A Biblical Response to the UBF Definition of Church

The Sermon on the Mount Carl Bloch, 1890The new UBF history website created in 2013 attempts to define “church” on this page. After that, it tries to build a case, based on this definition, for UBF’s chapter structure. The definition of church used, however, is simplistic at best, and biblically and church-historically inaccurate at worst. In other words, there are many ecclesiological problems with the definition of church (The branch of theology that teaches what scripture has to say about the church is called “Ecclesiology”).

First, notice that sections of the italicized definition are pasted below and numbered, followed by questions/comments that can help expose the underlined errors therein and (perhaps incompletely) point to some more biblical perspectives.

Second, a much better definition of the church (by no means the only one), is provided. I adapted this definition from a class on Ecclesiology at Reformed Baptist Seminary with Greg Nichols. I loved his class because he drew on no other sources than the scriptures (as will be evident).

Third, I will suggest positive steps for UBF’s future, pointing out that UBF shouldn’t identify itself as a local church (in form) while it almost exclusively operates as a para-church (in function). Based on concepts from 9Marks, I suggest UBF either fully commit to para-church life, or reform into an association of local churches.

UBF is close to my heart, and I love many who still serve therein. So I write this to promote what scripture says about church life. Also, I write this not only to be polemical, but to promote a careful readership that refuses to take simplistic statements at face value, but rather puts everything under scripture’s scrutiny. My purpose is to stir the waters, so that what seemed clear becomes muddy, so that thinking Christians would once again “go back to the Bible.” I hope to encourage even more elaboration.

1. A Bad Definition of Church on UBF’s new Heritage Website

1) UBF definition: Church is a group of believers.”

This definition seems true on the surface, but hidden beneath is an over-simplification. Believers all throughout church history have wrestled with whether a true local church only needs a group of believers, or whether there needs to be an ordained elder present who can perform Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. So this statement is overly simplistic, overlooking the sincere struggles of those in the historical church who grappled with this question. When I invite Christian friends over for tea and Twinkies, does that form a church? At the simplest level, a church is not only a gathering, but an assembly that performs the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (John 4:24; 1 Cor. 14:23-25; Heb. 13:15, Acts 2:41, 10:47, 48; 1 Cor. 10:16, 17, 11:25).

2) UBF definition continued: “So it is diverse in that every believer is unique, yet is one in that every believer has many things in common, notably faith (Eph. 4:4,5). The church was formed when Jesus ascended into heaven. About one hundred and twenty people gathered in Jerusalem, stayed in one place, and prayed together waiting for the Holy Spirit Jesus had promised (Acts 1:14). After the Holy Spirit came upon them Peter spoke boldly about Jesus in front of the public. On that day about three thousand were added to the church (Acts 1:41). The church bounded in number (Acts 2:47). As the church expanded, she faced many problems as well. For example, she had to care for widows that had not been the plan of the church. To handle many practical problems in the early church the Apostles appointed seven stewards (Acts 6:5). No Apostles had any blue print on running the church as an organization.”

This statement does not do justice to scripture or to church history. If there was no blueprint on running churches, why do the Pastoral Epistles exist (1-2 Timothy, Titus)? Why does Paul tell Timothy to “Guard what has been entrusted to him” (1 Tim 6:20) and proceed to give him and Titus instructions on church structure, elders and deacons, and procedures to guide church life? What was Timothy to guard? What else did Paul mean by “the tradition they received from us” (2 Thess. 3:6)? The apostles DID HAVE A BLUEPRINT, and they got it from the Lord Jesus Christ, the master architect of his church. From whom do you think Paul learned these traditions pertaining to the church? As professing Christians, we must seek to structure our local churches after that design, found not in our tastes, preferences, or imaginations, but in scripture.

Also, there is a scriptural contradiction by using Acts 6 in the above paragraph. If the apostles had no blueprint, then why were deacons chosen in order for the apostles to better devote their time to prayer and the word? Obviously there were some priorities and pre-defined roles for leadership already at this early stage in church history.

3) UBF definition continued: The church was the outcome of their devotion to world mission.”

Again, an aspect of truth is here, but it is imbalanced and potentially misleading. Largely, this is a theological and biblical error, for the church was not the outcome of human devotion, but of Christ’s personal building project (Matt 16:18). God chose and gave to Christ the elect, the group believers of all time who would belong to him and believe in him (John 17:6, 24; Eph. 1:4; 1 Pet 1:1-2). Christ himself planned and ordained and built his church, and had in mind certain aspects and features for its well-being, and he still governs and shepherds it today, in particular, tangible ways. So, the church and world mission was the outcome of God keeping his promise to Abraham, that his seed (Israel>David>Christ: the True Israel and True David) would bless the nations—NOT because of the devotion of the apostles to world mission.

4) UBF definition continued: “So the infrastructure of the church was flexible and adaptable as needed.“

Again, see #3 above. What scriptural support is cited for this statement? The church has been very INFLEXIBLE throughout the ages, again, because Christ has been guarding it. Hasn’t the church’s history been replete with heretics being thrown out, of reformations, of wrestling with and clarifying true biblical doctrines? If anything, one of evangelicalism’s biggest scandals is that it HAS BEEN TOO FLEXIBLE AND ADAPTABLE, often not in line with scripture by the leading of the Sovereign Church Director Jesus Christ. Rather, it has been FLEXED by the cultural prejudices, whims, trends, and tastes of the society around it. The apostles and church members are not those who “adapt the church as needed.” The Lord Jesus Christ actively administers and governs all true local churches today, and at any time He sovereignly chooses, He can remove a church’s lampstand (Rev 2-3).

5) UBF definition continued: As time passed, the church took its own course and made its own shape. For example, it became the imperial state church by AD 400. At her climax around AD 1200 every person born in Europe was born into one church – the Catholic. Then the religious reformation came and the church was diversified into many independent organizations. The UBF has become one of them.”

See #4 above. Also, the church never “takes its own course.” This is a sad characterization of the church that is instituted, built, nurtured, and led by the Lord Jesus (c.f., Matt 16:18).

