Let’s Reform UBF

reformAfter reading Joe’s article about CMI and some private conversations, I am compelled to share and document the following declaration of reform. This declaration was the primary document expressing the concerns of more than 50 long-time UBF leaders. All of this group was labeld the “R-Group” and were kicked out of UBF by official termination of their UBF membership in 2000 and 2001. Now 12 years have passed by. Samuel Lee has passed away. Has UBF been reformed? Did UBF leaders listen to these issues? Do the same issues remain today? Does UBF need reform? Is reform possible? Will you join in reforming UBF to be a healthy Christian organization?

First, the final authority of UBF resides in the Scripture.

We confess that the final authority of UBF is the Word of God presented in the Old Testament and the New Testament. In UBF, what people fear most or are most conscious of is one man’s approval, namely that of Samuel Lee. Our joy and peace frequently depend upon his word. But people hardly display such intense fear of the Word of God, even when our actions visibly violated it. This alone shows that the final authority of UBF is clearly in the hand of a mere man, fallible, sinful as any others, and fundamentally mortal. Whatever this one person has done or said, good or bad, usually becomes an unspoken rule for and measure of all things. But we firmly believe that man’s authority or UBF’s traditions should never supercede the Word of God. The Scripture alone should be the absolute and final authority in ministry as well as in our life of faith.

Second, the gospel of grace is the interpretive key to the Scripture.

The gospel of Jesus Christ displayed through his death and resurrection is the Scripture within the Scripture. It is and should be the hermeneutical (interpretive) key to the Scripture and the guide to our practical life of faith. The original theological understanding of UBF that held grace and mission in harmony based upon Romans 1:5, has gradually given its way to a different theological reasoning. As the ambition of UBF became more business-oriented, the concept of “mission” emerged as primary, making grace a preparatory step toward the supremacy of “mission.”

Accordingly, UBF’s dominant hermeneutic was shifted from grace that compels believers to “mission and obedience.” (We do not mean superficial lip service given to grace. We are speaking of what is actually going on in the ministry and life of UBF. Practical life plainly shows that the dominant interpretive key to the Bible is “mission and obedience.” It is an unfortunate reductionism. It presents the Word of God as though it were only mission and obedience. There are many more mysteries that cannot be understood by this kind of approach. One good example is that in UBF, the Pauline epistles are hardly studied. The reason is obvious. People are already set with one kind of hermeneutics, that is, that of “mission and obedience.” So, they do not understand Paul’s tenacious emphasis upon the grace of Jesus Christ. So, it is not surprising that UBF has its own favorite texts that are used over and over. Due to its narrow hermeneutics, their biblical understanding is fundamentally selective. Their understanding of Christian life is like tunnel vision. It ends up seeing what it wants to see.) It is a well-known maxim in UBF that a person must be born thrice: first, physically; second, spiritually; third, in mission. This sort of biblical interpretation has well served the organization’s aim of increasing its membership and visibility.

Nevertheless, this kind of biblical hermeneutics caused a series of unforeseen problems that gradually perverted people’s understanding of the gospel and ministry. These ideas — mission and obedience — have reduced the gospel of Jesus Christ and his grace into “law and work” again. In UBF, one’s worth depends mainly upon how well one is able to “feed sheep.” (Or when one is not so successful in feeding sheep, one can find one’s place and position by making a good amount of offering. This is generally what Korean missionaries experience, although American students or leaders receive somewhat different treatment from the leadership of UBF.) Yet, it is not how well one feeds sheep, but salvation comes through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that gives human dignity and worth to all believers. (We are new creations, new people who will inherit the kingdom of God. Not only so, the great salvation has begun in us, waiting for its completion. Jesus does command us to go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation and to feed his sheep. Nevertheless, all these commands are not given as the condition that Jesus will love us only when we succeed in feeding his sheep.) By reducing the gospel to “mission and obedience,” UBF unwittingly has undone what Christ did on the cross. Even if a particular idea, such as “mission and obedience,” is useful for a church, it becomes, without exception, harmful if it takes the place of the gospel of grace.

Therefore, we maintain that the central key to the Scripture and Christian life is the gospel of grace. Even the Great Commission cannot be thought of apart from the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the dynamic efficacy of the grace of Jesus Christ that compels us to mission and obedience. We must return to the eternal foundation of the gospel that Christ through his death and resurrection laid.

Third, all human beings are sinners and Jesus Christ alone is our Savior and Lord.

The Scripture declares unequivocally that all human beings are without exception sinners. This means, first of all, that human beings are fundamentally in hostility with God (before our salvation). This also implies that as a human being each of us has an inherent “dark side” which so easily corrupts everything good, noble and worthy in them. This biblical view must be taken with all seriousness as the fundamental understanding of human beings for believers. Ironically, no Christian organization would talk so much about sin as UBF. Our testimony sharing or life testimony is mostly about sin and salvation, after which everyone wants to be a man or woman of mission.

Yet, sin understood in UBF testimony generally refers to moral failings or, in larger part, disobedience to a shepherd (especially to Samuel Lee). This kind of superficial understanding of sin does not take into account the dark side of human nature that lurks in everyone’s heart, even in a born-again Christian, since our redemption is not yet completed.

But in UBF, such a quintessential knowledge is suppressed in its attitude toward its supreme leader, because he virtually occupies the place of God since he is to be “absolutely obeyed.” (We are well aware that some might feel uncomfortable with such an assessment. This may sound too harsh. Yet, it must be carefully noted that when human beings offer their absolute obedience and loyalty to something or someone, this comprises a religious act (Rom 6:12-23). They consciously or unconsciously regard that object of their obedience as divine or nearly divine. The title that is so erratically and arbitrarily used in UBF is “the servant of God.” This title implies immediately obedience to that person. The business of absolute obedience belongs to the Creator, who alone deserves creation’s unswerving absolute obedience.)

This kind of atmosphere provides a fertile ground for abuse of power by those in el supremo. Even when he sins, often ridiculously lofty theological reasons are attributed to his failings, because people have already made this person a mythic figure. They can no longer look at his true identity as a human being with darkness and all kinds of shortcomings but they look at him with misty eyes that are blurred by their own myth-tinted glasses. Such habits are surreptitiously promoted by the supreme leader himself and by his cronies around him. Mythologizing a sinful human being only blinds people to the reality of human nature and drives them further away from the light of the biblical truth about human beings.

