Testament will bring to light the privilege and responsibility really entailed in Jesus’ command to “love one another.” Moreover, I would wholly concur that this privileged responsibility inherent with our special fraternal relationship has very real and pragmatic application in the natural realm and by no means is to be construed merely as spiritual rhetoric.
The Perverting Effect of Latter Rain Mysticism
Nevertheless, while the precept of interdependence and commonality among believers is certainly a valid one, as is the case with a number of other facets of truth, the version of “covenant relationships” that so many Charismatics have been indoctrinated with is a distortion and perversion that “exceed(s) that which is written,” going beyond the in which the God-intended meaning and application as delineated in Scripture. A common denominator of all heretical teaching is the “super-spiritualization” of perfectly valid principles presented in the Word of God that are intended to have a fairly natural, pragmatic application, and on the other hand, “naturalization,” or codifying in the natural realm, those things which essentially are spiritual metaphors and not intended to have an literal or natural application. The term that describes such super-spiritualization is: “mysticism.” Unfortunately mysticism was quite prevalent in the doctrines of the Latter Rain Movement, and due to the continued strong influence of Latter Rain teaching upon the Neo-Pentecostal church, mysticism and mystical doctrines remain quite prevalent in the theology and culture of those churches yet today.
The version of “covenant relationships” that has now permeated much of the Pentecostal and Neo-Pentecostal church is a product of this spiritually toxic rue of Truth mixed with mysticism. Under the auspices of the fallacious and errant teachings that emerged from the Shepherding Movement, which were significantly influenced by Latter Rain teaching, the application of this Scripturally-valid principle of interdependency and fraternal responsibility among believers is extended far beyond its import and true intent, and conveniently transformed into very unscriptural chains of spiritual bondage and captivation. While believers are to value and validate fraternal relationships, as well as demonstrate a certain measure of indefatigable and “unconditional” commitment to one another, those relationships in terms of their application in the natural realm in the here and now are not sacrosanct or inviolable, and they most definitely do have limits. Understanding and acknowledging those limits is imperative to avoid excess and error.
No one in his right mind would be so foolish as to hold that this interdependence or “koinonia” amongst the Brotherhood does not have limits and boundaries. If you do, dear friend, I have some bills I would be happy to send you to pay, since absolute interdependence and liberal interpretation of “koinonia” would mean my bills are your bills. Oh, and there is a new car I am going to order and send you the bill to pay too.
Likewise, thank God that the concept of interdependence among believers to achieve “unity” does not infer an obligation to live under one roof, commune-style, with everyone else who claims to be a Christian. If it did, I’d go loony in a hurry, because I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but as my former pastor used to say, “God has some strange kids!” I’m sorry, no one will ever convince me that communal living as a paradigm for believers today is the import of the Acts account of the Early Church as some people contend. As far as I’m concerned there’s no roof big enough for more than one family unit. Sometimes there’s no roof big enough for one family! Thank God, while calling us to a certain kind and degree of spiritual interdependence, at the same time, He has mandated a certain kind and degree of independence as well. Just because we are all part of the “Family of God”—we don’t all have to live together under one roof, nor in some sort of a Christian kibbutz.
It’s no different than how God has designed it in the natural. We are all members of the human race, but we are not married to everyone, but only to one spouse, and we have our own family with whom we are intimate and to whom we are wholly committed. Moreover, we have our own home we “go home” to each night—otherwise, it would be perfectly okay for a complete stranger to come sashaying into your house in the evening saying, “Hi, folks, I’m home! What’s for supper?” We all have blood-relatives, but thank God we don’t have to all live together under one roof as one family unit. If we did the insane-asylums and prisons would be far more populated.
In the next part, we examine further the excessive side of “covenant relationships” and discuss its adverse effects in the lives of believers and in the culture of churches that espouse those excessive concepts.
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from the book, CHARISMATIC CAPTIVATION, by Dr. 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 the pertinences associated with that movement.