Furthermore, this statement jumps from the Protestant Reformation (the one that gave us Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Whitefield, Packer, Stott, Edwards, Owens—the rest of the puritans—Keller, Piper, Carson, etc.) to UBF! Shouldn’t we want to listen to how the Holy Spirit throughout the centuries taught and led these reformers to come to fuller, more biblical, and more Christ-centered understandings of the gospel? Wouldn’t it be arrogant to assume that we have the biblically true church design, while never having learned from these Bible teachers?

I think it’s a great disservice to the casual reader (who will not study church history beyond this paragraph) to say the reformation’s only effect on the world was to make “many independent organizations” (!). Calvin would cry at this. Luther would shout! The reformation GAVE US BACK THE GOSPEL that had been lost (sorry for the oversimplification).

One last thing: this bad definition of church neglects a discussion of CHURCH MEMBERSHIP, which, at the time of writing this article, UBF currently does not have. The word “member” is on the page 3 times, but UBF provides no guidelines/requirements for membership. This is very dangerous, since lack of membership creates difficulty for loving church discipline to be intentionally and consistently carried out, and it creates opportunities for those who hold heretical viewpoints to rise in popularity and influence within UBF chapters. Also, because

1. Scripture explicitly affirms church membership (Eph 4:25, 5:29-30)

2. Pastoral care mandates church membership (Acts 20:28-32)

3. Church discipline mandates church membership (Matt 18:15-18)

4. Joining the church mandates church membership (Acts 9:25-30)

Look up the references and study for yourself.

2. A Better Definition of “Church”—in one very long sentence (with scripture references)

What follows is a better definition of the church, adapted from an excellent class I took on Ecclesiology with Greg Nichols. It’s one LONG sentence. Be sure to study the scripture references.

The Church is Christ’s saved society…

PURPOSED in God’s eternal plan and solemn pledge of salvation (Eph. 3:10; 2 Thess. 1:1, 4-5; Gen. 3:15);

which was PORTRAYED in supernatural creation; in covenant promises of salvation, and in John’s gospel commencement (Rom. 5:14, Isa. 54:9-10; Heb. 12:22, John 4:1-2);

which was FORMED through salvation accomplished and applied by Christ (Matt. 16:18, Acts 20:28),

in its Identity: God’s new creation (Christ’s body, bride, and posterity), the covenant community (his children, people, kingdom, temple, and priesthood), and Christ’s gospel assembly of glorified spirits in heaven and of his disciples on earth (Rom. 5:14-19, Isa. 54:9, Isa. 53:9; Heb. 2:13-14, Rom. 9:6, 24-26; Matt. 21:43; Col. 1:13; Eph. 5:24-33 Acts 11:26, 19:32-41);

in its Extraordinary form: structured collectively as one universal assembly consisting of many local assemblies and disciples (Gal. 1:13, 22)

and distinguished by seven prominent features;

instituted personally by Christ (Matt. 16:18);

composed evangelically of believers in Christ (Acts 2:47, 5:14, 14:21-23);

administered universally by Christ, his Spirit, and apostles, locally by elders and deacons (Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18, Acts 13:2, Acts 16:4; 1 Cor. 7:17, Acts 14:23, 20:17, 28; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8-13);

constituted solemnly by divine covenant with Christ’s blood symbolized in the Lord ’s Supper (1 Cor. 10:16, 17, 11:25; Heb. 8:6-13);

consecrated by endowment with God’s Spirit;

convoked weekly on the Lord’s Day (Acts 1:5; 1 Cor. 3:16, Exod. 20:8; Acts 20:7);

and commissioned to display God’s glory in Christian salvation and integration (Acts 11:26; Eph. 3:5-10);

in its Sacred vocation (upward, inward, outward), appointed and endowed by Christ

to draw near to God in worship, ordinances (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper), and prayer (John 4:24; 1 Cor. 14:23-25; Heb. 13:15, Acts 2:41, 10:47, 48; 1 Cor. 10:16,17, 11:25, 1 Tim. 2:1-8);

to love God’s people by nurture, benevolence, and discipline (John 13:34-35, 1 Tim. 5:16, Matt. 18:17; 1 Cor. 5:1-13);

and to love humanity by gospel evangelism (Matt. 28:18-20);

and in its Institutional relations  within the Nohaic covenant community, a compliment to family and state (Matt. 19:3-12; Eph. 5:22-24, Rom. 13:1-7);

which is PRESERVED throughout its militant history through the gospel application of salvation in every generation in spiritual warfare with the world, sin, devil, death, and hell, through great apostasy, and with a gospel recovery (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 3:21, 6:10-18, 2 Thess. 2:3-12; 1 Tim. 4:1-2, Acts 3:19-21; Rom. 11:17-32);

and which WILL BE GLORIFIED at its triumphant destiny in the completion of salvation with ultimate victory (1 Cor. 15:25-26), with translation unto glory, and with eternal life (Eph. 5:27; 1 Thess. 4:13-17).

Here’s a quick summary of the definition: The church is Christ’s saved society: purposed in God’s eternal plan and solemn pledge of salvation, portrayed in covenant promises of salvation, formed in Christ’s accomplishment of salvation, preserved through the gospel application of salvation, and glorified in the completion of salvation.

I hope that readers of this will at least go through the scripture references. If not even that, please take away from this that the first paragraph on the web page cited contains a biblically and church-historically inaccurate definition of the church. Then, the web site attempts to proceed in argument from this definition to justify the structure of UBF. However, careful readers should expose and question the errors of this definition, so that what proceeds from it may also be found biblically baseless. And it’s okay to publish an article on your organization’s structure. But it’s not okay to make it seem like your organization’s structure is supported by biblical teaching, especially when the way you use the bible verses and narrate church history is imbalanced and misleading.

3. My Hope for UBF’s Future

My wife and I lived with, cried with, grew with, and were nurtured by people in UBF for over 9.5 years! We love them, so everything written here should be understood from that viewpoint. So, in recognition of the scriptural definition of the church above, it is my sincere hope and prayer (I actually have been praying this for 3 years) that UBF refrain from identifying itself as a local church (in its outward form) while it continues being essentially a para-church organization (in its day-to-day function). (See 9Marks Journal, April 2011 issue for a distinction on church vs. para-church organizations.)

