Critique My Ephesians Sermon


Based on Ephesians 2:11-22

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians makes me feel like an ant. Here I am, walking around on the earth, dealing with the countless pressures of my everyday life. Projects at work that are running late. Debts that need to be paid. Things around the house that need to be fixed. Paying attention to how my wife and children are doing. Worries about our aging parents. Worries about this church, managing the building and wanting this congregation to prosper. I’m like an ant in  rainstorm, getting pelted with huge raindrops. My little ant-world is flooding; I’m up to my neck in water, and I’m about to get swept away. When I try to pray, the only words that come to mind are:

God, what am I supposed to do?

My terror is mixed with nagging feelings of guilt, because many of these problems are of my own doing. I’ve been making a mess out of life. There are so many things that I should have done but didn’t do, and so many things I did that I shouldn’t have done. I wish I could go back in time 10, 20, or 30 years and fix up all the mistakes I made. But in this life, there are no do-overs. So I’m up to my neck in problems, and if God did nothing to help me, I suppose it would serve me right. And when I try to speak to God, again the only words that come out are:

God, what am I supposed to do? Help me out here. Please tell me what you want me to do to become the person that you want me to be.

If the Apostle Paul were a life coach, he might say: “Where do you want to be 5,10 or 15 years from now? Understand your passions, goals and ambitions. Figure out where you want to be and take some baby steps in that direction.  Go for it! Make it happen! And don’t forget to ask for God’s help because, as the Bible says, ‘God helps those who help themselves.’”

I’m joking, of course. The Bible doesn’t say, “God helps those who help themselves.” But it might as well say that, because that’s how many of us have been taught to think. We’ve learned to approach life with the attitude that “If anything good is going to happen here, I’ll have to make it happen. I’m only a little tiny ant, but doggone it, I’m going to be a hardworking and industrious ant!”

Of course,  God doesn’t want us to be lazy. He wants to bless the work of our hands. But all too often, we envision God sitting on the sidelines and assume it’s up to us to move the ball. This DIY mentality has seeped into the foundations of the church and our conceptions of church leadership. As a pastor, it often seemed to me that the members of my church weren’t doing enough, that the project was failing for lack of effort, and I needed to motivate people to get them more involved. One of my favorite authors, Eugene Peterson, put it this way (Practice Resurrection, p. 118):

Americans talk and write endlessly about what the church needs to become, what the church must do to be effective. The perceived failures of the church are analyzed and reforming strategies prescribed. The church is understood almost exclusively in terms of function – what we can see. If we can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. Everything is viewed through the lens of pragmatism. Church is an instrument that we have been given to bring about whatever Christ commanded us to do. Church is a staging ground for getting people motivated to continue Christ’s work.

This way of thinking – church as human activity to be measured by human expectations – is pursued unthinkingly. The huge reality of God already at work in all the operations of the Trinity is benched on the sideline while we call timeout, huddle together with our heads bowed, and figure out a strategy by which we can compensate for God’s regrettable retreat into invisibility. This is dead wrong.

Why is this view wrong? Because the Father, Son and Spirit are not sitting on the sidelines. They are with us on the field calling plays, moving the ball and running interference. They are engaged in many kinds of vigorous activity that we are usually unaware of, because we are engrossed in the detailed minutia of our ant-lives and ant-colonies; we have no idea what God is really up to.

That’s what Ephesians is about. In this amazing letter, Paul doesn’t say much about any of the specific problems in the Ephesian church. We know the church had problems; some are mentioned in Revelation chapter 2. But in this letter, Paul pulls back the curtain to show them what’s been going on invisibly behind the scenes. He brings them to a new place and a new perspective which he calls “the heavenly realms.” That phrase, “the heavenly realms,” appears in this book five times. It’s a signpost that points to a huge paradigm shift in our understanding of the Christian life. While we are crying out, “God, what am I supposed to do?” God wants to make the scales fall from our eyes to see what he has already done.  He wants to wake us up and shake us up to an amazing new awareness of who we already are and what we already have.

Listen to Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:18-19:

18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

Now I’m not saying that God doesn’t care about the details of our lives. Yes, he does. But God wants us to know that he’s up to something big. How big? So big that it cannot possibly get any bigger. The plan starts with our redemption. But then it extends to the whole church, to all of humanity, to the whole created world, and to the entire cosmos.

Listen to Paul’s words in 1:7-10:

7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

He’s talking about a great cosmic unification. Perhaps you think it sounds Hinduish and New Agey.  “We will we become one with God and plants and rocks and planets.” No, it’s not like that at all. We aren’t going to lose our personhood by getting dissolved into a nebulous pantheistic soup. I will still be me; you will still be you; and God will still be God. But we will be together in the kind of community that God intends, a human community where we have harmonious and loving relationships with one another, with the created world, and with God himself. God is a Trinity. That means he is three distinct persons – Father, Son and Spirit – with their own distinct individuality and personhood, tied together in bonds of love that are so tight that they are “indwelling” and actually living inside of one another. From everlasting to everlasting, the Father, Son and Spirit have been experiencing a deep, supernatural intimacy. As Christians, we are being drawn into that family, into those relationships, to participate in that indwelling to whatever extent we can as finite human creatures. And as human beings, we are being restored to our proper role, the purpose for which we were created, to be rulers over the earth. Not tyrants who exploit the world for selfish purposes. We are collectively being remade into the race that God always wanted us to be, to serve the world as his regents in his own image, managing with his character and his authority.

At the center of this cosmic unification, there stands one person whose name is Jesus Christ. He is fully God and fully man. He is both the Creator and a part of the creation. He is equally at home in heaven and on earth. By virtue of who he is and what he has done, he is the unique focal point of God’s big plan. In him, all people and all things in heaven and on earth are coming to head. And to a large extent, they already have (Col 1:15-20).

When we imagine the kingdom of God, we tend to think of what will happen in the future, in the end times, at the great apocalypse, at Jesus’ second coming. But the surprising thing about Ephesians is how rarely Paul uses the future tense. Most of what he writes is in the past and in the present. That word “apocalypse” doesn’t mean destruction. The literal meaning is revelation or unveiling. The apocalypse will not be a demolishing of the earth but a full unveiling of the reality that Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus has already become King. By virtue of his life, death, resurrection and ascension, he is already sitting at the right hand of the Father which means he is equal to the Father. He is ruling the heavens and the earth right now. But at present, his kingship is visible only to his followers, those who have eyes of faith. After the great apocalypse, when “faith becomes sight,” the reality of his kingdom will be seen by everyone.

But Jesus has already become King. And the glory of his coming kingdom is so powerful, so dynamic, that it’s bursting out of the future and breaking into now. It’s like a wrinkle in time, a time warp. That’s how we can understand the language of Paul when he writes about the future kingdom in the past and in the present. Through the resurrection of Jesus, a cosmic wormhole has opened up connecting the end-times to the present; the glorious future world is pouring into our world.

Now where in this world can we see the glorious future reality pouring in? The surprising answer, according to Paul, is in the church. The gathering believers in Jesus Christ is the kingdom “ground zero.” This is where the evidence of Christ’s rule becomes evident. From our perspective, that is extremely hard to believe. The church — any church – is full of ordinary people with ordinary problems.  But Paul tells us that in the church, there’s far more going on than meets the eye. Paul wants to pull back the curtain to show us that what goes on here in the church – more specifically, what goes on in the church in terms of our relationships – our relationships with one another – this is not just a preview of the kingdom of God; this is the actual future kingdom of God breaking into the present. By God’s help, we can see that, if he gives us eyes to see.