Therefore, we strongly denounce such a practice that blinds people to the true understanding about human nature that the biblical truth teaches us. Too much abuse of power has hurt many people of great integrity, purity and honesty. Many who have devoted their entire youth because of their love for the work of the Spirit have left because of such foolish and ignorant practices of exalting and mythologizing one man beyond what he really is. So, based upon this biblical truth about humanity, we resolutely affirm that every human society, political, military or religious, needs to have a system of checks and balances and of accountability.

We Christians already have one Lord who has absolute authority over us, the one who died for our sins and rose from the dead, thus proving that he is the Lord of lords. He alone is our Judge, who has already justified us. Jesus Christ alone has the final say. It is ultimately his word, not human approval, that matters in the end. Any word or act of a human being must be measured and checked according to the word of this Lord. We confess therefore that our consciences are bound only to this Lord alone and to no one else.

Fourth, the founder of UBF is the Holy Spirit and He is also the one who nourishes and preserves it.

The Bible matter-of-factly tells that the birth of a church is the work of the Holy Spirit. Only the Holy Spirit can work wonders of bringing various kinds of people together in the name of Jesus Christ and create a church. So-called human founders are in reality merely the instruments of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the founder of UBF is the Holy Spirit. Also, the historical fact that the birth of Korean UBF coincides with the outburst of various student movements and denominations originated by the Spirit during the 1950s and 1960s supports our claim that the Holy Spirit is the founder of UBF.

What made UBF what it is today is largely the dedication of numerous brothers and sisters who have selflessly sacrificed their time, material and family life for its well-being. It is preposterous to insist that UBF is one person’s work or his business. All credit therefore should be given to the Holy Spirit and to those who in obedience to the Holy Spirit’s guidance have boldly carried out mission in campuses and in foreign countries without receiving much recognition. The credit also should be given to those who have lost their lives in the middle of their missionary lives.

But the supreme leader of UBF has a self-conceited illusion that the birth of UBF was the work of a handful of human beings, especially himself. Owing to such a flawed view, he has often blatantly said that UBF is his. That kind of ignorance and misconception is visibly evident in his effort to hand the organization to his son. We absolutely reject such a claim about UBF. The rightful owner of UBF is the Holy Spirit rather than one person. It belongs to many people whose lives have made the organization as it is today. The ownership of UBF must be returned to its rightful owner(s).

We likewise believe that it is the Holy Spirit that nourishes and preserves UBF. The UBF supreme leadership thinks that it is his outstanding leadership skill that has nourished and preserved UBF thus far. The truth is that even his leadership was provided and sustained by the Spirit. Another aspect he has forgotten about is that not infrequently his own failings and mistakes drove UBF to unnecessary crises that threatened its validity and existence. (He thinks that all the attacks he received over the years are because he exclusively preached the gospel. But that argument is far from the truth. Many of these attacks came because of his various corrupt practices, his very suspicious use of offerings, the habit of bribery, physical violence, the habit of blaming the underlings for his own mistakes, and the like. Because of his unnecessary egotistic stubbornness, we are often labeled as a “cult,” thus making our future grim. It must be noted that we are not afraid at all to die for the Lord and we are confident that if we are attacked and falsely accused it is because we indeed preached the gospel with a clean conscience. That is why we have given up everything and come to this land. Do not say that we try to avoid suffering for the gospel. But we feel stupid and dumb when we know we suffer because of our own stupidity and arrogance.) But the Spirit, despite his failures and shortcomings, has kept and preserved UBF and made it grow better through adversities.

Fifth, UBF is a member of the body of Christ, that is, the Universal Church, whose head is Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Church, namely the body of Christ, has unity in that all the members belong to the one head. Just as a member, such as a hand or a foot, cannot live when it is severed from the rest of the body, UBF, when cut off from the rest of the body, cannot be a healthy and living organization. UBF has been as though it were all hand or all foot, because it has failed to recognize the needs to be united with other members of the body. Behind such an exclusive attitude lies the egotism of one person, whose upbringing has shaped him into a paranoid, compulsive and self-conceited person. His unhealthy personality has strongly shaped the character and ethos of UBF. That is why often excessive and unfounded elitism and “green-beret-ism” characterizes UBF. Such attitude is an organizational pride detrimental for the unity of the body of Christ. We believe that recognizing ourselves humbly and joyfully as part of the body of Christ prevents us from spreading the poison of such organizational and spiritual pride, which works deadly influence upon the body of Christ everywhere. (Various Christian groups are characterized by this kind of exclusive attitude. They usually cause division in the body of Christ. UBF also has committed this sin of exclusivism. Saying blatantly that Billy Graham is nothing, but he (Samuel Lee) is the one who changed American history (at the UBF USA staff meeting, Sept. 2000 in Chicago) shows how far this kind of exclusivism has distorted his view of himself and UBF. It has reached the dangerous point of self-delusion both personally and institutionally. Earlier, he resented that Rev. Han received The Templeton Award, because he believes that he was greater than Rev. Han and he should have gotten the award. He as well as UBF has become a silly little frog in a little pond, who thinks that little pond is the whole world.) After all, the church is a small community in a vast unbelieving world. We need each other and must learn to work with others to serve our Lord in the world.

Sixth, the Holy Spirit has endowed particular gifts to UBF that characterize it from others, namely campus ministry, one-on-one Bible study, disciple-making, and world mission.

UBF in general has been given by the Holy Spirit the gifts of campus ministry, one-on-one Bible study, disciple-making and world mission. These common traits, while binding all UBF chapters together, gave particular characteristics to UBF, which distinguish it from other organizations.

As the place of the Holy Spirit was gradually reduced to an insignificant one in the theology of UBF, these gifts, divorced from the Spirit, turned into business agendas and objectives of UBF. They no longer were understood as “gifts” but institutional methodologies, by which UBF would carry on its business. Further, they became the very elements by which UBF began to identify itself.

