12 Things UBF Taught Me (1)

d1“Go back to the bible” – The first and most obvious thing ubf taught me was to read the bible. I wasn’t taught to study the bible as in seminary school. It was more of  a command to stop worrying about my problems and go seek answers in the bible. Don’t become defeated or fatalistic about your life. Don’t struggle with people or problems, wrestle with God through the bible with a holy struggle. Don’t spend too much time dealing with inter-personal conflict, but go and read your bible. Don’t engage in godless chatter. Be quiet and read the bible.

Don’t spend too much effort interacting with culture or worrying about former members or thinking of ways to change the Sunday worship service or spending time with your family. I was taught that I could actually do these worldly things from time to time, but I had to make sure I always got back to reading the bible to get my mind and heart “cleaned up”. Go to your bible study appointments. Read the bible day and night. Read your bible as you work and eat. Memorize bible verses. Recite your memorization in front of various groups.

“Back to the bible” was ingrained in my mind through being reminded of several bible verses, especially: Deuteronomy 11:18 “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” Psalm 19:10 “They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.” Deuteronomy 8:3 “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

I was taught to read the bible every day, to choose a key verse for my life, for each year and for my marriage, my children, my jobs, and every facet of my life. I was taught to assign a bible verse to every endeavour of life. I often memorized the key verses of the ubf daily bread booklet, in case someone asked me if I did daily bread that day.

The good, bad and ugly

Good (keep it)

– I learned many things about the bible characters and stories from verse by verse exposition. This was the normal, methodical method of reading the bible in ubf.

– I overcame a fear of reading bible in public.

– I began thinking seriously about doing what the bible says to do, and attemtped to live according to the bible.

– I learned to wrestle with God, spending much time thinking about how to apply bible verses in my life events.

Bad (change it)

– I was expected to only use the NIV translation of the bible.  This reveals that my study was shallow. Any serious bible student will use multiple versions, and spend time learning some Greek and Hebrew.

– I was taught to use the inductive approach only. This is where you observe facts of a passage in the bible, and then draw conclusions from those facts. However, most of the time I was told what the conclusion was supposed to be. Any serious bible student will use a combination of both inductive and deductive approaches. If you draw a conclusion from some verses, for example, that conclusion should be checked deductively with many other passages to see if it holds true.

– The emphasis of going back to the bible is on going to the Old Testament books. It means going back to the Moses or Joshua style of leadership. Any serious bible student however will study both the Old and the New, and Christians will emphasize the New Testament normally.

Ugly (stop it)

– Going back to the bible was a daily exercise in ubf. So much so that we neglected our children and family to attend bible study. This thinking taught me to choose bible study over children.

– Back to the bible thinking also means “back to UBF question sheets and lectures only.” Rarely if ever did we make connections with the mainline churches. I was taught that my “pure” inductive method with just the bible and ubf material was superior to any commentary or other church pastor’s opinion.

– Back to the bible means putting yourself back into the bible story. I was taught to put myself into the bible story and imitate the bible characters. I began to live in a fantasy world, thinking I was Joshua or Abraham or whichever character we studied.

– I spent much time reading the bible, but I was taught to treat my shepherds’ authority as greater than the bible’s authority. If there was a conflict between the bible and my shepherd or director, I was to listen to my shepherd.

– I began over-prescribing the bible for every life problem and situation. The bible became like a drug, soothing away all problems in life.

Result after 24 years

After more than two decades of living with “back to the bible” thinking, I find that I have lots of knowledge about the bible texts. However, I have little understanding of the meaning of the bible texts. I have little knowledge of 2,000 years of Christian history. I am just now discovering the Christian “greats” such as Charles Spurgeon. Just after leaving I found that I was a shallow, empty, heartless man.

What will happen if the bad is changed and the ugly is stopped?

If ubf people remove the bad and the ugly, they might feel as if their pure bible study is being infected. But I think it will be your emptiness being filled, your shallowness becoming deeper and your superficial relationships becoming more real. Removing the bad and ugly parts of “back to the bible” could be the first step on the road of healing and reconciliation.


