Is UBF Scared of Grace?

graceIs authoritarianism the reason people leave UBF? A repeatedly expressed sentiment is that authoritarianism causes so many to leave UBF even after decades of being committed members. Many regard this as a core ongoing problem. But perhaps, addressing authoritarianism may not work with an authoritarian church! All previous reform attempts since 1976 in Korea have failed. They have only led to bitter splitting and divisions in UBF, first among Korean nationals, and now between native people and missionaries (as clearly pointed out by Chris and others).

Is insufficient grace the reason people leave? Perhaps a major reason for problems in UBF have to do with a misunderstanding of grace, which has led to unchecked authoritarianism in UBF for the last 50 years and counting. What do I mean?

My thesis is that grace is the predominant expression of the love of God toward his sinful people both in the OT and the NT. Without being exhaustive, the entire sacrificial system of blood offerings in the tabernacle and the temple in the OT reveals the grace of God. The sacrifice of a lamb allows sinful undeserving people who should be condemned to have access to a holy God. This is grace. In the NT, Jesus became the ultimate Lamb of God who now extends grace to all undeserving sinners to come to God through his sacrifice. This is grace.

Even Christians prefer to punish others rather than extend grace to them. But by default, sinners, even Christians, spontaneously and naturally misunderstand, misapply and reject what God does, including extending grace to sinners. Jonah was very very angry with God because God extended grace to the Ninevites, whom Jonah felt should be judged and destroyed for their sins. And Jonah was a prophet of God!

We Christians may not like grace. Every action of Christ from his incarnation to his resurrection and ascension reveals the grace of God. The parable of the workers in the field still offends Christians today, especially those who think they started work at 6 am and have worked for 12 hours. They especially despise those who start work at 5 pm and worked just 1 hour, and yet receive the exact same pay of grace! How can one who just worked 1 hour receive the exact same blessing as one who worked 12 hours?? This is grace.

The classic Parable of the Prodigal Son is nothing but a story of exuding grace—to both sons. By the father’s grace alone, he went out to both his undeserving sons–to the younger as he was returning after a life of debauchery, as well as to the older son as he was grumbling angrily because he did not like grace extended to his undeserving brother!

Jesus was killed because he extended grace to sinners. A primary reason the “Christians” (Pharisees) killed Jesus was because he extended grace to the people who, in their mind, should never receive them–the prostitutes, tax collectors, and despicable sinners–unlike them!

Christian leaders opposed Paul because of his emphasis on grace. The parable of the unmerciful servant shows that all men simply love to receive grace, while are completely blind to extending grace to others. The entire book of Romans and Galatians shows Paul defending grace to “Christian leaders,” who are irate at Paul’s teaching of grace. They are totally convinced that grace is not enough for the Christian church. Why? Because people need some training, especially obedience training based on the Law!

Accepting grace in theory but denying it in practice. Let me conclude with a quote from Brennan Manning, who died recently: “Put bluntly, the (American) church today accepts grace in theory but denies it in practice. We say we believe that the fundamental structure of reality is grace, not works–but our lives refute our faith. By and large, the gospel of grace is neither proclaimed, understood, nor lived. Too many Christians are living in a house of fear and not in the house of love.”

Is UBF scared of grace? Of both teaching and extending grace? Especially, is UBF afraid of teaching and extending grace to young(er) people thinking that grace will only make them useless and undisciplined? Does a misunderstanding of grace prevent old(er) leaders who are authoritarian to come clean?


  1. Maybe not necessarily scared of grace, but scared of the antinomianism face behind the mask of “grace”. However the true face of grace is our Lord Jesus Christ. To borrow Rich Mullins’ lyrics, he gives grace a face, and gives grace a name.

    Sometimes grace is just a familiar stranger. Or a strange familiarity. I have to be reintroduced to grace over and over again.

    I’m receiving grace from readers of UBFriends for having an email address called PIG@soloved

    • Grace produces bold words and bold actions. I love Eric Ludy’s sermons on grace.

      Antinomianism does NOT hide behind the mask of grace. It hides behind the mask of law.

      Truth is not the opposite of grace. Grace stands with truth! What was Jesus’ yoke? Grace!

  2. Ah, yes, the fear of antinomianism, or perhaps more easily understood by some as “cheap grace,” or “do nothing grace,” or “grace without truth,” or “grace without obedience to the law,” or liberalism… It was most surprising to me that in Romans Paul was accused of antinomianism when he proclaimed grace from first to last.

    As for PIG, that’s how I feel about myself whenever I am back home in Malaysia being totally powerless before the food I grew up eating!

  3. The problem with grace, is that it is so gracious. There’s no rules, and more to the point, there’s no control. Grace isn’t scary to UBF, it’s all the freedom that comes with it. Generalizing, UBFers are afraid of what they cannot control.

    Just as the worldview of the first century Jews relied so much on their adherence to the mosaic law and Jewish rituals and observances, the worldview of many UBFers relies so much on the heritage of Bible study, sacrificial living, missional lifestyle, and intensive spiritual disciplines. While these things are indeed gifts from God to benefit our Christian walk and enable us to better love Him and love others in His world, when they are treated not as gifts but as duties, they become a deadweight.

  4. Well put, Joshua. Yes, we realize that grace leads to joyful willing work and obedience out of thanksgiving and gratitude to God. But to legislate or enforce any of the fruits of grace (obedience, mission, discipline), destroys grace. It leads to burn out, legalism, traditionalism, even authoritarianism.

  5. In reassessing ministry a few years ago, I expressed the following to my fellow Christian brothers and sisters:

    1) Have fun serving God.
    2) You can do whatever you want.
    3) You have nothing to prove.
    4) There are no more mandatory requirements. If you don’t want to, please don’t burden yourself to write testimonies.
    5) You do not need to come to prayer meetings, Bible studies, conferences, not even to SWS.
    6) Come because you want to, NOT because you have to.
    7) Pray that ONLY Christ and the gospel of God’s grace informs everything we do and decide.

    At first some were upset with me. Someone said, “Why don’t you encourage and challenge us to feed sheep or go fishing?” I’m not sure what I said, but basically, “Can’t we look at what the Bible says?” since surely the Bible’s authority is greater than mine.

    After several years, I think our burdens are being lifted by the grace of God. Everyone now knows that nothing is mandatory. Yet most people still willingly come to everything that we do not need to come to. The difference is that they are lighter and happier, I think….and more gracious. Though we still fight from time to time! (Personally, I probably should repent of liking conflicts and fighting.)

  6. A secular description of a life that is not governed by grace:

    “If I can do enough of the right things, I will have established my value. Identity is the sum of my achievements. In Christian theology, such a position is called justification by works. It assumes that my worth is measured by my performance. Conversely, it conceals a dark and ghastly fear: If I do not perform, I will be judged unworthy. To myself I will cease to exist.” (Paul Zahl)

  7. I remember studying about grace with you and learning how counter-intuitive grace is. It goes completely against the way we think, all our common sense and the way things work in this world. It’s divine.

    I like John Y’s Rich Mullins’ reference that Jesus gives grace a face and name. Without Jesus grace cannot exist, because someone has to pay the price. Without Jesus costly grace becomes cheap grace. In this world any attempt for grace without the sacrifice of Jesus becomes antinomianism. But if Jesus is at the center we don’t have to fear antinomianism, and like Manning said we can move from the house of fear to the house of love. Fear can have power over peoples’ lives but grace has even more power.

    • “Without Jesus costly grace becomes cheap grace. In this world any attempt for grace without the sacrifice of Jesus becomes antinomianism.”

      I’m really bothered these days by the terms “costly grace” and “cheap grace”. Both are true! Grace cost God everything. Grace costs us nothing.

      It is true that Jesus willingly paid the price demanded by God’s justice in order to extend grace to humanity. And grace and sacrifice are related, but not bound, from what I’ve learned. Jesus is not the only example of grace (the best example, yes, but not the only example).

      Does removing sacrifice from grace yield antinomianism? I don’t think so, at least from our viewpoint. Grace is grace and grace demands morality. Sacrifice on our part never increases or diminishes grace. Those who hold to the buoy of grace will indeed find crucifixion, which is sacrifice done to you, not somehting you give up.

      Is there evidence of this in Scripture? I think so. For us humans, Jesus paid the sacrifice in full. Now for us, that foundational grace drives our sanctification and most likely therefore produce sacrificial acts on our part.

      But I see no reason to bind sacrifice and grace together because sacrifice is bound to the law and the prophets, which were fulfilled by Jesus’ sacrifice.

    • Yes there are a lot of examples of grace every where. Jesus’ sacrifice is not the only example.

      But for me personally, I cannot physically show grace unless I consciously remember God’s grace for me through Jesus’ sacrifice. The cross is the only place where I find the power to forgive, nothing else (looking good, saving face, being nice/polite, etc.) is strong enough incentive for me to show grace. That’s the way I work.
      Have you read, “Cost of Discipleship”? Cheap/costly grace is described there.

    • That makes sense. No, I’ve not read Cost of Discipleship, and intentionally so. Many of my friends read Bonhoeffer’s book and others by him back in the late ’80s. Their discussions of the book (at the “brother’s house”) turned me off to it.

  8. This is a great article Ben…

    Are UBFers afraid of grace?

    I think as a human race we don’t know what to do with grace because its unnatural. We know how to receive it, but we fail in many ways to practice it or extend it to others. Real grace and love are intertwined. I agree with Brian that Grace is bold…but in love to the point of melting away the hardness and bitterness. Grace fails to be grace, when we extend it to those who we think deserve it and hold it from those who have failed our standards. Here is a quote from Andy Stanley that is awesome.

    ” Grace, It’s what we crave most when our guilt is exposed. It’s the very thing we are hesitant to extend when we are confronted with the guilt of others—-especially when their guilt has robbed us of something we consider valuable.
    Therein is the struggle, the struggle for grace. It’s this struggle that makes grace more story than doctrine. It’s the struggle that reminds us that grace is bigger than compassion or forgiveness. That struggle is the context for both. When we are on the receiving end, grace is refreshing. When it is required of us, it is often disturbing. But when correctly applied, it seems to solve just about everything. This struggle is not new; it has been going on since beginning.”

  9. How would you know you are preaching grace sufficiently according to the Bible? This is from Martyn Lloyd-Jones, one of the greatest preachers in the past half century:

    “The true preaching of the gospel of salvation by grace alone always leads to the possibility of this charge being brought against it. There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret it to mean that it really amounts to this, that because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound all the more to the glory of grace. That is a very good test of gospel preaching. If my preaching and presentation of the gospel of salvation does not expose it to that misunderstanding, then it is not the gospel.

    “If our preaching does not expose us to that charge and to that misunderstanding, it is because we are not really preaching the gospel. – it was brought frequently against Martin Luther. … It was also brought against George Whitefield two hundred years ago. It is the charge that formal dead Christianity – if there is such a thing – has always brought against this startling, staggering message, that God ‘justifies the ungodly’, and that we are saved, not by anything we do, but in spite of it, entirely and only by the grace of God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

    ” … I would say to all preachers: If your preaching of salvation has not been misunderstood in that way, then you had better examine your sermons again, and you had better make sure that you really are preaching the salvation that is offered in the New Testament…”

    • “That is a very good test of gospel preaching. If my preaching and presentation of the gospel of salvation does not expose it to that misunderstanding, then it is not the gospel.”

      YES! ++++++1

    • And on the flip-side, if your gospel preaching is misunderstood as control or authoritarianism, you are preaching law not grace.

  10. wesleyyjun

    Thank you for your article that is edifying. Basically you said what is in the Bible. When we talk about what is in the Bible with sincere and earnest heart it is always edifying. I may respond your post with one quote from your own post. How true it is we “accept grace in theory but deny it in practice”!
    We learned that we are saved by grace. But it is in our head but not in our heart. As someone said we always miss it by a foot. (The distance between our heart and brain is about a foot.) To be saved is supposed to make it easy for us. But our pride makes what is meant to make it easy harder. Jesus said the kingdom of God is for those who are changed to be like a child. He also said God has hidden “these” things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.(Mt 11)

    Of course the antithesis of “saved by grace” is “saved by work.” In that sense our trust in work is sickness that leads to spiritual death. But I believe originally God intended work to lead men to knowledge of him. From Genesis 3 we know after Adam’s fall we are supposed to eat our food by the sweat of our brow. The other day I read the book of Ruth. Ruth’s life (and Naomi’s) depended on a few gleanings left behind the harvesters. Here we see the vulnerability of a human life. When we eat our food by the sweat of our brow, we are humbled. I grew up in a city and never planted anything in my life. Yesterday my wife finally succeeded in making me use a shovel and prepare a small piece of our backyard ready for planting seeds for some vegetables. I had a few drops of sweat on my brow. It was exhilarating. The sweat of our brow is supposed to keep us humble and teach us the vulnerability of our life. It is Satan who makes us proud to despise the idea that our life is vulnerable and it is in the hands of God. When we are humble we are happy. Our work and sweats on our brow are meant to keep us humble. At least that’s what I get from Genesis 3.

