Your Pastor Isn’t Moses: a Response to John Bevere’s “Under Cover”

A while back when I posted on Facebook a question about authority teachers, one person told me that John Bevere’s book Under Cover had taught “church authority” in such a way that that it had nearly destroyed her and her family.

So I bought the book and started reading it.

I saw that the presentation of authority in the book was indeed dangerous and  . . . I might even say craftily presented.

First of all, Bevere spends the first 25-30% of the book establishing that God is the ultimate authority.

Then throughout the book he keeps coming back to examples of God as the ultimate authority, weaving those examples in and through the rest of the book.

But that’s a bit of a non-issue for me, because I already believe wholeheartedly in God’s authority. I want to follow Him wherever He leads and do whatever He says.

The question comes when talking about any people who have or claim to have spiritual authority. Do they actually have authority over the people of God? If so, what does that look like?

Bevere presents the answer to the first question as an unequivocal and resounding yes. You are to be “under the cover” of those in “spiritual authority” in your church. And by the term “spiritual authority,” I mean—and he means—“What I’m telling you to do is what God wants you to do.”

And by “under cover,” of course that means you are to give them unequivocal obedience.

Shades of umbrellas, perhaps?

In true Gothardesque umbrella-style theology, Bevere says, (page 165), “[O]ur judgment will be relative to our submission, for authority is of God. To resist delegated authority is to resist God’s authority.”

Of course his point all through the book is that God’s authority is delegated to the church leader, and as you obey the church leader, you are obeying God.

Here are a few of Bevere’s arguments to drive his point home, and my responses.

Bevere compares the man in the position of “church leader” to Moses

Bevere spends several pages (pages 159-163) describing accounts of the failures of the Israelites to follow Moses’ divinely-appointed leadership, and what happened to them as a result.

He then seamlessly moves into discussion of your pastor. Seamlessly, that is, because he never says, “Your pastor is in the place of Moses.” No, what he says is,

“You may consider yourself wiser than the children of Israel. . . . You would have discerned Moses was right . . . you would have been right there with Joshua.”

See what he did there?

He put you in the place of the Israelites. Then it’s a seamless assumption to put your pastor in the position of Moses.

Then he says (page 163), “What separated Joshua from the rest of his peers was not his discernment, but his ability to recognize and submit to true authority. Out of that came true discernment.”

The implication, of course, is that when and only when you submit to your pastor, you’ll be able to have true discernment.

Then he moves into the full-blown presentation of your “spiritual leader” as if he is in the place of Moses.

But no matter who your pastor is, he doesn’t fill the role of Moses.

No, in fact Moses himself said (Deuteronomy 18:15-19),

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.”

So . . . who was that prophet?

It most certainly was not your pastor.

It was Jesus.

In the days of the Old Covenant, Moses was chosen directly by God to lead the Israelites, and that choice was solidified again and again to the Israelites through one miracle after another.

Moses heard directly from God. There were no Scriptures in those days; Moses went up on the mountain and received the words from God. If the Israelites were going to hear anything from God, they had to get it from Moses. He was the intercessor of that day.

But the intercessor of our day is Jesus.

We, the New Covenant church, do not need another leader like Moses, because we have Jesus.

Moses was faithful in God’s house as a servant, and he spoke of the things that God would say in the future. But Christ is faithful as the Son in charge of God’s house. We are his house if we keep up our courage and our confidence in what we hope for. (Hebrews 3:5-6)

Bevere compares the man in the position of “church leader” to a king

In the same chapter, Bevere uses Esther’s approach to the Persian king to show you how you should approach your pastor when you disagree with him.

Obviously when you disagree with someone you want to be as polite and respectful as possible. But no, Bevere’s advice goes way beyond this.

You should approach your pastor as if he is a king.

He then backs it up with the story of David’s respect toward Saul and Abigail’s respect toward David.

You should approach your pastor as if he is a king.

Where does this come from? Certainly not from the Word of God. Jesus said, in Matthew 23:8-12,

You must not be called ‘Teacher,’ because you are all equal and have only one Teacher.  And you must not call anyone here on earth ‘Father,’ because you have only the one Father in heaven.  Nor should you be called ‘Leader,’ because your one and only leader is the Messiah.  The greatest one among you must be your servant.  Whoever makes himself great will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be made great.

Bevere’s teaching, while using Scripture to buttress it, goes completely counter to Scripture.