With that background, let’s listen to today’s passage, Ephesians 2:11-22:

11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

In this passage, Paul is saying: “Look at this amazing thing that has happened. Jews and Gentiles have come together in the church!” More specifically, it was the Jewish followers of Jesus Christ who opened their community to receive Gentiles without requiring them to become Jews first. If you think that’s a small matter, think again. To embrace Gentiles, the Jewish believers had to overcome their deeply ingrained tribalistic tendencies and their feelings of religious rightness. They had to put aside the customs that they cherished, the laws that defined their personal identity, and say to the Gentiles: “We welcome you as full members of our family, not on the basis of anything that you have done, but purely on the basis of what Christ has done for you.”

This surprising marriage of Jews and Gentiles didn’t just start a new tribe. Paul says that it created a new kind of humanity. A whole new way of being human. And even though the awkward and messy details of this cross-cultural marriage were still being worked out, Paul says that it had already taken place. The union took place in the flesh, in the physical body, of Jesus Christ, as he was nailed to the cross. Because it was on the cross that he put to death the requirements of the law.

In these verses, Paul makes the surprising claim that the law – God’s law, which was given to Israel through Moses on Mount Sinai – created hostility between Jews and Gentiles and erected a wall, an insurmountable barrier, which had kept them apart. This is true. Because of their law, Jews were compelled to separate themselves from non-Jews. They had to avoid all physical contact. Jews could never have fellowship or eat with Gentiles, because Gentiles’ food and utensils and homes and bodies were defiled. For Jews, the mere thought of eating with Gentiles would have made them feel physically ill.

Modern research in the fields of moral psychology and neuroscience has shown that there are actual physiological reasons for this. There’s a fascinating book on this subject by a psychologist from the University of Virginia (The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt). The book describes in scientific terms how human beings construct their belief systems, how we make moral and religious decisions, how we decide right from wrong. Most of us suffer from “the rationalist delusion.” We think that our moral judgments are well reasoned and thought out. We believe that, before arriving at a position, we carefully consider the arguments for and against and then come down on the side that has the better evidence. But that is not what people do. The vast majority of the time, we make moral decisions very quickly, in a split second, shooting from the hip. We make our choices based on emotion and gut instinct formed through our experiences, relational commitments and tribal affiliations. After we make our choice, the rational parts of our brains start working to construct arguments to reassure ourselves and to persuade others that our instinctive judgments are correct. It has been demonstrated over and over, through laboratory experiments and brain scans, that moral judgment and rational justification are two separate processes.

There’s a part of the brain called the gustatory cortex which is responsible for smell and taste. If an animal happens upon something that looks like food, the animal pokes around and smells it to decide whether it’s fresh or rotten, good or gross, yummy or yucky. The gustatory cortex is where that information is processed. And in human beings, that’s where most of our moral decisions are made. Judgments about whether a behavior is right or wrong are closely related to our sense of whether something is delicious or disgusting. And it’s related to our sense of personal cleanliness and hygiene. If we see a behavior that we think is wrong, it causes a physical sensation that tells us it feels wrong. When we see others do it, it makes us think that they are disgusting. And if we do something wrong, it makes us feel dirty. Under certain conditions, it’s possible to override the gustatory cortex and make judgments using the more rational portions of the brain, but that’s not easy. That kind of judgment is inherently risky; it takes enormous amounts of mental energy, so most of the time we just operate on instinct.

In fact, studies have shown that you can mess with people’s moral judgments by exposing them to bad smells. A researcher from Stanford performed experiments where he stood next to a garbage can and asked people to fill out questionnaires about morality. The garbage can was completely empty. But part of the time, he sprayed the can with fart spray to make it smell bad. People exposed to fart spray were harsher in their moral judgments than those who were not exposed.

You know those dispensers of hand sanitizer that you see in doctor’s offices and hospitals and supermarkets? In another set of experiments, subjects became temporarily more conservative just by standing next to hand sanitizer.

So how does this relate to the Bible? If you look at the Old Testament law – for example, all those regulations in the book of Leviticus – some of the laws are about what we would call ethical or moral behavior. Alongside of them are rules about what foods the Israelites should and should not eat. And rules about cleanliness, health, hygiene, sexual behavior, and so on. All these rules are mixed together; to the Jewish mind, they were all part of the same law. And when God spoke these commands, he didn’t give them high-level arguments to help them understand why. Much of the time, he said things like, “Don’t eat that; it’s detestable. Don’t do that; it’s foul and corrupt. Don’t pollute yourselves with that kind of behavior.”

In giving Israel the law, God knew what he was doing. God didn’t give them rationally consistent reasons why they should keep the law, because that’s not how human beings normally operate. He was planting instincts, deep gut-level reactions to help them keep the law automatically. And he was planting instincts to keep his chosen people together by keeping them apart from the other nations, so they would not fall into idol worship. When Jews saw how people from other nations lived, the foods they ate, and so on, the Jews instinctively felt the Gentiles were unclean and turned away from them in disgust. After being steeped in the law for many generations, that law became deeply embedded in the Jew’s national psyche. It continually reinforced their tribalism, their sense of collective rightness and purity and became an insurmountable barrier to forming relationships with Gentiles. That barrier, the one law that most clearly drew the dividing line, was the practice of circumcision. To the Jews, circumcision was not simply a custom. It was their identity card, their badge of citizenship that set a clear boundary who was in and who was out.

God’s law put up a wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles. But when Jesus arrived, that wall of hostility started to crumble. During his three-year earthly ministry, Jesus repeatedly violated the moral instincts that had marginalized lots of people (tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, etc.) and pushed them to the edges of society. These people were considered repulsive, but Jesus embraced them. He ate with them and welcomed them to his family, his circle of followers. By their fleshly experience and contact with Jesus, these people experienced the grace of God that washed them clean and returned them to the fold of God’s people. And according to Paul, when Jesus suffered on the cross, in his body he fulfilled and set aside  the requirements of the law. Paul says that, in a mysterious way that we don’t fully understand, Jesus on the cross subsumed into himself all Jews and non-Jews – in other words, all of humanity – and in his humanity made them one with him, and in his divinity brought them into fellowship with God. His death on the cross became a birth, the birth of a new race, a new kind of humanity, where the tribalistic tendencies and rules of the old humanity died and no longer apply.

This new humanity becomes visible starting in the book of Acts. The turning point comes in Acts chapter 10, when the Apostle Peter has a vision while he is praying on a roof. A sheet comes down from heaven, and on this sheet were all kinds of non-kosher animals which Peter instinctively regarded as offensive. A voice says to him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” Peter reacts with disgust: “No way! I have never eaten anything unclean.” Perhaps he thought that God was testing him to see if he would keep the law. Then God said to Peter: “Do not call anything unclean that I have made clean.” That message came to Peter loud and clear. Shortly thereafter, Peter was summoned to the home of a God-fearing Gentile named Cornelius. Peter preached the gospel to Cornelius, and all the members of his household were baptized, and Peter ate with them. By the leading of the Holy Spirit, Peter defied his deeply rooted instincts and made the startling decision to recognize Gentiles as God’s people without circumcision, by their faith in Jesus alone.

