Do Dogs Go To Heaven?

A while back, I was in a long car ride with some UBF friends. As I lay back and try to make the best of the situation, I asked a younger friend of mine in a half joking manner, “Do dogs go to heaven?” His response was, “Hmm, I am not sure. Never really thought about it.” I joked back, “Maybe they go to some kind of dog heaven or maybe something like limbo or purgatory.” He responded, “Yeah maybe, never really thought about purgatory.” As the trip went on, and I started asking more serious questions, I realized that many of the younger UBF members do not hold to an authoritative system of doctrine on many issues. As my friend put it, “That stuff is just not important to people at UBF. We are all about missionary work.”

Of course, many of the students I have spoken to believe the straightforward doctrine that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that we are saved by placing our faith in him. But if I probe a little further, I have noticed a very common response from younger UBF members: “That stuff isn’t important to us.” Here I am talking about nontrivial questions such as, “Can we lose our salvation? Is there such a thing as purgatory? What happens to people who die but never know Jesus — will they be saved?”

I don’t think this is true of all UBF members. I have met with some older missionaries who certainly hold affirmative views on some of these questions. I know this because I have gotten into some fiery discussions with some of them. I also sense that many people do have a positions on these issues but they don’t bother to express them because they would be preaching to a choir (no pun intended). But how can some of the younger UBF members not be interested in taking stances on some of these doctrinal questions? I am not talking about students who have recently accepted Christ or who have just started studying the Bible. I am talking about people who grew up in the UBF community who have studied the Bible for years. Isn’t doctrine important in at some point in missionary work? After sheep accept Jesus Christ, don’t we at some point need to start feeding them solid food?

Doctrine can determine the kind of attitude people take towards developing and maintaining their faith life. The purpose of doctrine then is not to create a sort of tool of social conformity to filter out those who do not believe the same way we do, but instead to give us proper direction in living life.

I suppose one way of looking at the matter is that doctrine will only get in the way of affirming every day the fundamental reality that Jesus Christ died for us so that we might have life to the full. After all, even meditation on that doctrine alone is enough to change lives and keep us well fed until the day we meet our Savior. I can also see how some people might feel that doctrine can slow down the discipleship process, because some new members may get turned off by certain doctrines and may not want to continue their otherwise valuable Bible study.

But it seems to me that, whether we acknowledge it or not, we are affirming doctrine all the time: Jesus Christ is Lord. There are such places as heaven and hell. The Bible is the inerrant word of God. Shouldn’t we be willing to venture beyond these to other questions that may be important in our lives of faith?

Of course, “Do dogs go to heaven?” is not one of these.


  1. Sometimes I just think we have plenty of solid practice without (solid) food.

  2. Hi Gerardo. Thank you for posing the important question of solid doctrine. I am a “second-gen” that grew up in UBF all of my life. Although I always believed in God, I never quite understood the importance of Jesus’ presence on earth nor his death on the cross — even though I said the prayers and sang the songs thanking him for saving me. Then when I got to around age 25-ish, I realized and accepted Jesus sacrifice for me personally. Without him, I would still be lost.

    Before I met Jesus personally, the only spiritual food I allowed myself to receive was through a spiritual I.V. that dripped little by little (once or twice a week at Sunday service or bible study) while I still ran around in the world and ate whatever else I pleased. Although this was still nourishment, I only allowed it to take place in a tiny, rationed and selfish way.

    Now that I know who Christ is and know who I am before Him, I’ve moved on to spiritual solid food (1 Corinthians 3:1-2). Each portion is small and appropriate for a newly re-born follower of Christ like me, but it’s solid food and I chew each bite as well as I can on a daily basis because I am spiritually hungry for God’s Word.

    So, I agree with you that we should be aware of sharing and instilling solid doctrine among the young members of our ministry but I also know through personal experience that it will take time (God’s time) for each young person to “graduate” from spiritual milk (their parents’ desires for them to go to church or do bible study) to solid food (their own burning desire to receive more knowledge of the grace of God).

  3. Hi Marie J,
    Thanks for your well thought of comment. I agree, one reason why some people may not appreciate doctrine is because they don’t appreciate God. How amazing it is when I realize what the incarnation really means. Or that God would love me “THAT” much. It is a wonderful feeling to grow in knowledge of who God is, and what he did for me.

    However, I also feel that part of the reason why some people are don’t accept Christ is because they are operating under false doctrine. If you ask non devout Christians what God desires, they may say things like “that I be a decent person….that I do what makes me happy….that I go to church here and there.” Personally, I didnt seek God out until I was 22 because I operated under the false doctrine that God only wants Saints not sinner. I needed solid food to combat the rotten message I learned to ingest.

    I think doctrines continue to do that at every point of one’s life. But your right, this necessity comes to different people in God’s time.

  4. Thanks, Gerardo. Everyone believes in doctrine and theology, even those who do not like doctrine and theology, because everyone believes what they believe based on what had affected or influenced them.

    Sometimes I think that in UBF we may have a kind of reductionistic theology, that reduces the Bible to a few practical applications, such as, repent, believe, “just obey” (from a previous post), deny yourself, take up your cross, feed sheep, the gospel must be preached, be a blessing, make disciples, world mission, kingdom of priests, etc. This is not necessarily biblically incorrect, BUT these imperative emphasis in the way we preach or teach the Bible do not help one grow in awe and love for the marvellous magnificent majestic mystery of Christ. Rather, it inadvertently becomes “judging others by externals,” and a form of control and guilt manipulation (you’re worldly, lazy, selfish, unspiritual, proud, you’re not living for mission, etc), in the name of “shepherding,” or “training” those who are younger. Is this too broad a generalization, or am I too harsh in my critical assessment?