    In the modern time, however, especially after the industrial revolution men’s work began to have different meaning. (I may say it actually started when Cain’s descendants went to build city and develop technology and culture. But it happened in massive scale in the modern time.) Man’s work began to produce far more than just food on the table. Now man’s work is not for survival but for status. We work hard to make money not only to put on the table but give us self-worth. The more you make the better you feel about yourself. We work hard for academic achievements to feel that we have done something and we are worthwhile. Work is supposed to make man sweat on the brow and keep him humble. But it does the exact opposite. Work makes us proud. We do this for our entire lives without knowing what we are doing. This makes it so difficult for us to deeply accept we are saved by grace alone. Remember it was Pharisees who especially had hard time accepting Jesus’ teaching of “saved by grace.” They were the social elites. They were from well-to-do families. Since childhood they don’t have to work and sweat on the brow for food. Their work was for status or self-worth. It was for them to feel good about themselves. But we know that our work will never be good enough to make us completely at peace with ourselves, much less with God. Why? Our standard (and God’s standard) is too high. My work will never be good enough to convince me that I am so good as to be called a son of God. No matter how hard I work it will never make me a member of a royal family like Prince of Wales, much less a member of God’s family.

    The word “depression” or “depressed” does not appear in the Bible even one time. “Depression” appears only once in Leviticus. But it is used for totally different meaning. But biblical truths explain why people become depressed. If work does what it supposed to do, it should lead us to be humble and happy. But if work does us something totally different, we are bound to be depressed. If we work for self-worth, we are working for a lost cause. When men worked for food by the sweat on the brow, they hardly knew what it meant to be depressed. But when we work for self-worth, we are bound be depressed because we are working for a lost cause. Without God man works for self-worth for his entire life and sooner or later become a victim of depression. One woman in her fifties said she was depressed but added it was normal she was depressed at her age. She was implying we all are supposed to be depressed as we grow older. It is no wonder that statistics show since the beginning of the last century the number of depression cases roughly doubled every decade.

    Most Christians become Christian accepting salvation by grace. But after becoming members of a body of Christians they learn “benefit” of good work. The good work gives them status and recognition in the church. They slowly forget, though they don’t say or even notice it, that they were saved by grace, and find it harder and harder to practice grace to others, who are not as “good” as themselves. I have been in UBF longer than I’d like you to know. So I have seen this happening in UBF. But I don’t think UBF is particularly bad in this area. It is a universal problem to all churches. True, UBF can be more susceptible to this problem because it emphasizes mission. But give or take, we all share the same problem.

    Then how do we truly accept grace not only in theory but also in practice? I should answer this question. But I am getting tired a little bit. And it is already too long as a response to a fairly short article. I will think and pray more about how to answer the question and post it again if grace is given me to do so.

    • Hi Wesley, thanks for your comment. I’m glad you have an opportunity to develop a green thumb! Gardening is something that I enjoyed immensely as a child. It was a great opportunity as a youngster to bond with my dad to work together in the garden.

      Your last question: “Then how do we truly accept grace not only in theory but also in practice?” In the past few months, I’ve answered this question for myself this way: stop trying to live by the rules, and live by the Spirit. There isn’t a prescribed way to live by grace, because each person is different and God’s leading for each person is different. That’s just it; there can’t be a cookie-cutter approach anymore. There’s no rules to live by. God’s moral law hasn’t changed, but our approach is not through rules but through grace. God’s way is grace. It is confounding but it is God’s way. There can be no program or course that is used, because grace is manifested in a person’s live uniquely. I think that we can practice grace to ourselves when we embrace this freedom in Christ to come to God as we are and allow Him to guide our life. We embrace grace in others when we exhort them to identify who God has made them and encourage them to live in pursuit of it. We stifle grace when we attempt to reshape and remold people into our own image or expectation.

    • The two most important rules for living by grace:

      1. There are no rules, but a Ruler, Jesus Christ, who rules and leads in love through His Spirit.

      2. See rule number 1.

    • Love the rules of grace joshua! +1

      “We stifle grace when we attempt to reshape and remold people into our own image or expectation.”

      Yes, and that is why I have tried to avoid telling ubf specifics of “how to be better”. When I met the ethics committee last year in Chicago, they wanted me to list my grievances against PH and ubf. I said your printer does not have enough paper to print my list. But then I said that I don’t want to talk about any of those things. All I want is for someone in leadership to say “We are wrong.”

      I have no idea how or what should change in ubf. You can’t programmatically solve the core problems of ubf ideology. I can’t shape ubf into what I want. And that’s precisely why I still only seek the same two demands I keep harping on.

    • Or say “I’m sorry” and mean it. But then again, you can’t say it from the heart, when you don’t really think you did anything wrong.

    • No, Ben, I do NOT want to hear “I’m sorry” any more. I have heard the pitiful, alligator-tears plea from ubf people way too much: “I’m soooo soooorrrry. Please forgive us!” Translation from ubf-speak: “Shut up and go away.”

      I want hear “We are wrong. We will stop being abusers. We will surrender to grace. We will put our self-glorifying works on hold until we can build genuine friendships. We will put a stop to the harmful Shepherding Movement practices that we held onto for 5 decades. We will openly, honestly and publicly engage in dialogue and corporate repentance to facilitate healing and obey Jesus’ command to promote the ministry of reconciliation through friendship, love and eager desire for restoration of the unity of the Spirit through one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and one Father, treating people as God’s children who have been given grace as Christ apportioned it (Ephesians 4:1-7).

      Or not… :(

    • Agreed, Brian. No one appreciates such an apology, which as you said is peace-keeping rather than peace-making. It is to pacify you, silence you, and preserve their own honor rather than genuinely seek reconciliation. Such “apology” makes one feel 10 times worse than if they had not apologized.

    • Yes, I was so edified by our pastor’s recent sermon. He pointed out that Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers…” Matthew 5:9. Jesus did not say “Blessed are the peace-keepers”…

      I’ve learned that also Jesus did not say “Blessed are the ones who eat kimchee and forget reality”. Nor did he say “Blessed the ones who blog all their criticisms on the internet”.

      I am learning that to be a Christ-follower means I must find a way to be a person who has peace and brings peace wherever I go. That peace may invoke a sword at times, but that sword must be a surgeon’s knife, not a thieve’s weapon. Or as you’ve said before, Ben, Christ-followers are bearers of light like a laser beam, not a spotlight.

    • Mark Mederich

      i agree it is universal problem of, or challenge to, churches (i grew up catholic & have sampled various denominations): perhaps we imitate world in status/recognition rather than imitate Christ in equality/humility; maybe it’s exciting opportunity that believer’s develop better way (like paul’s excellent way of love); who knows, may spread

      personally i’m sad having sought recognition in my own life & having that addictive mentality cause damage in others lives; honestly i’m sickened that religions failed help people develop healthier life in God. it’s a confession not an accusation: if not me/us, who? if not now, when? let’s blaze a better trail:)

    • “let’s blaze a better trail:)”

      Yes Mark, I agree!

    • Thanks, Mark. Isn’t “a better trail” GRACE?? Not “world campus mission,” as global and glorious as that might sound?

    • Mark Mederich

      yeah, grace; God works/guides thru that

  11. “We stifle grace when we attempt to reshape and remold people into our own image or expectation.”

    I would say this is not grace at all, its control and living under the law.

    What saddens me about being in UBF these past 13 years is that I was taught a very “partial truth” of the gospel. I learned about salvation, faith, obedience, bearing good fruit. In some ways we were taught to live a righteous and obedient life. Our hard work was glorified in front of everyone. The harder we worked to feed sheep, the more “glory” and attention we got. Our egos were growing and our pride booming. Those who couldn’t keep up had less capacity and were made to feel guilty. We became a very proud body of Christ. I don’t remember ever hearing a message or bible study explaining in any depth about God’s Grace, or Gods love.

    Now I see Gods Grace through out the bible, every story, every page is full of Gods love and God’s Grace. People are afraid of God’s Grace because they don’t understand its transforming and freeing power. There is no such thing as cheap grace…

    A counselor, David Seamands, summed up his career in this way:

    Many years ago I was driven to the conclusion that the two major causes of most emotional problems among evangelical Christians are these: the failure to understand , receive, and live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness; and the failure to give out that unconditional love, forgiveness and grace to other people…We read, we hear, we believe a good theology of grace. But that’s not the way we live. The good news of the Gospel of grace has not penetrated the level of our emotions.”

    • Well-said Martha! Sobering thoughts too…

      “I don’t remember ever hearing a message or bible study explaining in any depth about God’s Grace, or Gods love.”

      Neither do I. Mary and I realized that we spent over 15,000 hours in bible study activities (otherwise known as 1.7 years of sitting on a folding chair!) And yes, you are correct, I can’t recall even a single hour in which we considered the most important part of the Christian gospel: grace.

      To us, grace was a “bad word”. Grace was equated to lazy, wicked servants who were good-for-nothing couch potatoes. And American pastors who taught grace (we thought) were agents of Satan who preached a watered-down, weak, mamby-pamby false gospel. …I’m not just making up those words; those are actual words I heard many times in ubf bible studies :{

      And I think this statement deserves more attention: “There is no such thing as cheap grace…” Yes, I agree (Romans 11:1-6, 2 Corinthians 12:8-12). I contend that to find God’s healing we need to stop redefining words. Grace is grace. We cannot cheapen it! “Cheap grace” is actually an attempt to restore the OT sacrificial system.

  12. I think we should discuss several misinterpreted Bible passages in this context. Wesley wrote “We learned that we are saved by grace.” But this is only half of the truth. The other half of the truth is that we also learned that we are saved by obedience (to God, manifested in obedience to our leaders), and diligence (for mission, manifested in our UBF activities).

    One of the passages I’m talking about is Mk 8:34-35. It says we need to deny ourselves and take up our cross to be saved. In UBF, “deny yourself” is interpreted as “obey your leaders and follow their orientation instead of what you think is right, neglect your own ideas and your own family” and “take up your cross” is interpreted “diligently engage in all UBF activities every week”.

    Let me give an example from a sermon of Samuel Lee: “Those who have no eternal life are like a tiger or bear in the jungle. We must have things of God. In the 200 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, in six divisions of boxing matches no American won a gold medal. In total, two American boxers received silver medals. It is ironic that in boxing there was no gold medal at all for America. In order to be a boxer, one has to get up at 4am every day and go jogging for seven and a half miles. And after that, he eats breakfast. Around 10am he does routine exercises for two hours. And then he can have sparring with his partner. Without this kind of effort, one cannot win a gold medal at the Olympics. In the same way, in order to receive the things of God, we must strive hard.” Somewhat later: “How can we deny ourselves? We must have divine discipline …” Every UBFer knows what the term “divine discipline” used by Samuel Lee means (hint: it had to do with accepting his training methods).

    So this is the other, much more frequent and emphasized teaching of UBF: In order to have eternal life, we must strive hard and submit to “divine discipline” in UBF.

    Another passage interpreted in similar ways is 1 Cor 15:58. It wants us to “know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain”. And it seems to indicate that our resurrection, as discussed in all the verses before, is a result of our “labor in the Lord” which again is interpreted in UBF as all our activities in the UBF ministry. I think that’s the whole reason why 1 Cor 15 is read and learned by heart every year in UBF, in order to emphasize this one point: “Want to have eternal life? Continue to work in the hamster wheel of UBF this year!”

