Ben-2012 to Ben Toh-1998

A friend described me as “scientific and analytical.” I accepted her assessment. I realize (from my wife) that it is a pain to be scientifically and analytically scrutinized. I, Ben-2012, will now scientifically and analytically cause some pain to Ben Toh-1998.

Dear Ben Toh-1998

I read your real testimony from 1998 with keen interest. Forgive me beforehand for being blunt and brutal in my response to you. I know you well enough to be able to do so. Also, you pride yourself as a man who can take anything thrown at him. But honestly your overuse of Dirty Harry’s “Go ahead. Make my day” is really quite annoying. Anyway, please take a deep breath and begin to brace yourself like a man!

Anthropocentricity: Is it really up to you? You wrote, “I know that I have failed to live up to your grace…” You are anthropocentric. You sound as if it is up to you to live up to God’s grace upon your life. Do you really think that by your own efforts, earnestness and sincerity, you can “live up to” God’s grace? Christians are to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). But are you allowing God to work in you (Phil 2:13)? If so, it is not clear to me how God has been working/speaking to you. You seem to imply through out your testimony that it is primarily your responsibility to “live up to” God’s grace.

“Incurvatus in se” (Latin) means “curved inward on oneself.” Your testimony seems very much so. It is self-centered and self-obsessed: “I have failed.” “I loathe myself,” “I have grieved you.” “I cling to small pleasures.” “I became corrupted.” You’re self-preoccupied. It is little wonder that you are stuck in your own self! It is quite tiring and exhausting to hear you groaning and moaning about yourself, your inadequacy and deficiencies. Please stop it! Are you not confident and overjoyed in God’s grace already extended to you from the Cross in spite of all your sins?

A debtor’s ethic. Twice, you mentioned grieving God’s servants and about God’s “great servants, Dr. Lee and Reverend Mother Barry…giving their lives.” They are indeed God’s wonderful servants whom I love and admire, for God chose them and used them greatly. Surely they loved you (and me) more than you might ever know. But you owe no debt to them or to God who has freely forgiven you by His sovereign choice and grace. God does not ask of you to pay back to Him, His servants or UBF. Is your motivation gratitude and thanksgiving? Or is it as a debtor who is trying to pay back what is owed? If it is the latter, please repent! It is futile. It cannot be done. It is not asked of you in the Bible.

Are you really that important??? You wrote, “…because of me, your precious flock under me are all wondering and directionless.” Do you think that you are that important and indispensable to UBF? To God? Do you really believe that you can sanctify yourself for others like Jesus (Jn 17:19)? You write as though the work of God in others is up to you. I am not negating the importance of your personal influence. But I am sorry that you have such a false sense of importance about yourself. It is quite sad, pathetic and pitiful!

Obsession with sex? You mentioned your curiosity about sexuality. I do commend you for being open and honest to share how (sexually) sinful you may still be even after 17 years as a Christian and 16 years of a happy marriage. Please share this prayerfully with your wife.

Where is Jesus in your testimony? You pour out and pronounce God’s wrath and judgment upon yourself. This sounds humble (superficially), as though you are repentant for your sins. Perhaps you are. But it seems that you have not deeply accepted, appreciated or applied what Jesus has already done for you on the cross (Jn 19:30; Heb 10:14).

For another day. I should stop though I can keep going! I’ve still not addressed your issues regarding subtle degrees of dualism, gnosticism, paternalism, patriarchy, primogeniture, semi-Pellagianism, and a painful lack of basic gospel understanding in your testimony. I will leave this for another time….if you are up to it!

God bless you Ben Toh-1998. Do make some progress by 2012. Enjoy Jesus. Live in His grace. Rejoice in His Spirit. Seek the whole counsel of God. Devour the Bible. Read extensively. Love God’s people and the church. And for heavens sake, stop moaning and groaning!

Any further admonishments? Adjustments? Advice?


  1. Thanks for sharing, Ben-2012! This phrase stood out to me as well, from Ben-1998’s testimony: “I know that I have failed to live up to your grace…”

    Brian-2012 has learned to pay attention to phrases like this. Such statements (found in messages or in verbal communication) tells me that such a person doesn’t understand the grace of God correctly, and thus does not know what the gospel is. I am certain the grace of God covered Ben-1998, though, until he could understand :)

    Grace is not something we live up to. Grace is grace, and reaches to us wherever we are in our journey of life. Like Ben-1998, Brian-1998 really wanted to “live up” to some noble ideal. But Brian-1998 also did not understand grace.

    I am now convinced more than ever that when we do come to understand more of the magnificent grace of God, we go outside the camp to be with Jesus and the “outside” people.