    • Reductionist theology is a very good way of putting it. The UBF culture focuses in on some key ideas and plows through. This may be a good approach for a young church. At the same time, we all need to steadily increase in limits and clarification. to know which direction to grow in. A child who is told only two rules will only obey those two and wont morally mature. I like the way Chesterton put it in saying, “Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame.”

      It seems that it can get easy for ministry that has such a strong focus to become judgmental since their goals are clear and to the point (Teach the Bible). I personally have never experienced that kind of criticism on teaching the bible. Maybe that’s because everyone already assumes I am lazy. =)

  5. Tuf Francis

    I would like to second Mary J’s comment. As a 15 year veteran HBF leader, I have worked with many second gens and their friends. I have watched as they held firm to some aspects of doctrine, and ignored others (and there is never a formula to it, each person grasps differently). I have also seen numerous times when a particular point strikes their heart and they say something like “okay, I have always kind of had a problem with this…” and we have a very fruitful discussion.

    My point is, people who grew up Christian need just as much (sometimes more) time and life experience to fit in new ideas to their personal mental schema as those of us who come to Christ after a lot of life experience. It is easy to press on them from OUR perspective of knowing more and having more experience.

    One time I inadvertently pressed a girl (an hbf friend who had been coming for awhile) a bit too hard on a doctrinal issue (the idea of man’s inability to be truly good) at the wrong time and she got really mad and never came back. She wasn’t ready to hear it, and I pressed at the wrong time. While I know the value of pressing people about foundational and doctrinal issues, it must be done very carefully. I have regretted this for a long time.

    As leaders, we need to be patient and smart, kind yet honest, most of all we need to know WHEN to press doctrine and when to let THEM think it through. They think about this stuff all the time, sometimes they just don’t let us know they are thinking about it.

    • This is great. I really wanted to hear with someone who works closely with HBF. Yes, pressing people no matter what their experience can be a turn off from pursuing the matter further. I think what we need is to be more open with why we believe X, Y, and Z. I think HBF kids really want to understand why X is believed and why not C is believed instead.

      I feel that kids are going to be confronted with counter doctrines that will challenge them one way or another. Whether that be humanistic ideas such as, “were all good people” to controversial teachings about Christianity, “Jesus is actually an angel and not the son of God.”

  6. Joe Schafer

    Gerardo, thank you for writing this perceptive article. Here are a few personal thoughts that I would like to add to the mix.

    First, I think I understand some of the reasons why many UBF members, and even senior leaders, shy away from discussing doctrinal issues. Here are some of the historical factors at play. (a) These issues can be bitterly divisive, and many churches in Korea (just like churches in the West) have split over matters that, in retrospect, are not really that important. No one wants that to happen to us. (b) In the early days of UBF, when the ministry became self-supporting and independent of the Presbyterian mission, it gave our leaders and members a wonderful freedom to pursue their own divine calling. Becoming independent of a denominational authority was one of the defining moments that made UBF what it is.
    Going back to a formal system of authoritative doctrine would seem to be a step backward. And although our ministry has Presbyterian/Reformed roots, this has been so de-emphasized in the last three decades that returning to a Presbyterian/Reformed tradition now would be difficult at best, because North American UBF is now filled with Christians who come from a variety of other traditions. (c) Like many nondenominational churches, we fancy ourselves as a “pure Bible” community that simply reads the Scripture and does what it says. In reality, of course, we do not approach the Bible from a standpoint of objectivity. We read the Scripture through lenses of our own culture and self-image. But the (rather modernist) idea that every passage of Scripture has one objective meaning, and that we are the ones who are really getting close to what that meaning is because we have been able put aside our preconceived ideas, historical traditions, etc. and just look at the Bible objectively, is a powerful myth that persists in many nondenominational churches.

    I believe there is also a fear that, once a person starts to think about issues of doctine, he may begin to slide down that slippery slope toward becoming an overly intellectualized Christian who depends on “human thinking” and loses the pure, simple, powerful messages of the Bible. Without engaging in serious study of doctrine, it is quite easy to (mis)characterize all doctrines as watered down versions of a purer, more wholesome truths found in Scripture. In the early 20th century, many seminaries did slide down that slope and lost sight of the Bible. But slippery slopes usually come in pairs. It is equally dangerous to ignore the great creeds and traditions that have guided faithful Christians for two millennia (e.g., the Apostles Creed), deeming these teachings unimportant simply because we have not emphasized them much in our own lives and ministry. When we do that, we effectively substitute our own decades-old local traditions for the great traditions of the church, which is shortsighted and unhelpful.

    As Gerardo pointed out, it is impossible to NOT think about doctrine. And even the simplest, most basic doctrines of Christianity, if we take them seriously, provide ample food for a lifetime of reflection and growth.

    UBF does have a Statement of Faith that, in my opinion, is very solid and well written. We display it on our websites to signal to the world that our core beliefs are solidly orthodox and stand squarely in the tradition of mainstream Christianity. Personally, I wish that we would pay more attention to this Statement of Faith and give greater emphasis to these teachings as we evangelize and disciple students. For example, our first article of faith is about the Trinity:

    “1. We believe that there is one God in three Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.”