Bevere compares the man in the position of “church leader” to the apostle Paul

During our family’s church pilgrimage, for a year we were in a denomination that we discovered leaned so far toward pastor worship that it could perhaps have been called cultic. A friend gave me some sermons from the “chief among equals” pastor of a “sister church.”

As I listened to him talk about the pastor’s authority, I heard him pivot to talk about Paul. I remember thinking, “Oh, he’s not going to go there, is he? He’s not going to go there?”

But he did. He went there. He said that you are to treat your pastor as the New Testament believers treated the apostle Paul.

I was truly appalled, but my friend said, “That’s the kind of teaching we were fed on all the time. That was normal.”

But there’s quite a difference, you know.

Paul was the primary one to communicate God’s Word to His New Covenant people. He actually received the direct word of God. If your pastor argues that he also does, well, you could argue the same. Nowhere does the Bible say that being in a position of church leadership gives a person an inside track to the mind of God.

But not only does Bevere say your pastor is to be honored like the apostle Paul, he takes it a step further, perhaps even further than I’ve ever heard anyone take this “submission to church authority” thing.

Some back story:

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul had told his readers to put a certain man out of the church, a man who was flagrantly living in sin. Then in his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul told them that because the man had repented, they should forgive him, love him, and bring him back into the congregation.

Pretty straightforward.

But here is how Bevere presents it:

The apostle Paul told the Corinthian church to do something in his first letter that he altered in his second one. Once he changed his order to the church, he made this remarkable statement: “For this was my purpose in writing you, to test your attitude and see if you would stand the test, whether you are obedient and altogether agreeable [to follow my orders] in everything.” (2 Cor. 2:9 AMP).

Then, contrary to the truth that Paul wanted the Corinthians to follow truth and do the right thing, Bevere says, “Paul gave them orders for one purpose: to see whether they would submit to his authority.” (page 175)

That was a jaw-dropping statement to me. But because Bevere doesn’t give any context for Paul’s “order reversal,” he is able to make Paul’s orders sound completely capricious.

And yes, that’s how he follows this up. Keep reading.

I have a very wise friend who has been a pastor for years. He told me the way he finds insubordination among his workers is to give a directive that makes no sense. He said, “John, I’ll soon hear the gripes and complaints of the rebellious. I deal with it, then change the directive back to normal operations.”

A few sentences later: “The purpose: if they followed this directive, they would follow anything else.”

Indeed. All the staff members who were actually thinking, who realized that to spend time doing a senseless job was a waste of the Lord’s time and money, could be kicked out. Only the ones who mindlessly obeyed were kept on.

Is this the way the church of Jesus Christ is supposed to operate?

And no, that wasn’t like Paul at all. Not even a tiny bit. Besides the fact that Paul’s directives in 2 Corinthians did indeed make complete sense, if you’ll recall, Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians (11:1), “Follow me as I follow Christ.”

And as if that weren’t enough . . .

Bevere compares the man in the position of “church leader” to God

Yes, he certainly does.

Bevere tells the story of Moses pleading with the Lord regarding God’s decision. “First, Moses spoke in complete submission and with fear and trembling. Second, Moses pleaded passionately or petitioned God; he never commanded.” (page 173)

He then goes on to draw the comparison that you know is coming: this is our guideline for petitioning a church leader. The way Moses petitioned God is the way we are to petition church leaders.

Does this seem perilously close to idolatry to you?

Do you see why CEOs of abusive churches would love this book and order copies by the dozens and make it required reading for their members?

Who is your pastor, really?

Your pastor is supposed to be a leader, but not like a general. If we’re an army and there’s a general, that’s Jesus only.

As I described in detail here, your pastor is to be a leader like a guide on an expedition. He is to be one who is farther down the path of life—a little or a lot—and can say, along with others who are elder in the church, “Look! There’s Jesus! Let’s follow Him!”

That’s who your pastor is supposed to be.

But how are pastors often chosen? Well, in many churches, church “pulpit committees” will ask God to help them and will then put out a request for resumes to fill the job.

They’ll often look for graduates of certain seminaries, according to their denomination, and perhaps they’ll add other qualifiers and administrative strengths, as would an organization looking for a CEO.

After interviews with several prospective leaders, and praying, the committee will then ask one or two of the men to preach at their church. The Sunday the man “candidates” (verb) will often be the first time the church members have met him. There might be a dinner after church so they can talk with him more.