In particular, UBF should either:

1. Commit to being only a para-church organization. UBF should shift its major focus to protecting, supporting, promoting and nurturing nearby local churches, sending those it evangelizes on campuses eventually to nearby local churches; by sending out trained, seasoned shepherds/house churches to serve nearby local churches; and by requiring all UBF participants to have membership, or at least associate membership, in a local church; OR UBF should

2. Commit to being an association of autonomous local churches. UBF should “reform” into an association of autonomous local churches (UBF chapters–> local churches), each of which develops:

1) local church polity for members, deacons, and pastors/elders (a church constitution), ordination and preaching-license requirements;

2) membership requirements, and especially a church discipline covenant; and

3) a doctrinal confession that not only includes traditional evangelical beliefs  but articulates clearly and adduces scriptural support for all of UBF’s uniquely-nuanced-yet-unwritten practices. Provide written/published explanations of expectations for members, and scriptural support for terms/concepts like marriage by faith, fishing, one-to-one bible study, common life, the polarization of grace and truth, the use of the term “sheep” to refer indistinguishably to believers and unbelievers, etc.—so that expectations and concepts are explicitly and verbally articulated rather than only implicitly and nonverbally infused in the behavior/culture of UBF.

These are just (imperfect) suggestions that I’ve been thinking/praying to God about. I defer to God to do exceedingly and abundantly more than I can ask or imagine. But whatever changes take place, I pray that those who do them are motivated by the fact that the Church is wholly the possession and the executive responsibility of Jesus Christ, and His church exists to display his glory in its upward, inward, and outward vocation. Then UBF, committing either to Christ-centered para-church or to local church life, would have, I believe, a much greater impact in its intended mission.

Remember, when you write a definition of “church,” you are writing about Christ’s bride, whom He looks after, and is jealous for. I’d be careful how I write about someone’s bride. So, just stick to the New Testament’s teaching on it, which came from Christ himself (Jn 16:13; 14:26; 15:26, 27).


  1. Many, many thanks for writing this up. You’re certainly helping to see things clearer. The metaphor of the muddy water is therefore inappropriate, though I understand how you actually mean it.

    I agree with your demand to make a decision to either follow path 1) or path 2) instead of staying in that convenient in-betweenness for decades, being inaccountable to both Christians inside or outside.

    Concerning “membership”, I hadn’t thought about it so much, but now I see it’s an important point. Real churches take membership seriously. In my current church, my son was baptized and this Sunday he has his “confirmation” after which he clearly is a member of the church. However, in UBF, there was no baptism and no point in time after which you became a member. That became clear to me when one day, out of the blue, my 1:1 missionary told me he didn’t want to see me anymore and I should not come to UBF anymore (the reason was that either he just had a bad day or I hadn’t shown enough respect and obedience and was considered a bad influence to others, but I was never explicitly given a reason). At that point I had already served UBF for several years, was addressed with the title “shepherd” and had given a lot of tears, sweat and money to UBF, at the expense of my university study. Only one (Non-Korean) member visited me at home after my expulsion, when I was trying to re-adapt my life and felt abandoned by God. But that person was only trying to convince me I needed to simply forgive that missionary who expelled me. This showed that there were no rights or rules of membership, anybody could be kicked out of the church any time without explanation. There was also no real love and friendship that was independend of association with UBF. And then, some months later, out of the blue, I was re-invited again. Again without reasons. And was immediately re-instantiated as a shepherd. Fast forward several years, shortly before my marriage, and being engaged for one year already, I experienced a similar thing. When I showed a sign of disobedience, suddenly my marriage was cancelled. Nobody told me about that, but my fiance suddenly disappeared. They had told her I had become “unspiritual”. The wife of the chapter director then told me (litterally) “I do not know if you are still a member”. And then again, one day later, I was suddenly a member again and we were married. I’m writing this because all of this “in and out” had deep implications for me. I had been brainwashed to believe that UBF is not only “my church”, but actually “my calling”. Being out of UBF meant having lost my calling, my purpose in life and being abandoned by God. And I know for sure it was not me who thought that way in that time, everybody did. Therefore leaving UBF was always a traumatic experience. This is because the water was so muddy that we could not distinguish between heavenly calling, calling as a shepherd, calling for Campus mission, salvation, God’s work, church, spiritual gift, fellowship etc. – it was all one and the same, and they created this muddy notion and perception of church and calling on purpose.

    By the way, in all of my 10 years there was not a single baptism. There was exactly one Lord’s supper on a Wednesday meeting, because one Korean missionary insisted on it and conducted it on his own, but it was never repeated and that missionary left UBF some years later.

    • Chris, your story pains me every time I read it and I am very sorry that this has not been addressed either by your local ubf church or the larger ubf body.

    • Ben, I just hope I don’t come across as bitter and obsessed with this bad experience because I repeatedly told this story here. The reason why I’m doing it is because I know most new readers don’t read what has been written in the past, and because I know my story was not a singular experience. I met many people in UBF Germany who experienced similar and even worse things. Some have broken families because of this. Some got ill and bitter. Some committed suicide. This all is part of the history of UBF. I’m telling my story representative for all these people who experienced similar things.

    • Ian Turner
      Ian Turner

      Thanks so much for sharing, Chris.

      This story makes my heart feel like your tongue does when you stick both leads of a 9-volt battery on it. The pain just shoots through me, for I can almost hear, see, and feel exactly what went on.

      This highlights well why the issue of church membership, so central to a healthy church, has been close to my heart, and why it must be reclaimed, if for no other reason than scripture mandates it.

    • Thank you for sharing

    • yellowblossom

      Can anyone please explain to me why UBF doesn’t do baptism? This question has been in my mind for quite some time after I started going to another church for a few services and it was explained to me that baptism is an important testimony of faith for accepting Jesus and being made new. I never saw the importance of baptism before because UBF , according to my knowledge , doesn’t do baptism. So can anyone please explain to me why this is the case ? I am seriously considering leaving UBF at this pt and will be baptized in another church in August.