    In my nearly thirty years in this ministry, I don’t believe that I have ever heard a Sunday message or conference message that was focused on the Trinity. At best, Trinity has been mentioned only in passing. Why don’t we talk about this? The Trinity is not a minor point of theology; it is who God really is, how God has revealed himself to us throughout the New Testament. The relationship of Jesus Christ to his Father, and the nature and work of the Holy Spirit, are main themes of John’s gospel and many other parts of the Bible. If a church denies the Trinity (as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses do) we cannot accept them as Christian, and we have to conclude that they are a cult. But why? I feel that I am only just beginning to grasp the importance of viewing God as a Trinity. I am just starting to see that the Trinitarian view of God has profound implications for our faith and worship, for how we interact with God and with one another. I would love to see a serious exploration of the Trinity in some of our messages and Bible studies.

    Or what about the third article:

    “3 We believe that the Bible is inspired by God; that it is the truth; that it is the final authority in faith and practice.”

    I really like this article, and I have personally commended Mother Barry for writing it this way. She steered away from hot-button words and phrases like “inerrant”, “infallible”, and “original manuscripts,” which have divided churches for the last century. I do believe that the Bible is authoritative and fully reliable in what it teaches. But I personally do not understand a great deal of what the Bible teaches. And although I do hold opinions about matters that have divided Christians (e.g., young earth versus old earth), I do not want to insert my own opinions into this understanding of what Biblical authority means, because my own understanding of these things could be wrong. There is a great deal of mystery in how the Bible, which was written down by sinful and fallible men, could also be the authoritative Word of God. I do not want to shy away from this important matter of doctrine. I want to understand it better than I do now, learning from Christians who have honestly wrestled with difficult issues of Biblical interpretation, so that I can be a better pastor and Bible teacher. If the authority of Scripture is a sticky point that makes it hard for people to believe and/or grow in their faith, then I want to take this matter seriously, not sidestepping or belittling people’s real objections and struggles but dealing with them in an open and honest manner.

    Or how about Article 9:

    “We believe that the Holy Spirit works in the heart of every believer to lead him.”

    Wow. Do I really understand and experience the leading of the Holy Spirit in my own heart? Have I been guilty of quenching the Spirit and substituting my own knowledge and abstract intellectual principles for His leading? Yes, I know that I have. The indwelling of the Spirit in the hearts of individual Christians, and in the Church as a whole, is a reality to which I have been truly blind. Walking in step with the Spirit is what God has commanded me to do, and yet I don’t know how to do it. I have a desperate need for some sound doctrine and renewed understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in my onw life and ministry.

    And then there is Article 10:

    “We believe that the church is the body of Christ and that all Christians are members of it.”

    Do I really believe this? Have I truly experienced and practiced the catholicity of the church and the “communion of the saints” as described in the Apostles’ Creed? No, I have not. And the consequences of that failure in my personal life, my immediate and extended family, my friendships, my ministry, and my relationships with the greater community have been truly devastating. There are intensely personal reasons why this has become a burning issue for me. Sometime in the future I will write about this and try to explain what I mean. I am just beginning to understand it myself. Needless to say, this is not an obscure doctrine. It is a very serious issue with serious consequences for the long-term health of all Christians and all Christian ministries, including UBF. There are important reasons why this statement had to be included in the ancient creeds and in our own UBF statement of faith. I have only been able to discuss these things privately with a few members of our ministry. I long for the day when we can discuss these things openly without people becoming hurt or defensive, without accusing one another of disloyalty and “becoming difficult”, and so on. These things should not be controversial at all. They are just the basics of what we already claim to believe.

    Sorry for this longwinded comment. My main point is that doctrine does matter. It matters in our personal lives, and it matters in discipleship, far more than I had previously realized. I do not want to stir up trouble and argue over fine points of doctrine that are controversial and divisive. But I do want to explore, understand and hold to the articles of faith that guide and define our UBF ministry and the church of Jesus Christ. Historically, we have been very eager to talk about the things that set UBF ministry apart from other churches. Usually these are matters of practice, such as one-to-one Bible study, or the way we help young couples to court and marry. Those things are near and dear to us. But I believe that we, and all Christians who fancy themselves as present or future leaders, need to continually and deeply explore the foundational doctrines of Christianity. These are the spiritual heritage that we received from previous generations and must pass on to the next generation.

    • I thought your comment on the feat that doctrine leads to intellectualized Christianity is an interesting one. Countless of times when I have this discussion with friends, I get that comment. “My faith is personal, not intellectual.” I think this is a straw man argument because it makes me sound as if I care for theological debate over faith. I know your not saying this, but I get a version of this a lot. My own mother will tell me, ‘listen.. if you want to learn about God from academic books then that is fine, but I will stick to the bible.” That is so incredibly frustrating because my point is not that we should look towards other books but that we should look towards taking the bible as a whole in helping us decide on doctrine. Not using the same passages over and over to justify faith traditions and ignoring others passages that might throw a wrench in our faith traditions.

      Joe, I think the statement of faith is an excellent starting point. There are a variety of doctrines implicitly affirmed there. I don’t believe I have ever heard a sermon on the trinity either. In fact, I don’t think I have heard many sermon’s on Love despite the strong message conveyed by Corinthians 13:13. I once gave a talk on how family is found in the Trinity. Many people commented afterwards that they didn’t really think much about the Trinity and were glad the topic was brought up.

      “These are the spiritual heritage that we received from previous generations and must pass on to the next generation.”
      AMEN! Well put.

    • Samantha Siy

      Hi Joe,
      Thanks for your thoughtful post. It reminded me of something I recently came across at a local church here. This church has developed a three year Bible study solely based on their doctrinal statement. Their goal is to help their members fully grasp, understand, embrace and accept what their statement of faith actually says, what it means, and how it relates to the life of a Christian.