Initially, it seemed very smart to make such a move. But the fallout of such a move became all too clear over the years. It produced suffocating uniformity that stifled the quality growth of UBF. Satisfied with the initial success, the supreme leader further reinforced this uniformity by trying to mold, in the name of training, everyone’s thoughts, worldview, values and to a large measure, the character just like his. For this goal, he ordered every staff to copy his message and deliver it every week. He also made everyone in UBF write a testimony on the basis of his message every week. Consequently, everyone was gradually conditioned and molded to look at the world and faith through this one man’s eyes. His way was the way. (This was done in the pretext that without Newton there is no Einstein. The sad reality is that when everyone is talking about the theory of relativity, UBF staffs are still trying to understand Newton’s gravity. Without Newton we have Bill Gates.) Uniformity became the gospel of UBF. And UBF became an intellectually dull and weary place. (We can tell you we did not and do not look forward to our staff meetings. We would rather get stuck in the airplane for its cancellation or delay or on the freeway because of snowstorm. We hated to go to these meaningless gatherings.)

We believe that “true unity” need not be uniformity. Further, it needs to be clarified that in an absolute sense these gifts, campus ministry, one-on-one Bible study, and world mission, do not truly comprise the fundamental identity of UBF. Ultimately, these things are yet earthly and temporal. These things give a temporary identity of our group that the Spirit created for in this generation. (Earlier, when our el supremo was led by the Spirit and was not spiritually petrified, he often said that UBF would serve the purpose of God for our generation. He even said that if it was God’s will it was fine with him, even if UBF was to disappear. I do not know where such confidence in the Spirit has gone and now he is clinging to these things as though they were the only true gospel. He is sadly self-conceited.) Our confidence and hope at present moment is that the Spirit will continue to preserve UBF, as it has been. As long as the Spirit leads us through these gifts, we will obey him wholeheartedly and carry these out with conviction and dedication. Nevertheless, we do not and will not make the mistake of making these gifts something “absolute,” the mistake that has turned the gospel into work and the living gifts into uniform business objectives. Our faithfulness and commitment is with the Holy Spirit, whose guidance alone is absolute. Wherever the Spirit of Christ leads us, we will faithfully be there with all our hearts. We affirm that only with the Spirit, our future is wide open.

Seventh, the Holy Spirit has distributed various gifts within each UBF chapter among its members, so as to mold it into a community filled with fruits of the Spirit.

As the Holy Spirit establishes a church, he gives various gifts to its individual members, so that they can serve the body of Christ. The ultimate goal of distributing various gifts is to create the Christian community, the community that is filled with the fruits of the Spirit. Christian churches that reveal these fruits will most convincingly bear witness to its Lord Jesus Christ.

When UBF reduced the gifts of the Spirit to simple uniformity, the community became fundamentally a mission institution. The ultimate goal became to stimulate people’s productivity, namely to bring more people. The best way to achieve this objective was to make its members compete with each other. Competition to bring more “sheep” became the very driving force of UBF to success. Members competed among themselves; a group against another; a chapter against another; a region against another.

In the process, UBF lost its true Christian substance. It was Christian only in name and appearance, but its inner self was no different from a secular business firm. (A lay graduate fellowship member who later became a full-time staff member, due to the blessing of the Spirit upon his ministry, confessed he was shocked at the rampant jealousy and competitiveness among the staff members when he attended their meetings. Having experienced how secular work places function, he told some of the staff members that their gatherings were worse than those of secular business firms.) It was number, number, number, that counted most. It was so with almost every UBF chapter. (In order to lessen the pressure and stress that came from this competition, the supreme leader skillfully uses music, drama, and other things. But what could these artificial entertainment do when the fruits of the Spirit were taken away or placed in the backseat of the ministry?) Therefore, we sincerely advise each UBF chapter to relinquish the competition-oriented practice that has been manipulated for too long by one man but promote a Christian community that truly and genuinely reflects the image of Jesus Christ our Lord.

UBF must bring the theology of the Holy Spirit to the fore and recognize his sovereignty and his many gifts with which he equips the body of Christ. There are many gifts that are more important and precious than campus ministry, one-on-one Bible study, disciple-making, and world mission, though they may not seem so useful or practical for success. (We mean the gifts that truly hold the inner self of a community, such as virtue, compassion, helping the poor, ability to reconcile, making the atmosphere positive and bright, administrative ability, and the like, the gifts the Bible regards highly.)

Lest someone should falsely accuse us of promoting tongue speaking, which in our time causes so many painful divisions in the church, let us make it clear. We confess and uphold that whatever gifts the Bible speaks of should not be prohibited, but they should be carefully examined and utilized according to the biblical norms. No one gift, supernatural or natural, should be overly emphasized over the rest. All must be treated with equal respect and care, because they are, after all, gifts from God, not the product of our own making.

Eighth, UBF is a Christian community both in relation to and radically set apart from the world. This two-fold, paradoxical relationship must be carefully and faithfully maintained, so that we may be in the world but not of it.

The church is born not out of the world but in the middle of it. So, it is the church’s ongoing struggle to keep the delicate balance to the world and yet to radically separate from it. UBF started out, like many influential Christian organizations throughout history, with its strong emphasis upon the radical separation from the world. It rightly found the radical teachings of the gospel that commanded to give up personal comfort, worldly desires, love for money, and so on. Such a radical obedience to the gospel laid a firm foundation for the practical life and ethic of UBF. Even now, many young men and women courageously choose such a radical obedience to the gospel.

Nevertheless, UBF has failed to establish a proper relation to the world. The early church related itself to the surrounding world by showing the compassion of God for the poor, the helpless and the needy. But UBF leadership, now driven mostly by business sense, has failed to teach them how to relate to the world as Christians. As a result, even when people around us experience all kinds of suffering, we did not care for them as long as we found student “sheep” and UBF kept growing. (Such attitude is often seen among some missionaries overseas, who can scarcely find jobs. With the justification that these missionaries need living faith, they are simply left alone without any financial relief. Don’t we have the responsibility to help them become established financially in those lands where they are aliens and have no job opportunities? Do they not have enough difficulties by which they can learn living faith?) In a sense, we have become a callous and heartless organization that only cares about its own business.