    UBF sees our working in UBF as an investment in our future. This is also evident in a more recent sermon ( which says: “We don’t have time to experience every possible alternative and then decide how to invest our lives. We must make a right decision while we are young. If we live for ourselves, we will lose everything. But if we live for Jesus and the gospel, we will gain everything. To live for Jesus or not is not a small matter. It is a matter of eternal life and death. Jesus is worthy of our whole life investment. It is not a losing business.” So they see it as a business. We invest our best time in our youth, and as a reward we get eternal life. Otherwise we get eternal death. It’s a kind of “deal”.

    Where is the place for grace in such teaching and thinking?

    So Wesley, I think it is a bit hypocritical of you when you say that we started to believe in salvation by works only because of our pride and other flaws in ourselves or things that no church is free of, when in reality, salvation by works is directly taught in UBF lectures, even more frequently than salvation by grace. Personally I had always the impression that salvation by grace was sometimes mentioned, but only as a lip service in order to assure us that we are still in the Protestant tradition, but salvation by works (of obedience and diligence) was the “real” teaching.

    It would be fruitful to discuss the proper understanding of the verses mentioned above, in a way that is compatible with the teaching of salvation by grace through faith alone. I don’t think this has been done so far.

    Another problem is that even when UBF teaches salvation by grace trough faith, it still means obedience, because “faith” in UBF has the connotation of blindly trusting in the orientation of the leader (interpreted as the orientation of God) and obeying it; the most notorious example being “marriage by faith”. This is another way how this teaching is undermined by UBF and twisted into “salvation by obedience” again.

    • Please note how subtly this teaching always goes. Samuel Lee did not write “in order to be saved, we must strive hard” or “in order to get eternal life, we must strive hard”. That would have sounded too unorthodox. So he wrote “in order to receive the things of God, we must strive hard.” This sounded less suspicious. But in effect, it was the same teaching, since in the beginning of the passage, he had already made very clear that to “receive the things of God” actually meant eternal life. This sneaky way in which wrong ideas are instilled into the minds of the audience every week is one of the most serious issues of UBF. In end effect, this amounts to teaching a different gospel.

    • “Please note how subtly this teaching always goes.”

      YES! That is why it is SO important to SLOW DOWN ubf activity and accept Brian’s challenge :)

  13. Yes, Chris, I remember those messages of Lee. I remember also such phrases as “There are many enemies of the cross among modern Christians. But we will love the cross”. Something like that. “Work hard” was the main message of every conference. And every conference was like a time to report what you have DONE during the year and also what you promise to DO during the next year. If you are not sure you will be able to do that much you should at least say, “I will pray that…”. This will show everybody your “faith”.

  14. In a message by RW on Acts 8 there are such teachings: 1. verses 14-17 “Here we see the importance of prayer support of senior leaders. Though junior leaders were actively carrying the gospel to new places they neede the prayer support and oversight of senior leaders…”. In the same chapter there is the description of how the “junior” leader Philip shares the gospel with the eunuch without any support and oversight of “senior leaders”. But in the ubf message this is not important. There is another important point there.

    2. “Moreover, God uses men like Philip, who SIMPLY OBEY the leading of the Holy Spirit as his coworkers to seek and save the lost ones. Truly effective evangelism is done through ABSOLUTE OBEDIENCE to the Holy Spirit”. I like the second quotation but I know that it is charged with ubf heritage and anyone in ubf will tell you that there is no such thing as obeying the Holy Spirit directly in ubf, not everyone has the Holy Spirit, you must just obey your chapter director who is a close friend of the Spirit (and of many ubf spirits actually)). Sometimes “the things of God”, sometimes “the Holy Spirit” but the meaning is a ubf one.

  15. Hi all,

    I think that the recent comments by Vitaly and Chris really need to be paid attention too. (Thanks guys for making these points.) In my view, the point that they are making is that, when we preach the gospel, we have to extremely clear. At face value, the messages that they quoted above seem orthodox enough. But in truth, those who are listening to the messenger know that absolute obedience to the Holy Spirit really has undertones of absolute obedience to a person. Self denial and taking up the cross really has undertones of denial of your self-identity and assuming the UBF identity and mission. There is an implicit meaning. Brian has already made the point that such “double-speak,” redefinition of terms, and multi-layered meanings of certain phrases are hallmarks of cults.

    If a UBF leader reading this or Chris or Vitaly’s comment disagrees, THEN BE HONEST and modify your message to make it crystal clear that is not what you mean. Better yet, ask your teenage kids what they thought you were saying in that message. There can be a big difference between what was explicitly said and what is implicitly understood. Without clearly defining terms and refuting false ways the message could be understood, an innocent-enough-looking message can be easily distorted into something that merely reinforces the works-righteousness paradigm. I agree with Chris and Vitaly in this point; the message of grace must be made crystal clear with no caveats, buts, or extra requirements added on. If this is not done, it is indeed dishonest to say that our tendency to rely on works is from our human pride.

  16. Great points. I wholeheartedly agree that it is dishonest to say that our tendency to rely on works is due to human pride. And as the old saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words..” Another way of saying this is that implicit messages are stronger than explicit ones. You may say one thing, but if your actions don’t follow, did you really mean what you said?

    • Right. That’s also why it is so difficult to raise up children. Because they don’t do what you say, but they imitate what you do. Particularly the bad things. If I do one bad thing once, my son immediately learns it. But if I tell him a good thing a hundred times, he still won’t get it.

  17. The great philosopher, Michael Polanyi, underscores this in his work. The vast majority of the knowledge that we carry is tacit knowledge. You can’t really verbalize it, you pick it up through your community and your environment. The way to see what people believe about the gospel is to see how actually live and operate in their communities, not merely by what they say.

  18. If ubf teaches grace as it is in the gospel then it will allow any ubf member to accept Brian’s Challenge and to try not to do ubf activities for a while. All (Dr.Ben included) shared that when they stopped at least one ubf activity then they felt guilty. Why? Because in ubf grace+works (activities: sogams, daily bread, fishing, prayer meetings and SWS absolutely) is the clear teaching.

    Yes, Sharon ubf people SAY that salvation is by grace, but can a ubf member stop DOING the ubf activities even once in a life and have peace with God?

  19. “What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.” Ralph Waldo Emerson.

  20. Thanks for sharing. As I began to read “non-ubf stuff” my realization was that UBF does not highlight the gospel, but mission, which is not bad, but it is not central.

    Once I told a UBF leader that UBF preachers and messengers should simply “preach the gospel.” But he told me that older UBF leaders do not like to hear the messenger simply “preach the gospel” but that the messenger must say, “you must preach the gospel.” When they hear the former they are not happy. But if they hear the latter uttered, they feel satisfied. Perhaps, some UBF people may not know the difference between the two, since they have primarily heard the latter!

  21. wesleyyjun

    What you are saying is really right: a messenger must preach the gospel instead of preaching to them, “you must preach the gospel.” But amazingly the first words Jesus said to the disciples when he called them, “Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people.”(Mt 4:19)He did not begin with giving them a long explanation what gospel was. In a sense he actually had told them what gospel was because it is said two verses earlier, “From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (v.17) But I am not sure how much the disciples understood the gospel. When I was a college freshman or sophomore without much to live for, Jesus’ words, “I will make a fisher of men,” gave me hope even though I did not know what gospel was. I am sure you will agree with me God works in each person’s life differently.
    We are saved by grace not by work. But when God gives us something do for our lives, we can be excited with sense of purpose and meaning. To some people this may be very important, even more important than having full understanding of the gospel, at least temporarily. (I hope people won’t jump on me for saying this because I added “temporarily.”)

    • Wesley, you (and others) here are starting to point out something that should be developed further (no jumping on you this time :)

      You correctly pointed out: “He did not begin with giving them a long explanation what gospel was.” There is a strength of the ubf mindset that I call gumption for Jesus (resourcefulness). A majority of churches overplan, hem and haw around, and generally just take too much time trying to carefully plan out evangelistic missions. But ubf missionaries just plow forward, often like a bull in a China shop. There is value to this.

      But this amazing strength has hamstrung ubf now because after 50 years, ubf people have replaced the gospel with ubf ideology and replaced Jesus with human shepherds.

      So instead of learning the gospel on the journey of self-discovery while following Jesus, submitting to the Holy Spirit and surrendering to grace, nearly all ubf missionaries and shepherds(esses) have used their gumption to preserve the ubf kingdom and to justify the ideology that says “We don’t have to explain ubf to young students. Just study the bible one hour per week and obey us, then you will understand later.” ubf people (including myself in the past) have taken some of the gospel principles and applied those principles to ourselves. So ubf people have fallen into a religious gumption trap of sorts.

      ubf people do not need to “go back to the bible”. ubf people need to “go back to the gospel”, surrender to grace and submit on their knees to the Holy Spirit.

      And I’ll end my little soapbox sermon with two thoughts: We all will stand before God on Judgment Day with a flawed understanding of the gospel messages. If you don’t like some of the things I’ve done or said, remember that ubf trained me to have gumption too :)

    • Wesley, you say that “the first words Jesus said to the disciples when he called them, ‘Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people.’ (Mt 4:19). He did not begin with giving them a long explanation what gospel was.”

      But in fact he later told them pretty clear how to behave and how not to behave. For instance, he told them “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ (=Teacher) for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.” (Mt 23:8).

      Why then is the first thing a UBF “fisher” does to appear as a teacher and let himself be called with a title “shepherd” or “missionary”?

      “But when God gives us something do for our lives, we can be excited with sense of purpose and meaning.” I think there are many things to do in our lives which are meaningful and which we can be excited about. I never had lack of such things in my life. There are so many things which can give us a sense of purpose and meaning. They can be studying nature, caring for our family or neighbours, engaging in our community, fight for world peace, environment protection etc. Spreading the gospel is a completely meaningless task to me until I know what the gospel really is. The gospel itself liberates us, not the fact that we now have a task to spread the gospel. That sounds like circular reasoning to me.

  22. Ben, I think the problem is deeper. In ubf leaders compare themselves (when studing the Bible) with God, with Jesus or the very least with apostles or prophets. They don’t preach the gospel themselves they also preach “you must preach the gospel”. Who are “you”? While still in ubf I heard from the director, “Some people not just leave ubf but become enemies of God”. They never say “enemies of ubf”. Until recently news were like “The work of God in … some country”. That sounded so strange. Now they write “The work of God in (some country) ubf”. It is better but still I don’t think ubf has anything to do with “God’s work”. (God’s work is grace). It is better to say “Some results (e.g. 0,3%) of the great human effort in … (some country) ubf”.

    • Very good thoughts, Vitaly. All the reports I’ve read on should be corrected with titles like this: “The work of ubf”. Not a single report that I’ve read so far describes the work of God, which would be a report about someone’s faith journey (John 6:29).

      On a related note, the CME reports are especially troubling to me. Take a look at them and notice how they all yield THE SAME RESULTS. CME is a method of conforming all ubf people to be uniformly loyal to the ubf kingdom and to ensure ubf senior staff know exactly who is working to preserve the ubf kindgom.

      [And just a side note from someone who was in ubf for 24 years: CME is the latest method of tracking statistics on what missionaries are loyal to ubf and which ones are part of the R-Group. A handful of ubf people have been travelling the globe for about two years doing CME…and it is no coincidence that this began right at the same time the “crisis” in ubf usa broke loose in 2011]

      All these things are why my new mantra to ubf directors is this (based on a t-shirt I saw many of John Piper’s church members wearing)… “You can submit to the Spirit now, or you can submit to the Spirit later, but one way or another YOU WILL SUBMIT!”

    • So the notion that ubf sheep will one day bow down and submit to their ubf shepherd and be eternally thankful in heaven is freakin hogwash!! If your ubf shepherd EVER tells you that, please look them in the eye and say “That is a lie. In heaven we will all fall on our knees and bow down to Jesus, not to you. And furthermore, heaven is not about just bowing down but about living forever with my Husband Jesus! Then calmly walk away and never go back to the ubf center again. Sheep need to stop enabling anyone who promotes such a horrid ideology and make a clean break.

      So in other words, “In the end, serious reprimand is appreciated far more than bootlicking flattery.” Proverbs 28:23

  23. Good points. But I am troubled by the following comment

    Wesley you wrote:

    We are saved by grace not by work. But when God gives us something do for our lives, we can be excited with sense of purpose and meaning. To some people this may be very important, even more important than having full understanding of the gospel, at least temporarily. (I hope people won’t jump on me for saying this because I added “temporarily.”)