      It seems to me that this is a great idea…to help Christians in basic doctrinal issues like the Trinity, salvation, etc. Just wanted to share….

    • Joshua Yoon

      Thanks, Joe, for your sincere and thoughtful writings about issues of doctrines. I agree that UBF’s Statement of Faith signals to the world that our core beliefs are solidly orthodox and not off the tradition of mainstream Christianity. But I always felt that the statement is too brief and concise to be a complete set. I am glad you mentioned article 10. If we believe that the church is the body of Christ and that all Christians are members of it, why are we focused on certain population, ie, university students? If UBF as the name indicates welcome and focus on college students (of course, some large chapters provide programs for children and high school students), isn’t calling UBF a church contradictory to the statement of belief? We should remember how many people(non-university students, working people, parents,children) felt UBF was not their home church adn went to somewhere else. The church should be the earthly model of the kingdom of heaven where people of all ages with various socio economic status are gathered together to worship God. I believe statement of belief should be reexamined as the ministry expands and if necessary, it should be modified or explained with some details for clarity. More fundamentally, it might be necessary to think about what direction UBF should take as we pass the milestone of 50 years of its history. If UBF is a church for all Christians, is this name appropriate? Couldn’t UBF be a church where anyone and everyone is welcomed and supported equally and fairly while keeping campus mission?

    • Hi again Joshua and all.
      Joshua, I’m David from Kharkiv, Ukraine. I believe that we have met in Istanbul this Spring. It is hard to said just Joshua, not M. Joshua
      I would like to refer to our experience which we had in Kiev. You have visited our church in Kiev. It located in Zhuliany village, which is actually part of Kiev city. And it is located bit far from campuses. There are no any other protestant church just ours. But there are great needs for the Bible, prayer, shepherd and other help which just good church could provide. Many people are drunkers, many people are very poor. Many children are wandering without good parents care. Young people also wandering. And some people began to come to us as to a simple local church. When we planned move there we just looked for a cheap place where our church could be built and didn’t even think about serving there. Personally I was a bit bewared that our church’s direction could be varied there. But when we had come to Zhuliany and started our church there, some of us realized that we couldn’t just be located there and ignore many needs of the place where God put us.
      In our church we have one old woman, she is a mother of one of our shepherds and has a house on Zhuliany. And she very deeply felt God’s calling to participate in salvation work on Zhuliany. But it was hard for her to do it alone. She was in my fellowship during few years and we had deep relations with her. So I was appointed to help her for serving people in Zhuliany. Some people came to us on regular basic. And we tried to serve some people suffering from different sins and lives issue. Very soon I came to conclusion that it is very hard for me to serve to this people and keep student ministry as a priority in the same time. I should give them my best instead. Second thing I found was that I couldn’t use our UBF methods for them. And our mission at all could hardly really fulfill their needs. And the third thing I found that I am not really prepared to do something else. I had one big question mark. I even thought about taking some pastoral classes in some seminary in order to be able to serve this ministry, but in the beginning of this year I left for Kharkiv. BTW I’m still thinking about it .
      So here my point is that for serving others ministries besides of student’s ministry we should have well prepared and devoted servants. I think it is hard for someone who just has UBF training to bring it, and more than it to keep the student ministry as their top priority. And in this case even all our church, at least Sunday Worship Services couldn’t be directed just for student mission but should be more common. Though we already have people which potentially could serve other ministries. We have some people who are not really suitable to student ministry why don’t let them do something for what they feel calling and help them in it instead of making them just feel unnecessary in our fast of mission? Like this mother from our church in Kiev. But it is still not easy.
      Other thing that I want to mention that those people could be not just parents or someone like this. Some of students also could feel some another calling. For example in our jobs we have great opportunities to fulfill God’s mission in both ways – as good influence and preaching the gospel. We had one shepherd in our church, a computer programmer, who was able to establish every day prayer group on his work place. This is very good chance I think.
      And the last, if we believe that campus students should be risen as Jesus’ disciples in order to fulfill his commission and bring the Kingdom of God to the earth, why do not give them a vision and opportunity to fulfill it? To give them a chance to see many various needs of our society were they are really needed. I think this is the source of blessing and the God’s purpose for campus ministry. Not just students for students, UBF for UBF, but students and UBF for great commission which is more wider then just our reproduction.

  7. Hannah Love

    I just read an article interviewing Mark Driscoll, a famous and controversial pastor from Seattle’s Mars Hill Church.
    Here is the whole article, but there was one answer that I really liked which is related to this post.

    What would you say is the difference between doctrine and dogma?
    When I hear the word “dogma,” I think of the taking of secondary issues and making them primary issues. I always use the language that there are “open-handed issues” and “closed-handed issues.” Open-handed issues are those issues which Bible-believing Christians can debate over, disagree over, even discuss over, but not divide over. The closed-handed issues are those issues we really have to remain committed to, to remain Christian. So for me, in the doctrine book [Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe], I had to really work hard along with my co-author, Gerry Breshears, on those issues that should be in the closed hand, and also talk about the various issues that need to remain in the open hand. I think dogma is putting everything in the closed hand—being absolutely dogmatic and contentious about things that, quite frankly, aren’t as clear in Scripture as other things. So there are issues in the Bible, like eschatology issues surrounding Jesus’ return, speaking in tongues, some things like that where you can love Jesus, and believe the Bible, and disagree on and still be a faithful Christian. There are other issues, like the Trinity or the resurrection of Jesus, you have to be very clear on to remain Christian.