    This doesn’t mean we all have to agree on various, modern “hot topics”. But it does mean we have to stop trying to build a “nation” and focus on being a “priest”. Hebrews 13:13 says, if we really want to be a priest, we must go outside the gate and meet Jesus.

  2. Thanks, Brian. Grace is so radical, and our sinful nature is so depraved, that we confuse and misrepresent the gospel, as I did for 2 decades.

    We believe in Grace, but functionally we live by the Law (superficially) and impose it on others (legalistically) like Pharisees!

    Though Ben-2012 does not remember exactly, Ben Toh-1998 ( likely wrote his testimony when he was crushed by his own weight of being unable to live up to his own legalistic yet shallow standards. Boy was Ben Toh-1998 messed up!! Maybe Ben-2012 still is…

    • Ben, you pinpoint what was wrong with us spiritually. We often read about the Pharisees and disdained them for being so blind and silly. But spiritually we did the same things. We just didn’t see it because some of our laws were different from theirs. We had the laws of absolutely attending UBF meetings and Bible studies, and writing sogams instead of the law of washing our hands or not eating pork. But many things were also the similar. Just read Mt 23. They liked to pray a lot in public, we also had a culture of praying a lot in front of others in meetings and conferences instead of just praying in our rooms behind closed doors. They liked titles, being called “Rabbi”, we liked being called “Shepherd” or “Missionary”. They made their phylacteries (that is, boxes containing Scripture verses, worn on forehead and arm) wide, we liked to visibly carry large gilt-edge leather bound Bibles. They made the tassels on their garments long, we liked to wear suit and ties with tie pins on our conferences. We believed at least we were busy with world mission, contrary to the Pharisees. But they were just as eager with mission, which had the same effect as ours, as Jesus critized: “You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.”

    • Hi Chris, I think you know that our missionaries’ use of titles is very much a part of Korean and Southeast Asia’s “honor” culture, which is very much the influence of Confucianism. Some missionaries will feel quite offended and disrespected if they are not addressed by their title (Dr., Missionary, Shepherd, etc).

    • I know, the emphasis on titles is part of the Korean/Asian “honor” culture (which is ingrained already in their language). I have some understanding. But my problem with Korean UBF leaders is that even after 50 years of intense Bible study they still do not recognize where their culture is at odds with Jesus’ teachings and spoiling Christian fellowship, but quite to the contrary believe these things are like the cherry on the cake of the gospel and creating a better Christian fellowship. Actually I have the impression they even know that they are at odds with Jesus’ teachings, but they kind of belive the gospel (passages like Mt 23) to be “imperfect” and needs to be made perfect by their own style of conduct.

      Another bad part of the Korean/Asian “shame-based” society is that you “lose face” if you as superior admit wrongs or point out wrongs of your superiors. This is incompatible with the gospel, too. And the reality is quite opposite as they believe. If any of the top leaders would start to publicly confess and apologize, they would gain respect and God would be happy, but currently God and people disprize them because they don’t.

      We talked about this many times already. Korean culture is not bad per se, it surely has many good parts and aspects. But it should not override the core messages of the gospel, that we are all brothers, not parts of a hierarchy, and that our sin is forgiven when we repent, not when we cover it up. If people follow Confucianism *more* than the gospel, they should be considered as Confucianists, not Christians.

      I also want to remind that those people who wrote a public letter to SL in 1976 were Koreans. The letter was written in a Korean style with honorifics etc. but they still pointed out what was wrong which was very un-confucianist. In my eyes, they were real Christians, not Confucianists.

      I actually hope that nobody comes back to UBF until they officially have rehabilitated all those brave Christians in their own ranks who have been kicked out as “rebels”.

    • Excellent points Ben/Chris/Vitaly. I agree 100%.

      And Chris, your point here is well-taken:

      “I actually hope that nobody comes back to UBF until they officially have rehabilitated all those brave Christians in their own ranks who have been kicked out as ‘rebels’.”

      I have at least three big barriers preventing me from returning anytime in my lifetime:

      1) Nothing in Detroit: I wouldn’t have anything to go back to: There is nothing for me to go back to. What would I do, all by myself here in Detroit?

      2) No friends: Suppose my family moved to some other city, then who is left among my friends there? A few people remain in Toledo UBF who are friends, but those friends essentially reject my other friends who left. And such a disruption to my family is not feasible and rather insane to do right now.

      3) UBF activities: Suppose UBF people moved to Detroit (yea, right, Koreans move to a black city? not likely.) But suppose something like that happened. There still would be no reason for me to join them because I am publicly critical of nearly all UBF ideology. I question everything these days and only someone like Ben or Joe could even “handle me” :)

      I suspect #3 will happen someday. UBF doesn’t like closing chapters, so they will send someone to “re-claim Detroit” due to my failure.

