Is UBF really a “Bible fundamentalist organization,” as the German newspaper “Süddeutsche Zeitung” wrote in a 8/23/2002 article? Or should UBF be classified with the “word fundamentalism” groups, as the cult commissioner of the German Protestant church in Rhineland suggests in his book “Im Labyrinth der Seelenfänger” (“In the maze of the soul catchers”)? Outsiders to UBF may get the impression that UBF is a “Bible fundamentalist organization,” but this label is misleading, as it gives the impression that the Bible is read “too much” or taken “too seriously” in UBF. The real problem is that, although the Bible is read much in UBF, it is read in a one-sided, prejudiced and false way. Furthermore, the leaders in particular are clearly showing through their behavior that the opposite is true, that they do not take the Bible seriously, but only use it to further their own agenda, interpreting the Bible arbitrarily.
The label “Bible fundamentalist” also suggests that UBF stands on the foundation of the Bible. This is not true at all. Most members who are leaving UBF are doing this primarily because of the unbiblical teachings and (most notably) unbiblical practices in UBF. The Bible is used only as a means to an end, to legitimize UBF with suitable verses. In cases of doubt, however, the word of the leaders and the “tradition” of UBF is given more weight than the word of God in the Bible. The American and Korean UBF leadership rejected the reform movement and worked to expel reform supporters because the reformers had allegedly rejected the “traditions” of UBF; no biblical grounds were given.
The secular media often associates Christian “fundamentalists” with “fanatical-militant” anti-abortion activists in the USA. UBF cannot be considered “fundamentalist” in this regard either. This is because there are credible reports that abortions of unborn children have been demanded of UBF members in the USA and Korea. There hardly seems to be any ethical standard in UBF which could not be violated by the leaders. Their unofficial motto is “the end (the mission) justifies the means.” This is often expressed as “overcoming unspiritual humanism.” Equipped with such a mindset, the UBF leaders and many members no longer feel bound by biblical commandments or moral standards. Many UBF members, particularly leaders, have no problems with lying, cover ups, breaking the law, demanding divorces and re-marriages of members, and doing many other unethical and unbiblical things, if they serve the agenda of UBF. Such an organization cannot be called “Bible fundamentalist.”
On the contrary, the Bible demands the highest ethical and moral standards, which Jesus Christ intensified in his Sermon on the Mount to the utmost, e.g. by demanding: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The standard God demands of his children is the perfect nature of God himself, even if they cannot accomplish it in this life. The perfect ethics of Jesus is the guide line of every Christian. Countermanding of this ethics pretending to serve the aims of Jesus can only be called a perversion of the Bible.
The neglect of family in favor of mission which is taught and practiced in UBF is not at all biblical (see Mk 7:9-13, Jn 19:27, 1Tim 3:4-5, Tit 2:4-5). The creation of an authoritarian hierarchy of leaders in the church is not biblical either (see Lk 22:24-27, Mt 23:8, 1Cor 4:6-7, Jam 2:1-9), nor is the demand for absolute obedience towards leaders that is taught in UBF (Acts 5:29). Many more unbiblical teachings and practices of UBF can be cited, as shown by the statements from former members on the Info Pages and Internet discussion forums.
An example making this contradiction to the Bible very visible is the official title of the current topmost UBF leader “(Reverend) Mother Sarah Barry.” This is a clear disobedience towards Jesus’ words in the Bible (Mt 23:8,9), saying you shouldn’t give any spiritual leader honorary titles or even call him “father,” the title “mother” for a leader being even more erroneous from a biblical point of view. Even all co-workers address each using the honoring title “missionary” or “shepherd,” violating Jesus’ admonitions in the Bible every day, as well as disregarding the example of the Apostles in the Bible who simply were addressed as “brothers.”