    I don’t think that we will ever have full understanding of the gospel on this earth, until we get to heaven, its deep and mysterious and it keeps amazing us over and over again.

    You said,” when God gives us something to do for our lives, we can be excited…”, this is the problem, usually its the shepherd giving us direction for our lives(something to do) instead of encouraging us to seek Gods voice and leading. It blocks out the relationship between us and God. So, its difficult to hear Gods voice and to be excited about doing something for God when we are being pressured and told to be obedient to our shepherd as if we were doing it for God.

    When we do hear Gods voice, and it goes against the shepherds thoughts…we are called rebellious or that we need training so that we can learn how to do “God’s work”. Its weird, and very subtle but after many years we are trained to be obedient to “God’s servant” instead of submitting to God himself.

    Christian mentorship should always encourage students to have a relationship to our true shepherd Jesus. The student should be able to hear Gods voice and conviction for his own situation not via the mentor. Mentors are there to encourage, pray, advice and point them to Jesus…but never to demand obedience or submission to them. Perhaps, this would be the healthy type of Christian mentorship where “God (not the shepherd) gives the student something to do and the student would be excited”.

  24. Thanks, Martha, Ditto! I realized some years ago, that inadvertently the UBF shepherd functionally and practically replaced the Holy Spirit. Thus, I came up with UBF’s 3rd of 10 Commandments:

  25. I realized very quickly that if I’m ever compelled to do something, it totally sucks the joy out of doing it, even if it is something I wanted to do in the first place.

    By being compelled to teach the Bible and feed sheep and serve the ministry in various ways it is impossible to have any sense of doing it out of love for the Lord. By compelling obedience, leaders rob followers of the joy of serving God out of love. After umpteen number of years of joylessly serving God in this way, enough is enough, and they leave.

  26. Thanks for your comments. Perhaps, I am thinking that it MAY NOT BE POSSIBLE for UBF to truly teach and emphasize grace as being central, because the UBF system is structured around mission, UBF methodology/core values, shepherding, marriage by faith, testimony writing, 1:1 Bible study, never missing any UBF meeting/conference, etc, all of which is often “absolutely” non-negotiable.

    That is why I wrote I believe that any honest UBF leader will know that they break virtually all 10 Commandments ad nauseam (I know I did for over 2 decades!), yet will always find ways to fully justify why they keep breaking them.

    Therefore, the inevitable result is that UBF will continue to “deny, minimize or limit” GRACE to virtually all people who come to UBF–even to this very day–as many of you are clearly attesting to with countless examples, both past and present.

    • Ben, when I saw the new mission statement and celebration material from 2011, and then watched 2012 come to a close with no evidence that 99% of ubf directors were willing to honestly evaluate or address the cult-label issues, I came to the same conclusion as you stated.

      That means in the 10 years since Slee’s passing away, from 2002 to 2012, ubf poured all their efforts into preserving his legacy and teachings, at the expense of any and all leaders who opposed such effort in any way. The directors has spoken by their silence. They are saying, “Go ahead and call us a cult. We don’t care what you think. We are going to do the same things we always did for the past 50 years with a double-portion of Lee’s spirit. We don’t care how many leaders leave. We just want to pass on this legacy from God to our Korean children.”

  27. Getting back to the article here: “All previous reform attempts since 1976 in Korea have failed. They have only led to bitter splitting and divisions in UBF, first among Korean nationals, and now between native people and missionaries (as clearly pointed out by Chris and others).”

    I’d like to clarify and expand on this a bit.

    I have written already about the positive contributions the reform movements made. Yes it is true that the 1976, 1989 and 2001 reformers failed to make a dent in the B.I.T.E model control exerted by the ubf shepherding structure. But I’d like to point out some incredible contributions made by their efforts. We owe them a lot.

    Before I share what I think they contributed, please keep in mind that the first 3 waves of reform were stuck in a sort of “yin/yang” relationship. Just as North Korea and South Korea have relied on each other to keep the peace, even though they have been at war for decades. I think it has been the same with ubf and ex-ubf. They have kept each other in balance for decades. But like NK and SK, such peace-keeping efforts eventually break down.

  28. Here are the successes I have observed from the historical reform efforts. Please add or correct me as needed. My prior summary of reform needs some updates, but I think it is a decent start. It won’t be too long before anyone who knows about these things will be dead :( So we must document and discuss as much as possible.


    – Korean leaders in Korea succeeded in eliminating the torture-style methods of ubf training. There are few if any reports after this reform of physical abuse.

    – The reformers left documentation of the core ubf problems and gave us evidence that the main problem has nothing to do with Korean culture.


    – The reformers spread the reform messages to many places.

    – The reformers left more documents explaining what happened to them and more clearly explained the problems of ubf.


    – The reformers pushed ubf directors to address the offering money issues. Financial accountability came slowly but finally came in the form of joining the ECFA in 2008.

    – The reformers pushed ubf directors to begin connecting with external sources and people, even if it was mostly an appeasement, these connections have proven essential.

    • Mark Mederich

      i like the tone here of noticing the positive effects of efforts (sufferings were not in vain, measured influence was exerted)

  29. they teach/preach enough about grace to be ‘saved’ and after that it’s obedience, discipline and works.

    • andrew, I remember how an ICOC member paraphrased this approach as “first they save you, then they enslave you”.

  30. I just listened to this excellent 40 min sermon on grace:

    It would appeal most and be understood most by Americans and westerners who appreciate rapid fire American colloquialism.

    The gist is this: Most Christians, including perhaps many UBF Christians think and act as though the gospel is the gospel of sin management, and self effort, and good intentions, and acceptable behavior, and sinning less, and putting on a mask, and pleasing God, etc. The invariable result is always becoming tired, burdened, uncertain, disillusioned, pretentious, self-conscious, overly sensitive, defensive, guilty, etc.

    Only the gospel of grace breaks this cycle. So-called “discipleship training” worsens it!

  31. Thanks Ben, I love it.

  32. Yes, thank you very much Ben. It made me recall what I was thinking as I commented on article good, bad and ugly. In fact, I also remembered a brother who used to, maybe still does…preside on Sundays. He used to say that he was compelled to encourage laughter at times with a quip here or there because the congregation looked miserable and tired – they did not look fine. But always, our answer is fine. Especially, to those closest to us. When we are engaging in this kind of ministry covering up our real feelings comes natural because we are never encouraged to share. Such thinking is human, humanistic and thoughts should only be focused on what will please God. It’s funny, because when I went through hell a while ago, I hid from my parents and family the true details of church relations. I covered it up and essentially said “….but it’s okay, it’s fine.” I am dying to take off my anonymous mask, but for that I must first pray with my wife. It is fine for me to take this course of action, but I recognize that my actions not only impact me, but of course family….it’s just I want to say plainly.

  33. Nice commentary on the grace of God from Christianity Today (7/24/2013): A sub-point is that religious people really do not like grace.

  34. Do Americans not like the picture of a bound lamb awaiting slaughter? An anonymous comment on my blog said that it is a turn off and weird to Americans, though it is acceptable to foreign nationals. Do you agree?

    Here is the full comment:

    • Joe Schafer

      My understanding of that comment goes like this.

      1. UBF has traditionally referred to newcomers as sheep. That word suggests someone who is incapable of taking care of himself and needs to be taught, fed, managed and directed by someone else. People from collectivist cultures might not mind being called sheep, but people from individualistic cultures may find it offensive.

      2. The image of a sheep bound and awaiting slaughter is ok if the sheep is a representation of Jesus. But in an environment where “sheep” is a euphemism for a newcomer, the implications aren’t very nice.

    • I never realized this, but it does make a lot of sense. No one likes to feel like a dumb sheep who was taken advantage of by some authoritarian imperialistic shepherd.

  35. And in Russian ubf the sheep are always called “lambs” only. It sounds offensive, especially for university students. “That word suggests someone who is incapable of taking care of himself and needs to be taught, fed, managed and directed by someone else”. I would also add “young” to the meaning of the word in Russian. And “lamb” is a very old word in Russian and is not used in normal speech. You can come across this word only in the Bible when it speaks about Jesus.

    Unfortunately, the word “sheep” (plural) in Russian have some connotative meaning of being stupid, not able to make own decisions, acting like a crowd. And “sheep” (singular, fem. gender) has a very offensive slang meaning of being very stupid, actually having no brain. “Hey, sheep!” is used if one wants to offend a girl/woman and it would then surely bring a quarrel or a fighting.

  36. Thanks, Vitaly, it seems that Europe and the Americas feel the same way about being called “sheep,” implying that they are dumb, stupid and helpless without someone else helping them.

    This is surely true only with God who is our Chief Shepherd.

    But if any human dares to claim that role of “shepherd” over another human, then the potential and likelihood for much abuse certainly exists, as many have already sadly experienced.

  37. The word “sheep” is not bad, if used properly. The problems start when it is used in conjunction with the word “shepherd”, and at the same time shepherd is referring to a human shepherd. In the Bible, the words “sheep” or “flock” are only used when referring to Jesus or God as the shepherd or owner. I have no problems thinking of myself as a sheep of Jesus.

    • The problems also start when the word “sheep” is only used for some of the people in the church, and not for all of them.

    • Joe Schafer

      Chris, that’s a great point you just made. I don’t have any problem with the metaphor of sheep and shepherd. In the Old and New Testaments, those images appear in various ways. The problems come when a relationship between two persons is defined such that one person is always the sheep and the other person is always the shepherd. In a godly, loving relationship, each person is sometimes a leader and sometimes a follower. This is true even when there is a big difference in age, rank or human experience and qualification. Each member of the church is a bearer of Christ’s image and a vessel of the Holy Spirit and is capable of both leading and following when love is present.

    • Joe Schafer

      Chris, I think you overstated your case in your first comment. I can think of several places in the Bible where “shepherd” is used for a human pastor. I do agree, though, that God is always the Chief Shepherd.

    • Perhaps the bible does speak of human shepherds, but I’m with Chris: The bible does not teach the “shepherd/sheep” worldview that we all learned in the past in ubf.

      A personal, lifelong, involuntary “shepherd” who has to approve our decisions and supervise our morality is simply not what the bible teaches in any sense.

      Even the human shepherds mentioned in a few places in the bible have nothing to do with treating people like sheep. Such passages have everything to do with the human shepherd being transparent so people can see the Lord.

      I’ve thrown out the “shepherd/sheep” paradigm and now see the “God/human” paradigm present plainly in the bible. There is one Lord, one Father over us all. Jesus is the one Shepherd that we return to as our overseer.

      An excellent book to think further about these things is What We Believe And Why by George Koch. [Kindle version]

      That book begins with the God/human viewpoint:

      “There is a God. It’s not you.”

    • Joe, you misunderstood me. Of course the Bible talks about human “shepherds”. The term is used synonymously to the term “elder” in the Bible. But it is not used to create a shepherd/sheep dichotomy or referring to 1:1 shepherd/sheep relationships in the church. When the Bible talks about “sheep”, then it makes clear that these sheep belong to God only. E.g. Jesus says in Jn 23 to Peter: “Feed my sheep”. And not “feed your sheep”. Similarly, Peter then says in 1 Pt 5: “Be shepherds of God’s flock”, not “your flock”. The relationship is always between God or Jesus as the shepherd and the sheep, not the (human) shepherd and the sheep. The whole shepherd/sheep paradigm of UBF is skewed and unbiblical. Sometimes they also use the terms Bible teacher/student in order to appear less offensive. But it is just as wrong as Mt 23:8 shows. The whole system that is based on human hierarchical teacher/student, shepherd/sheep, creditor/debtor relationships is not Biblical.

      There is only one shepherd, only one teacher, only one head, and all believers are brothers and sister, they are His sheep, disciples and followers.

  38. I agree that the word “sheep” is good but to know the cultural and even the phsycological context is necessary.

    When I worked as a teacher at a university I saw some students entered the room and were talking about ubf shepherds who called them “You are sheep”. The students laughed a lot. Was it a good fishing by ubf shepherds? The fishing looked stupid at best.

    And it is ok if someone calls him/herself a sheep. But it is not so if someone else calls these same people (who are happy to call themselves “sheep”) “sheep”. The same is true with the word “shepherd” or “pastor”. If some people respect ans trust a man in Jesus then they themselves can choose him to be a pastor in their church. It is not good if someone just chooses himself and calls and makes himself “a shepherd” for others.