  1. Thanks, Brian.

    The good: My utmost gratitude to God is that through UBF God taught me to love Scripture as God’s word to this very day.

    The bad: Don’t read Bible commentaries. Rely on your own inspiration, which practically means rely on what your UBF leaders teach you.

    The ugly: Focusing on duty and mission, while assuming or not highlighting the exquisite beauty and majesty of Christ and the gospel. Also, (inwardly) focusing exclusively on UBF, causing elitism, exclusivity and superiority, rather than humbly collaborating with other churches and ministries as one cog in the universal church.

    • The biggest concern I have had for ubf people the past two years is a lack of emphasis on the gospel of Jesus. There is emphasis on mission, on obedience, on loyalty, but where is the emphasis on the gospel? I was told before I left that discussing the gospel would take too much time to discuss.

  2. Thanks Brian, Ben. For me:

    The good: God’s word became ingrained in my mind and heart. Relevant Bible verses frequently come to mind when I encounter various life situations. I feel God’s presence through the remembrance of His word.

    The bad: Prooftexting meaning from scripture to support whatever position the pastor wants to take.

    The ugly: Demanding ritualistic, legalistic obedience to rigid Bible study practices, such Bible study appointments or testimony writing/sharing.

    • “Prooftexting meaning from scripture to support whatever position the pastor wants to take”

      I cannot find any evidence to call ubf directors as “pastors”, but your point is very good, Joshua. One reason we cannot codify ubf doctrines is because the directors are all over the place in terms of what they belief, even switching positions from Sunday to Sunday.

      I believe this comes from “inductive study” only. This is not really study per se. It is just drawing conclusions quickly and then “going back to the bible”. Bible study in ubf, as I look back, was more of an exercise in obedience than any kind of learning mechanism. As I mentioned in my article, real study would involve both inductive and deductive methods, along with some Greek and Hebrew and most certainly study of 2,000 years of Christian history in some way. Real study would allow for critical thinking.

      So “go back to the bible” has been used as a means of thought-stopping and behavior control.

  3. Brian, you understand “back to the Bible” as a motto that should be exercised in the daily life of UBFers (“if you have any real world problems, just make Bible study to solve them”). Perhaps this is the way how it is understood nowadays in UBF.

    However, I remember that SL used that motto during the 2001 reform movement; I never heard it before. I (and probably many others around that time) understood it as a summary of the following claims: 1. The UBF ways were always rooted in the Bible 2. The reformers deviated from the Bible. 3. Go back to the old ways instead of getting influenced by the reformers.

    This becomes clearer when you remember that for SL “the Bible” and “the UBF ways” were synonymous. SL always held a Bible in his hand. He sometimes called a fundamentalist UBF member a “man/woman of the Bible”. These were those who did radical things like neglecting their family for UBF or doing other strange UBFish things. Or he said they had “a smell of the Bible,” and he claimed to be the ultimate prototype of such a man who smelled of the Bible.

    For SL, his own interpretation of the Bible and the Bible itself were one and the same. Those people who had a “smell of the Bible” in his view were in reality those who had a smell of UBF. In SL’s interpretation of the Bible, world mission (not love) was the highest command, and world mission was equal with SL/UBF style campus mission. So SL/UBF style campus mission was the highest command, and it was no problem for him to order divorces, abortions, inhumane trainings, to shame and malign critics, fake photos and do many other unethical and unbiblical things because he believed they were “venial sins” that could easily be committed in order to fulfill the “real” essence of the Bible, which was UBF style campus mission. All of this smelled really awful, but he succeeded in convincing people that it was the “smell of the Bible”, so they put up with it.

    “Back to the Bible” in his distorted views meant ignoring all the legitimate criticism from the reformers and go back to the old ways. In the time of the 2001 reform movement it was used with this meaning as a kind of battle cry.