The underlying philosophy of the supreme leader whose idea pervades in every aspect of UBF’s theology and practice is founded upon capitalism. To him, UBF ministry is a business venture for Christ. He transformed Jesus, who told the rich young man to sell everything, give it to the poor and follow him, into a greedy and money-collecting capitalist. (Is this the same Jesus who called Levi the tax collector out of collecting money into his savings to serving people?) He collects tithes from every chapter in the U.S. We also know that from other continents, even from the African continent, he collects tithes. A small chapter often sends the entire offering to Chicago. We did not know that the Jesus of UBF was so concerned about his organization’s income growth and was so happy that he now has several million dollars in savings. Perhaps this Jesus would love to have his image printed upon the green paper. Chicago UBF is like the Dead Sea. Everything goes in but nothing comes out. (Having seen the way money has been used, we now believe that it is not even his pure desire to indeed do good business for Christ but rather it is his love of money and his addiction to it. Although he claims to receive only moderate salary, the reality is that he is the only one who has access to the treasury. There have been demands to make public how the past offerings have been used, but he has totally ignored such demands. There are too many suspicions about how he deals with money. He is more concerned about IRS [the US tax agency] than with the saints’ approval. But isn’t the approval of the saints much more important in God’s sight than that of IRS? Wouldn’t the approval of the former represent that of God closely, since they are children of God? Most of all, what does collecting money from all over the world have to do with the radical calling of the gospel? Does Jesus ever call UBF to collect a huge sum of money? Doesn’t his command to the rich young man apply to UBF, too? Just because it is an organization, it does not have to listen to such a call?)

The leader’s suspicious behavior about money contradicts the radical call of the gospel that many people have faithfully obeyed. After many years of observation about his dealing with money, our conclusion is that he simply loves money.

Therefore, we call for the legitimate audit of all the accounts of offerings received all these years. Non-profit organization status should not be the covering for misuse of the precious offerings. We want an honest bookkeeping and annual report of how much came in and how it is used. Rather than heartless capitalism at the center of UBF, we want the compassion of God to be the guide. A considerable part of the money should be used to lessen the sufferings of the people, including some of the missionaries who have no way to find jobs in foreign countries. The radical nature of the gospel should be the controlling principle of UBF material life instead of capitalism. If not, we will be hypocrites who, while crying out for obedience to the gospel, practice money-loving capitalism.

Ninth, the basic structure of a church consists of worship, education, mission and help for the poor.

This is the basic structure of a church. Achieving health of a church depends upon how firmly these things are in place and how well they are practiced. But UBF’s main emphasis has been mission. Its effort for education has been one-sided for so long. And it has not had any significant theology for either worship or helping the poor. As a result, UBF has become a deformed body, which is passionate on mission and yet without mercy for the poor. We need to restore these four basic pillars for the spiritual health of UBF.

Worship: The Holy Spirit created the body of Christ, ultimately for the glory of God as it exalts and worships God for what God has done in Christ. But UBF’s worship service is the occasion for measuring one’s success every week by counting the number of attendants, because all the chapters have to report it to the headquarters. Worship is a time for everyone to give glory to God and Christ for the grace he has bestowed upon us and receive blessings through it. We must return to the basic aim of worship. Worship should become a joyful, free, and meaningful occasion where we meet our gracious God.

Education: So far, one man’s messages have shaped and even conditioned many people’s view about life and faith, view, ethics and so on. This view has been too narrow for UBF staffs and members to encounter the changing Korean ethos let alone the world. Now it is time for UBF to break out of the confinement of this monochromatic view and to spread out its wings and grow in depth and height and length and width. For this reason, it is imperative for staffs to receive theological education and go through a serious theological paradigm shift to face the future better prepared. It is also necessary to raise well-educated theologians, biblical scholars, historians, counselors, and the like, who can make worldwide contributions to the church of Christ. (Doesn’t anyone notice that those who left UBF have become respected and useful leaders in the Christian churches with better education? Why can’t we have such people? Why do they have to leave us to be such people?) We denounce some people’s efforts to get titles from shadowy institutions without actually earning the diploma. We must abandon this kind of dishonorable approach. Why not let some capable people receive good education from legitimate institutions? What kind of life philosophy does this kind of attitude teach to those who follow us? While we teach them to go the way of truth and the way of the cross, we find the lowest and laughable means to get a title. Why?

Lay members also must have opportunities to receive better spiritual nurturing. Unless these people are enlightened, the leaders will have too many opportunities to do wrong things without being criticized. But when they are properly enlightened, leaders will be helped because these people will keep the system of checks and balances in place. (Such an attitude has caused so many wrongs to be covered up and untreated. Not hurting sheep may come from good intention of loving them, but it proves to be a fatal mistake not to let the sheep know about the existing problems, because our good intentions prevented them from being enlightened. What kind of people will these sheep become? They think that there is no problem in UBF and their shepherds are like angels. We simply make them stupid rather than enlighten them. This will not do.)

Mission: We have sent 1,500 missionaries overseas. Yet, we recognize that most of them find it difficult to adjust to different cultures, customs, intellectual environment and so on. We need to think about how to effectively help these missionaries to adjust themselves there and be part of the society. Also, it is necessary for some of them to attend local seminaries to understand the spiritual climate of the society to be better equipped for mission work. We must have some missionaries who excel in their surroundings and leave a lasting spiritual legacy in their respective mission fields.

Furthermore, we need to help these missionaries to be able to think and analyze the culture, society, custom and traditions of the nations they went to. In this way, they can inform those who are at home of their mission in better ways than simply sharing our traditional mission report about how many sheep and how they struggled with them, although these things can be reported in a proper context.

Helping the poor: Helping and caring for the poor is the passion and compassion of God. It is how we relate ourselves to the unbelieving world, looking at those who are in need with the mercy and compassion of God. But due to our philosophy of mission as everything we have failed to exhibit God’s compassion to the world. After all, it is because God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. Surely, helping the poor does not bring us tangible return. But do we always need to have some kind of return for every work we do? Have we become such calculating capitalists? Helping the poor is in a sense like a burnt offering. It is offered purely to God and it is gone to ashes. There is no return. But that is central to the sacrifices that please God most. Just as our tithing keeps us from becoming materially-oriented people, so does giving to the poor prevents our institutions from becoming materially obsessed, as UBF is at present. In this way, we can function as the salt and light of the world.