    • Interesting article. Though I am confused about his distinction between open and closed hand issues. I think many debates over doctrine eventually move over to a debate over open vs. closed hand issues. For example, communion. A friend of mine says it is not “core” Christianity. I say, it is Jesus himself, how can it not be core? When we read John 6, we see quite clearly that those following Jesus ministry left him precisely because of this doctrine. The same thing happen with the early protestant reformers. And rightly so, since it is either his real body and blood or a beautiful symbol. Either worshiping God on earth, or a form of grace idolatry. The difference between these two views is astronomical!

      This is an excellent example of a doctrine that has HUGE ramifications for believing one way or the other. UBF (as far as I can tell) seems to implicitly affirm that it is a beautiful symbol. But I believe this doctrine has to be confronted up front in their statement of faith in plain and clear language. No beating around the bush for on this issue. “We believe that communion is….” It makes an enormousness world of difference.

  8. Joe Schafer

    Hi Gerardo,
    The meaning of the Lord’s Supper/communion, what UBF members have historically practiced and believed, and what the Church itself has historically practiced and believed, is a fascinating topic that we should explore on this website. I would love to engage in a friendly, informative give-and-take discussion on this with you and other readers. I agree with you that it is important. The Lord’s Supper has been an essential part of Christian worship from the earliest days of the Church (Acts 2:42). But the exact meaning of it — the sense in which Christ is or is not present in the act, in the elements of bread and wine, or among the participants — was not codified in the most important creeds (the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed) as other crucial doctrines (e.g., the Trinity) were. The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches have very similar views on the Eucharist, but there is a great variety in what Protestants believe. Your characterization of what UBF members believe (its just a symbol) is somewhat accurate. But, interestingly, UBF has never taught that, the founding members of UBF have never insisted that, and the teaching of the Presbyterian church (which UBF grew out of) does not hold that position. This is a fascinating topic that I would love to discuss. Would some well informed person volunteer to write an article about this?

    • Do you mean an article on the history of the lords supper in UBF tradition? That would be awesome. I know a handful of UBFers would love to read that.

      Or did you mean that we should start a discussion of what are people’s various beliefs about communion?

      In my experience, the Lord’s supper is such a difficult issue to discuss because of the grave consequences associated with believing. For example, a Catholic might get offended because a evangelical protestant calls the consecrated host a “catholic cookie.” Whereas, a evangelical protestant might get shocked and appalled because a Catholic professes to worship the consecrated Host.

      It is also a difficult issue to discuss because some people will get incredibly defensive of their view. For a Catholic, loosing their belief in the consecrated Host mean’s that they are have been engaging in idolatry this whole time. For an evangelical protestant, loosing their belief in the symbolic nature of communion means that they HAVE to attend Catholic church and spend time with the real presence of Jesus (after all… Jesus is really there!). Either way, people have MUCH at stake in giving in which makes for very hard headed discussion. =) Joe, I would be happy to have a one on one discussion with you about this. I feel a blog discussion would ruffle a couple of feathers.

    • You also made a good point about the Eucharist not being included in neither the apostles and nicene creed. That is actually a bit perplexing for me considering extraordinary claims that the Catholic church makes about the Eucharist. Ill have to look up the answer to this.

  9. Joe Schafer

    Hey Gerardo,
    I agree with you that many Christians of all stripes have difficulty engaging in public discussions on important issues. There is a lot at stake for individuals, depending on their personality and how much of their personal identity has been invested in their denominational and doctrinal affiliations. But when Christians who differ are able to engage in such discussions in a healthy and respectful manner, with a desire to learn from one another and find common ground, the exercise can be incredibly rewarding.

    In my experience, a lot of heat can be dispelled up front if we first engage in factual, non-judgmental discussions of the historical positions that Christians of different stripes have taken down through the ages. That exercise alone is truly eye-opening. And factual discussions of UBF tradition are also enlightening. On quite a few occasions, I have heard people say “here in UBF, we believe such-and-such” and then state a position that is quite different from what I have heard directly from the founders of UBF.

    At present, I do not hold any firm doctrinal positions on the exact meaning of the Lord’s Supper or Communion, because I know that I have a great deal to learn in this regard, and because I have not yet been convinced that I need to take a strong stance. But I do believe that the practice is important, because Jesus himself commanded it. And I believe that Christians should not divide themselves on this issue, because by its very nature, the Lord’s supper is supposed to express our communion and fellowship with one another in the Lord. Given that, I think that we can engage in a mature, public discussion about any and all aspects of it without being dismissive, disrespectful or mocking of anyone’s position. The goal of such a discussion should be mutual learning, rather than trying to convince anyone to agree with me.

    • Great. Well I am game. You should start up a thread on this important topic.

  10. 2 days ago, for 5 hours, I met up with a girl who had left our ministry for another church, and with whom I had studied the Bible 1 to 1 for 7 years, covering Genesis and the 4 gospels. Her accusation was that ubf (and I) taught salvation by works, and that she didn’t become a Christian saved by faith in Jesus alone until after she left ubf and was taught the Bible by another church.

    Personally, I know that I am only saved by faith, and not by my works, but according to her, our ubf Bible study taught salvation by works. Though I could “blame” her for her accusations, I’m beginning to realize that we, in our emphasis during Bible study, tend to teach mission more than we teach sound biblical doctrine, such as the way of salvation by faith through Christ alone, propitiation, penal vicarious substitutionary atonement, the Trinity, the work of the Holy Spirit, eshcatology, ecclesiology, the various creeds, etc. As a result, we inadvertently “assume” the mystery of the gospel, and predominantly teach what Christians should do and how Christians should live—which is works. Has this been anyone else’s experience?