Then the congregation will vote according to how they liked the man, and if they vote yes, the man is invited to come be the leader of the church.

In another common scenario, a man starts a church on his own, perhaps commissioned by others from somewhere far away. Because something about him is very attractive, usually his speaking ability, and sometimes because he has secret investors behind him, he becomes very popular and draws crowds to his church. (Mark Driscoll is only one of many who have fit this pattern).

The people who flock to the church to hear the popular preacher don’t really know what he’s like behind closed doors, where he could be living a very different life.

What a far cry from either Moses or Paul this is.

The new pastor the church has gone to so much trouble to find, or the man who has started a church “on his own,” may be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

After all, it’s not that hard for a sociopath to present well for a while, and under certain circumstances.

And I’m telling you, wolves love to be in charge of the sheep. That’s why “pastor” is one of the most attractive jobs for sociopaths.

These men also love to preach “spiritual authority” like what John Bevere teaches. In fact, I heard from more than one person that Under Cover was required reading in their church, and it’s no wonder.

That “when I hear from my pastor I’m hearing from God” and “I dare not question my pastor except with fear and trembling like going before a king” attitude is exactly what cult leaders love.

True spiritual Christian leaders, on the other hand, will want to faithfully present the Word of God, will faithfully walk with those who are on the road of following Jesus, and will never, ever consider themselves on a different spiritual plane than the ones they serve.

In a healthy church, the “members,” those of us who are “parts of the body,” will view the pastor the same way.

John Bevere’s Under Cover “spiritual authority” sets up a situation perfect for a cult to thrive.

That is not what God wants for His people.

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Julie
Julie
14 days ago

It’s so much easier for a regular church goer to go to a church where a pastor like this holds sway. I know I remember living like this myself for a long time. It’s easier because we think, “Well, he speaks for God. I’ll just listen to what he has to say. I’ll get a word from God. That’s religion done for the week.”

Even when I heard things that didn’t sound quite right, I assumed it was me getting things wrong again. When I felt burdened and heavy-ladened by his words, I would hear the “good” church people (the in-crowd) say how much they love this guy — how much they felt the presence of God when this guy spoke. And… they threw buckets of money at what ever project he rolled out, ostensibly to “reach the lost.” He was so successful! And so “blessed!” It seemed to work.

You don’t have to think, analyze, search the scriptures, compare to other sermons. You just swallow what he’s dishing. If he says to hold him up as THE spiritual authority, then… bam! You’ve got someone to tell you what to do and how things are going to work. No more searching, no more doubting, no more baby steps. He’ll yank you along. Easy!

Lillian M.
Lillian M.
Reply to  Julie
14 days ago

Well written article. No man is the head of the church, only Jesus.

Maria
Maria
14 days ago

I started out in college going to a church like that. Set me up for a great deal of heartache. It’s dangerous!

Lana
Lana
14 days ago

Oh thank you for exposing this. I desire to love God with all my heart & follow Him, but have found that I must currently abandon the “American church” in order to grow or thrive at all in my personal relationship with God. Having grown up in this described environment as a “Preacher’s Kid”, I received a doubly harmful dose of this, as authoritarian parental authority & pastoral authority were blurred together into total domination & control. I am now so glad to only be under the control of the Holy Spirit, what freedom God gives us and truly His yoke is easy & His burden is light. ❤️

Grateful for Wisdom
Grateful for Wisdom
14 days ago

The choosing of pastors seems to be a problem area. It is just too common and too easy for the trusting, the unwary or naive (any category of person who does not yet have strong discernment) to fall into a “bad” pastor situation and the leavening and damaging effect that has on a congregation and on one’s faith walk.
It would be nice if the leadership role philosophy was spelled out on a church website, but can that even be trusted?
Charisma and even basic mind control methods can be blinding.
And how can a new Christian know what to look for? They are really at the mercy of those who have come before them, the elders and long term members, who by their presence and fruit should convey the legitimacy and identity of the spirit who leads their pastor.
Why does finding a proper church seem so dangerous and difficult?

Brenda Linn
Brenda Linn
14 days ago

I have heard the scripture passage ‘touch not mine anointed’ used multiple times to ‘protect’ religious ‘leaders’ from questioning.

As if questioning a religious leader constitutes an attack…?!

In fact, questioning a religious leader has often been treated as a more serious offense than the serious offenses committed by that religious ‘leader’

What’s up with that?!