Worst of all, there are UBF teachings that are not only unbiblical, but also alter the core of the Gospel, the doctrine of justification. These unbiblical teachings include the doctrine of justification by doing works and observing man-made rules, such as the weekly compulsory Bible study and testimony writing, which is not officially taught, but enforced and taught in practice. These unbiblical teachings also include the pressure to do well in conforming with UBF standards, and the constant threat of being condemned because of one’s insufficiently devoted or obedient attitude or lack of “fruit” (number of sheep). These practices and teachings violate the biblical doctrine of justification, which is summed up in Eph 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” In UBF this biblical teaching about salvation is constantly subverted by UBF practices. Members do not believe that they have already been saved, and that God protects them and keeps them to the end, but that they can only be saved by “fighting the spiritual battle” in the UBF way with all their energy until the end of their lives.
Biblical concepts are often reinterpreted or redefined in UBF. It has already been mentioned that “fruit” in UBF is mainly understood as bringing in new members and making them permanent co-workers. In the Bible, however, “fruit” primarily refers to the changed ethical and moral behavior of a Christian, especially the Christian’s love (cf. Jn 15:8-9,16-17, Rom 6:22, Gal 5:22). However, the biblical concept of fruit is deemphasized in UBF by calling it “inner fruit,” in contrast with the more desirable “outward fruit.” In UBF, what counts in the end is whether you are successfully fulfilling your mission, not your inner change. Another example is the word “calling,” a core concept in the description of a Christian’s understanding of his existence and salvation. In UBF, this word “calling” is reduced to the meaning of being “called” to be a co-worker in the UBF campus mission. From this redefinition of “calling,” entirely wrong understandings of whole Bible passages arises. For example, leaving UBF is equated with leaving the faith and leaving one’s calling into the Kingdom of God. This teaching is supported by including reports in the sermons or in the one-to-one Bible studies about people getting into terrible accidents or financial difficulties after they left UBF. Years later, this still can lead to confusion, doubt and psychological trauma for persons when they have to leave UBF voluntarily or involuntarily. “Grace” in turn, another biblical core concept describing the mercy and love of God with its highest expression in what he has done in Jesus Christ, is understood as grace of being allowed to co-work in UBF for world mission, etc. Many more concepts are one-sidedly related to UBF. The wrong or one-sided occupation of central biblical concepts with a predefined narrow alleged meaning eventually results in the inability to understand the whole Bible in its real meaning, even if it is frequently read.
Of course the “work of God” or the “body of Christ” is always associated with UBF, even if members admit theoretically that other Christians also could be included. When the Bible is read, however, these concepts are occupied with the meaning of “UBF” automatically. There are also biblical terms which are not reinterpreted, but simply avoided or replaced by other expressions. So e.g. somebody’s husband or wife is only named her or his “co-worker” in UBF, a marriage is called a “house church.” Marriage is reduced to a convenience partnership with the only purpose of mission, undermining its biblical absolute value in itself and its indissolubility. If a partner doesn’t want to co-work in UBF any more, the marriage loses its meaning for UBF, and the other partner is often encouraged and pushed to divorce and marry somebody else in UBF. Such divorces and re-marriages with the blessing or under the pressure of leaders have already very frequently occurred in UBF, although this is a completely unbiblical practice (cf. Mt 19:9; 1Cor 7:12). The central biblical word “love” is used also little in UBF, but instead people habitually and persistently emphasize that somebody is having a “shepherd heart,” even if this term doesn’t occur in the Bible at all (Samuel Lee had the greatest “shepherd heart” of course). That term means the authoritarian, bonding, submitting kind of “love” in UBF that is making members dependent of their shepherds. The expression “decision of faith” describes in UBF any step to conform more to the group or to comply to the demands of the leadership, which often is not done independently and well-considered, but hastily and forced. An arranged marriage in the style of UBF is described as a “marriage of faith.” In this way many doubtful things are glossed over with positive biblical expressions. But behind the façade of biblical language, many unbiblical elements can be found.