In conclusion, we want UBF to be reformed in tune with the gospel truth. We do not do so lightheartedly or in mere rebellion or for the sake of some kind of personal gain. We sincerely advocate reform but we do so because UBF’s basic theology and practice have gone astray from the gospel of grace. As we stated earlier, mission and obedience are two of the most significant biblical truths. Nevertheless, no matter how excellent or good these are, when they are treated as though they are everything there is about the gospel, these become a hindrance to the great truth of the gospel. The same attitude stands true with people. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a profound truth, too profound for any human intentions, no matter how good, to fathom it all, too deep for one man’s insight to reach to its depth. One man-centered system must go. Also, we want to suspend competition-oriented community life and build the community of love intended by the Spirit. We want to restore the joy and freedom of the gospel, as we passionately carry out mission to campuses and to the world. We want to give our whole and undivided loyalty to God not to erratic, deceitful and mortal people.

Our reform is about the hope, dream and vision for the future. We want to dare to dream these dreams again, because we know for certain that it is possible to achieve them. What is more, yes, we have been there, when the Spirit first gave birth to us. We are sure that the Spirit will not repeat exactly the same thing that took place earlier during the revival. History does not really repeat itself, but each event is unique by itself. We are sure of what the Spirit can do. He can create a new future, freeing us from all these human abuses, corruption and falsehood. He can give us new vision. That is what our reform is all about. For this reason, we have concluded that UBF needs to change, and especially its supreme leader needs to change and practice transparency and honesty about materials and power.



  1. Mark Mederich

    most important is truth, total divulgence (so much hiding, lies, twisting of information has occurred that truth is unknown, except from occasional outside sources): in the meantime only presumption based on Holy Spirit leading can be trusted)

    natives are now ipso facto declared missionaries to the missionaries until missionaries have proven trustworthy by Holy Spirit light to minister alongside natives (notwithstanding any tender need for excessive ‘honor’)

    prophets spoke, Jesus proclaimed, natives must share: for example daily bread reflection is sharing God’s guidance with all, but especially with missionaries who have proven untrustworthy/bound in legalism/unenlightened by Holy Spirit freedom..
    (may Christ the head heal all believers into one body..)

    • Mark Mederich

      what is not openly revealed/declared organizationally(such as finances) must be considered fraudulent (due to past concerns/allegations of abuse) until proven otherwise..

    • Mark Mederich

      ‘We are sure of what the Spirit can do. He can create a new future, freeing us from all these human abuses, corruption and falsehood.’

      These words are too dated now, not just by when written, but by similarity to past historical religious movement struggles..

      i am glad that some have listened to the Spirit; i am sad that others have not (these words are too old, perhaps repeated every decade, but too little heeded by leadership/the organization)

      & those who have espoused similar ideas from the Spirit were assumed to have gotten it from ‘reformers’ & considered rebels (how silly)

      being a realist, one must conclude that perhaps hope is gone: such organizations must be dismantled/reconstructed under the oversight of special receivership (much like Sacred Heart Hospital after too much financial/ethical abuse); yet, is it worth it?

      perhaps it is better to let it disappear into obsolescence & start separately anew (new work is less wasteful, than having to first undo crooked old work:)

  2. Joe Schafer

    Brian, thanks for publishing this. Here are my impressions.

    * The document is well structured and thoughtful. The spelling, grammar, writing style and substance are better than much of the material appearing on ubf.org in 2013.

    * The language used to describe SL will seem harsh to loyalists, but from my perspective it is accurate (I know this from personal observation) and they didn’t mention many of the most scandalous allegations.

    * The problems they identify are spot-on and for the most part are the same ones that the organization still faces today. SL died and now there is no single supreme leader. North American UBF has largely cleaned up its financial accounting to join the ECFA (can’t say this has happened elsewhere). But the other problems they mention still remain.

    * This document was written by Korean missionaries and doesn’t show a lot of awareness of the cultural issues at play. If the nine points had all been addressed to their satisfaction in 2001, the UBF ministry would have still had a strongly Korean flavor and would still have trouble making the jump from an immigrant church to an indigenous movement. But it would have been less oppressive to its members and better able to respond to criticism from the outside.

    • Fully agree with you, Joe, especially at the 4th point. This article shows that ubf has many many problems and the reformers were aware of some of them. But even they almost don’t mention the over 90% Korean essence and content of the organization. If all the reforms miraculously took place in 2001 I believe that 2011 exodus of native members would take place anyway. cmi is a much better and more Christian organization but still for Koreans mostly (only?). World mission is still a blind point of ubf and cmi. The Church and the World don’t need such “missionaries”.

    • I agree with you Vitaly. The aura of cultural superiority and desperate need of people all over the world for the God-sent Korean saviours is still quite prevalent even in the wonderfully-written CMI declaration. It hearkens to the imperialistic-flavoured missionary efforts of western missionaries in the past centuries.

    • Joe Schafer

      Personally, I don’t see much evidence of Korean cultural pride in this document. What I do see is little awareness of how the missionaries’ own culture is affecting their witness. In the “Mission” section, they write:

      “Furthermore, we need to help these missionaries to be able to think and analyze the culture, society, custom and traditions of the nations they went to.”

      When missionaries attempt to analyze the culture of the host country, their judgments tend to be superficial, ethnocentric and misleading. Good missionaries ought to live in the host country for a long time without making those judgments. They need to recognize their status as guests and turn the lens of examination upon themselves, searching their own attitudes to understand how their own culture has shaped them.

      The document makes the common assumption that they (the Christian missionaries and evangelists) possess the truths of the gospel, and their role is to just pass those truths on to others. That assumption, prevalent in modern evangelicalism, deserves to be scrutinized. The gospel does not just flow in one direction, from the evangelist to his target. The gospel flows from Christ to everyone, and among everyone, in all directions. That is what we see in the New Testament. The gospel came first to the Hebraic Jews. But when they tried to pass it along unchanged to the Diaspora Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles, it didn’t work as they planned. The Spirit of God pushed back and exposed their ethnocentrism, and in the process the early Christians were able to break through the barriers of law, gender, culture and social class and come to understand what the gospel was really about.

  3. This document written by the reformers in 2000 is just breathtaking. I can’t read it without tears of joy! This is a remarkable, eloquent and beautiful expression of the gospel Jesus preached. If I were a skilled writer, I would have written this document to describe my thoughts the past two years. Here are some of the gems that stood out to me:

    “Therefore, we maintain that the central key to the Scripture and Christian life is the gospel of grace.”