    • Joe Schafer

      yellowblossom, you asked a great question.

      Baptisms do sometimes happen in ubf. But on the whole it hasn’t been strongly encouraged or emphasized. There isn’t a single reason, but a combination of reasons, including
      * a low view of sacraments (baptism and Lord’s Supper), regarding them as mere symbols
      * a lack of connection to historical church traditions
      * a lack of staff education and training about baptism and the Lord’s Supper
      * leaders not being able to decide whether or not ubf is a church, a
      * leaders not really understanding what a church is and what church is for.

    • Yellow blossom

      Good question. I concur with Joe’s answers and will add one more.

      I was told that if I would not allow “sprinkle baptism” to be done to me I would not be allowed to be a Ubf missiobary or to get married.

      So sometimes ubf does do baptism but it can be a means of cult control of obe’s life. I hated that baptism. I did it so I could be a missionary to Russia and later get married. I did live as a ubf missionary in Russia for 3 months. So maybe people should call me Missionary Chapter Dierctor Shepherd… Or not. Please not.

    • “Can anyone please explain to me why UBF doesn’t do baptism?”

      Joe already gave some answers. The question is the same for Holy Supper.

      I believe the main reason is that these sacraments are symbols for our forgiveness of sins and unconditional acceptance by God – they assure our salvation. UBF does not want to have such “cheap grace”. They want to earn grace. They don’t want people to be sure about their salvation, they want to keep them in a state of insecurity and feelings of guilt in which they are more easily manipulable. You are only accepted as a child of God as long as you are obedient and keep part in the activities of UBF – that’s the state of mind they want people to have.

      A second reason is that Samuel Lee created UBF as a kind of “counter-concept” to traditional churches, which were seen as luke-warm and not really following the will of God as UBF did. That’s why he removed much of the symbolism that reminded of traditional churches. For instance, the Chicago headquarters was actually a traditional church building, but the first thing Samuel Lee did was to remove all the traditional interior of a church, pews, church windows, crosses etc. Another example: Our chapter had regular conferences where we rented a hall of a Christian recreation center. This hall had a big wooden cross at the front. But the first thing the missionaries always did was to remove that cross and put it in the janitorial closet over the course of the conference. Then it was replaced with colored letters of the motto of the conference like “feed my sheep”. Also, the simple lectern in the hall was replaced with a UBF pulpit and a pedestal that looked more impressive and authoritative. It always sounded hypocritical to me when we sang about how we love that old rugged cross while it was kept hidden in the closet. In our own chapter, we had a self-made wooden cross, but only at the side wall, and only happened because some shepherds one day simply did it, none of the missionaries thought or cared about this.

    • Adding info from a different angle, at least from about five or six years back, Chicago UBF made an earnest effort to study the concept of the sacraments. Practically, baby dedications/baptisms began to occur as well as for older members. I gather that due to the controversial nature of infant baptism, they were eventually phased out. Over the years I can remember several baptisms occurring, some even during the SWS and as a feature of the Easter conferences. The baptee was required to give a life testimony, memorize some passages from the bible (notably the 10 commandments and the great commission, recite the apostles’ creed and answer questions pertaining to various parts of the faith. It is quite biblical, in my estimation and somewhat of a step in the right direction from the leadership. From this and other document drafts I’ve seen, I believe the direction that they are heading in is to look at UBF as a full-fledged church.

    • Charles Wilson
      Charles Wilson

      LA baptized people and held communion. It was sporadic and usually had to come at the request of the planning committee or someone who wanted to get baptized. I had two issues with the way the baptisms were done.

      First, as David mentioned happens in Chicago, there were many attachments such as passage memorization and answering certain questions. It seemed self-serving, as a way to instill more of the UBF mindset and attitude into a person, or to put attachments on a particular area it was felt someone needed extra attention on. For example, one woman college student was asked, “Will you marry a godly man?” In the NT, I don’t see the apostles requiring passage memorization before they baptized people–the faith and confession of those who wanted to get baptized seemed enough. The case with Cornelius and Peter is also interesting in this regard. I questioned why we require more than the apostles did. Why aren’t the confessions of faith of people enough?

      Second, it also seemed to be an event not for the church, but just the person. By this I mean that even after being baptized, people are still judged by how well they perform in the UBF system. I suppose it’s too foreign and the system doesn’t have a designed place for those who are baptized. It just becomes this event that happened to you some time ago, but not a part of the Christian identity and being as an individual and with the rest of the community.

      My daughter was baptized in UBF. She was turning six soon and asked me if she could be baptized. Before I went to the church to ask that we hold a time for baptisms, I asked her why she wanted to be baptized. She said, “Because I believe in Jesus.” I’m not sure what others thought about it, but I believe she knew what she was talking about and that I should honor her request. But I rejected that she take the baptism packet and memorize the passages therein and prepare answers to the questions. Maybe because I was a leader and one of the planning committee I could proceed as I wanted, rather than have her jump through the hoops.

  2. Thanks so much Ian for sharing this. I think that this would be an excellent place for all of us to start with regards to ecclesiology.

    I would like your comments and critique about what I wrote regarding West Loop in 2009 one year after we started: http://westloop-church.org/index.php/about-us I obviously did not address ecclesiology, baptism, sacraments, or membership, but only very briefly expressed who we are and what we are about.

    I guess the thing about what UBF writes is that we write all sorts of things that are often not very scholarly, often with poor grammar and sentence construction, formulaic and predictable by following some script or agenda, repetitious and as someone said, boring.

    Thus what is written is often just ignored, glossed over very rapidly, or read without critical thinking (which is often implicitly regarded as anathema because it is treated as criticism, breaking spiritual order, disloyalty, and who do you think you are).