    SL was always a bit “cleverer” than others. Sarah Barry’s answer to the reformers was simply “no reform!”. Sarah Hong’s answer to me was “you can wait for reform until we are all buried”. But SL’s answer was “go back to the Bible”. He was always indirect. He would not say “no reform!”. He would not even speak that word “reform” out, he only spoke of “rebellion” or “R group”. And when he said “go back to the Bible” it was clear to everyone who was on the side of the Bible and who were the heretics.

    Let me say clearly that I personally don’t believe that SL/UBF style campus mission was ever rooted in the Bible. Already in 1976 we have shocking reports of misappropriation of moneys and other severe authority abuse by SL. So to “go back to the Bible” is misleading as an advice for UBF. UBF’s own account of history (http://ubf.org/node/155) gives a better clue about the roots of UBF: “They began to have a burning zeal to overcome their own fatalistic problems and start a new life. They gained a sense of pride and mission.” Pride was the driving force of SL, and he infected others with this pride. He sometimes tried to appear as humble or as serving a “manger ministry” but that was only masquerade. It was a ministry based on human ambition and misreading of the Bible from the very beginnings. All good deeds, devotion, suffering, dedication, prayer in UBF (which I do not want to deny) were always tainted with this pride and the bad ideology. Whenever you smelled it, you were told to not trust your nose (conscience, Holy Spirit, ethical norms and common sense) but only trust you “spiritual leaders” who defined for you which smells were good and which were bad.

    Visitors who attend UBF events immediately notice a “cult smell”. I remember how intensely I noticed it when I had my first testimony sharing sessions and my first conference. But you know, if you stay in a smelly environment for a long time, you don’t notice it any more. And even if sometimes it still annoys you, you start to believe this is “the smell of the Bible”.

    • Yes, Chris, I can see that “back to the bible” has been used as a kind weapon on a corporate level. I remember hearing “go back to the bible” most often after people left the ministry. During normal times (when people were not leaving), I was taught to “go back to the bible”. And then when a crisis occurred (when people left ubf), then it was natural for me to just ignore them and go back to the bible. Just like someone’s sense of smell gets numb or used to certain smells, I just got used to ignoring the reality around me for the sake of reading the bible.

      So I think you are correct, “go back to the bible” also has the meaning “go back to ubf” and “stay in ubf”.

  4. big bear

    CHRIS agree with your assessment, now to add my understanding after 29 years in Ubf.

    Good: Back to the Bible is the best part of Ubf. I know the Bible more than many Pastors and I did study the Bible much in Ubf. The inductive approach is good.

    Bad: Ubf taught me to study the Bible to justify Ubf and its bad theology and abuse and its system. My director always severely rebuked me if my understanding of the Bible was different than his interpretation. I was call Shepherd Point for a few years to humiliate me because I always learn something different than what ubf taught in the passages. When looking back I could see it was a way to brainwash me into becoming a ubf leader. I always questioned ubf interpretation of scripture. The bad of bible study is that it is so controlled and and used to manipulate others for system instead of done in love.
    Ugly: The Bible study was abusive. Once the director ordered onions to be cut up and put in my younger brothers eyes so he would cry during testimony writing. Many times I saw the diector do abusive things but he told me it was how they trained disciples and I came to believe this was normal. He had Samuel Lee in him for sure. My family warned me about the abuse and how he degraded my family when they came to worship. I should have left sooner.

    • “Once the director ordered onions to be cut up and put in my younger brothers eyes so he would cry during testimony writing.”

      Disturbing. No doubt this was learned from Slee’s incident of putting red pepper salt of some kind in the eyes of some shepherds who didn’t cry enough over something.

      I don’t recall seeing this kind of physical abuse in my part of ubf, apart from sleep deprivation. The worst abuse of the bible I saw was when a friend of mine was demanded to write out some bible verses something like 400 times on paper… just a couple days before his bar exam. So instead of studying for the exam, he was writing bible verses out of obedience.

    • big bear

      Right after that incident my brother left ubf and talk to John Wick…I was a young shepherd and I was to weak to stand up against the director because he was a bully….I was wrong and I was to brainwashed to see right from wrong…many more abuses that I could write a 500 page book about them

    • bigbear, I have been praying for a way to open up that would bring national attention to the abuse in ubf. I wonder if John Wick and his organization, Wellspring Retreat, would be a way? Maybe your new book?