    “This kind of atmosphere provides a fertile ground for abuse of power by those in el supremo. Even when he sins, often ridiculously lofty theological reasons are attributed to his failings, because people have already made this person a mythic figure. They can no longer look at his true identity as a human being with darkness and all kinds of shortcomings but they look at him with misty eyes that are blurred by their own myth-tinted glasses.”

    “Therefore, we strongly denounce such a practice that blinds people to the true understanding about human nature that the biblical truth teaches us. Too much abuse of power has hurt many people of great integrity, purity and honesty. Many who have devoted their entire youth because of their love for the work of the Spirit have left because of such foolish and ignorant practices of exalting and mythologizing one man beyond what he really is. So, based upon this biblical truth about humanity, we resolutely affirm that every human society, political, military or religious, needs to have a system of checks and balances and of accountability.”

    “Because of his unnecessary egotistic stubbornness, we are often labeled as a “cult,” thus making our future grim. It must be noted that we are not afraid at all to die for the Lord and we are confident that if we are attacked and falsely accused it is because we indeed preached the gospel with a clean conscience. That is why we have given up everything and come to this land. Do not say that we try to avoid suffering for the gospel. But we feel stupid and dumb when we know we suffer because of our own stupidity and arrogance.) But the Spirit, despite his failures and shortcomings, has kept and preserved UBF and made it grow better through adversities.”

  4. Joe Schafer

    Brian, because you asked specific questions, I will give my specific answers.

    “Has UBF been reformed?” No. Small, incremental changes have taken place, but there has been no formal acknowledgement of wrongdoings or willingness to discuss what happened in a transparent and honest way. With few exceptions, the people in charge of ubf today would just prefer to act as though nothing bad ever happened, sweep everything under the rug and move on.

    “Did UBF leaders listen to these issues?” No, they didn’t. SL called the reformers rebels, godless dogs and cockroaches. He claimed that they were persecuting him for preaching the gospel. The fellowship leaders and elders and staff around him were emasculated; they just agreed with him and did his bidding, exercising no leadership of their own and taking no action to check his power, becaue they were afraid. In 2000 I was largely ignorant of what was going on, because I didn’t want to know. Like everyone else, I just went with the flow, like the proverbial dead fish floating downstream (one of SL’s famous analogies). Although I was a fully grown adult (37 years old) at the time, I acted like a child, pretending not to hear and exercising no discernment and washing my hands of everything. Like all the other ubf leaders, I was extremely immature, but I pretended that my immaturity was a kind of maturity.

    “Do the same issues remain today?” No and yes. The organization no longer has a supreme leader. There are some little SLs who try to act like him at the local level. Financial accounting has improved, at least in the United States. But the poor hermeneutics and other problems mentioned in the document still remain.

    “Does UBF need reform?” Yes. Anyone with discernment can see that the organization as a whole, and most of the local chapters, are badly in need of renewal.

    “Is reform possible?” Possible, but unlikely, because members and leaders don’t seem to want it. Many are weary and burned out. Some see a few problems but maintain that things are not so bad. Some are afraid to speak up. Some like things just as they are. Others just want to do their own thing; they won’t think about it and just don’t care. Many of the indigeneous leaders — the people most capable of independent and creative thought, the ones who can think outside the box, and with the greatest level of self awareness and emotional maturity — have already left the ministry and won’t be coming back. They could read the writing on the wall.

    “Will you join in reforming UBF to be a healthy Christian organization?” UBF is a long, long, long way from organizational health, because its leaders are a long, long long way from emotional health and maturity. I will continue to speak my mind, but have no desire to lead a charge within the organization to change it in any way. When the current GD came into office, there seemed to be a brief opportunity for meaningful reform, but that window has been closing fast. Perhaps others are in a position to do something now, but I won’t try to do anything heroic to save UBF from its self-destructive tendencies. To me it looks like a losing proposition, a poor use of my God given resources. Here is something that I wrote recently to one of the elders:

    “…at this point Sharon and I have to be very realistic about the state of UBF and what the future holds. Jesus promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against his Church. But he made no such promises about the UBF organization. If UBF needs to decline even more and enter a period of even greater chaos in order to help its members and prosper the Body of Christ, then that is a sacrifice the Lord is willing to make.”

  5. @Joe: “The gospel does not just flow in one direction, from the evangelist to his target. The gospel flows from Christ to everyone, and among everyone, in all directions.” – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2013/08/20/lets-reform-ubf/#sthash.2pTX0Mrx.dpuf

    It seems that if missionaries (and senior leaders) truly understood and applied this to heart, they would be far less imperialistic, authoritarian, condescending, traditionalistic, legalistic, elitist, exclusivist, superior, oppressive, suffocating, and be far more humble, inclusive, accommodating, and which would translate to being willing to truly listen to and learn from “their sheep.”

    As of now, whenever anyone says anything against UBF or UBF leaders or about Koreans, the pride and ego of some older UBFers (who believe they have the power and ownership of UBF) becomes stirred up to the highest heights. Thus, they come across as irritated, angry, and with attitude of “how dare you,” and “who do you think you are,” while condescendingly patronizing you to your face (thinking they are humble) and then slandering or gossiping about you (in private quarters among the like-minded oligarchy). Likely they do not realize this, but this is more humiliating and nauseating than being spit at, or being kicked in the groin, or punched in the face. (Sorry, I’m on a roll, here!!)

    Am I exaggerating? Is this over the top? Is it just me who feels this way???

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, you are not exaggerating. In my opinion a lot of the behavior that you describe — the attitude that says “how dare you” — is just emotional immaturity. We all start out in life as immature. In a healthy Christian community, that immaturity will get exposed and dealt with over the course of time. But the hierarchical nature of the ubf community allows leaders to insulate themselves from honest, truthful relationships (and sweep conflict under the rug) which keeps them emotionally immature. I’m speaking from personal experience; that’s what happened to me. Immature people can be found anywhere. But the collective immaturity that I’ve seen in ubf leadership circles is greater than anything I’ve encountered in my workplaces at the university and in the government.

    • No Ben, I think you infer a lot from your experiences and insight. You as another Asian can see both sides of the coin more easily maybe than many other non-Koreans. In your case you have embraced the American culture as your own without apparent insult (maybe preference), you married an American (I might add that an American married you).