  3. big bear

    Chris, Ben…I agree with you both…great article…I was kicked out of UBF after serving 29 years even being a director of NKU ministry…my chapter director in UBF always told us “UBF is nothing” it is not an organization or a church…he even hide anything that resembled a church…hated crosses in the Bible houses and anything that would protray UBF as a church…his reasoning always was that nobody should depend on church membership or any church to save them…it was muddy on purpose…there simply is no accountability even to this day…my daughter was raped in UBF not a word from him…my family fell apart and he never once came to pray or visit us…UBF is all about UBF not about the “body of Christ” or loving people or families…This is a quote from Pastor Rick Warren (who has read my books) on the internet, “Churches that love people grow..” UBF does not love people it is that simple….

    • Ian Turner
      Ian Turner

      Thank you for sharing. My heart aches to hear that.

      The statement “nobody should depend on church membership or any church to save them” sounds like a pious promotion of salvation through faith in Christ alone, that is, before the water is stirred.

      Stir #1: “He cannot have God as his Father who does not have the church for his Mother” (Saint Cyprian, AD 200).

      Stir #2: “If you call yourself a Christian but you are not a member of the church you regularly attend, I worry that you might be going to hell” (Mark Dever, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church, p. 21.)

      Stir #3: The chapter director’s comment was probably not pious, but even if it was, it still is no basis for HAVING ABSOLUTELY NO CHURCH MEMBERSHIP AT ALL.

      Water now muddy.

    • Thank you for sharing

  4. Very good thoughts Ian. Thank you for sharing eloquently what some of us have discussed in a far more messy manner.

    Indeed ubf is at a crossroads.

    I shared my thoughts on the para-church nature of ubf a while back. Many ubf chapter have tried to do both. They self-proclaim themselves as a “church”, re-title their director as “pastor”, start calling some long-time members as “elder” and put links to bible.com on their website. At the same time, they have created some front groups.

    My question, like bigbear’s, is this: what happens to the familes? I asked this before:

    “But where are the American families in all this? They are squeezed in between UBF church and UBF para-church. There really is no good place for them. They are simply demanded to suffer and sacrifice their family life in order to remain part of the campus ministry. For example, my wife and I had to live like single college students for 15 years in order to remain part of UBF ministry. The solution for American shepherd families is often to leave or pioneer a new UBF chapter.”

    My only advice to families in ubf is to find out how to leave.

    • I respect your advice but I don’t know how this advice works with previous comments on reconciliation

    • Reconciliation sometimes requires some form of separation. To reconcile is not always to restore relationship, especially when there is a toxic or abusive situation.

  5. A very substantive article. I suppose that I can take credit for this seeing as how my clone wrote it (inside joke; Ian and look alike). Kidding aside, well made points about the fact that we have neither a clear definition of membership nor church discipline. The lack of both of these leads to ambiguity about what kind of church one belongs to and additionally it allows abusive practices to persist.

    Interestingly, when I bring up the topic of church discipline with elders or leaders they will often cite that the grace of Jesus should be our guiding ethic. This should be the case, in some sense, but underlying that assertion lurks a kind of permissveness or excuse for the aberrant or abusive behavior of certain leaders to remain unquestioned. My hunch is that many leaders have begun to realize that their prior or current abusive actions would not remain unnoticed or unpunished in a real church organization. So now they want to lean on the side of grace in order to save face or what have you. Funny how so many former members were condemned and driven out; where was this guiding ethic of grace then? My opinion is that if UBF wants to healthily move forward then a full audit of the leadership needs to be done. Not a witch hunt, but a careful evaluation of leaders’ practices in order to determine if they are biblical, practical and truly carried out with an ethic of biblical grace. If not, then they should step down. But this is problematic for UBF because as you pointed out there is no explicit documentation on many of UBFs implicit teachings nor guidelines for discipline. In addition to this I think that we are still largely concerned with conducting leadership practice which are more in accord with Confucian practices rather than biblical ones (though I would like to believe that we are moving toward the latter more these days).

    Btw, Mark Driscoll actually has outlined a very detailed practice of church discipline within his own organization: http://marshill.com/2012/01/27/church-discipline-in-the-bible

    As for your two suggestions on the structure or function of UBF, from what I’ve seen and also heard through the grapevine is that the organization is moving toward #2, that is becoming a full-fledged, functional church. We’re beginning to baptize more regularly and also we are attempting to implement church discipline, albeit this is still largely in its infancy. Some leaders have also intimated that documents are being drawn concerning membership, explicit practices, etc.

    All in all this is great food for thought. If you’d permit me to, I’d like to share this with some elders and leaders who would perhaps seriously consider the points you’ve made. I also think that this article would serve as a good discussion starter at a staff conference.

    • Joe Schafer

      I hesitate to use Driscoll / Mars Hill Seattle as a good model for leadership, organizational structure, discipline, etc. So many problems have surfaced with Driscoll and his inner circle, especially over the last 2-3 years, that I would prefer to look elsewhere.

    • Joe, I agree and I actually hesitated to post that. Still, from what I remember from reading it a while back it was the most substantive document on church discipline I had come across up to that point. Does the reformed tradition or Catholic church have something that is more biblical, sensible or balanced?

    • I’m sure that there is tons of good material out there about this, but I don’t know the best place to start. John Armstrong would know.

    • Some celebrity pastors might quote biblically sound practices, yet not practice what is proclaimed or preached. For instance, we might surround ourselves with people to be accountable to, yet they are all “rubber stampers” and “yes, men.”

    • Ian Turner
      Ian Turner

      Thanks, brother David.

      I do look like you, or is it the other way around :) — but at least you have hair.

      Thanks for the insight, and feel free to use the above in any capacity.

      On your church discipline point, I would argue that it would be an error even to say “the grace of Jesus should be our guiding ethic” in church discipline as long as Jesus himself already, intentionally provided a more clear ethic to guide church discipline.

      “The grace of Jesus” sounds spiritual, and who can deny it in a conversation? But, as you said, dig deeper, and you find that scripture does not leave us to vague statements, but speaks clearly.