By the power of Jesus’ cross, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Jews and Gentiles dropped their tribalistic hostility and came together in a single body. In verse 19, Paul calls them fellow members of God’s household. What is God’s household? God’s household is the Trinity: Father, Son and Spirit. The second person of the Trinity, in his humanity, has now subsumed the Jews and Gentiles and brought them into the inner sanctum of the Trinity, to participate in that incredibly intimate everlasting fellowship.

And in verses 20-22, Paul switches to the imagery of architecture. We, the diverse people of God, are coming together like stones and bricks, forming a new building, with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone. That building is a holy temple, the new dwelling of God, the place that God calls home and makes presence known on earth as he is in heaven.

Each of the three metaphors Paul uses for the church — the body of Christ, the household of God, and the temple of God – implies a very high level of unity, integration and interdependence. He is not talking about a congregation of Jewish Christians over here, and a separate congregation of Gentile Christians over there. He is talking about loving, intimate personal relationships forming between adversaries, people who otherwise would never in a million years be together. Wherever and whenever we allow Jesus to override our tribalistic instincts, to put aside our differences and come together to worship and fellowship in the person of Christ – wherever these intimate relationships are forming in the church – that  is where the glorious future is pouring into the present, and the kingdom of God is most clearly in our midst.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…”


  1. Thanks for sharing this solid 4 star sermon publicly Joe. My mind is exploding with ideas and thoughts and comments, all of which deepen my fascination for the gospel.

    I was a little put off by the addition of the question/answer to introduce the sermon, but I quickly got over that after reading on.

    Your excellent point about the wall of hostility deserves more discussion. My first question would be: Why would we try to obey the Law and thus rebuild the wall of hostility? Acts 10 leads me to believe the entire Law was only a foreshadow. Acst 15 confirms it once and for all. I pity the Gentile who tries to obey what Jews could not.

    • Joe Schafer

      Thanks, Brian. I’ll remove the Q&A at the beginning.

    • Joe Schafer

      And regarding the Law: I agree with you. The distinction between gospel and law deserves a whole lot more discussion. I think we have barely scratched the surface.

  2. Bravo, Joe. I love your sermon. It explains without preaching what we all need to do as Christ followers. My thought and hope is that many UBF leaders and regular UBFers may read it and digest it.

    Your explanation of Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind regarding moral judgments and rational justifications is worth the price of admission (reading your sermon).

    I think you are aware that you are promoting or advocating for N.T. Wright’s (and others) NPP (New Perspective on Paul) view of justification as ecclesiology (Jews and Gentiles being united together), in contrast to the Reformed view of justification as soteriology. Maybe my non-scholarly perspective is a cop out, but rather than choosing between the two, I embrace both, with an inclination toward the latter, while embracing the former.

    btw (in contrast to Brian), I actually liked the questions at the beginning. It was cute and funny, creative and instigating, and it sparked an interest and a curiosity to immediately want to read the rest of your post.

  3. Joe Schafer

    Ben, thanks for your positive feedback. I’m glad you liked the Q&A at the beginning, but when I delivered the sermon I didn’t say that, so I’ll leave it off for now.

    I’ve learned a lot from Wright and NPP, but that’s not really what influenced this sermon.

    The gospeling in this sermon is rooted in the very ancient teaching of recapitulation. Recapitulation (from which we get the word “recap”) predates substitutionary atonement. It was how some of the earliest church fathers, including Irenaeus and Athanasius, explained the gospel. It has been well preserved in Eastern Orthodox churches but largely forgotten by evangelicals.

    I don’t think that recapitulation is always the best way to preach the gospel. But neither is substitutionary atonement. Both of these are metaphors; they point to a greater reality beyond themselves. And both are useful for understanding the Scripture.

    Honestly, when I tried to understand Ephesians just from a standpoint of substitutionary atonement, I didn’t get very far. Yes, I could understand some parts of chapters 1 and 2. But the overall flow, the big picture, of what Paul was saying didn’t start to register with me until I began to think about recapitulation.

    Everyone in my congregation has heard the message of substitutionary atonement over and over, and for many listeners it has grown stale. Trying to force everything in the Bible, or even the Pauline epistles, into a framework of SA just doesn’t work for me anymore; it seems disrespectful to the text. Is SA biblically supported? Yes. Is it the overarching paradigm that unlocks all the mysteries of the Bible? No way.

    • Joe Schafer

      Another major influence on the gospeling in this sermon are the views of evangelization and missions described by Lesslie Newbigin in The Open Secret and elsewhere.

    • Joe, Can you briefly explain what recapitulation means? I don’t think that I have ever read or heard of it before.

    • Joe Schafer

      Very briefly: The word recapitulate is the opposite of decapitate. Decapitate means to cut the head off. Recapitulate means to put the head on. Or to replay, summarize and represent.

      The main difference between substitutionary atonement and recapitulation is that SA emphasizes that Christ did something (suffer) FOR (instead of) us; recapitulation emphasizes that he did something (die and rise) WITH us. SA is mainly about replacement; recapitulation is about co-identification.

      Imagine you’re watching the Superbowl. There’s one second left in the game. Your team is down by 2 points. They have the ball. It’s fourth down, and the ball on the 50 yard line. What do they do? Of course, they bring out someone to kick a very long field goal. The entire game now rests on this one man. It’s up to him to make the goal. The entire game is summed up or represented or recapped in a single player and a single play. But if he makes the field goal, the game is won, and everyone on the team wins; they all share in the victory, because they are his teammates, and he is on their team.

      In a similar way, Jesus carried in himself the fate and destiny of all humanity when he died on the cross. The old humanity (the one from Adam) died on the cross with him, and a new humanity was birthed when he rose from the dead.

      One reason that I like this view is that it helps me to understand why Paul so often emphasizes being “in Christ.” Unless SA is taught really, really well, the idea of being united with Christ and one with Christ seems like an addendum to SA rather than the main point. In SA, salvation and eternal life are sometimes talked about as if they are extrinsic to God himself, which doesn’t make any sense.

  4. Joe, Regarding SA, my thought is that in my 3 decades of UBF life, SA came across to me (and others as well, I suspect) as dry, formulaic, assumed, impersonal, dry, forced upon you to accept without question, etc, so much so that my response is, “O yeah, so Jesus died in my place. So, what’s the big deal? So, what else is there?”

    My thought is that SA was just so poorly done, taught, presented and preached, so much so that Jesus dying for me, or Jesus dying in my place, just does not touch or move me (and others). It was certainly not meaningful or moving in any substantial or significant way.

    But when I began to read systematic theology and biblical theology, SA now gets to my core being. It touches me deeply and intimately, so much so, that SA is not a teaching or a doctrine that I must be forced to accept, or else… Rather, it is felt and perceived personally and intimately as the mysterious and unfathomable sheer love of God for me, in spite of me.

    That’s what I think UBF has lost or assumed or both, and that’s why I think some/many UBF people are both inwardly and outwardly tired and discouraged, habitual and predictable, angry and irritated at others (such as UBFriends!). Grace is assumed, but lacking in power to genuinely love those who are not like UBF.