      On top of all this, my publically stated terms would need to be met, which of course will be ignored.

      I definitely will continue to visit Westloop Church, but my presence in UBF now would be far to disruptive and would likely cause more harm than good.

  3. I agree with you, Chris. Dr.Ben’s testimony has something I also feel I did and lived while in UBF. And you express my thoughts actually and do it so well! It was my great fault that I intently didn’t read any critique against UBF, didn’t read your healthy thoughts in those 20.. . Btw I’d like to thank you. Thank you for your internet dialogue and for providing a way for UBF people to start listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Only after I left UBF (and how Brian puts it: “outside the camp”) I was able to recognize myself a UBF pharisee. I repented of being a pharisee and saw in the Bible the similarity between UBF and the pharisee group. I also like Mt23, because it is a critique against UBF by Jesus Himself! And such words like “twice a child of hell” helped me to understand that UBF seems to be not just a christian church with some issues, but something connected with hell, even twice. So I’d like to ask Dr.Ben some questions. It is very interesting for me: what did Ben-1998 and does Ben-2012 think about official christian critique against UBF? I mean that even the wikipedia article about UBF says that such and such cult-watching organisations have UBF in their lists and say that UBF is a cult or a cult-like or an aberrant organisation which is not for christians to attend. Dr.Ben, how did you react and do you react on this? What is your opinion about UBF and how does/(doesn’t) it correspond with the official critique? And so who do you think SL and SB are: great servants of God or founders of a cult/cult-like organisation? Thank you.

    • Vitaly, you’re asking legitimate questions. But I feel if Ben answers them, he may annoy both ex and current members and close the door for dialogue. I understand that this forum shall help current members to start thinking and discussing in an atmosphere that is friendly to current members. So let’s avoid such questions (at least here, on this forum) or let the current members ask such questions. Actually I’m a person who likes to speak plain text, so I feel a bit strange to give such advice. But I made my experiences with older forums where there was a deep split between people on both sides of the fence and no real communication and discussion was possible. I appretiate the unique quality of this website, that for the first time there is real discussion of serious topics going on among UBF members, though currently very few. We should not spoil that. Unfortunately, only very few members are actively participating. We should do everything to help more members start joining the talk instead of just lurking or ingoring the talks on this website completely.

  4. Yes, Chris, I agree and I don’t want the dialogue to be closed. I also like this unique friendly site. But still it is really interesting to me and I sincerely and friendly would like to know Dr.Ben’s position in 1998 and now. There is negative opinion about UBF and it is very official. Do UBF people, especially leaders (and I consider Dr.Ben to be a leader and “the most fruitful UBF fellowship leader”), think it is false or partly true or what? if partly true then what are the parts: groups of people (some were blessed,others were hurt; missionaries/shepherds/2gens), counries (good for Korea, not good in other places), time and history (was bad, but is good or in the process of becoming better); founders: some were good, others were bad; or they were good but later became bad; or they were and are always good, but the heirs are bad and turned the best spiritual inheritance into something strange, etc?Some UBF leaders think that UBF is an ideal church with methods from God Himself. I see that Dr.Ben doesn’t think so. So what is UBF? What was UBF? What is UBF’s future, if any, from the point of view of a “devoted UBF member”? What should UBF do now? What would Dr.Ben do if he became the general director? Does he have an advice for the general director? Should UBF just ignore outside opinions? If not, then what changes are necessary? And if the necessary changes are too big and not so possible, then isn’t it better to leave/join another church/start something completely new?(Btw I see that the director is trying to do smth, e.g. there is a new European UBF director/coordinator, and he is native. But when I watched a photo of european directors I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. There were about 20+ korean directors and the native director. His position is above them, but it is clear that every one of the korean directors considers him at least below, just a puppet, a powerless forever young and not mature, who has no power at all). Personally I can’t see any future for UBF outside Korea. But may be I am blind at something, and possibly somebody in UBF has hope and even vision for UBF, see something I can’t see from outside the camp. You know, these questions are very relevant for my former chapter members. Some are leaving, some want to talk to the chapter director and ask him to leave for another place, some want to write a letter to the general director, and some think that they have no need of any director’s consultation/approval/permission and they want to do something without asociating to UBF anymore. Well I’ll wait for Dr.Ben’s answer. And if it will be “don’t ask such questions”, then let it be so.

  5. Thanks, Chris, Vitaly, for your comments and questions.

    Maybe I should not answer for them, but I think that it is very very hard for long standing UBF members/leaders to respond for many reasons. Probably, a few years ago, I would not respond because my reasons were “these people” (you guys) are just wasting their life and time “complaining” instead of doing the “real work of God” of “feeding sheep.” I may be wrong but this may be the predominant reason why UBF people/leaders would not or refuse to respond.