If you look carefully, you find the underlying fundament of UBF to be not the Bible, but a predefined teaching and practice provided by the organization, garnished with a biblical touch, however, primarily consisting of components of Confucianism and the philosophy of its founder Samuel Lee, aiming essentially at increasing the organization and the power and honor of its leaders. The Bible is then only used as an external authority and legitimization to confirm and enforce the already predefined teaching and practice, after reinterpreting and one-sidedly misinterpreting the biblical teachings.
In studying the Bible, passages or whole books of the Bible that do not fit into the UBF agenda are simply left out or skipped over explaining them away with only a few words or are reinterpreted, and only certain books and passages which emphasize mission, obedience and devotion are read over and over again. UBF does not try to understand the teachings of the Bible seriously and objectively, but every Bible study always uses a UBF-made “questionnaire” steering the Bible study into the direction that UBF desires. Also no systematic theology or Bibliology is developed in UBF, but the Bible is always read in sections, without any exception. A particular biblical issue is never systematically learned or preached, such as justification, the Holy Spirit, marriage, church growth, church leadership, etc. Biblical commandments like baptism and Holy Communion are therefore neglected and nothing is taught about them. Fundamental topics such as hermeneutics, apologetics, dogmatics (doctrine), missiology or pastoral counseling are not covered, and these are all foreign topics within UBF. Consulting commentaries or Christian literature, listening to preachers outside of UBF or even attending Bible seminaries or theological lectures outside of UBF are frowned upon and are also hardly possible due to the time-consuming demands of the UBF program. The intellectual level of the Bible studies is amazingly low, despite the claim of wanting to be a “student ministry” that evangelizes universities. Even the leaders in UBF usually have no theological education, but they are very proud of their being “laity.” And many so-called “missionaries” have an even poorer biblical knowledge than their leaders; most of them not studying or teaching in the university, but working in Korean companies or as housewives, not caring about their further education. The UBF leaders also refuse to hear any criticism even if it is biblically founded. You would expect that a Bible fundamentalist leader would at least try to justify his behavior with the Bible.
UBF is not fundamentalist in the sense that is used today by the media to depict violent and fanatical followers of a religion. Nor is UBF “Bible fundamentalist” in the sense that is used to describe Christian churches that apply the Bible strictly. Though the terrorists of September 11th could be called “fundamentalists,” it would be inappropriate to call them “Koran fundamentalists,” and this term is scarcely used because their deeds cannot be derived from the Koran, which is also abused by their leaders to boost their religious authority and their goals and to pressure their followers.
To say that the abuses committed in UBF are the work of Bible fundamentalists – abuses such as the neglect and physical/spiritual abuse of children – is also an insult to many other Christian ministries regarding themselves to be Bible fundamentalist in a positive sense, and in the end it gives the whole Christian, biblical faith a negative image. For all of these reasons, UBF should not be called “Bible fundamentalist,” but should rather be described more appropriately as “Bible-abusing.”
It is true that UBF tries to give the impression they are a Bible fundamentalist organization. In the official UBF statement of faith, as it has been published e.g. on the Chicago UBF homepage, already the first statement, even before God himself is mentioned, says: “We believe that the Bible is inspired by God; that it is the only infallible, authoritative word of God, and our final authority in faith and practice.” Faith in the infallibility of the Bible is ranked here even higher than faith in God himself. For comparison: The traditional Nicene (and similarly the Apostolic) Creed starts with the words: “We believe in one God, the Father…” The authority of the Bible is surely not questioned in the traditional statements of faith, but it is not particularly mentioned. In this sense UBF is actually trying to appear more Bible based than traditional churches. The problem, however, isn’t the extreme pointing out of this principle of faith, but rather the disregard or even inversion of their own first principle of faith by their practices. And if the practice proves the opposite, this can only mean that in reality it is not their first principle of faith at all. The first principle of faith of the UBF is rather faith in the organization and its leaders as chosen, sacrosanct servants God as their final authority in faith and practice.