    • In UBF (and churches at large) SA is often (not always) taught/presented in non-evocative ways, because we can’t wait to get to “feeding sheep,” or “social justice,” or “friendship,” or “just do something, anything,” etc.

  5. Joe, I personally love your sermons. You really should put up the Wrath of God one that you gave at our church.

    Was this given to the New Hope church community as well?

    • Joe Schafer

      No, John, I didn’t give the wrath-love sermon at New Hope yet.

      Do you have it online at your website?

  6. Thanks, Joe, I think it is the first time I am beginning to understand “recapitulation,” as you explained it. I have to say I agree though I need to ruminate on it.

    As you said, the key is to teach SA (or any other teaching or biblical doctrine) well. “Parroting” (thinking we are practicing “imitation”) has not, does not and will not work.

  7. Joe Schafer

    Ben, I have a question for you. From a standpoint of SA, how would you understand Colossians 1:24? The ESV says:

    “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church…”

    In SA, the idea of us actively sharing in the suffering of Christ is often downplayed, ignored, or inserted as an afterthought, because it seems to interfere with the doctrines of grace. But Paul talks about it often. How would you explain it?

  8. I heard John Piper preach on Col 1:24 a few years ago, and I do not quite remember exactly what he said.

    I am a firm believer in SA. I definitely need to learn how to teach and preach it well (not dry or forced). I am especially touched by the way Tim Keller preaches SA in tremendously innovative and creative ways that is faithful to the biblical text, such as when I heard almost all of his sermons in Genesis.

    I do not believe that the proper teaching of SA should ever downplay the active suffering of Christ in the believer. The doctrine of SA should never ever cause any Christian to think, “Because Jesus suffered for my sins, therefore I do not need to suffer.”

    Since Paul’s primary sentiment is love and gratitude for what Jesus has done for him (Gal 2:20b), then his active suffering of Christ in his own body is simply a response out of thanksgiving and love for Christ and for Christ’s redemptive purpose for the church and the cosmos.

    • Joe Schafer

      From a standpoint of SA, I still think that Col 1:24 is hard to explain. Paul literally says that something is lacking in Christ’s suffering. (The NIV obscures that difficult aspect, but ESV makes it clear).

  9. Perhaps there may be many different ways in explaining what is lacking or deficient in Christ’s sufferings.

    Are you saying or suggesting that what is deficient is that which we Christians need to fill up and make up for what is deficient, as though the blood of Christ was inadequate in redeeming the cosmos?

    • Joe Schafer

      In terms of us being reconciled to God, I believe that the suffering of Christ was sufficient. But looking at this passage, Paul appears to be saying that he was called to active participation in the suffering of Christ to accomplish something mysterious that hadn’t been done yet, something that involved uniting the Jews and Gentiles in the church. I find Colossians 1 hard to understand from a standpoint of SA. But it reads very easily from a standpoint of recapitulation.

    • I think your answer is similar to what Piper said about Col 1:24, and he is a firm proponent of SA. UBF would also agree with your answer.

    • Ben, I hope one day soon we all can stop saying such nonsense: “UBF would also agree with your answer.”

      We all know there is no documented ubf teachings or doctrinal statements that we could verify or deny your claim. I suspect a Korean ubf missionary would simply shut down and be silent or just dismiss the discussion and move on to something else. None of us who have been in ubf even more than 20 or 30 years can tell clearly what ubf as an organization would state in regards to atonement. Who knows what the Koreans in ubf think? We’ll never know and they don’t care– as long as some sheep are “accepting God’s purpose to be a kingdom of priests and holy nation and are fishing sheep and marrying by faith and accepting God’s will for them to be a shepherd for college students.”

  10. After a decade of UBF, when I see the word “sermon” and I tend to want stop reading. But this one I read fully on my phone on my way to work and found very interesting and helpful. I just wonder how UBF members think about such sermons?

    • Joe Schafer

      Thank you, Chris. I wonder the same thing.

    • I have several facetious answers that I should probably just keep to myself. (Chuckling to myself.)

    • Chris, UBF USA (maybe unlike German UBF) predominantly uses the word “message(s)” and rarely uses the word “sermon.”

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, please share your facetious answers. If UBF members don’t want to say anything, then please speak on their behalf.

    • Ben, you’re right. In Germany UBF also prefers “Botschaft” (message) over “Predigt” (sermon).

  11. Maybe it is not facetious, but here goes: It doesn’t really follow the Bible passage verse by verse. It is “all over the place.” It is too confusing “for sheep.” It has all kinds of human speculation (human thinking). People just become high-minded when they study such kinds of Bible study.

    I think basically, it is the already decided before hand “moral judgment” (its yucky Bible study, not yummy “UBF Bible study material”) using their own “rational justification” to support it.

    • Where’s the question sheet? You can’t study the bible without an approved question sheet!

  12. Joe Schafer

    That’s what I thought you would say. Not Bible based. Full of complicated human thinkings. And so on.

    After worshiping only in a ubf environment for 30 years, I distinctly remember what it was like when I began to attend non-ubf services and listen to non-ubf preaching. I felt a negative physiological reaction to all the aspects that were not ubf-ish. The music. The clothing. The preaching style. The prayers. Although I was intellectually aware of my reactions and consciously fought against them, they were extremely difficult to overcome. I hated the fact that I was reacting that way, but I just could not help it; a steady stream of irrational negative judgments kept running through my mind. It took several months before my system was purged and I was free from the instinctive negative reactions.

    And now it’s the opposite. I have instant allergic reactions whenever I encounter ubf-style teaching and preaching, ubf-style prayer, and so on. I believe that my new reactions are based on genuine, well-reasoned convictions that I have developed through a long process of reading, thinking, evaluating, and conversing with people on this website and elsewhere. But they also have a strong instinctive, emotional component. They still come from the gustatory cortex. I just can’t escape being human.

  13. Joe, I can’t speak on behalf of UBFers but I will make some generalizations. On my behalf, I liked the sermon because it pieces together various parts of the Christian experience and biblical concepts, ones which often perplex many Christians, in a somewhat cohesive manner. Of course, none of our articulations of eternal, biblical matters are crystal clear, but what you said about the trinity, a new humanity, eschatalogical matters, our humanness and the OT law appeared to me to be well connected and thoughtfully put together. Hence, I liked it and it resounded with me on a personal level that will hopefully carry over into my corporate experience with the body.

    In terms of general UBF reactions, I can only speak from the point of view of the Chicago chapter because this is where I’ve spent the majority of my time. I would venture to say that if you preached this message to a typical Sunday congregation in Chicago, most would receive this well. We’ve actually recently studied Ephesians and many of these cosmic themes were surprisingly communicated well from the pulpit. I could say more about how Ephesians shaped our congregational mindset, but perhaps that would be a slight digression. Anyway, I’m sure most would find the analogies and fart spray study you cited humorous. I’m also sure that some would zone out on the part of the sermon when you talked about how we rationalize our moral judgments. Some would complain of it being akin to “postmodern pontifications”. From my end, I especially like this part because you were able to present a plausible viewpoint on the OT law which I had never thought of before. I also think that many would like the personalized story you gave in the beginning.