    • HI Ben,
      Thanks for your insightful comment. I have not been in UBF long but it definately seems that there is a high emphasis placed on being a responsible steward or the gospel. For those to whom much is given much will be expected. Even though I personally dont believe that we are saved by Faith alone but by Faith and Works, I never got the impression that UBF teachers salvation by works. Though I can see how non UBF churches might get that impression. UBF is quite unique in it’s strong emphasis in training all it’s members to be bible teachers and missionaries.

    • Hi Gerardo. I’m not sure we’ve met, but if not it’s nice to meet you! Your reply to Ben’s post really is intriguing, and piqued my interest wrt your point “Even though I personally dont believe that we are saved by Faith alone but by Faith and Works…” In my experience this is one of the all time greatest questions in the history of Christendom – are we saved by faith, or by works? The fascinating thing is that there are passages that seem to support different answers to this question. For example, Paul’s now famous passage in Ephesians chapter 2 says “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.” Clearly we are saved by faith, not by works. Yet James’ letter contains a very interesting counterpoint in chapter 2 where he writes: “You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” So this question is very interesting – exciting even! My conclusion is that Paul and James were using different definitions for the word ‘faith’. It helped me when I learned that the concept of ‘faith’ in the Old Testament can be captured as “genuine trust in and faithfulness to God.” In short,’faithfulness’. In Paul’s case (in Ephesians), I believe he is making a foundational doctrinal statement when he says “you have been saved through faith… not by works.” But Paul is using a definition of faith that is like the Old Testament ‘faithfulness.’ Faithfulness implies that we trust God, and by His Holy Spirit indwelling us, good works follow. In fact, faithfulness is listed as one of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” And right after Paul’s statement that we are saved by faith, not by works, he points out “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” So we see that faith comes first, and good works naturally follow. This is ‘faithfulness’. And in fact this is no different that what James says, if you think about it. He says that Abraham had faith, and it led to good works. In other words, Abraham had the fruit of the Spirit – faithfulness. When James says that we are not saved by faith alone, my reading is that he is simply saying that genuine trust in God will always lead to good works – the very works that “God has prepared in advance for us to do.” But without God’s indwelling Holy Spirit, we are dead, and all our works are meaningless.

      I don’t know if this is helpful to you, but it is where I stand. Hopefully it sheds some light on the question of ‘faith vs. works.’

      God bless you! :)

    • God Bless you Dr. Bill! No I do not believe we have met. Hehe, I am glad your find this question so exciting. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” =)

      I found your post very personally insightful but I also felt confused by your distinction of the two kinds of faith. They both sounded very similar.

      James 2 is indeed a difficult concept for a “Faith Alone” man to deal with. I have previously heard the argument that James and Paul are talking about two different kinds of Faith. Some will say that James was using Faith to mean “intellectual assent” or a bad faith, or some kind of weak faith and not faith in the traditional “trust and believe” sense.
      But I find a couple of problems with this argument. #1 If James was referring to some kind of dead faith to begin with, then he would be making the redundant statement that dead faith without works is dead (v 17, 26) and offering to prove that dead faith is barren (v. 20). He would be trying to show people his dead faith by his works (v. 18) and commending people (“you do well”) for having dead faith (v. 19). #2 He would be telling us that Abraham’s dead faith was active with his works (v. 22) and that Abraham believed God with dead faith and it was reckoned to him as righteousness (v. 23). If James meant mere intellectual faith then he would be saying Abraham’s mere intellectual faith was reckoned to him as righteousness which would contradict verse 23. #3 Lastly, James seems to be talking about a real faith because he uses the metaphor of a REAL body + REAL spirit necessary for life (v26). So if we carry that over, we can see that James was not talking about a “rotten faith” since he was not talking about a “rotten body.”

      I think Saint Paul also corroborates this line of reasoning in 1 Corinthians 13:2 where he refers to being nothing EVEN IF he had a faith to move mountains. A faith to move mountains must be real faith if it is that powerful. I can also give a handful of passages where Jesus seems to also corroborate this line of reasoning.

      In terms of Ephesians 2:8-9, I (as a Faith+ works guy) have no problem with that when we consider that Saint Paul was referring to works of the law. Throughout the context, we see Saint Paul referring to circumcision and membership in Christ (Eph2:11-19). So Saint Paul is probably using “works” and “boasting” here as he does in Romans, i.e., of Jews boasting before Gentiles of having privilege with God due to their keeping the Mosaic Law. In fact, if we look at the context in most passages used to support Faith alone, we will quickly see that in most cases he is referring to works of the law. If not, then he contradicts himself in 1 Corinthians.

      However, even IF Saint Paul was referring to “good works” and not “works of the law” in Ephesians, that still presents no problem for a Faith + Works position because he is speaking of salvation in the past tense-“you have been saved.” We know from other parts of the bible that he also refers to salvation as a future tense (running and winning a race). Hence, I would argue that we are indeed initially saved by Faith and not by good works. I have no problem with that. However, I would argue that without good works to complete our Faith, we can loose our salvation, whereas others would argue that we cannot. So here is where another major doctrinal issue raises it’s head. The question of once saved always saved. That is why I personally feel that the question of Faith Alone has to be dealt with in conjunction with the question of once saved always saved. These two doctrines are intricately linked.

      But anyway, it is an interesting (AND VITAL) question that merits further discussion.