      The issues faced could cause you to align yourself with the other leaders, but you haven’t and you don’t. You have been willing to cross examine yourself and improve (albeit at your own pace before Jesus, but nonetheless on your way). Many leaders will not change, admit to wrong and acknowledge a junior pointing out some errors. They want to keep the status quo, but then more and more people will leave in droves. It is Christianity we all seek. It is Jesus we are following.

      (When I re-read the document I observed a couple things that can maybe be developed beyond my present words because I had been working on an article but captured too many points that remained undeveloped.)

      They mention competition. Well, this is ingrained since childhood pitting parents against parents and children against children in an ugly display. Competition knows no nation, but unfortunately Koreans undergo a public process for scoring of students for all to see. This separates people socially. It also shames under achievers because they cannot possibly be friends with anyone outside of their league. Also, people are less likely to speak up in public spaces when they are aware that they are far behind many others who can grab attention with ease.

      UBF is no stranger to competition. Competing can be healthy but it seems to define spiritual growth in UBF construct the same as achievements in school define what middle school or high school or university a child goes to. Competing over number of Bible students, successful public memorization, weekly attempts at invitation, faithful attention to daily bread without fail…the list for competing and achievement goes on to higher levels as people seek to pioneer and become somebody famous within the leadership. At this point the vision of/for Christ is lost.

      Another point that was quickly mentioned but not developed in the article was violence. Let’s get this one going. It has only been a couple of years since laws were passed that corporal punishment be taken out of the schools and society over in Korea. That being said, as long as an authority figure can obtain cosent from parents it still occurs.

      Corporal punishment had been a part of normal daily life in many European nations and certainly North America. But, it was removed a long time ago. Korean missionaries have not thought twice about violent acts in many occasions. It has unfortunately been a model of how to handle disobendience and failure to achieve. Do we in UBF condone such practice? Do we agree with the premise for such practice? Violence does not need to be physical, it can also be psychological and emotional.

      Should we act violently because someone did not go fishing? Maybe they failed to faithfully do daily bread? Maybe, they believed they could choose their future spouse outside of UBF? For whatever reason, the actions taken against anyone have not been appropriate.

      All this to say that I don’t think anyone is exaggerating. Senior leaders like Joe, Brian, Ben know a lot already. Many others like Chris, Vitaly, Mark and so on have also seen a lot. Me too, and many others. If we don’t speak up, then this will always be a burning sore on our hearts and conscience.

    • Mark Mederich

      ‘far less imperialistic, authoritarian, condescending, traditionalistic, legalistic, elitist, exclusivist, superior, oppressive, suffocating’
      sounds like enough to choke a horse:)

      pride/ego seem to transform us into fighters for a cause (but are we fighting for the right cause) & defenders (but are we defending the right thing)

  6. Thanks, gc. The (non-physical) “violence” is just as traumatic as being physically beaten up. This “violence” sadly comes in the form of shaming, humiliation, guilt-tripping, fear mongering, debt inducing, etc. The worst result of such unfortunate ongoing violence is that it blocks the gospel/good news of the grace of God (Ac 20:24).

    Competition also says without words that God (and UBF leaders) values you more only if you are more productive, more sacrificial, more committed, more faithful, more fruitful, more conforming to her core values, etc.

    Such horrible ongoing practices in UBF is without a doubt distorting the very core of what Christianity is.

    • Mark Mederich

      i’m realizing that our human immaturities in whatever way expressed toward others, is basically bullying to get our own way or feel better

      perhaps spiritual bullying just happens to be the worst example; at work it seems to be ‘high maintenance people’ who don’t want to suffer so end up making you suffer more

      may God set all of us free from being bullied & bullying others

  7. Joe Schafer

    The title of this post reminds me of something that people of my generation used to say when we were kids. The imaginary conversation goes like this.

    Brian’s title: “Let’s reform UBF.”

    UBF leaders: “Let’s not and say we did.”

    (The Urban Dictionary suggests that “Let’s not and say we did” originated with an episode of The Simpsons during the 1990’s. But we were saying it back in the 70’s.)

    • Yes I remember that phrase. I can’t stand it :)

      In case anyone didn’t realize it, my title was in jest. I’ve stated many times publicly and privately that I don’t seek reform or change in ubf. I’m not against reform; I just don’t believe in it for ubf right now due to the fact that there have been 3 reform attempts, all of which were rejected by mostly the same top leaders.

      Instead of reform or change, I seek redemption. A new ministry has to be built because the old fabric is too worn to have a new patch sewn onto it at this point. The gospel Jesus preached does often spark reform and change. But Jesus’ gospel goes way beyond reform thankfully. When a person is beyond reform, redemption is the answer. Rebirth is what is needed. The seed must die if the plant is to live.

      The declaration of the 2001 ubf reformers really touched me. I was astounded to read the same thoughts the Holy Spirit has taught me in their declaration letter. The letter gives me a tremendous sense of affirmation, something that helps me dearly on my journey of recovery from ubf. Affirmation helps me find reality. So does negation (when I find out I’m wrong about something…yes that happened once :)

  8. I have just left West LA UBF in cal state northridge last month. I have been their for three years (my friend, which got out earlier than me, introduced me to the church when we were freshmen by one of the missionaries. I am now a Junior). For the last two years, everything was ok. I was the drummer there only for the semester and I met some good friends especially my bible teacher (which he had left now).

    Ever since this fall semester, I have been having doubts about what they were teaching. I already go to a church that I have been raised in for my entire life so I knew about God. The thing was in UBF though was, for the last two years, I never paid that much attention to the messages and bible studies because they never held my interest and I would sometimes doze off or my mind drifts off to other things. It wasn’t until they incorporated more bible studies during the week and doing like a small group discussion after the message this year until I started to notice things.

    My main suspension was the talk about “mission” and a lot specific thing in their prayers every time like “help us raise CSUN as a holy nation for you” or “help us Lord to achieve to get 100 Sunday worship service attendees” and their talk in their message about going to our bible teacher for any problem we have that sound weird to me. Also we I was a drummer, I would mainly go home during the summer and the winter and go to my home church or sometimes on the weekends cuz I was a percussion there ( At UBF, I was teaching one of the missionary couple’s son to play drums and now he is the current drummer for that chapter).