    The big, and it is big, negative generalization I would say is that many in UBF, especially the leadership, would find this sermon self-affirming. You said,

    “Wherever and whenever we allow Jesus to override our tribalistic instincts, to put aside our differences and come together to worship and fellowship in the person of Christ – wherever these intimate relationships are forming in the church – that is where the glorious future is pouring into the present, and the kingdom of God is most clearly in our midst.”

    Many in Chicago would say we’re doing exactly this. Look at how Americans and Koreans are co-working together; this is not done in other churches and has even surprised some missiologists who have visited our church, so we are very special (this is what one leader, almost verbatim, stated to me). I won’t deny that I have some good, genuine friendships as well as co-working relationships across the racial divide. But I would say that the most damning thing about UBF is that we don’t understand that it is not primarily a race issue that we’re dealing with, but a different kind of social aspect; we are deeply tribalistic in terms of spiritual practices. So much so that those who are different, in a religious sense, are often marginalized, seen as rebellious or simply ignored. Perhaps this is beginning to change. But every sermon I hear always affirms that what UBF is doing is exactly what is taught in the Bible. We cannot see this huge blind spot, imo.

  14. Excellent comment, Dave. I think you express my sentiment in every paragraph, especially your final paragraph: “But I would say that the most damning thing about UBF is that…we are deeply tribalistic in terms of spiritual practices. …every sermon I hear always affirms that what UBF is doing is exactly what is taught in the Bible. We cannot see this huge blind spot, imo.” – See at:

    This tribalistic, sectarian “huge blind spot” hinders unity, friendship, trust, humility, and breeds an unfounded spirit of superiority about oneself and often ugly condescension toward others. Perhaps “huge blind spot” is a gross understatement.

    • Dr. Ben, for sure, this is what gets in the way of real friendship. If we’re constantly measuring each other by how many hours we’re spending feeding sheep, how spiritual our testimonies sound and so forth there will always be fluctuations of feelings of superiority and inferiority toward others. For the longest time the unspoken sentiment was that if you are not feeding sheep or writing weekly testimonies then you don’t belong in UBF. You always felt unsure of others motives, whether they were simply sizing you up or genuinely trying to have a real conversation. We desperately wanted authentic relationships with one another but were hindered by this stupid wall of ill-defined duties. That’s beginning to change a bit these days but the feelings still linger.

      On a ministry to ministry level, interestingly, these days I get the sense that the individual as well as collective feeling of superiority that we once had toward other ministries is slowly beginning to wane. Perhaps it’s the result of some our staff members going to legitimate seminaries and coming into contact with elite church staff or maybe it’s the advent of high speed internet and social media which have provided a plethora of resources and wholesome sermons to learn from. It’s been made obvious to us through a number of avenues that our bible knowledge and church practice leaves something to be desired. So I think we are more prone to be a bit more humble toward other churches and their respective callings. But at the same time, I still sense an attitude which says, “ok, you’re laboring for the Lord as well, but don’t bother me”.

    • Good points, David.

      When you wrote “you always felt unsure of others motives”, another memory came into my mind, namely that I felt even unsure of my own motives. The reason for this were the rules and regulations and coerced obedience. Sometimes I did not know whether I attended a meeting because I loved the others and wanted to have fellowship with them, or because I wanted to show obedience and “deny myself”, or whether I just wanted to avoid all the inevitable foofaraw that was to be expected when I missed even once. (In fact once my marriage was cancelled as a consequence.) So it was often a strange and impure mixture of all these motives, even if I wanted to have pure motives. But I also suspected that others could not have pure motives of love either, when they were talking about obedience so much. How can you be sure about your own motives when you are not given the possibility to do things voluntarily? In fact, I very rarely saw other members do anything voluntarily, because the mandatory things were already so demanding and time-consuming that nobody could even think of doing something on top of that. Did others here have similar feelings about their own motives?

    • Joe Schafer

      Chris asked, “Did others here have similar feelings about their own motives?”

      Absolutely. This was one of my biggest inner struggles. The social environment of ubf (especially in Chicago) was a pressure cooker. Under the leadership of SL, everyone felt constant pressure to do all the things that were expected of the model ubf disciple. Doing those things would earn you a steady stream of praise. Not doing them would earn you looks of disapproval, rebukes from the pulpit, Skokie training, being gossiped about, etc. They had at their disposal all the tools of an honor-shame culture and they used them very, very effectively. In that kind of environment, you have little or no chance to experience the freedom of doing something simply because you love God and others. In other words, you have little chance of growing into a mature, well integrated, self-motivated disciple.

      I always sensed that this was a big problem. Once I brought this up during one-to-one Bible study with SB. The response that I got was, “I don’t think we should worry too much about our motives.” My wife’s experience was similar. We were told, “Stop harboring useless thoughts and worries about yourself. Just do it.” We heard that message again and again. In the short term, it was expedient for getting these done. In the long term, it stunted our faith and relationship with God.

  15. Joe Schafer

    David, thank you for a very interesting and insightful comment. I’m glad that your recent study of Ephesians was better than usual. I could say something snarky, like, “When Bible study has been really awful, there’s nowhere to go but up.” Okay, I just said it.

    Seriously, though, it’s been a long time since I’ve heard anything good coming from traditional UBF pulpits. (That excludes West Loop, Hyde Park, …) In the current climate, in which relationships which have been strained almost to the breaking point, it’s very hard — actually impossible — to carry out an effective teaching and preaching ministry. For as long as I can remember, the mindset of UBF leaders has been to treat Bible study — not the Scripture itself, but the act of engaging in UBF-style Bible study — as a magic cure for everything. Got relationship problems? Study the Bible. Ministry falling apart because people are leaving? Study the Bible. Newspapers publishing articles on abuse going on in your ministry? Go back to the Bible.

    Eventually it dawned on me that Bible study becomes ineffective when the people in the room have been burying all their problems and treating one another like crap. On the rare occasions when I’ve poked around on the Chicago website to see what the messengers have been saying, I haven’t seen any visible improvement. (Sorry, putting comments in a message about how Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty is standing up for biblical values doesn’t quicken my spirit right now.)

    Perhaps your relationships with Chicago leaders are better than mine. You may be in a better position than I am to hear what they are saying. But when you’ve known people for 30+ years, and they make it clear to you again and again by their words and actions that they don’t care a whit what you think, and unless you are willing to keep quiet and keep attending their meetings and supporting their events on their terms with their agenda you should just disappear — well, in that kind of relational environment, it’s hard to listen to their messages and think that they are beautiful and heart-moving. When people pay lip service to love but don’t act accordingly, their words sound like clanging cymbals. (I’m sure that from their perspective, my words sound like clanging cymbals as well.)

    I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on them. After all, they were all trained by a leader who managed the environment to make everyone and everything revolve around him. When your personal shepherd and role model was a narcissist (and I say that very carefully in a clinical sense — he exhibited all the symptoms of NPD), it’s very hard to recover from that without looking at the problem squarely and addressing it through intentional personal counseling and group therapy. So it’s understandable that their relationships with the people who are supposedly “under their care” would be seriously messed up.

    David, you are spot-on about the self-affirming mindset. It never ceases to amaze me how deft people are at finding evidence to affirm their tribe’s superiority even in the most absurd ways. Jonathan Haidt writes at length about this in his book from many different angles. It’s a manifestation of confirmation bias — the mind can be extremely blind to evidence that does not affirm your group.