    There is a joke in Russia. Two people are quarelling.
    – You are crazy!
    – It is you who are crazy!
    – You are a fool!
    – It is you who are a fool!
    – And I think you don’t look even like a fool!
    – What?! Don’t I even look like a fool?!

    To call themselves and to call someone else “are two big differences” (as they say in Odessa).

    • It should be mentioned here that the title “missionary” sounds similarly offensive and condescending to Americans, Germans or Russians who have much longer Christian traditions.

      Another problem with the shepherd/sheep paradigm of UBF is that the shepherds act as “mediators” of Gods blessing. Samuel Lee taught very explicitly that if people obey him, they will receive blessings, otherwise curse. The shepherds give “orientation” or “direction” that needs to be followed, replacing the direction by the Holy Spirit. The shepherds also judge if somebody is spiritual or unspiritual. In UBF, you feel well if your shepherd is pleased with you, and you feel uneasy if your shepherd is not satisfied. Even the blessing of marriage is dispensed to you through a UBF shepherd. That way, UBF shepherds become “mediators” of God’s grace.

      This is a problem that Martin Luther addressed in his teaching of the priesthood of all believers. It’s a serious issue, the whole book of Hebrews is devoted to it. 1 Tim 2:5 sums it up as well in the verse: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men.”

    • Mark Mederich

      ‘Samuel Lee taught very explicitly that if people obey him, they will receive blessings, otherwise curse. The shepherds give “orientation” or “direction” that needs to be followed, replacing the direction by the Holy Spirit. The shepherds also judge if somebody is spiritual or unspiritual. In UBF, you feel well if your shepherd is pleased with you, and you feel uneasy if your shepherd is not satisfied. Even the blessing of marriage is dispensed to you through a UBF shepherd. That way, UBF shepherds become “mediators” of God’s grace.’

      sounds like Mosaic (Moses type) old testament system; believers must repent of old testament theology: it discredits Christ’s new covenant, it enslaves for human benefit, it wastes/damages lives..

    • So Chris, are you saying the good and well meaning shepherds aren’t so altruistic? (sarcasm)

      Actions are calculated ways to entrap anyone who is soft enough to respond to crocodile tears. You who strike me with the bamboo stick – back off! – When I do what God likes but what you don’t like what is the trouble? Oh yes, you have visions of me being your Abraham or Sarah of faith. You want to the same recognition as your shepherd who raised up so many faithful shepherds and missionaries. You want the website news bulletin to publish your name and great WORKS.

      In reality I can appreciate the hurt feelings or emotions of such leaders who have been mediators of God’s grace when their student leaves or does not fully appreciate what they have done. But I will add that nothing should be expected in return for your efforts – you want to emulate Jesus? – go ahead! But remember that many people he served forgot about what he had done soon afterwards. Also, a couple even blamed him for it when they were caught with fear! I am not placing judgment upon those who left or were “unthankful”. Such students have already paid their dues through meddlesome phone conversations or even ones in person. Such students have also taken advice and either acted or not on it. Such students have permitted certain boundaries to be crossed that no one would have otherwise been allowed to cross. So, who has sacrificed more?

      For the blessings that shepherds have poured out upon students becomes irrelevant when simplicity is not just placed upon Jesus’ forgiveness and the salvation for the lost – NO! I want (NEED) you to be a member! I NEED you to commit – so – I can report to HQ that I have raised up one person, no two people, no one hundred people!! I don’t want to be a face that no one knows…..(it really matters to Jesus….no it really just matters to me and the machine!)

    • Joe Schafer

      gc wrote, “So, who has sacrificed more?”

      It reminds me of an article on this very subject that appeared three years ago, which newcomers to the website might not have seen.

  39. A few times, I raised objections to calling students “sheep” and requiring people to use titles “shepherd” or “missionary”. Typically, the response that I received represented a view that those who object to using titles don’t properly respect authority, and those who object to being called “sheep” are proud. This then often led to examples of how our culture chafes against authority, illustrated by how many students now call professors by their first name.

    From such a response, I realized that there is a generational gap (and perhaps a cultural one as well) in the mindsets of some leaders. From their viewpoint, not making a stark distinction between “sheep” and “shepherd” or leader and follower was horribly proud and rebellious. It seemed implausible to them that students disliked titles because it introduces rigidity and formalism into a relationship that they want to be open, personal, and rich, or they disliked calling people “sheep” because it was depersonalizing and demeaning. And so, while students’ motives were pure and praise-worthy, it was perceived oppositely by leaders whose worldview was direction. The result was that both felt badly towards the other, relationships could never solidify, and inevitably the fellowship eventually dissolved.

    I think this is a good example of how a relatively minor issue can bring a lot of trouble when people approach each other from different backgrounds and there is a lack of elasticity in accepting the others’ point of view. And of course, the larger responsibility must fall to the one who carries the mantle of leadership and exercises the majority of the power in the relationship.

    • Joshua, I agree with what you wrote, but I wouldn’t call it a “relatively minor issue”. The usage of spiritual titles is a serious and severe issue, so severe that it prompted Jesus to dedicate a whole chapter of the Bible, Mt 23, to it. It’s one long rant against all these things the Korean UBF leaders believe and practice so dearly. It’s not a minor issue.

    • Yes Chris, you’re right. Thanks for drawing our attention again back to that passage and reminding us how different our human religiosity is from the example and commands of Jesus.

      I meant that the use of titles is not a significant moral or doctrinal issue. But perhaps one could argue that it represents a hidden attitude of phariseeism, pride, self-righteousness, and legalism, which is definitely not a minor issue. And of course, as you correctly pointed out, it is in direct disobedience to the command of our Lord.

    • Mark Mederich

      @Chris, agreed; world expects underlings to ‘pay their dues’ in turn the way they had to (like frat hazing) but it is simple human corruption;
      Jesus showed ‘LORDING IT’ IS LIE FROM PIT OF HELL; instead supposed to be siblings in Christ: H A L L E L U J A H !

  40. To add to this point further I would comment that the stripping down of “church” appearances among UBF centers also leaves for confusion. Everywhere looks like a hybrid office with selective church symbols. Moreover, the usage of the word “church” sometimes feels like a bad word and we should instead use the word “center”.

    Regarding shepherd and sheep. Hmmm….
    Upon first glance UBF certainly has its weaknesses. Not all, but many attempt to make a universal impression or feeling about the social dynamics. Although you hear these words, a new comer cannot always see the bigger picture (depending on their backgrounds and motives). They might be “sheep” but they get spoiled with so much attention that for those who are less concerned with terminology and language it is not the first objection.

    Its the apprentice system for sure – you learn from me and so on….
    Your first step is wrong – unless I say so! Once you have been here for one year, you are now one year old in Jesus. Do I learn from you? No, you continue to learn from me.

    We can laugh at Kungfu Panda and the like, but that’s exactly what is expected from us in the shepherd and sheep dynamic. No matter how great we are or become – we are never above our teacher. Moreover, we must demonstrate this courtesy with every unflinching effort. (…and do not bite your lip or breathe a sigh….I am watching and listening to your every move.)

    • Good thoughts gc. I would like to expand on one thing you mentioned about apprentiship:

      “Its the apprentice system for sure…”

      There are some who use apprenticeship as a defense of the ubf shepherd/sheep worldview. I object.

      Apprenticeship was highly used in the skilled trades industries, and still is, in things like the auto industry. Apprenticeship programs are very different from the ubf shepherd/sheep teachings.

      For starters, apprenticeship programs have a speific goal, similar to mentoring programs, to help you become an expert and an equal peer. The program is for a specific amount of time and has clearly outlined qualifications, plans and goals. You know what you are getting into. There is no sudden “marriage by faith” requirements that pops up out of nowhere.

      For example:

      “Journeymen (and women) possess specialized skills that are always in demand. The road to becoming a skilled trades worker at Chrysler begins with the Chrysler-UAW Apprentice Program.

      The Apprentice Program is an 8,000-hour program including over 700 hours of training at a local college or university and various on-the-job training assignments.

      There are seven apprentice
      training classifications:

      Tool & Die Technician
      Electrical Technician
      Mechanical Technician – Machine Repair
      Mechanical Technician – Millwright
      Mechanical Technician – Pipefitter
      Jitney Repair
      Mechanic Diesel

      To become a qualified applicant, an individual must submit proof that he or she has completed two semesters of high school or college algebra or geometry, or a combination of both, with a “C” average or better.

      When additional training is being planned, current Chrysler employees will be notified by announcements posted in Chrysler facilities. Notices may also be posted at community agencies within a facility’s geographical area to attract qualified external candidates.

      If an individual successfully completes the test and meets the required qualification, the candidate will be considered for placement based on their elected trade as openings occur.”

      Source: Chrysler apprenticeships

  41. For some reason, I love our UBFriends comments! because it can unpredictably take on a life of its own—perhaps just like the unpredictability of our own lives.

    The unhealthy shepherd/sheep paradigm that is so prevalent in UBF certainly needs to be seriously seriously (re-)addressed. It has clearly resulted in the human shepherd functionally and practically taking on the role of God and the Holy Spirit (in far too many instances with far too many horrible consequences for many). This is clearly not biblical, as many have already expressed.

    May God have mercy on us.

  42. Calling shepherd or sheep instead of calling a person’a name has deep root in the Asian culture. I am not defending the practice of calling shepherd and sheep, but I am trying to help you a little understanding from the different cultural perspective. The most cultural shock I had encountered in America when I first came to Chicago in the hospital setting. A young resident doctor called an old woman patient first name! I was really shocked. From the American perspective how natural and affectionate it would be! But at that time it was ignorant about American culture.

    And it took for many many years for me to change my fixed idea to the American culture because in Asian culture it is extremely impolite, rude, immoral to call other person first name! The only exception was that it is OK to call first name to your very close friends from elementary school or high school. All other settings it is severely prohibited.

    The following video clip shows each family members we call with certain title instead of first name. It is extremely complicated that nobody in the western culture can comprehend.

    • Thanks for your input James. I think my response to you is best done by quoting my above comment:

      “when people approach each other from different backgrounds and there is a lack of elasticity in accepting the others’ point of view. And of course, the larger responsibility must fall to the one who carries the mantle of leadership and exercises the majority of the power in the relationship.” – See more at:

      The problem is not that people have different backgrounds, it is a lack of reciprocity in accepting the others’ point of view. I can appreciate why leaders from Korea or other places like titles, but my appreciation for their viewpoint wasn’t reciprocated; I didn’t feel any appreciation from them as to why Canadian students don’t like titles, only accusations of “proud!” “rebellious!” “anti-authority!”. If there was a mutual understanding (“you like titles because of your culture, and I don’t because of my culture, and its all good”), that would be fine. But of course, that was rarely the case. There was one culture paradigm that always won. Guess which one it was?

    • James, you said the way people address each other in America was a cultural shock for you. I always wanted to ask Koreans like you, what do you feel when you read Bible passages where the believers also address each other without honorary titles? E.g. Pauls is called “our dear brother Paul” (and not “Missionary Dr. Paul” or “Apostle Paul” or “Saint Paul”) in 2Peter 3. In all the epistles, Christians are addressed just with their first names, and sometimes as “brother” or “sister”, but never with a title. Several epistles ask to “greet each other with a kiss of love” or “greet one another with a holy kiss.” In Europe (particularly France, “la bise”) it is still common among friends, it shows that people are very close and love and respect each other. Can you imagine such an expression of friendship in the hierarchical, authoritarian setting of UBF? The early Christian churches were very different from UBF in this regard. I wonder why Koreans in UBF never noticed this, and why they never wondered about people in the Bible behaving and speaking so differently from them, even though they read the Bible all the time. Why did Koreans in UBF never consider to follow their example in dropping titles and hierarchies? Do they think they are holier than the people in the Bible? Or above Jesus’ commandments in Mt 23? And even if they use these titles in Korea, why do they force us to use them in Germany? When a fellow UBFer tried to discuss this with one of the top Korean leaders, he got the answer: “You can leave UBF if you don’t like our use of titles.” To me it seemed their customs were dearer to them than the Bible and dearer to them than even “their” sheep.