    • Joshua Yoon

      Hi, Ben (I feel I am talking to someone else, for I used to call you Dr. Ben always. I hope you will not be offended. We are in Ubfriends website. I hope we will become closer friends in Christ by just calling people by first names.) You made a good point that our emphasis on mission could lead some people to question about the doctrinal standings of our ministry. Personally, when I studied Mark’s gospel in my college days, I was fascinated by the immediate work of the Messiah, for I am quite an action oriented person. I began to teach the Bible to other students just two months after my first Bible study. I accepted Jesus’ call to be a fisher of men and a shepherd of his flock without hesitation. When I studied Genesis, I accepted God’s call to be a missionary before I even laid a solid doctrinal foundation. I am not sure even now if I have this solid foundation. Doctrines were not that important to me for a long time. But many North American students I taught the Bible over two decades are not like me. It takes a few years for some people to even acknowledge Jesus as their personal Saviour. They have many questions about the fundamental things about God and the Bible. If such people continue to come to the ministry where mission is highly valued and people are encouraged to teach others and and share the gospel while they are not even sure about their own personal relationship with God, they might feel pressure. We might unwitttingly give students a message that works done for God are important and those who do well by bringing many “sheep” to the ministry or by getting Phds get more recognition. In the end those who “work” little (those who do not go “fishing” or feed “sheep” would feel that they are out of place. They feel they are not so valued in the mission or achievemtn emphasized ministry. So they leave. I learned we should be very patient with people and wait until the Holy Spirit opens their hearts to the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and to God’s call for mission. If we go ahead of the work of the Holy Spirit and expect people to come to certain levels because they have been in the church for sometime, we may give them a wrong message. Ben, God knows how much you laboured to teach and serve this one person. I am sure God used all of your seven years’ teaching and sacrifice in leading her to have an assurance of her salvation in the end.

    • Hello again, Gerardo. Believe it or not, I’ve been thinking about your post for a few weeks now, and wanted to respond. It sounds like our common starting point is justification by faith – as you said, “…we are indeed initially saved by Faith and not by good works.” (As context for my following comments, the most common framework for understanding salvation from our human perspective is as a three-step process: justification, which is the initial point at which we realize the truth of God’s forgiveness through the Cross and are born again as a new creation (John 37, 1 Peter 1:23, Galatians 6:15); sanctification, the process whereby our minds are renewed (Romans 12:2)and our character molded into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29); and glorification, the salvation of our physical bodies (1 Corinthians 15:51-53))

      The question is, what happens after justification? Is sanctification accomplished by faith and works, or do works follow faith (as I argued in my earlier post)? In Romans 8 (verses 29ff) Paul addresses this question quite nicely:

      “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

      The most important thing to notice first in this passage is that all the verbs are in the past tense. “Foreknew”, “predestined”, “called”, “justified” and “glorified.” So you see, Gerardo, salvation – in this context justification, sanctification and glorification – _starts_ with God’s foreknowledge of who will be saved. From God’s perspective our eternal status is already known – we have already been “glorified” (past tense), the final stage of our salvation. This is why it is correct to believe that salvation *in its entirety* is by faith alone – because we come to understand that in God’s eyes, we are already glorified.

      Now the related question has to do with predestination. You might ask “If we are predestined and already glorified in God’s eyes, where does our free will enter into the equation?” The best answer I have ever heard to this question is from a message I heard by Pastor Alistair Begg (Parkside Church in Cleveland) teaching on John 6. In verse 37 Jesus says “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” This one verse elegantly captures the essence of the predestination vs. free-will issue: in this one single verse both are captured. “All that the Father gives me will come to me” speaks to the foreknowledge of God in justifying, sanctifying and glorifying us. “…and whoever comes to me” speaks to our free will; i.e., the exercise of our free will to _choose_ to love God. Jesus reiterates these two points in the following verses as well where He says “39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” Verse 39 speaks to those “he has given me”, again predestination, and verse 40 to “everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him”, our choice.

      The question that remains is “how can both be true – both predestination and free will?” And the answer was given by CS Lewis when speaking about the Eucharist – Jesus commanded us to “take, and eat” not “take, and understand.” These spiritual truths must be revealed by God to each individual person and accepted by faith – they cannot be understood by human logic.

    • Hi. Dr. Bill,
      I am very flattered that you took the time. I wanted to respond sooner but I to carefully consider your last post. Arguments about time and predestination hurt my head. =) The idea of predestination is very difficult to wrap my mind around.

      If I understood correctly, the heart of your argument was that since God foreknows who is justified/glorified, that means it is a finished act and nothing we do can take away our salvation. I am a little confused because I don’t see how the conclusion follows your premise.

      God, who is outside of time, clearly see’s all moments now. That is why his name is “I AM.” So just because he forsee’s who is going to be saved doesn’t mean he is seeing those who are saved at age 20. It would be more appropriate to say that he is seeing the outcome of a man who put his faith in Christ at age 20. He may be foreseeing those who “endured till the end” not necessarily those who started the race. For example, let’s say there is a person in the present named Calvin who is faithful to Jesus. To us, it may seem like Calvin will be saved. After all, he placed his faith in Christ when he was 20. But God ultimately knows how his life will turn out 40 years from now. So even though it seems to us that Calvin is saved, 40 years down the line, he actually falls away. But of course, God knew that he would turn away. Not because Calvin had no free will or God destined him to turn away, but because God saw the outcome of his initial faith and Calvin had a free will. So God saw that he would turn way since God see’s the future as the present day. I hope my example makes sense.