  5. It’s a shame that “Back to the Bible” could not mean exactly that. In its simple innocence the statement implies that we have something new to learn. But, in the context of usage in ministry it reinforces the “old wine skin” attitudes. Oh! How we long to be renewed and new. Please God help us!

    I find it funny that often (in my experience) analogies have been made that we should not hide/dwell in wilderness (away from the world and God’s flock), but rather go to it. Indeed, we should mix the sacred and profane. It is part of our normal Christian life.

    Corporate relationships are too often applied in the Holy space thereby leaving us to be controlled by our inhibitions. Can we truly be friends and love each other in Jesus? or Are we just sneering and jeering based upon our “fixed ideas”? Go back to the Bible. Guess what! – Jesus’ public ministry was only a couple years and we get an episodic window into it. This does not mean that every day of our lives will be a replica of the gospels if we “make every effort” to live as disciples. Unfortunately, for most of us the mundane, trite and banal moves in on our routine and going back to the Bible cannot help that – it is a part of life.

    Going back to the Bible can be the best armour against spiritual abuse…

    • “It’s a shame that “Back to the Bible” could not mean exactly that. In its simple innocence the statement implies that we have something new to learn.”

      I agree, gc. A large part of my recovery from ubf has been to “undefine” many terms. I began to just accept words for what they are. Love is love. Grace is grace. No need to seek out the “real meaning”. Also I try to no longer use so many adjectives. I noticed a while ago that I used to add adjectives to everything like “real love” or “true mission”, implying that everyone else didn’t know these things as well as me.

      Some of us former members have created an extensive glossary of ubf words, exposing the redefinition of terms that is rampant in ubf. This re-defining of words and phrases seems to me to stem again from Confucianism, sort of a ubf version of the rectification of names principle.

    • big bear

      Brian…the way is to take them to court and get criminal charge on them…this will create national attention….book will help and John Wick….all of us come forward class action suit…..I pray that they may repent and acknowledge their abuse…..and compensate those who need it…..asking God to lead me….it will be a great undertaking on the person who goes national….I am willing if God leads me that way…the abuse must stop now!!!!!!!!!!

    • I was thinking more along the lines of audio and video captures. How amazing would it be to have video of some behind the scenes meetings… I am willing to start a library of audio or video if anyone sends them to me. Most of this stuff is rather unbelievable, and we need to hear it or see it.

    • “It’s a shame that “Back to the Bible” could not mean exactly that.”

      Yes, gc. It could be actually the motto for a UBF reform. Jesus says in the Bible “Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah.” and “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” For me, Mt23 is a clear rebuttal of everything UBF. With it’s authoritarian one-man-leadership and “disciple training” UBF deviated from the principles taught be Jesus and the apostle in the Bible, and it did so from the very beginnings of UBF (as you can clearly see in the 1976 letter). What UBF really needs is to “go back to the Bible”. Maybe we can all honor Samuel Lee by taking his slogan literally? The only problem that hindered us is that we first need to untangle the real meaning of words. For instance, “the Bible” should really mean the real Bible and not “UBF heritage” or whatever UBF says the Bible is. From there on, everything needs to be cleaned up and freed from the UBF associations until we can learn to thing clearly again. “Coworker” should mean “coworker” and not “spouse”. “Calling” should mean “heavenly calling” not “calling as UBF shepherd”. All the words in the Bible must be freed from their hidden UBF meaning and everything that is associated with them in the indoctrination process.

      BigBear, Brian: What I expect from a book is that the focus is not so much on revealing all the ugly things (of course this must be done to a certain extent so everybody understands what we are talking about), but much more how it was possible that we could all be captivated in such a system, how our minds could be confused so much, why we tolerated abuse done on us and others, why we stayed for so many years. If you can concentrate on trying to explain that, the book can be very helpful. Many people don’t understand this, and even we can’t understand ourselves.