    My sermon was and is very challenging to me personally. Through the New Testament, I’m convinced that God is calling Christians to relational unity with one another. I know that I have been called to live out the gospel by being one with all who are in Christ. Saying this is easy; living it is extremely hard.

    • Joe, I share some of the sentiments you stated above. Because of the performance-driven environment that I was subjected to for several years in UBF, I find it very hard sometimes to believe that what a UBF messenger is saying is authentic and free from ulterior motives. It’s just a gut reaction that has been programmed in me because I have seen so much blatant hypocrisy, abuse of authority and just unforgivable butchering of the Bible text itself. So subjecting myself to sermons on a weekly basis has been a monumental internal battle for me. Ephesians was a bright spot for us as far as Sunday preaching goes because it’s very difficult for the preacher to ignore the glorious themes of the letter. You’d have to try really hard, like Jim Jones-esque cult-level exertion to butcher or twist Ephesians. But I’m sure it’s been done. Anyway, this is a total digression from my point.

      It’s interesting that these days, one thing I keep hearing in the messages is the idea that our community should be defined by love. That’s relatively new because before we were defined by how strong our evangelistic efforts were or our fervor to rescue college students from sin, etc. This seems like a change for the better, but underneath, it partly seems like lip service to me. Don’t get me wrong, I respect and love many people in UBF. I am exceedingly thankful for the ways that many of the congregants, including Pastor Ron and other elders, have cared for me and my family. I deeply care for these people. Having said that, I think that UBF’s idea of a loving community is one in which no one is ever criticized. It is a community where dialogue about extremely important issues is deliberately stamped out for fear that it might only promote divisiveness. Furthermore, everyone is on the same page and is primarily interested in reaching out to those outside of the church as well as equipping those within to continually do evangelism. Nothing wrong with evangelism, but we keep pretending (or are delusionaly convinced) that the primary problem is with the lost people “out there” to the neglect of those within. In recent years an effort has been made to focus on house churches. But deep down I still feel like a tool; like they are investing in house churches for the sake of making evangelistic units.

      One of my biggest concerns is that we have never adequately and properly addressed the aberrant spiritual environment of the recent past (I’m not talking twenty years ago, but like even five years ago). You have people who come to Sunday service with a smile on their face but when you talk to them personally you know that they are still hurting from wounds that were dealt to them in the past. If you try to discuss this with certain leaders in order to process this, you are usually shut down. And this to me is not loving. Trying to have a candid conversation with a leader in which their bs is exposed is like trying to pull teeth from an alligator. I had one leader yell at me one time, “nobody has ever left UBF because of something a missionary has done to them!” The context of that statement is not entirely important here, it’s a stand alone statement that is utterly worthy, in and of itself, of lols, perhaps even more so than a mention of Duck Dynasty in a Sunday sermon.

      You said, “I know that I have been called to live out the gospel by being one with all who are in Christ. Saying this is easy; living it is extremely hard.” At the end of the day, this why I stay in the UBF community. I’m not perfect by a long shot and I know that people have a hard time putting up with my bs. But please let’s at least be honest and admit that we are all full of it and let’s start to talk about it. Maybe once the facades and distractions are gone we can take advantage of what Christ has done for us.

    • I appreciate your line of thinking here David. It appears to me that you are sharing honestly and I’m glad to hear your insight into these things.

    • Joe Schafer

      David, thank you for these honest and candid comments. I appreciate your outlook very much. I’m glad that you have been able to remain in the ubf environment and live out the gospel there.

      I’m also glad that the dominant theme is now “a community defined by love.” That’s a big improvement over the past, which was all about being a community defined by mission. But everything now hinges on the meaning of love. I’m quite sure that many are thinking, “The best way to love someone is to ‘serve’ them through one-to-one Bible study and ubf-style shepherd training so that they can come out of their sinful lives and become great servants of God like us.”

      Many cannot understand that love must be reciprocal. If you take it upon yourself to “love” me by teaching me your beliefs, discerning my sins, remolding my lifestyle, and so on, then sooner of later you had better be prepared to allow me to “love” you right back in a similar way. I believe that when a Korean missionary hears the word “love,” the mental image is that of a parent teaching and training a young child. (As you know, the parenting and educating of children in Korea is very harsh by our standards; very long hours of rote learning; copious use of berating, shaming, physical punishment for underperforming; and so on.) If that’s the implicit and unchallenged understanding of love, then the new emphasis will just be more of the same-old same-old. But if the missionaries allow their culturally conditioned understanding of love to be deeply and painfully challenged by the gospel, then good things can happen.

    • “one thing I keep hearing in the messages is the idea that our community should be defined by love. That’s relatively new”

      Maybe the stronger emphasis in the messages is new, but the general idea and self-(mis)understanding of being a community defined by love was always there. I remember it clearly from my chapter and the chapter of my wife. The problem was that members did not seem to understand what love really means and that nobody seemed to see the gross discrepancy with reality that became visible when someone left the ministry. That person was immediately forgotten, or even badmouthed, became a persona non grata, no matter whether the person had been a friend and loyal coworker for years or decades. Such behavior is simply not possible if there is real love, so people seeing this happening should have been taken aback and start to question the delusion of being a community defined by love.

      Maybe it will help if people start reading Bonhoeffer’s “life together” when they really have and interest of becoming a spiritual community that is defined by love.

  16. Great discussion! I’m learning a lot, especially about recapitulation, a new term I’ve not hear before. I love the thoughts, and look forward to when more Christ-followers can comprehend what we are discovering– namely that the gospel has foundational grace, present grace and future grace that deals with our great problems, especially sin, curse and death.

  17. DavidW and Ben,

    I want to comment on this statement: “the most damning thing about UBF is that we don’t understand that it is not primarily a race issue that we’re dealing with, but a different kind of social aspect; we are deeply tribalistic in terms of spiritual practices.”

    You are spot on to say that cultural issues are not the main issue (yet that is one layer of problem). But if you think that tribalism is the most damning thing about ubf, you haven’t dug deep enough.

    The most damning thing about ubf is the excessive and undue and un-Christ-like control and manipulation of bible students.

    Tribalism can be overcome. But the most fundamental layer of problem in ubf is in the shepherd/sheep paradigm where your personal problems are messed with and controlled.

    I described some of this in My journey of Recovery article.

    There are at least 8 distinct layers of problems in the ubf KOPHN fantasy land. And depending on your viewpoint (ousider or insider) you see different layers.

    Maybe someday we will discuss these things?

    • Brian, I think we’re somewhat on the same page here. I suppose I labeled the problem as tribalism because we have a certain way about us that is almost stand-offish and closed. From my point of view, this attitude has produced the things you mentioned such as abusive shepherding, excessive control and the reluctance to shed the various layers in your diagram.

      How do you cure tribalism? As cliche as it sounds, I believe that the gospel is the only real solution. The thing I like most about Joe’s sermon is that he explains how Christ’s death and resurrection practically applies to the whole church. He said,

      “Jesus on the cross subsumed into himself all Jews and non-Jews – in other words, all of humanity – and in his humanity made them one with him, and in his divinity brought them into fellowship with God. His death on the cross became a birth, the birth of a new race, a new kind of humanity, where the tribalistic tendencies and rules of the old humanity died and no longer apply.”