      Like I said in my last post, the question of Faith Alone has to be dealt with in conjunction with the question of once saved always saved. Based on your last post, it sounds like your making a once saved always saved argument.

      Here are some more reasons why I have difficulty with that. In your last post, you talked about how even though you believe in Predestination… free will is not out of the equation. I agree with you here. I believe we are predestined AND we have a free will. However, after affirming that we have a free will to “COME TO JESUS” it seemed like you took free will out of the equation or completely ignored it. Where is free will AFTER we have accepted Jesus? Surely, our ability to choose will be united with the will of God in heaven. But for now it isn’t. And this is very easy to prove since you and I continue to sin despite our faith in Christ.

      I can give you a handful of passages that talk about people using their free will to loose their salvation AFTER accepting Jesus. I will mention two quick ones: #1 “No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, so that I myself will not be disqualified for the prize; 1 Cor 9:27.” Why would Paul worry about being disqualified and not “winning” if he had already been saved? Also, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved; Matt 10:22.” Again, why did Jesus ask us to endure (across time) if all we had to do was make a one time act of faith?

      Of course, many would point out Romans 8:1 “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” But again, this passage applies to those who remain in Christ. No force can tear me away from Christ. Unless, of course, I myself choose to leave him. That doesn’t mean that God wasn’t strong enough to keep me despite myself, it means that God wants me to Love him and CHOOSE to remain in him everyday of my life not just at one moment when I confessed Jesus is Lord.

      You quoted Romans chapter 8 but it is important to remember that in Romans 8:28, we read…”in everything God works for good with [sunergei eis agathon] those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. Sunergei eis agathon is a verse that speaks of us cooperating with God’s grace (Sunergei = synergism). But keep in mind that even our act of cooperation is only possible by God’s grace. C.S. Lewis gives the analogy of a child who asks his dad for some money to buy him a birthday present. The child does a good deed but it is only because of the grace of his Father.

      That is why, when people ask me, “will you be saved?” I respond, “I have placed my faith in Jesus Christ, by his blood, I know that I HAVE BEEN SAVED (Rom 8:24; Eph2:5-7; 2Tim1:9), I AM BEING SAVED (Phil 2:12; 1Pet1:19) and I WILL BE SAVED (Matt10:22;Matt24:13;MK8:35) if I remain in him and die daily.

      I am about to submit an article to UBFriends titled, “Can Salt Loose it’s Saltiness.” I would greatly enjoy if we could continue this charitable conversation there.
      God Bless

  11. Hi all! Thanks for the very thoughtful and actual post and comments. They are really helpful. I just want to mention, that I think our disregard of Christian doctrines and theology is rooted in our emphasizing of accepting and keeping 1 word of God. I think this is the real theologies approach of UBF and in ideal the foundation of every activity. We should think about the relevancy of this approach and fix this teaching if it has some flaws.

    • HI David,
      It seems that if the emphasis is on accepting the word of God, then doctrine should naturally spring out of that. If you have a church of passive bible readers, then you can understand why they would not form theology. Member A has a different opinion then member B. But if you have a church like UBF of active, bible loving members, then it should make it (in some respects) easier for doctrine to emerge from that dont you think?

      UBF does what it does very well. I am just saying maybe it is time to doctrinally expand.

    • But, as I saw, many times we used to think like this – you have just to accept and obey to the one word of God, then you are saved, you have good root and God will work in your life. In our ministries we used to ask each other – do you have one word of God? I think this is very common for UBF. Personally I particularly like this teaching about 1 word of God and could witness that my life was changed once I have accepted 1 word of God wholeheartedly, and as I know many great servants of God had the same experience – included Luther, Augustine, Wesley. But I also think that many problems wouldn’t raised up in my life and in our ministries if we just have opened our eyes and learn from Catholic both – from these days and from history. And our faith could be more strong and clear if we have good theological foundation.

    • “from Catholic” – I meant from universal church.

    • Hi David,
      I see, good point. Reminds me of Jesus saying that if you have the faith of a mustard seed you can move mountains.

      I liked how you clarified what you meant by catholic hehe

  12. I have one practical question to all. What approaches of studying Christian doctrines do we have and could use? Is it good for us to have classes in some Christian seminaries? Or to have some self-education unequal for each? Or to have doctrinal studies classes inside our ministry? Could someone please share his or her experience?

    • I would recommend an adult catechizes class. In the Catholic Church, we have first communion classes which begin around 7-12 years old. And then we have confirmation classes (what is referred to as the rite of initiation) which begins from age 12-18 usually. In my case, I didnt take the confirmation classes until I was 25.

      Anyway, I think that provides a good model. From age 7-12, teach kids biblical truths and the fundamental truth that Jesus died for the salvation of the world. Then, from age 14 -21 teach kids doctrine grounded in scripture. Just my two cents.

    • Hi, Gerardo. I felt that you have some other then just UBF background. Now this comes clear. Very good to have the person like you here on ubfriends.

  13. One of the better answers I’ve heard to the question of the true nature of the eucharist is attributed to c s lewis. He is purported to have said (when speaking to a group of catholic believers) that “Jesus calls us to take and eat, not take and understand.” A winsome answer to say the least. :)

    • Amen! Just because we can’t understand the mystery of the Eucharist doesnt mean we can’t believe it. Jesus seemed to communicate that quite well in saying that, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.”

  14. Today I read the parable of the servants and talents. It made me think of this thread. It made me think that perhaps what matters is that we do the best we can with what we have. If that is one word, then so be it. If that is a set of guiding doctrines then great. A person who is does well with one will do well with more. What is the point of having many talents and not doing anything with them?