      Jesus himself and the apostles already laid out a biblical ethic for church discipline, pertaining to at least 7 situations, directly or by inference:

      1. For private offenses (Mt 18:15-18)
      2. For divisive persons (Rom 16:17-20)
      3. For public Scandals/Excommunications (1 Cor 5:1-13)
      4. For disorderly persons (2 Thess 3:6-15)
      5. For Heretics (1 Tm 1:19-20; 2 John 7-11)
      6. For public leadership failures (Gal 2:11; 1Tim 5:19-20)
      7. For disqualified leaders (3 Jn 9-11)

      It seems wrong to say vaguely the “grace of Jesus” when in fact such clear scriptural guidance is already in place.

      And it is by the “grace of Jesus” that we even have such clear scriptural guidance.

      Those vague, super-spiritual one-liner-conversation-enders are really annoying.

    • Ian Turner
      Ian Turner

      One more thing, brother David.

      Forgot to say, I heard the grapevine stuff too (I keep involved). But, until stuff is written down… you know…

  6. big bear

    UBF will be held accountable to God…they need to seriously repent that they evade the body of Christ..use the Bible to justify their abusive and controlling system with no overseers or accountability to those they just kick out or abuse in the name of doing God’s mission…and for all the precious families that were torn apart by their sinfulness…my hope is in God who will make things right…I believe that UBF is incapable of admitting their abuses or having honest and truthful dialogue…there needs to be a third party involved to clear this mess up….not once did we celebrate the Lord’s supper and only witnessed one baptism in 29 years…when I started a chapter we tried to celebrate and baptize people as much as possible but the practice was frown upon in Cincinnati UBF

  7. You get today’s prize DavidW!

    “Funny how so many former members were condemned and driven out; where was this guiding ethic of grace then?”

    +1 million, Like, Share, Tag, Pin, Digg, Yes and Amen.

  8. “Funny how so many former members were condemned and driven out…” – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2014/05/11/a-biblical-response-to-the-ubf-definition-of-church/#sthash.vQPmos7B.dpuf

    Even if you were not driven out, you were misunderstood, marginalized, maligned, shamed, slandered, frowned upon, gossiped about, called into question, assigned and ascribed all sorts of “cute” ad hominems, and have this question asked about you, “what’s wrong with (your name)?” This actually makes life fun and exciting!

  9. From my knowledge, there exists both a set of bylaws as well as a type of membership status within UBF. But they are so obscure so as to seemingly have little to no bearing on what largely transpires within the ministry (aside from length of term of GD and some other key positions). Could anyone shed light on these two aspects?

    • Chris has seen our ubf bylaws and has very helpfully critiqued it.

    • I have the by-laws. They are very short and vague. They say almost nothing and leads me to believe they just created the by-laws to get tax-free status in America.

      If anyone wants a copy I will freely distribute them. Heck, I will even post them publicly. We have something called the “freedom of information act” in the USA. ubf members have a right to know.

    • Legally, I believe, the by-laws should be available and accessible to every UBF member/person who attends UBF. But do so at your own risk, for I could not bear reading it nor remember anything in it! :-)

    • Yes Ben the by-laws of ubf are rather dull and uninteresting. There is no “smoking gun” in them, as one like me might hope. Identifying and understanding ubf theology, practices and policies remain like “nailing jello to the wall”. I hope my second book will provide some documentation to begin helping people to understand.

    • Now the 50th ubf anniversary blue book on the other hand, is chock full of good stuff that vividly outlines what the top echelon of ubf want to do with ubf. Not the least of which is to establish “ubf university” and “ubf K-12 schools”.

    • By the way, my chapter in Germany did not even have any by-laws. We had some legalese that was needed to operate as a tax exempt “eingetragener Verein”, not no real church by-laws. I’m quite amazed that when I buy something online or install software, I am always required to read and agree with their general terms and conditions, but I was never required to read and agree with any written conditions in UBF, where it was so much more important.

    • Joe Schafer

      “Membership” in UBF means belonging to the Members, which is (legally within the United States) the group that has ultimate power over the nonprofit corporation. They are equivalent to a Board of Directors or a Board of Trustees. I believe that, if they wanted to do so, they could modify the by-laws to change anything and everything about UBF: the International Advisory Board, the General Director, the mission statements, the elders, the relationship to Korean UBF, the whole enchilada. They delegate power to every leader in UBF. But they do not realize it. Every year, when they meet, they are told what their purpose is, what their agenda for the meeting is, and because (warning — snarky comment follows — apologies in advance) most of them are thrilled by the honor of belonging to such an elite group, they do what they are told.

  10. Ben reminded me that I had written some comments on the UBF by-laws.

    First it needs to be said, that it is already a progress that UBF now has by-laws. I remember that reformers complained that there were no written by-laws and I guess they were only written when UBF tried to get re-admitted to the NAE. The by-laws I saw were the by-laws for USA/Canada, version of 2009. There may be a revised version now. Some chapters may also have individual by-laws.

    I did not really go deep into the matter, but after a quick read, these were my impressions:

    Section 1 fails to define what UBF even is. It does not say whether UBF understands itself as a church, parachurch, ministry, mission whatever. It also fails to say how UBF is connected or not with other churches. In section 2 it starts addressing UBF as a “corporation” which does not help much in understanding what UBF is.

    The purpose and scope of UBF is mentioned in 1.1 in a vague and dishonest way: “Encourage the propagation of the gospel”. That can be anything. It should clearly state that UBF is all about “raising and training disciples”. It does not even mention Bible study, it does not mention whether Sunday services are held and by whom.

    Section 3.1 says that the annual meeting elects the board of elders and a corporation president. But it fails to explain how this election should happen, what the qualifications are etc. Section 4.3 which has “qualification” in its title also fails to list the qualifications. Then in section 4.10 qualifications is covered again, and again no real qualifications are listed.

    Then it starts to get really ugly. All kinds of non-biblical offices, directors, presidents, executives, staff, boards and committees are introduced so that your head starts spinning. Particularly the office of the “general director” and an ominous “international executive board” who seem to hold all power are finally mentioned; they seem to nominate and elect each other. In 2.1 the document says that the Bible should be “the only rule of faith and practice” but then it fails to explain how these offices can be considered a Biblical practice. The Biblical office of a “deacon” is not mentioned at all. Board members and all kinds of directors have more power than elders. The UBF offices of “missionary” and “shepherd” are not mentioned at all. Fellowship leaders are mentioned, but it is not explained who they are.