NGal
NGal
Reply to  Brenda Linn
14 days ago

We all are ‘Lord’s anointed’ as His people, and the One who’s the head Anointed One sits in the Heavens.
In the New Covenant we are all equal and expected to question and test everything. Including sermons preached by famous leaders.. thank God for that freedom!

NGal
NGal
14 days ago

It is really sad, indeed.
Someone should address him – although, I doubt it would bear any fruit.
In his other book, ‘Thus Said the Lord?’, he did very aptly question, and disagree with, the false authority used by many modern ‘prophets’… and the submission they often demand.
That is why I am so bewildered at the obvious contradiction and his failure the recognise that demands for excessive submission are dangerous in any context, not only when presented by ‘prophetic voices’…

John’s wife Lisa has often had good sermons and insights about being a daughter loved by God etc.. and she’s openly shared her own struggles as a woman. That is why it is so sad that John is propagating such a twisted doctrine about church authority and submission.

NGal
NGal
Reply to  Rebecca Davis
14 days ago

In the book ‘Thus Saith The Lord?’, he writes about the misuse of authority often demanded by those who claim to speak as God’s direct mouthpiece, and how personal ‘words from the Lord’ should not be blindly received or allowed to replace our personal relationship with God. So it’s very contradictory that in this other book ‘Under Cover’ he is suggesting that those in leadership suddenly *should* be followed blindly.

Lisa Latil Adams
Lisa Latil Adams
14 days ago

Excellent — thank you so much for addressing this topic & book. We attended a Calvary Chapel for 7 years, and one of their ‘distinctives’ is that they follow the ‘Moses Model’ of leadership. They kept this well-hidden until they figured we were ‘loyal’ enough to be told.

The local elders, we discovered (my husband was one), had NO say in how things were done or dealt with; they were only for ‘show’… the pastor’s true ‘board’ lived in other cities/states, and they were the ‘officers’ in his corporation (our congregation — & he was the ‘president’ of the corporation.) They rubber-stamped whatever the pastor wanted to do. Sigh.

Calvary Chapels do not have ‘membership’, and they say it’s so people will be ‘free’ — but in reality, if a corporation has no ‘members’, then the president holds/owns everything. The pastor even laughingly referred to the setup as a ‘benign dictatorship’, in private meetings, and people thought he was joking. The deception surrounding it all was astounding, once we began to ‘see’ it, the cognitive dissonance played havoc with our minds & our families’ minds. It made for a very dysfunctional congregation that just got more oppressive the longer you attended.

Lisa
Lisa
Reply to  Rebecca Davis
8 days ago

Thank you, Rebecca. And amen. <3

Cindy Burrell
14 days ago

What you shared here is so important for us to understand as believers. I attended several churches where many things sounded almost right, but I had to quell the Spirit within me to accommodate those twisted truths. Needless to say, I ultimately had to shake the dust off my feet as a testimony against them and walked away.

Untruths such as those you expose here will always lead us to some form of bondage. Always.

Robyn Van der zee
Robyn Van der zee
14 days ago

I was in a church where this book was compulsory reading for leaders. The senoir leaders utilised this teaching to cover up all sorts of horrific things, and they weren’t to be questioned or accountable as they saw themselves as only accountable to God. it is a pervasive teaching in the Australian Christian Church network which is connected to Hillsong, who have now have churches around the world. These teachings from John Bevere are also prominently followed in theses churches and utilised to cover up all manner of horrible and unlawful things such as chronic paedophilia of leaders. I am a Psychologist and clinical counsellor with 20+ years experience. Both from a spiritual and psychological perspective this teaching is very concerning and seems more cultlike than biblical.

Robyn Van der zee
Robyn Van der zee
Reply to  Rebecca Davis
13 days ago

Challenging as it is, over the last 20 years I have counselled numbers of people, men as well as women, who have had similar experiences in church circles. It has been a real eye opener and a shock at first. For many years now I have been part of an international professional group of specialist complex trauma therapists, many with doctorate degrees, so not fly by nighters with next to no qualifications, and they can testify similarly.