      Any church that deeply meditates on this kind of message cannot help but to eventually do away with their unChrist-like externally and internally imposed paradigms.

    • David, I like your comments here very much and I believe you’re right with expounding the problems of tribalism. Still, I believe we should be careful to not mix up cause and effect here. You say the tribalism has caused the authoritarian/abusive leadership style, but I believe it’s the other way round. That’s the reason why I’m not getting tired of harping on the authoritarian leadership style of Samuel Lee. It’s not because I hate the person and want to condemn him. It’s also not because I want to heap all guilt and responsibility upon him. All the other leaders who acted as enablers of abuse, not least to mention Sarah Barry, but also all of us UBF infantry who tolerated the abuse and did not intervene are guilty as well. But it’s important that we understand the mechanisms and the historical causes for the problems. The root cause of all the problems is authoritarianism itself and the way how Samuel Lee exploited it. It allowed him pushing a bad ideology onto people because he got power over them to manipulate them, indoctrinate them, instill fear in them, confuse their minds, and establish the UBF system and connected construct of ideas. A system that consists of all the mandatory rules and practices, but also a whole seemingly Biblical construct of ideas that goes along with a mind-flattering fantasy and delusion of being or becoming a priestly nation that always does the will of God and rescues the world and could never harm anyone. Pride and arrogance of creating a large organization labeled “the work of God” and “pioneering” cities were the driving force. Elitism and tribalism were only a result of that. UBF became a “tribe” only after Samuel Lee deliberately cut it off from the Presbyterian church and started to “train” the members and enforce his own ideas upon them.

  18. Another way to describe the most fundamental and damning problem in ubf is The heavy yoke that yokes you to a human shepherd for life. College students really need to be made aware that the seemingly innocent “one hour per week” invitation to ubf bible study is a snare for life, and connected to a huge ball and chain.

    Only the gospel, such as Joe’s excellent Ephesians sermon, can break this yoke. Thank God my yoke was broken! This is the primary theme of my upcoming book (in addition to Andrew’s book).

    • Joe Schafer

      Brian, that “lifelong yoke” may have been true in your case, but it wasn’t in mine. There was no single person that owned me as a sheep. Which, I guess, made me suspect in the eyes of certain leaders. Because I hadn’t been trained as others had. My will hadn’t been broken through a sequence of harsh obedience tests as others had.

    • Yes I know that, and I’m glad for it. Surely the heritage thinking was a yoke for you? And surely you are the exception and not the norm? And surely the Toledo ubf fantasy land was “special”…

  19. And in case anyone is wondering, I will not mention the word “ubf” or discuss “ubf” at all in my book.

    • After reading Steve Hassan’s book, I realize that my statement here is actually my “cult self”, i.e. Shepherd Brian, speaking and wanting to defend ubf. Therefore, my authentic self will be writing about ubf “absolutely” in my book.

  20. Great question, Brian. Was I “yoked for life”? When I was “all in” and “never questioning anything UBF,” probably many regarded that I was yoked to UBF for life. In a sense I was and still am, in that over and above UBF there is Someone Else far more important, to whom I was and still am primarily accountable to.

    I often said to others, “If I wake up tomorrow morning and there was no UBF, I would still do the same thing.” I meant that I would still “study the Bible and feed sheep,” the cliche that I used for my life, but which I would no longer articulate today.

    Today, I might say, “If I wake up tomorrow and there was no UBF and no West Loop and no UBFriends, I would still do the same thing.” Today, I would mean “stay close to Christ, study Scripture, read books, and engage with as many people as possible.” I think I just made this up!

    So, was I really “yoked for life to UBF”?

    • Surey Ben you are an exception and even exempt from much of the problems a ubf “sheep” experiences. You and Joe can rightly claim you did not have a “personal pope”, but what if SLee had not died? I don’t think any of the things we are experiencing would have happened if Slee was still alive. And clearly Ben you escaped from the ubf heritage yoke by going to Westloop.

      I experienced a similar escape from ubf, and I too am somewhat of an exception because I “pioneered”. I could say “ubf is great” back in 2004 because I was basking in the glow of “pioneering”, which for my family turned out to be the most liberarting thing ubf ever did for us. “pioneering” is a way out, but still does not remove the heritage yoke. So I think most “pioneers” like you, me, Joe and other “house churches” among ubf people, are the most free and most able to help our brothers and sisters still trapped under the heavy yoke of a Korean shepherd.

      I spent 16 years under such a yoke. Then the next 8 years were as a “pioneer”, so I could think for myself and suddenly then after 24 years the yoke was broken.

      So I’m glad that both of you (Ben and Joe) did not experience the yoke of a personal shepherd. And I am even more glad that you are willing to bear with and listen to and even change because of peopel like me, bigbear, Chris, Vitaly, Joshua, Phil2Five, and thousands of others who have lived under both the yoke of a Korean shepherd and the yoke of the ubf heritage.

  21. Joe, perhaps this is related to the “bible-only-ism” that is so darn damaging and which many (conservative) churches likely suffer from:

  22. Ben, if I woke up and ubriends was gone, I would be very sad. We have a community here, and I would sorely miss our conversations. I would even miss JohnY’s confounded conflicted comments. The same is true of ubf. The ubf abuse must end, and the heritage has been abandoned, but I wish for ubf to be redeemed, not destroyed.

    I would not go on the same way. I would have to adjust my life. It would be a big change.

    I used to say the same as you, that nothing would change if such-and-such were removed from my life. Then I realized I was lying to myself.

    Such thinking is a sign of being disconnected from reality. To say such things means my mind has much healing to go through and that I’m often living in a perceived reality that has not been sufficiently challenged by other perspectives. And it is a sign that I was wouding other people around me withouth realizing it, especially my wife.

    • I would be sad too if UBFriends was gone, and if West Loop was gone. It’s harder for me to say that I would be sad if UBF was gone…but thank God that none of these are my call!!

    • Ben, I sincerely hope that ubf does not just “disappear” suddenly one day. Such a stark removal of ubf would invoke massive PTSD-like trauma reactions for the 5,000 or so members still “in” ubf.

      My recovery from the ubf heritage yoke and the personal shepherding yoke has taken about 3 years so far (since 2011) and that has been just to document and identify the issues.

      So I see God’s wisdom in leading a few “pioneers” like us out from the heritage yoke and causing slow change. I am convinced this 4th “reform movement” in 2011 has caused a permanent paradigm shift for ubf. And I am so thankful for those who suffered during the first 3 reform attempts which opened the door for us.

  23. Thanks, Dave, for your reflections, which is quite close to my own experience.

    For whatever reason, I find this quite funny (sorry if some may not think so): “Trying to have a candid conversation with a leader in which their bs is exposed is like trying to pull teeth from an alligator. I had one leader yell at me one time, “nobody has ever left UBF because of something a missionary has done to them!” – See more at: I’m assuming that “bs” is not “Bible study.”

    • Joe Schafer

      That line reminds me of a certain General Director who declared, “UBF has no problems.”

    • Is it the same General director who claimed that UBF had a 0% divorce rate (even though he himself ordered divorces and remarriages)?

    • Joe Schafer

      It was GD #3.