    • Mark Mederich

      semantics will never end, but real issue is human overhonor which is spiritual problem not cultural issue; believers must model equality not hierarchy

    • Mark Mederich

      look, leaders like to excuse themselves & accuse followers;
      ‘underdog’ has declared reverse flow until lesson is learned:
      followers are excused & leaders are accused
      only if lesson is learned, shall equality be obtained
      H A L L E L U L A H !

  43. Thanks, James, for sharing this. I think it would be illuminating to many who hear you and other missionaries articulate this.

    Honestly, it is really not simply the matter of addressing each person as “shepherd” or “missionary.” But it is PRIMARILY the attitude that the shepherd or missionary has “OVER” their sheep that has been the source of countless past problems, and sorry to say, ongoing problems as well.

    Considering that our missionaries have been in their foreign nation for one, two, three and coming up to four decades, it is sad that many of them have not embraced the indigenous culture. As a result they cannot but impose their foreign culture upon their native sheep, and then judging and assessing them based on their own cultural expectations in the name of Christ and Christianity.

    I seriously pray and hope that we may have such a dialogue in person face to face on many many many occasions. Otherwise, UBF will likely become not an international ministry which it claims to be. Instead, it would simply be an ethnically Korean church, which is what is already happening in many UBF chapters including Chicago.

    By the way, there is nothing wrong with being a ethnically Korean church. I personally just don’t think it is being honest to call ourselves an international church, when we refuse to embrace the indigenous culture, which results in regarding the indigenous people as being inferior and even sub-human, even if this is not consciously intended.

    • I am replying to you but really addressing the issue above. I don’t really think that people don’t get the complex language for relationships etc….Korean is not the only language to use different ways or even titles. It is not Korean culture that is really being objected to (by itself). The objection lies wherein Koreans go abroad to other countries and seek native converts to their cause (or faith). Consequence, in these foreign countries the nationals are forced to adapt within the uniformity of the social culture that has been predefined by – Koreans.

      Ben, as you asked – why can’t the Korean missionaries embrace and integrate even after forty years? In reflection I find the funniest aspect of this whole excusing of the behaviour from Koreans comes directly from the origins of UBF. We always read the beautiful and romantic story of Sarah Barry who did not live like other Americans but chose to live and adapt among Koreans. It was this that moved them greatly because she was not like the rest of those Yankees or Megooks!

      Btw, I have no problem with the titles – it is my daily life. It is also unavoidable because my in-laws and wife!

  44. @gc: “why can’t the Korean missionaries embrace and integrate even after forty years?” – See more at:

    This is a question for the ages!!!

  45. Chris, you are talking about two different things here. I would say the Korean/ Chinese culture has more than 4,000 years history. Christianity came to Korea a little more than 100 years ago. When Christianity comes to Korea, that does not transform the whole culture completely because it has very deep root and some things are not necessarily bad in that cultural context.

    That’s why Christianity needs to be contextualized in each country. The important thing is that we do not lose sight in the essentials of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

    Ben made a good point that missionaries in America should humbly learn the American culture more and adapt to them.

    • James, the Jews had an equally long history and strong culture and honor codex. Remember that the apostle Paul was deeply rooted in that history and culture. He wrote about himself in Phil 3: “I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.” But he was able to leave all that behind when he saw that it was a hindrance to the gospel. It was the same Paul who wrote in Gal 3: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Peter and Paul and all the other apostles had been raised in the same culture, in which it was custom to call people with titles such as “rabbi” (very similar to the Koreans who use the title “sonsaengnim”). The Middle East has a “shame based culture” just like the Far East. You say Christianity came to Korea only 100 years ago, so they don’t have time to adapt their culture. But the epistels were also written only decades after Christianity came to these people. If it was possible for them to overcome their culture and put the gospel above the culture, why should it not be possible for Koreans? It is always the same lame excuse, “we Koreans are different, we cannot change”. I don’t buy it. Paul confronted Peter directly and rebuked him stricly in Gal 2 when he started to create cultural barriers. He did not accept Peter’s excuse “I’m a Jew, I cannot change so quickly.”

      “Ben made a good point that missionaries in America should humbly learn the American culture more and adapt to them.”

      It would be good if you could also draw consequences from your conviction. For isntance, why don’t you make a proposal in UBF to abolish the use of titles in the church? As the president, your proposal would have some weight. And nobody could tell you “you can leave if you don’t like titles” as they told my former friend in UBF. Btw, I notice and appretiate that you wrote “Ben” and not “Dr. Toh”.

    • “The important thing is that we do not lose sight in the essentials of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.” – See more at:

      If that’s what important, then it should be a total non-issue for all of UBF to immediately abolish all titles, to dissolve all life-long, lording-over shepherding relationships, and publicly confront the decades of substantiated spiritual abuse and authoritative control exercised over its members. Or is this statement to “not lose sight of what’s important” a secret code for “don’t look at what we’ve swept under the rug”?

    • Maybe let me phrase my question differently. I remember that Samuel Lee wanted UBFers to become people with a “smell of the Bible”. However, the obsessive use of honorific titles such as “Missionary”, “Shepherd”, “Pastor”, “Dr.”, “Mother” has a completely different smell, a smell of confucianism. As I explained, if you read the Bible, particularly the New Testament. Why doesn’t UBF consciously abandon that Confucian smell and listen to Samuel Lee and adopt the smell of the Bible instead, i.e. a form of dealing with each other that is not based on honor and authority, but on friendship and brotherhood? I want to emphasize again: This is not about adopting American culture or adpating to it. It is much more fundamental, it is about adopting the culture of the New Testmanent, and it is about obeying the commandmends of Jesus in Mt 23 and John 13. This is not only about the Koreans who came to America to evangelize, but also about the Koreans who stay in Korea. They should respect and honor the people outside the church, and respect the culture, but inside the church they should show that they live by a different standard.

    • I wanted to write: “If you read the Bible, particularly the New Testament, you will notice a quite different smell.” My question was, why do Koreans in UBF never stumble about this discrepancy between church life as visible in the epistles of the New Testament and the UBF church life? Btw, this is not only about the use of titles, but also about other things like the value of the family. In the Bible you will find that women are recommended to stay at home and care for the house and the kids, while in UBF such women would be disdained as “family centered”. In the Bible you will find that the church cares for the poor, the sick, the widows, etc. while UBF only focuses on elite students in their best age. In the Bible you don’t find prayers for numbers. You don’t find “General Directors” and “National Directors”. So many discrepancies. My question is: How do Korean UBFers deal with their pretense to live by the Bible and smell after the Bible, when the smell of the Bible is so obviously different?

    • Joe Schafer

      Chris wrote:

      I remember that Samuel Lee wanted UBFers to become people with a “smell of the Bible”. However, the obsessive use of honorific titles such as “Missionary”, “Shepherd”, “Pastor”, “Dr.”, “Mother” has a completely different smell, a smell of confucianism. – See more at:

      This reminds me of a great article by John Frye that I read yesterday. Frye wrote:

      “The tendency of too many evangelical pastors is to pronounce endless moralisms and to offer a smorgasbord of holiness hints and rules. There is musty smell to this approach. The odor is the absence of the Spirit. We create a distasteful atmosphere driven by what we hear and what we see. Very few take the time to contemplate why this endless litany of “Bible-based” principles, guidelines, steps and how-to’s is not producing a holy church. These holiness helps pile up and begin to smell offensive. In our sincere desire to urge holy living, we think we are smarter than the Holy Spirit.”

      The full article is here.

    • Basically sounds like the same nonsense of a childish person: I brought the toy or game, therefore I make the rules and you abide by them. If you don’t agree then I am not your friend. The refusal to accept that certain behaviours have to be removed sounds like a Korean saying that UBF is theirs and, no, it will never change – we can all leave if we are not happy. Non Koreans have to change, but Koreans by default are exempt from change. So whose knocking for the master race anyway? Again, I ask sincerely, we are all Christians – right?

      Chris has been even simpler – and I already thought he had been simple. We should adapt to the values and identity in the NT as Christians. This does not stop us from being proud of heritage, but it does establish our values upon Christ and not what may be around us.

    • Mark Mederich

      gee, could show the way/set example by abdicating title of ‘president’ & taking on ‘coordinator’; now why would anyone want to let go honor & go with God?
      who in their right SPIRITUAL mind wouldn’t? hallelujah

      servant must not be of God but man; when people serve God they feel great, when they serve man they feel humble; Jesus is Son of God but son of man

      St Francis Assisi started Friars Minor=lesser brothers

      change happens from top down, but only by those courageous/wise enough to reverse flow of man’s habits to God’s ways

    • Mark Mederich

      just as love of money is source of all evil; overhonor is source of all corruption

      until human desire for greatness is restrained, spiritual fruit can not flourish

      we are but ‘grasshoppers’ who must choose wisely what ‘master’ God Almighty is trying to offer us..

  46. @Joe: “In our sincere desire to urge holy living, we think we are smarter than the Holy Spirit.” – See more at:

    I am sorry to say that the smell of missionary superiority, imperialistic inclinations and elitist exclusivity might be the most offensive of all in all of UBF. It is most offensive not just because of ethnic and cultural and seniority pride. But it is offensive and very sad primarily because it blurs, obscures and even obliterates the glorious gospel of God’s grace (Ac 20:24).

  47. Watching Joe’s posting of Francis Chan’s little red tractor for the first time, could not but make me think that some older UBF leaders are so deeply entrenched in their fixed, rigid and inflexible ways that they would never allow any person who is not like them to decide, live and serve by the power of the Holy Spirit. They might really think they know better than the Holy Spirit by using their position of seniority and authority to dictate and decide what can and cannot be done.

  48. Ben, you are spot on about the smell.

    Perhaps someone will wake up when they see the latest ECFA financial numbers reported by ubf?

    Over the past 4 years:

    27% decline in cash donations (offering)
    59% increase in administrative costs
    105% drop in net assets
    $42K deficit in 2012
    17% drop in ISBC attendants
    50% exodus of longtime leaders in Toledo UBF

    I posted an article on my blog about the state of decline in ubf ministry.

  49. @Brian, regarding these (sad, staggering) statistics, they have already been predicted some years ago. At that time, no one wanted to listen (perhaps because of the early “glory” years of UBF which older folks still remember, and because UBF still does have >13 million in assets, and because some long-timers are still in control and unwilling to relinquish it). Sadly, I feel that some still don’t want to hear this because it is “negative” and “discouraging.”

    ** A very very very simple thing to do is to post these public documents/figures on our official UBF websites and humbly ask for prayer for God’s mercy, wisdom and help to turn things around.

    But then again this would be too shameful to expose, even though such financial data are publicly accessible by anyone.

    • Mark Mederich

      who cares what man wants to hear? more importantly what does God want us to hear? is overaccumulated money God’s intention? (at ubf or anywhere), or was it intended to do the work & help needy?

      the way i see it, problems are golden opportunities: ubf can lead the way in use of resources/end up at head of class of churches, or hoard more than others/end up bringing up the rear..

      that’s what we need, someone more scholarly than me to post a proper use of church funds article postulating how much is godly to spend/save/reserve/etc

  50. @Mark, I am assuming that you and your family have been a tithing member of Chicago UBF. Thus, I think that you should be entitled to inquire about the financial health of your chapter, with regards to how the money is being used. (In fact all UBF chapters who tithe to HQ should also be given a detailed statement as to how our tithe is used.)

    I personally have issues with how our UBF staff is being paid, especially with some younger staff being “underpaid” compared to older staff, which is supposedly “secret” as to how much they are being paid. In my opinion, such longstanding secrecy should become transparent for all UBF members to see, since it is our tithe that is being used to pay our UBF staff.

    • I was told by a reliable source that one senior American in Chicago made $60K for several years, and perhaps was raised to $90K recently.

    • Mark Mederich

      secret like the kgb or cia always means we’ll never know, if we knew we’d ‘rebel’, noone wants us to know..

    • Mark Mederich

      gee, 60k with lots of ministry write-offs/tax free benefits sounds like the american dream:) in my line of work it also takes many yrs experience, but that’s after master’s degree, & minus the perks/tax benefits; as usual i’m the biggest loser category:)

  51. @Mark: “secrets like the kgb or cia always means we’ll never know” – See more at:

    Controlling information reminds me of the B.I.T.E. model that Brian has spoken of in the past. Controlling information is also the way to be manipulated by leaders.