    Likely, only a few long standing UBF members/leaders would even “waste their time” reading what is posted on UBFriends.

    Also, especially for our UBF missionaries, if your primary language is not English, it may be a lot harder to respond in English. This is quite understandable.

    Also, only a minority of UBF people have caught onto blogging as a very legitimate and spiritual means of Christian ministry, while many Christians through out the world regard blogging as very useful, even evangelical. So, it may be very very hard for them to respond when they have never needed to respond, or ever wanted to respond. So I understand if they do not, or rarely if ever respond, or never respond, because they may feel too uncomfortable, or because the subject matter is “too controversial” or “too difficult” for them to respond. Also, they “do not have time” to respond, and they do not regard responding as necessary or useful for “the work of God.”

    But like you, I hope that more current UBF leaders would be bold enough to take a risk and respond. Hope is good, because we can always hope in God regardless of the reality, or the situation.

    BTW, Vitaly, I love your questions and will respond in the coming days. I was in Malaysia for the last 2 weeks when I visited Malaysia UBF in Kuala Lumpur. Presently, I am in Singapore, and am on my way back to Philippines UBF in Manila, before I return to the U.S. in a few weeks.

  6. Let me attempt to respond to Vitaly’s very good question: “What did Ben-1998 and what does Ben-2012 think about official Christian critique against UBF?”

    In 1998, I was similar to Brian who would unconditionally defend UBF in all ways possible. Even when my own son raised some issues and questions, I would defend UBF, and he would be quite upset with me for being unreasonable because of my seemingly blind allegiance and loyalty to virtually everything that UBF does.

    My perhaps strong(est) defense in 1998 was that God has blessed UBF for decades by raising many native leaders through out the world, and that God would not bless UBF if we were not good, or sound. (Of course, today, many good leaders have left from many chapters, for what I feel are quite legitimate reasons.)

    In 1998, I was also very critical of anyone who criticized UBF and/or “ran away.” I would regard them as “ungrateful, proud, worldly, compromising, bitter” and wanting to “abandon God’s mission.” Today, I see many of them as being spiritually abused and stunted by top down authoritarian leadership.

    So, in 2012, quite interestingly, as many already know, I am in agreement with many of the objections that ex-UBFers have raised, both by missionaries who left UBF, as well as by natives of many nations. I have vocalized and expressed most of them in my articles and comments here over the last 2 years, as well as in person to those still in UBF who would listen.

    Today, UBF’s greatest weakness as I see it is ongoing authoritarianism, which inevitably results in very poor interpersonal relationships, trust, friendships, and the severe hindering of initiative, which then stunts creativity and spiritual growth in juniors.

    Next, some have been clinging on to our rigid, inflexible, tired and worn out methodologies and “recycled” messages for decades (in the name of tradition, faithfulness, loyalty and legacy) that basically “no longer work.” They are boring, predictable, oppressive, and uninspiring, none of which God ever is.

    My hope is that we may learn to increasingly dialogue openly and honestly, and continually and humbly auto-correct by God’s grace and the help of the Holy Spirit, so that we can once again be like new wineskins, which I believe that UBF once was.

    My secret hope is that some who have left may come back. (Of course, you don’t have to.) This time, things will surely be different. Most of the things that offended and wounded people in the past can and will be addressed, and change is happening, and will continue to happen. Things will be different. It will happen a lot better and “faster” the more people speak up boldly, humbly, openly, and without fear.

    I think, at least in theory, more and more missionaries are acknowledging that autochthonous leaders must lead their own people. Sorry if some may initially be “like puppets.” But this change to local leadership would not have happened even just a few years ago.

  7. Thanks, guys, I am very touched by your comments:

    @Brian: “You explained my thoughts almost exactly.”

    @Vitaly: “Dr.Ben’s testimony has something I also feel I did and lived while in UBF. And you express my thoughts actually and do it so well! … Btw I’d like to thank you. Thank you for your internet dialogue and for providing a way for UBF people to start listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit.” Thank God for Joe who paved the way for this to happen! I believe that it is surely, if not exactly, what we need in order to be truly incarnational and embracing of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

    @Chris: “Vitaly, you’re asking legitimate questions. But I feel if Ben answers them, he may annoy both ex and current members and close the door for dialogue.” Thanks, Chris, for your empathy and for expressing how I oftentimes feel!

    @Darren, (comment on my post on Freedom: “There are few times I can say that I agree with everything that someone else says, but in this case, I agree with every point you have made. God’s grace really does liberate us in so many ways, both now and for eternity.”

    I need to show these comments to my wife! Thanks, guys, for “making my day.” But please be free to also critique me, which I know I need!