    Just as no qualifications are required for elders, no qualifications are required for chapter directors either, even though they are “authorized to baptize, administer communion, perform weddings, funerals and do any other pastoral function”.

    Powers are described very vaguely, e.g. “the general director shall have such duties and powers as are necessary to carry out the purpose of the corporation”. There is no mention of “limitation of power”.

    There is no mention how salary or insurance of staff or directors is handled. I think that should be also mentioned in by-laws.

    The most astonishing thing for me is that the whole document refers to the Bible only when it quotes the world mission command. Otherwise, UBFers never fail to quote the Bible, but here I do not see anything that is derived from the Bible.

    I have had a look at the by-laws of the Presbyterian church for comparison. Superficially, they look a bit similar, if you ignore all the directors and boards stuff. The Presbyterian church has only regular elders and deacons. However, what I think makes the huge difference is that the Presbyterian by-laws refer to their “constitution” which comprise a book of confession and a “book of order”. Their by-laws have the crucial passage “Governance of the Church” which says that the church shall be governed according to this constitution. The UBF by-laws are completely missing such a paragraph! So they are just like a facade, all the meat is missing.

    The “book of order” of the Presbyterian church has all the details I had expected. It explains exactly what the Presbyterian church is and how it is conducted. It explains what elders and deacons are, what their gifts and qualifications shall be, it explains the difference between “ruling” and “teaching” elders etc. It explains how worship, baptism, Lord’s supper should be conducted etc. And it also contains very detailed “rules of discipline” that we were missing in UBF.

    Let me quote from that section in the “book of order”: “The purpose of discipline is to honor God by making clear the significance of membership in the body of Christ; to preserve the purity of the church by nourishing the individual within the life of the believing community; to achieve justice and compassion for all participants involved; to correct or restrain wrongdoing in order to bring members to repentance and restoration; to uphold the dignity of those who have been harmed by disciplinary offenses; to restore the unity of the church by removing the causes of discord and division; and to secure the just, speedy, and economical determination of proceedings.”

    I think, since UBF has separated itself from its mother church and thus rejected their constitution and church order, it has the duty to define its own constitution and church order. The by-laws do not provide anything helpful in that direction.

  11. “The church was the outcome of their devotion to world mission”. – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2014/05/11/a-biblical-response-to-the-ubf-definition-of-church/#comment-13622

    This statement is at best ignorant and simplistic, at worst blasphemous and evil.

    • Joe Schafer

      The church was the outcome of the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. And of the sending of the Holy Spirit on the disciples on the day of Pentecost. Period. Amen.

  12. “(UBF) was the outcome of their devotion to world mission.” – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2014/05/11/a-biblical-response-to-the-ubf-definition-of-church/#sthash.evOepyC1.dpuf

    The implication of this statement might be near the core and root of UBF theology and Bible study being “off.” I regard it as anthropocentricity, or an anthropocentric way of interpreting and explaining one’s Christian life, church and ministry.

    This invariably puts God being handcuffed until we lazy sinners “devote to world mission” and to obeying the Bible.

  13. forestsfailyou

    *slow clap* this is the most well articulated article I have seen about ubf. There is a major problem with absence of explicitly stated doctorine or definitions in ubf. So you get various people with various definitions and you have major communication issues. For example the marriage by faith doctrine has at least 4 renderings that I have seen amoung various chapters in terms of what it is, how works, it’s purpose etc. this creates confusion and conflict when differing chapters treat it differently. One issue that comes with a non denominational group is that it does not form clear doctrine because it feels like this restricts it. But scripture cleaves to doctrine, and so you major communication issues. This is magnified by the fact that seminary is seen as not needed. Mark yang told me “we will train you”. I think mark yang wrote that history, or at least helped. So he seems to refute himself.

    • “There is a major problem with absence of explicitly stated doctorine or definitions in ubf.”

      I completely agree with you on that, Forest. The bpok “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” which I recommend to all UBFers explains that such “unspoken rules” are a hallmark of spiritually unhealthy environment. However, the existence of “unspoken rules” does not mean that they are always ambiguous and have different renderings as you see now in UBF. In the times of Samuel Lee, all chapters implemented the rules in pretty much the same strict way.

  14. Hey everyone:

    If you are looking for the UBF by-laws, they are available publicly.

    UBF by-laws

    Some chapter (like Toledo) have started creating their own constitution/administration documents:

    Toledo UBF administration doc

    Side note: They created this document based on my recommendation. I don’t agree really with what they did with my suggestions.

    • Hey all you ubfers out there, pay close attention to what Toledo ubf did… an email went out from ATK not too long ago to all chapter directors telling them to “look to Toledo ubf as a role model”.

      You know, because Toledo ubf was so amazingly successful in purging 50% of their leader families and is such a healthy ministry. I heard they have such high quality spiritual messages too.

    • Note that these by-laws were published by the UNC-CH university, not by UBF itself, and we only have the by-laws for UBF USA/Canada because they were attached to the by-laws of UBF at UNC-CH.

    • Joe Schafer

      Penn State UBF has its own corporate entity, its own tax-exempt status and its own by-laws. We are legally free to operate as we wish.