NGal
NGal
Reply to  Robyn Van der zee
14 days ago

Horrible. I’m so sorry. I had a similar experience in my ex-church. The pastoral couple were seen as ‘king and queen’…
Mind you, this is very much against our egalitarian culture, and it did not sit well with people…

Catherine
Catherine
14 days ago

Wow. That’s scary. I used to idolize the Beveres, but that is crafty and evil. So over control. Don’t they like the fact that Jesus was humble and did the slave jobs? Maybe we should bring back foot washing ceremonies. Pastors  acting like Jesus. Lol.
Thank you for your intelligence and insight . Bless you

Lisa Meister
Lisa Meister
14 days ago

I so agree with churches being abusive where the pastor is the one who hears from God and everyone else just follows all he says. Yes, the Israelites had Moses be their intermediary, but it was because they had rejected the honor of going before God on their own. They shuddered in fear at the presence of the Lord. This fear caused them to turn to Moses who already had a relationship with Him. I see it as spiritual laziness. Our last church had this abusive ministry style that ended up causing great hurt to members of my family. We had to leave. Our new church has a pastor who wants to know what our ministry is and then backs us up and encourages us to go after what God has put each of us here on earth to do. He is our cheerleader, prayer warrior, advisor and friend. He points everyone to Jesus. I am very thankful for him and his walk before God and his congregation. Unfortunately, this is not the norm in the church as a whole. Thank you for courageously taking this on.

NGal
NGal
Reply to  Lisa Meister
13 days ago

Wow. How blessed you and your family are to have met such a pastor. Thankfully such leaders exist. How I pray there would be many more, genuine shepherds after God’s heart.

Tim Yarbrough
Tim Yarbrough
14 days ago

That quote you provided from page 165 of the book: “[O]ur judgment will be relative to our submission, for authority is of God. To resist delegated authority is to resist God’s authority.” offers the opportunity to examine how the train runs off the track. Properly stated this should read: “[O]ur judgment will be relative to our understanding of and submission to the revealed Word of God as He has presented it. To resist properly delegated authority LAWFULLY APPLIED is to resist the proper application of God’s established order.”

Of course, such a proposition requires, in fact, demands, a Berean approach. What if your “church leader” is named Diotrephes (3 John 9-10) and conducts himself in that fashion (a very common disposition in families, congregations, business, civil government)? What if your church leader is one of those carriers found in I Cor. 11:9 “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.” What if your “church leader” is one of those described in Jude 4: “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” What if your “church leadership” is one of those that Isaiah talked about because they “teach for doctrines the commandments of men.” Mark 7:7b. What if your “church leadership is like James and John, the sons of Zebedee and seek to be like the Gentiles and lord it over God’s heritage (Mark 10:35-45).

No one should be trusted because of their position. In the Scripture, the only grounds for depositing trust with a fellow human being, including “church leadership”, is because they are found by life and conduct to be trustworthy – not because of their self-authentication.

NGal
NGal
13 days ago

Of course, there is one more book by Bevere called ‘Bait of Satan’, where he blasts those of us who have left abusive churches and calls wounded sheep rebellious and deceived.
Ah well, I guess David was rebellious then, since he didn’t stay under Sauls’ authority, but fled for his life. It’s funny how David is often used as a prime example for someone who submits to their God-given authority… but less often as a reminder that we need to flee from harmful situations and people.

Robyn Van der zee
Robyn Van der zee
Reply to  NGal
13 days ago

Exactly, its amazing how they use this example in this way, when actually David fled, and it wasn’t rebellion, rather fleeing for his safety from someone who was jealous of him. And yes I am my colleagues have seen the book “Bait of Satan”, so many times utilised unfortunately in this manner

Last edited 13 days ago by Robyn Van der zee
Trudy
Trudy
13 days ago

Hello Rebecca,

I read your post about John Bevere and it was excellent and I thank you for writing it.

I also was wondering if you are aware that he is also a “recovering” porn addict? And that he and his wife have a Ministry called “Porn Free.”

She also says in one of her articles that his struggle with pornography was not just his problem, but it was their problem.
I’m not in total agreement with that…..

You can google them.

I just thought it was interesting, since now he wrote the book “Under Cover.” It’s creepy to me…..because with addictions, there usually is a life that is literally covered up….

Just a thought…..

Russ Meek
9 days ago

I talk a bit about my experience with Under Cover here: https://www.fathommag.com/stories/break-the-teeth-in-their-mouths-o-god

Russ Meek
Reply to  Rebecca Davis
8 days ago

Thanks so much, Rebecca. I’m grateful for what you’re doing to lay bare this nonsense!