    • Joe Schafer

      One way to achieve a low divorce rate in your church is to demonize and cast out anyone whose marriage is in trouble, and whenever a marriage fails, claim that it failed because they didn’t keep their mission and they didn’t obey God’s servant. Anyone who divorces is then excluded from the count, because they are no longer considered “in” the church. And if you never talk to those people again, if you never talk about them again, then from your perspective they no longer exist.

    • Sure Joe. But I had cases in mind like the marriage of the “Abraham of faith” in our chapter. When his wife (who had been sent from Chicago to our chapter in Germany) became critical of UBF, he was counselled by Samuel Lee to file for divorce and then Samuel Lee quickly arranged a marriage with another “more faithful” girl. And I know that this was not the only case, there were a couple of such cases in Chicago as well. In another case that happened in our chapter, the arranged marriage of two Koreans failed miserably. Both stayed in UBF. The man was sent back to Korea and remarried in UBF, the woman stayed alone in our chapter (for some years, then she left UBF). Of course such cases were covered up and everybody acted as if these things never happened.

    • And when I say “counselled by Samuel Lee” then this meant “given the orientation by the servant of God” which had to be followed absolutely in order to get blessing from God, even if you don’t like it or don’t understand it. According to UBF theology. Being the “Abraham of faith” and having he must have read the Bible verses on divorce and marriage many times and surely must have felt he was doing something wrong when filing for divorce without need. Still, he obeyed Samuel Lee and followed his orientation, because of the “covering doctrine” in UBF according to which you must not understand what your shepherd tells you to do, you just obey because he is the “servant of God” and must take responsiblity, while your sole responsibility is to obey.

  24. “I believe that when a Korean missionary hears the word “love,” the mental image is that of a parent teaching and training a young child. – See more at:

    Joe, yes that is the problem. All the words about Christianity have been re-defined so that it is so difficult to navigate the ubf problem.

    Chris, I’m sure you already know this, but reading Bonhoeffer or anyone else won’t help likely because of this language re-definition. ubfers simply look for affirmation of their shepherding ideology. We read Bonhoeffer a lot in the early days of Toledo ubf, esp. the Cost of Discipleship, but we only read it to affirm and justify what we were doing and teaching.

    • And when I say “we” read Bonhoeffer, I mean that one shepherd read the book and told us about it and what parts of it seemed to affirm our ubf ideologies. That’s how things often work in the satellite ubf chapters. The chapter director or an appointed shepherd will read something or attend some conference, and then report back with what positively affirms ubf thinking/acting, sort of re-translating into ubf-speak for us.

      We *really* need to publish our ex-ubf material soon so that we can refer to the ubf glossary of terms.

    • Joe Schafer

      20 years ago, everyone in my ubf chapter read Life Together, and we discussed it at length. I learned a couple of things — for example, the importance of the Psalms. But for me, the main take-away message was, “Gosh, UBF is doing almost everything right.” My ability to ignore (not even see) the main message of the book and use a few select parts to affirm my group was amazing.

      In the first chapter, Bonhoeffer talks about the difference between “human” love/fellowship and “spiritual” love/fellowship. A contrast between “human” and “spiritual” was and is a large part of the ubf culture. I assumed that Bonhoeffer was completely affirming us when he talked about the dangers of human vis-a-vis spiritual ideals. But when my wife and I reread the book a couple of years ago, we were astounded to learn that Bonhoeffer was using those words in the exact opposite way that ubf-ers used them. What Bonhoeffer called “human” was what ubf called “spiritual” and vice versa.

      The human mind has an amazing capacity to distort and screen out evidence that is threatening to one’s own self-constructed identity and especially one’s tribal identity.

    • Brian, Joe, good point. I had forgotten about that redefinition of words and ability to interpret and understand texts to their liking, starting with the Bible. I remember that in our weekly fellowship meeting we read the Heidelberg catechism and also found it reaffirming of our UBF theology and way of living, even though the catechism is so very different from UBF theology and does not even talk about mission at all.

  25. Joe, when I read Life Together for John’s cohort for the first time a few years ago, I had a negative and positive surprised reaction.

    The negative: Gosh, we have done community in UBF virtually opposite to what Bonhoeffer writes, such as forming a collegia pietatis and imposing our “wish dream” on the community: “Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial. God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious.” – See more at:

    The positive: Everyone in UBF should read the book in detail and write sincere repentant testimonies based on the book.

    • “The positive: Everyone in UBF should read the book in detail and write sincere repentant testimonies based on the book.”

      Just curious, Ben: When you had that thought, did it also include your mentor Samuel Lee in that “everyone”? And, if you had read the book not a few years ago, but maybe 15 years ago, while still under the influence of Samuel Lee, would you have understood these things just as quickly?

    • Like Joe, probably not. In those days, evangelism was primarily emphasized, and inadvertently reading was not really encouraged. If I had read it decades ago, I probably would have felt burdened by reading such elegant prose and would likely have switched off. When I wrote “everyone in UBF” this was two or three years ago when SL had long since passed away.

    • Right, Ben, I should have phrased the question differently: When your reaction was “everybody in UBF should repent” what exactly did you think the people in UBF should repent of? Actually, they had only obeyed and faithfully imitated the servant of God Samuel Lee and his ideas about the UBF community all the time, right?

      I always stumble upon your formulations like “we have done community in UBF virtually opposite”. Because, it sounds as if the UBFers themselves came up with all these ideas about how the community should be run. But I know this was not the case. Everybody just tried to copy his shepherd as faithfully and closely as possible, ultimately copying from Samuel Lee. And what you call “wish dreams” were the ideas that have been put into their minds by the same Samuel Lee.

      Or, with other words, were your thoughts more like “oh my God, we did everything wrong” or “oh my God, we blindly followed a bad leader”? It seems like the former is the case, because you still claim that Samuel Lee was a good mentor for you. Somehow I just want to open your eyes and want you to face the reality about how this all happened. You only started to see things more clearly after you were free from the influence and spell of Samuel Lee.

  26. I wonder how much we Christians understand or realize the greatest danger to genuine authentic Christian community.

    “Life together under the Word will remain sound and healthy only where it does not form itself into a movement, an order, a society, a collegium pietatis, but rather where it understands itself as being a part of the one, holy, catholic, Christian Church, where it shares actively and passively in the sufferings and struggles and promise of the whole Church. Every principle of selection and every separation connected with it…is of the greatest danger to a Christian community. …the human element always insinuates itself and robs the fellowship of its spiritual power and effectiveness for the Church, drives it into sectarianism” – See more at:

    • Ben, now I remember again how my mother once sent me a letter with a xerox copy of one page of the book, where exatly this quote was underlined. She did not interfere much into my being in UBF, but this was her way of telling me what she was thought was wrong. And I also remember that at that time, I didn’t really understand the importance and relevancy of the quote and avoided taking it seriously. So this confirms what Brian and Joe have commented. There must be really some awareness of the problem and openness to face the truth before reading such things can help. But once you start becoming open to rational thoughts and reality checks, once there is a small crack in the dike, everything breaks together very quickly. I remember how in the first year after leaving UBF, we met together every early morning with two other Korean couples who had left UBF in order to have “daily bread”, as we were used to. Except that we didn’t use UBF’s daily bread, but a really good devotial. And nearly every morning, we found that the Bible passage totally controverted something that we believed or practiced in UBF.

  27. Ben and Joe: All I can say is yes, yes and yes!