  15. big bear

    As a UBF shepherd for 29 years for the most part, here is what I was taught about church membership and the kind of church UBF was from Cincinnati UBF:

    1. I prided in the fact that UBF was not like any other church, no laws, no accountability and no doctrine…this became my downfall when our family fell apart and my children grew older and asked real questions

    2. I remember once we received a church booklet but nobody read it

    3. The whole idea of Bible study was to chop down the stupid theology and framework of churches so that people may depend on God

    4. The chapter director was a “clone of Samuel Lee” even practicing some of the abuses such as pepper and onions in my brothers eyes, all night testimony writing to break us and he practiced much spiritual abuse

    5. Whenever I had a problem, he never helped in practical ways, but told me to repent and my faith was faulty…he called students names and even told me my wife “is out of her mind”

    6. He told me that all other churches teach “Bullshit” and he asked me to stop visiting my family and friends…

    7. He never practiced any of the sacraments

    8. At the time, I thought it was cool not to be held accountable and to just live as I pleased but this was my downfall as I became determined to tear down any Christian who did not belong to UBF

    9. For 15 years, I worked full time and went to school (often full time) and taught the Bible and raised a family of 5 children but I was so burnt out that I even mixed my wife and childrens names up…

    10. It seemed like everyone was on a different page and that I hated the depression and the poverty that I endured while the chapter director lived in a mansion and never seem to relate to us

    11. It seemed that things got worst when I got a family…my children did not need to suffer under such inhuman treatment but there was no way out and no support for my children (one was raped while in ministry in Cincinnati)

    12. Though I have been out of UBF for 2 years now, my children and my ex wife still suffer from the fall out and lack of support…we had to go to counseling and gradually learn what it means to be in a healthy church…

    13. There must be a framework of accountability and abusive leaders must step down…and a new way must be paved through all these discussions…

    14. UBF must join the body of Christ and start to love the true church in which all believers are a part of it..

    So happy to be out of UBF….if not a cult…it is nightmare on families and eventually the truth will set you free…

  16. Ian Turner
    Ian Turner

    The scripture references in the above definition were reduced to save space.

    Here’s the full version with all scripture references:

  17. Thanks Ian! That’s probably the most awesome definition of “church” I’ve ever seen. I love the Scripture basis.

  18. In regard to the “member” crap… yes there is a secret inner circle in ubf called “Members”. In Toledo we only ever had 1 or 2 shepherds invited to be a “member”. It was a slap in the face to realize how much blood, sweat, tears, money, time and effort I gave to ubf for 24 years and NOT ONCE given the chance to be a member. Yet another evidence that ubf is a Korean/Confucian cult and NOT a Christian church. There are people in ubf who do belong to the body of Christ, but ubf corporately is clearly and intentionally outside the body of Christ.

  19. Very informative and thought provoking. Thank you

  20. forestsfailyou

    My roommate had a few issues with this that might be good to clarify. First he disagrees the apostles had a blue print, because Paul had not yet wrote his letters at the time of the foundation of the church. He also said the infrastructure was flexible. When I asked for examples he said that the way in which leaders are elected, the number of leaders etc. He also disagreed that a full account of the reformation was needed to understand UBF’s position in church history. He also didn’t understand how your third point followed. He said it was a non sequitur.

  21. Ian Turner
    Ian Turner

    Thanks for the comments. I’m much better at this face to face or over the phone, but I’ll try to respond numerically to correspond to each point.

    1) Your friend is right to raise questions. One of mine is “What does the ‘blueprint’ metaphor even mean? The burden is on the UBF history page writer to define “blueprint” and provide scriptural proof that “the apostles had no blueprint.”

    But even on a biblical level, before Paul wrote letters, Jesus said “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matt 18:16). So, you mean that Jesus did not have a blueprint in mind when he uttered this, or that if he did, he withheld it from the apostles? The words “I will build my church” to me ring with the intentionality and sovereignty of a God who has a “blueprint.” Again, what does “blueprint” even mean?

    2) Your friend is right that church infrastructure can be flexible. But which aspects should be open/closed to flexibility? Just the leader election process? How about frequency of Communion and who can perform them? What about licensing/ordination requirements? Why not change requirements for doctrinal beliefs of those who seek ordination?

    My approach above understands “infrastructure” never to be an isolated thing, but something always connected to your ecclesiology, which connects to your Christology, which connects to your soteriology, etc. Where do you draw the line with “flexibility.” Again, things aren’t as self-evident and simplistic as presented, and I am trying to get people to ask themselves “Wait, was it really flexible? In what way? What does flexibility mean?” So let’s get more precise on 1) our terms and 2) the extent to which a term applies to biblical/church-historical reality.

    Please remember that my purpose was to point out that an unclear statement of biblical theology /church-history (“infrastructure was flexible”) should not be taken at face value, especially when it’s trying to be used as support for the structure of an organization, but should be rigorously compared to scripture.

    3) Your friend misapplies the term “Non sequitur.” Non sequitur means a line of reasoning does not follow from its premises. However, section 2 of my article is not meant as a premise for section 3. Section 3 is just an added personal note at the end about something that’s been in my mind over the years. Section 2 does, however, supply the content necessary for understanding what a “local church” is. How can you understand what I mean by “UBF should reform into an association of local churches” unless you had a definition of “local churches,” which section 2 supplies. So, there is coherence.

    But I feel like I may not have satisfied your friend by my answers.

    • “But I feel like I may not have satisfied your friend by my answers.”

      And you never will Ian. Instead of comprehending the main point of a criticism, ubf people are conditioned to nitpick and turn the tables back on you, so that the discussion gets focused on non-essential details rather than on the obvious issues. But I suspect you already know this :)

      Forests is able to still think critically but it seems his common life roommate cannot. Most ubf are cowards when it comes to actually talking openly and honestly.

      I’m thankful that forests shows a healthy amount of courage and autonomy to share here. It really does not take a HUGE amount of courage or thick skin, just a normal, healthy amount. Most ubfers lack that normal, healthy amount of self-worthiness to make even one comment here.

  22. Ian Turner
    Ian Turner

    Sorry, missed one point: about the full account of the reformation not needed to understand UBF’s position in church history.

    I didn’t want a full account of the reformation.

    My issue was that the bad definition paragraph made the reformation all about “making many independent organizations.” Most who have been blessed by the teachings of the reformers to understand the gospel more biblically would think this characterization of the reformation misleading.

    My article isn’t a flawless monolith impervious to scrutiny. I welcome questions. But my greater hope was that people would move away from the bad definition (replete with unclear statements) and move toward studying the scripture references in section #2 and see how magnificently clearly scripture lays out the doctrine of the church.

    Any comments on the scripture references?

    • forestsfailyou

      Nope. I will let that (lack of comment by him) speak for itself.