    My bible teacher, who is the pianist for that chapter, knew about this and was pretty much beating this idea of commitment and it I either have to commit to UBF or my home church. After thinking about it and hearing from other friends of mine that left UBF, I just decided to pack up my equipment to left. I still see some the member from time to time on campus, and still relatively cool, but that just it. I’m still friend with the many people that left the ministry, and trust me a lot of people left before me for various reasons (mainly men).

    • Thanks nb93. I hope you can find peace, fellowhsip and deeper connection with God in a healthier church than this UBF chapter.

      Yes, UBF wants only people who are fully committed to their ideas and lifestyle. They go so far that they expel you after some years if you don’t want to commit fully, because then you would be a bad example for others who they want to push into that direction (I have experienced this many times).

      The problem with that is they don’t tell it from the beginning. When they invite you, they give the impression that they only want to read the Bible together, that they are an ordinary student church and that not much is required is from your side. Nor do they speak about the other rules and practices required in UBF, like arranged marriage, in the beginning. It’s best to leave any UBF chapter early that does not clearly admit the problems of UBF and actively work on solving these things and reforming itself.

    • The funny thing is that I told my bible teacher about websites like ubfriends, but she gave an excuse about these articles are written by people that left UBF and are spreading rumors.

  9. big bear

    Amen…thank God you saw the truth…please read my new released book, “the year the world ended.” ubf does not recognize the whole body of Christ….to unbalanced…pray for you…call me if like 859 394 8953 text

    • Thank you,

      I thank God for finding the truth about UBF early and also friends of mines that I met in UBF and had already high-tailed out before me.

    • Plus, I am wondering where I can find your book

  10. forestsfailyou

    I wrote about this about a month ago. At the risk of hijacking the conversation here are my thoughts. http://forestsfailyou.wordpress.com/2014/03/31/why-reform-fails/

    • Okay, forests, I will indulge this, but be prepared for a possible assault from others. It’s true that UBF’s previous attempts at reform were not effective until a universal Christian body removed support and recognition. But, I will emphasize something if maybe you were not aware of it. After SL died it took years for JJ to demonstrate that UBF was a “healthy” church organization etc…SL did not care at all. Even my original chapter director emphasized that SL was controversial for many reasons, not least of which, because he did not take notice of his critics. Instead he ignored his critics and look what happened.

      By the time the general Christian community was at the point and timeline that your article discusses UBF chapters were in mourning and grieving. Congregations in many places were shrinking and receding faster than an aging man’s hair line.

      My own original chapter was one of the biggest in my area, but after a 2001/2002 exodus it became a mere shadow of what it once was. Let me make it clear that for all of the native shepherds or sheep who left, there were also Korean missionaries who disagreed with the spiritual environment of UBF and also left.

      Reform in UBF has been ineffective for a number of reasons (which I do not have time or space to write). To mention a few I can fall back on the numbers war. Whenever the leaders get inspired to do something it can often be found in SL’s heritage. Here we are with the personality cult, but what can I say? – the origins of success in UBF methodology have become a historical romanticism of the way we thought we were. In fact, numbers may have been booming in the good ol’days, but methods are highly questionable and even more so in today’s context.

      Do note those speaking up about reform are primarily those not at the top. You have to keep in mind that local/native leaders do not have real authority. They are nothing more than marionettes in which Korean missionaries have been playing with. It is a facade and mere window dressing. A native leader can object to something, but it will rarely go far I am afraid.

  11. forestsfailyou

    One thing I may have failed to note is that one incentive that may be more of a problem than anything is an emphasis on numbers. Archiving a certain number goal can be a great incentive to receive praise, but it may be so great of an incentive that it blinds people to the gospel.

  12. forestsfailyou

    I do want to make it clear that I am in no way defending the notion that reform has or has not happened in UBF. It was more of a response to UBF people who dismiss claims that UBF has not reformed, and others who say UBF has not reformed with neither side presenting any changing incentive structures to justify the statement.

  13. big bear

    Reform and change is healthy for any church. I am not just picking on UBF. JESUS preachs repentance and change through the Holy Spirit. There is much need for UBF to accept the body of Christ and to cherish families as important to the church and to stop demanding people to disown their home churches or to shun their families this is cultic behavior.

  14. big bear

    Nb93…you can get book from me just give me your address…shipping free in us..15.95 or can get on amazon kindle for 3.99…the year the world ended by andrew martin

  15. Hi nb93,

    Welcome to ubfriends :) This virtual community has inadvertently become the “back door” of ubf, a place for anyone confused or struggling or who has left the ministry.

    I first have to ask, is the “93” in your name signifying your birth date? If so, then I feel realllly old :) I graduated from college in 1992!

    Ok back to your thoughts. I want to respond to this one:

    “The funny thing is that I told my bible teacher about websites like ubfriends, but she gave an excuse about these articles are written by people that left UBF and are spreading rumors.”

    Ha! That is SUCH A LIE! This website was started by UBF LEADERS :) Who? Well me (BrianK) and JoeS mainly, along with Henoch, and others. Back in 2010 we had a team of ubf leaders including “second gens”, including Koreans. I was still chapter director of Detroit ubf. Everything *seemed* wonderful. We had some good discussions, BenT and I were not overly involved, and we had comments from Sarah Barry herself, such as this comment by Sarah:

    “Thank you, Joe for launching a thought-provoking discussion on “House Church or Family.” I especially appreciate those who shared comments. Our comments come from our own experience, plus our understanding of the Scripture. Whereas the Belgic confession and church history give us some help, Brian and Dr. Bill’s comments especially made me think about what the Bible says about the church and family. I did a google search on house church and some very interesting things came up. “House Church” is certainly not a unique UBF term. Maybe the way we use it is different from the way that others use it, but I found that everyone is different.”

    ubfriends was a nice, comfy community of ubf people. John Armstrong submitted an article for us about “kingdom of priests”. We had several good articles submitted by ubf leaders, back in August 2010 for example.

    So NO, ubfriends was NOT started by bitter former evil members of ubf. NO, our article are not “written by people that left UBF and are spreading rumors”! We are/were ubf leaders.

    The most viscous social element I have ever experienced is the ubf rumor mill. I’ve never come across such a viral, demeaning, wicked, gossip-filled interaction as the ubf rumor mill. If anything, that is what pushed us ubf leaders to change the nature of ubfriends over the past 4 years.