    Worst of all, controlling information is not representative of our biblical trinitarian God who is transparent for all to see.

  52. Mark Mederich

    i think we stumbled upon the answer to the question: no they’re not afraid of grace, they’re afraid of financial divulgence

  53. Since UBF is not a business corporation run by a CEO, then if a top staff is paid $90K, then junior staff should not be paid $24 to $36K I don’t think! If junior staff is underpaid, it is simply “using them” to serve the benefit of the church, rather than giving them a living wage to support their spouse and children.

    I have said for years that our salary structure needs to be re-examined and revised. But it is rejected because certain people want to have the decision to control (and hide) who gets how much. As long as this is so, it will continue to promote a clandestine culture which is damaging and honestly unChristian.

  54. Chris, thank you for your bible exposition of Phil 3 and Gal 3. Yes, I agree with you because this is bible truth. How about practical reality? When the gospel is preached to different culture or nations, they did not become cookie cutter nations. The outlook was quite different from each culture.

    These days I read a book, “Falling upward” recommended by Ben. The author said there are two stages of life. The first one was to build a container and the second stage is to fill it the substance in the container. This is a quote from the book.

    “Thus the first journey is always about externals, formulas, superficial emotions, flags and badges, correct rituals, Bible quotes, and special clothing, all of which largely substitute for actual spiritulality (Mt 23:12-32), yet they are all used and needed to create the container. Yes, it is largely style and sentiment instead of real substance, but even that is PROBABLY NECESSARY. Just don’t give your life for mere style and sentiment. Pope John XXIII’s motto might be heard here: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity.” That is second-half-of-life hard won wisdom.

    In this global and multicultural age we have more serious challenges in regard to spiritual unity. Yes, we have to strive to fill the container with substance beginning from ourselves.

    • James, I still don’t understand your position. Is authoritarian behavior, hierachical thinking and obsessive use titles in the church an “essential” or a “non-essential” issue for you? I have already explained why in my understanding, it is an essential thin and needs to be addressed. Now what is your position?

      I also don’t understand what this has to do with the container and two stages of life. How can using titles and authoritarianism be a container for the gospel? It can’t. As a container, authoritarianism is like an old wineskin. Why do you want to put new wine into an old wineskin? You know what’s the outcome of such foolishness is and we experienced it in practice.

      Please, if you give us parables or good advices, always explain how concretely you want to have them understood or see them implemented. Otherwise they are just hollow phrases that are convenient to hear, but change nothing and do not even help to understand each other’s position.

    • James, I am also reading the book, Falling Upward, at Ben’s recommendation. It’s been helpful. I was challenged by the quote you put up to remember that much of what we did in our many years was “style and sentiment instead of real substance”, and that it was “even necessary”. Much of what we discuss here is our realization that it was mere style and sentiment. But there is more to this discussion. I agree with Chris that we cannot collapse and hide our history as a ministry into this “probably necessary” category. There was much that requires our broken repentance and the hard work of reconciliation. I know that you know this and are working toward this as well and I’m thankful. I’m also glad that Chris is committed to keeping this point from being lost.

  55. James, today I heard a story from a sister in my church. There is a Korean church in our city (not ubf, but as all natives left the ubf chapter, the ubf director made friends with the church). Here is the story. A sister in that Korean church borrowed a big sum of money from another sister. But later she simply refused to give the money back. The Korean pastor chose to do nothing about the situation. Some time later the “victim”-sister decided to leave the church and told about her decision to the pastor. What was the pastor’s reaction? He cursed the sister and told the church that she left God and lives with the devil now. Hearing such words from the Korean pastor other people also left the church because they saw this church is strange and unjust and cannot be a healthy Christian church.

    What do you think about the Korean pastor and about the church? If it is the Korean culture (I saw in ubf very similar things) then can anyone consider such Korean churches (and corporations in case of ubf) Christian and healthy? (And I’ll submit an article about some part of ubf teaching and there will ask some more questions about the Korean culture and about whether a cultural Korean is able to practically put Christianity above the Confucianism).

  56. @James, regarding Richard Rohr’s “Falling Upward,” my sogam was that I was living in my first stage of life for decades! But only by God’s providential grace, God is helping me to fall. Falling feels like I am falling to my death! But to my delightful surprise I realize that I am falling upward into the arms of grace.

    My question to you James is this: Do you think UBF as a whole is still functioning like an organization in the first stage of life?

    I understand that the 1st stage of life is necessary. But it was never meant to be permanent.

    For those of you who do not have time to read the book, Rohr’s 1 hour lecture is an excellent summary and synopsis of his book which I highly recommend to everyone:

  57. Ben, thank you for recommending this book. It is very interesting one and gives me a new insight on myself and others. Regarding your question, I think many people in UBF (or some ex UBFers) are still in the first stage.

    Richard Rohr said, “In the second half of life, we do NOT HAVE STRONG and FINAL OPINIONS about everything, every event, or most people, as much as we allow things and people to delight us, sadden us, and truly influence us. We no longer need to change or adjust other people to be happy ourselves. Ironically, we are more than ever before in a position to change people–but we do not need to–and that makes all the difference.”

    It is interesting that he said if you are too confident and have strong opinions based on human logic or knowledge, you are not in the second stage. If you talk too much or too loud, you are not in the second stage. I tend to agree with him.

    • James,

      So spineless apathy is the second stage of life? I smell b——t.

      Let’s get back to Ben’s article here. ubf is scared of grace. I’d ask your opinion but since you’re so advanced an in the second stage of life you have none.

      I’d also ask your opinion about the latest numbers that show your ministry is in decline, numbers that back up every word Joe and Ben and hundreds of others have been saying and predicting, but I suppose you have no strong idea about this human knowledge which is just “poison” for our soul.

      Over the past 4 years:

      27% decline in cash donations (offering)
      59% increase in administrative costs
      105% drop in net assets
      $42K deficit in 2012
      17% drop in ISBC attendants *
      50% exodus of longtime leaders in Toledo UBF

      James, your ministry is in a downward spiral. Maybe you could at least care enough to share a quote about how to get out of such a death spiral? Dr. Henry Cloud has some good ideas about how to do just that. And his first suggestion is to “make a log”, writing down and documenting everything that is happening and sifting through the log to discern facts about why the decline is occurring.

    • Mark Mederich

      james, haven’t gotten all the detail of this thread so i’m confused, shouldn’t goal be to get to stage 2 which is better? that may involve vocal logic to jumpstart ourselves/others out of mindless oblivion/helpless patterns; of course that means collective responsibility as well;

      but hey i’ve had enough, peops want stay like they are or let others stay as they are, go ahead, just don’t cry later when normal life consequences don’t work out the way grp wants

    • I think the key words in the Rohr quote here are ” not every” or “everything”, and ” some”. This means that there are some events, some people and some issues for which strong opinions are appropriate. If maturity means having no strong opinions and never speaking out clearly and even loudly, then how can we look at the apostles? Especially apostle Paul? The opinions expressed here are not usually based on human logic…if you listen closely, they are based on a love of the gospel, and a longing for reconciliation, real reconciliation.

    • This just smells like “…let them get their garbages out….then maybe they can reach the second stage of life.”

      If an environment hinders people from seeking God and being united with God then there is something wrong. Stop humouring people with sincere but apathetic comments. I would really like to say that UBF is a good and healthy place to be but I cannot. The more that we undermine the ills of the organization and each other in carrying it forward the more people will leave.

      Ubfriends can be a scapegoat for why people are leaving – but where are the lies. Most testimonials published and added here are done so after one has had time and experience.

      Anyway, seniors make opinions about juniors – essentially it has been argued several times about letting native leaders lead 100%. What judgments and strong opinions are holding all of Korean leadership in stage one?

  58. Brian, Mark, gc sorry for the confusion from the above quote of Richard Rohr which was quoted out of the context. We can understand his position and statement better when we think about his Catholic practice, “silence” and “solitude”. In the latter part of his book he is leading us to the importance of these practices of “silence” and “solitude”. These area of practice I believe we are weak in the Protestants in general.

    He said, “Silence is the only language spacious enough to include everything and to keep us from slipping back into dualistic judgments and divisive words.”

    • Joe Schafer

      Ecclesiates 3:1-8

      “There is a time for everything,
      and a season for every activity under the heavens.
      a time to be born and a time to die,
      a time to plant and a time to uproot,
      a time to kill and a time to heal,
      a time to tear down and a time to build,
      a time to weep and a time to laugh,
      a time to mourn and a time to dance,
      a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
      a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
      a time to search and a time to give up,
      a time to keep and a time to throw away,
      a time to tear and a time to mend,
      a time to be silent and a time to speak,
      a time to love and a time to hate,
      a time for war and a time for peace.”

      The question for ubf leaders: What time is it?

      The question for ex-members and those who are being marginalized: What time is it?

    • Mark Mederich

      people love to talk about the catholic church, even though they are not catholic; i grew up catholic (even went thru some preseminary programs considering priesthood), but i looked on for more bible/less ritual (hopefully less hierarchy)

      certainly silent meditation is a bless-ed practice at times, anywhere;
      yet unsilent advocacy is also a bless-ed practice at times, anywhere;

      the question is brotherhood vs hierarchy & scripture meaning vs symbolism;
      too often leaders of anything feel unsilent toward underlings who are expected to be silent; but when the day comes for followers to be sincerely unsilent, leaders are suddenly silent..

      ‘slipping back into dualistic judgments and divisive words.’ perhaps we should be more concerned about dualistic ACTIONS & divisive ACTIONS..
      israel had trouble for idolatrous/corrupt actions, not mere ideas/words;
      pharisees had trouble for self-righteous/unjust actions, not mere ideas..

      we all make mistakes, but do we try to improve/reform?

      or do we excuse those with status while condemning those without?
      this is the core corruption of the world that must be faced/unimitated by believers

    • Joe,

      Good questions:

      “The question for ubf leaders: What time is it? The question for ex-members and those who are being marginalized: What time is it?”

      I can answer for myself. The first word impressed on my soul from the Holy Spirit a while back was “Stop”. I was compelled to stop ubf activity and see what would happen. So for several years, it was time for me to stop. Stop and listen and find God.

      Lately the new word impressed on my soul is “connect”. I am compelled to connect myself and my family with good, caring, loving people and connect with 2,000 years of Christain history, and connect with pastors and people around the world. Hence, my Skype talks announcement. Skype talks were already taking place before my announcement, and Lord willing, will continue.

      In regard to speaking or being silent, the Lord has turned my “speak up voice” on and I don’t see it turning off any time soon. In ubf language, God gave me one word through Leviticus 5:1 “If anyone sins because they do not speak up when they hear a public charge to testify regarding something they have seen or learned about, they will be held responsible.”

      It is time for me to speak up and speak up I will. I practiced James’ idea of silence and solitude for 24 years. Now I intend to practice speaking up for 24 years. I will speak up and speak out and will be against the ubf heritage until my dying breath.

      Yes you heard that correctly. I am opposed to anyone who supports or propogates the ubf 12 point heritage system. I will fight against such a system the rest of my life. I will speak out and speak up for the gospel of Jesus and will oppose ubf as a vocal critic, as long as the Lord enables me to do so or until the Lord turns off my “speak up” switch.

    • Based on those verses Joe, I sense that it is time to: die, uproot, kill, tear down, weep, mourn, scatter stones, embrace, search, keep, mend, speak, hate, war.

  59. @James, I love this quote you quoted: Richard Rohr said, “In the second half of life, we do NOT HAVE STRONG and FINAL OPINIONS about everything, every event, or most people, as much as we allow things and people to delight us, sadden us, and truly influence us. We no longer need to change or adjust other people to be happy ourselves. Ironically, we are more than ever before in a position to change people–but we do not need to–and that makes all the difference.” – See more at:

    James, I’m sure many if not all people will love this quote. But interestingly 5 people dislike your comment and only 1 liked it. Probably, you will say that you do not care whether or not people like or dislike your comment. Nonetheless, you might learn a lot of wonderful mysteries if you truly want to understand why more people disliked you comment than liked it.

  60. @Mark: “when the day comes for followers to be sincerely unsilent, leaders are suddenly silent.” – See more at:

    Perhaps some “silent leaders” think that the way Christ followers follow Jesus is through following them. So when the followers become “sincerly unsilent” it is primarily perceived as “ungrateful, unthankful, childish, rebellious, rude, immature.”