    • “the way is to take them to court and get criminal charge on them…”

      BigBear, I disagree with you on that. First, you can’t sweepingly charge “them”. Some time ago even you have been a part of “them”.

      You can only charge those who directly harmed you, and only in a way that is provable and punishable by law. I think most of the things that happened were not of that nature. Judges can’t deal with “spiritual abuse”. Judges will see you as a mature and responsible citizen in the first place. If you neglected your children or your family, they will see it as your fault in the first place. They will have a hard time to understand that you did it because you were “brainwashed” and even if they understand it will be nearly impossible to prove.

      It will be better to just educate people about what happened, and how it was possible, so that it won’t happen again, not seeking “revenge”. In a way, we are all guilty for allowing these things to be done to us and others for such a long time. There is a “sin of the shepherds” which weighs more but there is still also a “sin of the sheep” (http://www.founders.org/journal/fj15/article3.html).

      Some extreme cases, maybe should be brought to court. But it’s not “the way to go” now. If anything, then this should have happened many years ago.

  6. So why did I stay so long in ubf? This slogan “back to the bible” was a big reason for me. I am not really a man who seeks fame, or glory or power or wealth. But I do love superiority! As I lived with “back to the bible” thinking, I felt as if I was discovering something new, unique and hidden for thousands of years! I felt like I had figured out the entire bible, unlocking the secret things of God!

    That secret? Obedience. I saw the entire message of the bible as this: “sacrifice in order to obey”. But I did not realize this was no secret, and many millions of people had already found this. I did not realize I was just discovering the ubf heritage which had already been known by many.

    I loved to know the insider language! I learned all the acronyms! I loved being “in”, having knowledge that no one else knew (or so I thought). I became a Pharisee but ignored and dismissed Jesus’ primary words to the Pharisees, such as in Matthew 12:7. Jesus desires mercy, not sacrifice; justice and love and hope as a friend, not obedience, loyalty and purity as a soldier.

    To this day, ubf honors and glorifies those who read the entire bible through the lens of obedience, sacrifice and loyalty. [That ubf report sounds Christian, but when you understand the loaded redefined ubf meaning of words like “grace”, you begin to see a gospel different from what Jesus preached.]

  7. big bear

    Yes Brian..I believe many stay in UBF long time because they truly believe that if they leave they are leaving God…but this is not true at all…God never leaves us..He is with us until the end even if we go to the ends of the earth…this is God’s unconditional love…don’t settle for no love ministry and dysfunctional and bad theology and abuse…pray and go somewhere that you can grow in God’s love and help people practically…UBF will destroy your conscience, your marriage and your children..my life is a testimony of it…I stayed so long because I wanted to be faithful…but God used my home director to kick me out and broke up my family to free me into His love…it is very hard getting out because you are taught from day 1 that UBF is a great work of God and they give you a title, like shepherd, missionary and this promotes commitment to their theology and system…I pray I never step foot in a UBF ever again…so that I may live in God’s love and freedom not abuse and guilt…this is not the gospel of love or way of life…

  8. big bear

    I earnestly pray that my upcoming book, could use some help in writing it, will expose the truth and free others in God’s love..UBF lacks genuine love for people…my children knew it, my ex-knew it, and many in UBF know it to..if they are honest…just go to a healthy church you will experience the difference and a healthy shepherd..they are well rounded..families and children come first…they don’t make excuses for abusing others in the name of mission…they care when you are sick and when your kids are hungry…the care for the homeless..they help people in practical ways..UBF is all about UBF..this is wrong…it is only a small wacko ministry like the one Waco Texas..there are great Christians in it but many are not living in love or like God intends in the gospel….those who are very successful can live double lives to maintain their dignity in UBF…but poor struggling families are dumped on and neglected and rebuked for just being large families..it is not love..Where is the love? After all this, I still have not received a letter of apology from my home chapter director…

  9. I am finding it helpful and interesting to see what the 50th Anniversary blue book says about the heritage. “back to the bible” still is #1 in the ubf heritage.