    When such leaders give direction and make decisions for others, they are loud and clear. It is unfortunate that they become “silent” when heart to heart matters are to be discussed.

  61. @Brian, Leviticus 5:1 is an excellent verse for those who want to ignore matters they find distasteful or difficult: “If anyone sins because they do not speak up when they hear a public charge to testify regarding something they have seen or learned about, they will be held responsible.”

  62. What is so difficult to understand here is the persistent theme of silence from your comments. Joe wrote an article about silence some time ago. It is said again and again that we must be silent. Why? I mean – really, why? We are not Jesus who went silently before his accusors. Seriously, you are not Jesus.

    So, you are not concerned with the ‘Why’ among people? It does not matter that some members who remained many decades and some for a few years just got up and walked?

    Woe to the husband or wife who returns home to find everything the same, but something missing. What is missing? There spouse has gone missing and is only represented by a momento of sorts. (I am in no way promoting divorce, but rather using the analogy to contrast that the ‘why’ does matter.)

    Silence is insisted, but what would you do if you carried out your usual routine of many years to one day discover that no one had said a word but just vanished? You call, you visit homes, you ask neighbours….but there is no sign anywhere. You just can’t understand…the cars and minivans are not even in the driveway – where could they be?

    Maybe people should be silent – and then maybe their silent departure will have a blistering and thunderous sound.

    Finally @ Joe, ‘What time is it?’ – Time to speak! It is time for a long and serious heart to heart between two believers.

    ‘What time isn’t it?’ – It is not time to maintain appearances and titles and lord over others.

  63. Sadly, some/many older UBF leaders are “silent” because Moses was silent when Aaron and Mirian complained about him. (There is really no biblical justification for using this story to justify one’s silence.)

    As gc said, they are silent because they think they are like Jesus who did not say a word to defend himself before his crucifixion. (This is an even worse justification for silence, because Jesus was sinless and perfect, while no one else–not even the best Christian leader–can ever claim.)

    Sadly, I think that the silence of some UBF leaders is culturally conditioned. They might quote Proverbs where if you remain silent you will be perceived as wise! They take the “high road” by remaining silent, believing that this communicates how noble and dignified they are, and how much they are “above” the pettiness of noisy complaining sinners.

    Worst of all, silence communicates dishonesty, inauthenticity and an unwillingness to be transparent. Sadly, those who continue their inflexible stance on silence do not realize this.

  64. I am adding these links here to highlight about the previous thoughts on silence. But I caveat this by saying context of theory and discourse must be maintained.

    By Ben:

    By Joe:

    • gc,

      Thanks for highlighting those articles. One reason I love Joe and Ben so much is because they understand the “silence issue”. I don’t always agree with Joe and Ben, but at least they are not silent.

      One effective way to get people’s attention, especially the “natives”, is through songs and visualizations.

      I’ve blogged about the silence issue numerous times. Sometimes I just want to shout say something!. So many times the past 3 years I only heard the sound of silence.

      When leaders of an organization are silent about criticisms or concerns, such as what happened in Winnepeg ubf, the leaders allow their group to become cult-like. Accusations of being a cult then become obvious.

      The end result is an endless cycle of chewing through people that is best expressed by the Sisyphus Syndrome.

  65. James Kim

    Ben, thank you for your comment. I love this quote you quoted: Richard Rohr said, “In the second half of life, we do NOT HAVE STRONG and FINAL OPINIONS about everything, every event, or most people, as much as we allow things and people to delight us, sadden us, and truly influence us. We no longer need to change or adjust other people to be happy ourselves. – See more at:

    We all know “silence” here is not “just not talking” with our mouth shut. We need to talk, dialogue with love and respect continuously. This “silence” and “solitude” is Jesus’ life style. It has been tested and proven right way by the Benedictin monks for more than 1500 years. Bonhoeffer talked about it and many modern thinkers talked about it as the only solution of the unhealthy aspects of Christianity.

    I understand “Silence” is a life of contemplation and listening to God and living constantly before the presence of God 24/7. It is a constant practice to try to gaze the beauty of Jesus. It is to trust in Him and accept his Sovereignty as the ruler of history. It is to accept our Father’s love which is much greater than our human ‘evil’ fathers. His way of rule is so powerful and unfathomable like a flowing river that we cannot change the flow with our hands.

    It was interesting to hear from Richard Rohr who said the second stage of life usually starts around mid fifties.

    • James, I understood that this second half can start much earlier, too, especially when life events have created the need to go deeper. I don’t think that age is the significant factor as much as a willingness to give up first stage definitions and boundaries and embrace change. This comes when it comes. For some early, for some it is resisted to the end.

    • But once again James you ignore the points addressed and go of on your own self glorifying tangent. What rekindled the discussion on this article? It was a comment from Ben about the picture on the Westloop website – the lamb ready for slaughter. This gave way for a discussion on shepherd and sheep etc…You raised the commentary of silence which had nothing to do with what others were talking about.

      We get your silence – but frankly add it to the article that Ben wrote some time ago. Otherwise talking about silence just reminds us that we should not speak ill of the abuses from seniors.

      Silence to contemplate and broaden (or develop) our relationship with Jesus is indeed fundamental. But it has nothing to do with the dialogue here. Once again avoidance of the issues in UBF.

      I am almost at the point where I can never take a word you say seriously anymore. You are publicly advocated everything that is wrong even if deep within you feel otherwise. Words sound well thought out and politically correct, but in the end I get the impression that the victimized in UBF can eat cake.

      What is so wonderful on the other hand is that this blog is open to anyone who comes a knockin’. That includes parents of first year students or any student for that matter. Anyone with a head on their shoulders can examine that no serious issues get answered when you have been challenged to state clearly. You conveniently disappear everytime someone asks of you what seems too much.

  66. Mark Mederich

    somehow status leads to less supportive downward monologue, while expecting underlings to still send more supportive upward dialogue; somethin not right about that..

    • Mark Mederich

      EQUALITY…those brave enough to seek it are the real world movers
      (those afraid to try are hooked by hierarchy/’hooked’ in the back)

      oh, come to the Lord, that ye may have real life!

  67. @James, your repeated emphasis on Silence seems to me to be your effort or attempt to say indirectly to those who comment/write on UBFriends that we should be SILENT, as the evidence that we are maturing and going on to the Second Stage of Life according to Richard Rohr.

    Are you saying to UBFriends that we should be silent?

    Jesus is the perfect example of one who lived in the Second Stage of Life. But would anyone in history ever regard Jesus as being silent? If Jesus was silent (praying and depending on God without saying anything) he would not have been crucified and he would still be alive in the flesh today, don’t you think?

  68. @Mark: “EQUALITY…those brave enough to seek it…” Equality is almost an “unable to be discussed topic” in UBF. Two quotes come to mind:

    “All animals are created equal but some are more equal than others.” George Orwell, Animal Farm.

    “Too many (Christian leaders) behave as if they believed not in the priesthood of all believers but in the papacy of all pastors.” John Stott, Calling Christian Leaders. – See more at:

  69. is an editorial by D.A. Carson that addresses sin and the gospel of God’s grace. Though a little long and elaborate, he explains what is and is not the gospel (In my opinion, point 3 is often misunderstood):

    1. The gospel is, first and foremost, news—great news, momentous news. That is why it must be announced, proclaimed—that’s what one does with news. Silent proclamation of the gospel is an oxymoron. Godly and generous behavior may bear a kind of witness to the transformed life, but if those who observe such a life hear nothing of the substance of the gospel, it may evoke admiration but cannot call forth faith because in the Bible faith demands faith’s true object, which remains unknown where there is no proclamation of the news.

    2. The gospel is, first and foremost, news about what God has done in Christ. It is not law, an ethical system, or a list of human obligations; it is not a code of conduct telling us what we must do: it is news about what God has done in Christ.

    3. On the other hand, the gospel has both purposes and entailments in human conduct. The entailments must be preached. But if you preach the entailments as if they were the gospel itself, pretty soon you lose sight of the reality of the gospel—that it is the good news of what God has done, not a description of what we ought to do in consequence. Pretty soon the gospel descends to mere moralism. One cannot too forcefully insist on the distinction between the gospel and its entailments.

    • Ben,

      If those “entailments” do not become “entanglements” and as long as we are free to contextualize those entailments so that we do not rebuild the Old Covenant, then I agree fully.

      We simply must get back to expressing the gospel as news and declaring what God has completed, and then living out that truth. Obedience will fall into its proper place when we do that.

      I part ways with Christendom and go outside the gates when those “entailments” in human conduct become absolute, rigid walls.

  70. Joe Schafer

    In an article that just appeared today, Father Robert Barron (who spoke alongside John Armstrong yesterday at Moody) says essentially the same thing from a Catholic perspective. Barron writes:

    “…if Catholicism leads with its doctrines, it will devolve into an intellectual debating society, and that if it leads with its moral teaching, it will appear fussy and puritanical. It should lead today as it led two thousand years ago, with the stunning news that Jesus Christ is the Lord, and the joy of that proclamation should be as evident now as it was then.”

    The full article is at

  71. Joe, I attended the dialogue between Armstrong and Fr. Barron yesterday, followed by a Q & A session. It was an excellent conversation that was thoroughly engaging and illuminating. The joy and love and respect expressed between a Protestant and a Catholic for each other–despite theological and practical differences–was most encouraging. They both truly expressed the unity of Jn 17:21-24, grounded and rooted in the love of God, in the centrality of Christ and in the gospel. It is unfortunate that the session was not recorded.

    For sure, the only way for us Christians of all stripes to ever present a united loving front to the world would be to focus on the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24).

  72. Joe Schafer

    I’m glad that you went. I wish I could have been there.

    You mentioned “theological and practical differences” between Protestant and Catholic positions. What differences, if any, came out in the discussion?

  73. * Grace first (Catholic) vs. Grace alone (Protestant).
    * Infusion (Catholic) vs. Imputation (Protestant).
    * The Catholic and Protestant perspectives of justification.
    * The primacy of love vs. the primacy of grace.

    Fr. Barron’s irenic responses to questions regarding praying to Mary and the saints, relics, and the papacy were the “best” explanations and responses I’ve ever heard that were not defensive but quite plausible. There were no questions or discussions about purgatory.

    Fr. Barron’s 10 minute introduction sounded totally evangelical, which all Protestants would ascribe to and agree with. Then he made a funny comment, saying, “If I were to explain why I am a Catholic, it would take several semesters.”

    After the conversation ended, I told Christy and my son Paul (who both also attended) that if when I had first become a Christian in 1980 and that if I had attended a parish where Fr. Barron was the presiding priest, I would likely still be a Catholic today.

  74. Joe Schafer

    So would I.

    • And me too. If the established churches would be lead by men like Pope Francis, young people would not be open targets for hyperactive campus recruiters. If I could have seen real Christainity lived out like Fr.Barron or Pope Francis, I likely would not have bought into the ubf 12 point heritage system like I did.

  75. Gerardo R, where are you? Look at all these folks taunting you to come back to UBFriends to begin posting about returning to Momma Church.

    By the way, in the future if you want to add gratuitous comments re: Protestantism vs. Catholicism, please show a little more consideration and do so not on this article but on this old article below:

    Mary Christmas!

  76. YohnY, I guess you and I (more I than you!) both commit virtually the exact same SIN of posting comments primarily on the posts that we ourselves write.

    Merry Christmas.

  77. It is not a sin to be #1.

  78. From a counter perspective, living by the grace of Jesus does not preclude the need for obedience. Because of grace, it might be too easy to accuse someone of legalism when they want to respond to grace by obeying God’s commands.

    I think that this post addresses well that we Christians should not use legalism as an excuse for disobeying God’s word and God’s commands:

  79. Brian, I was doing a search on grace and came across your website dedicated solely to grace:

    I was trying to register, log in and post a comment but could not find the link to register.

    I was going to comment and state that the word for grace (χάρις) is repeated 156 times in the NT:

    • Hi Ben,

      I had my Grace blog locked down due to some spam/splogger issues. I forgot to open it back up, so I just did that now.

      Anyone can register now:

      registration link for Grace blog

      Note: I will NOT allow ANY discussion on that blog relating to ubf whatsoever. If someone wants to discuss grace and related theology, that is fine.