From Certainty to Uncertainty

certaintyFor 34 years and counting of being in UBF, I’ve heard countless testimonies titled something like, “From a Samaritan Woman to a Mother of Prayer,” or “From a Gerasene Demoniac to a Good Shepherd like Jesus.” Well, my title is “From Certainty to Uncertainty.” This thought came to me after reading an excellent post that Joe just shared on Facebook: When Certainty Kills.

After becoming a Christian in 1980 I became certain and convinced by the work of the Holy Spirit that living for Jesus is the only worthwhile reason to live (Jn 10:10b; 20:31). Only by God’s mercy and grace, this is still as true for me today as it was when I experienced my mystical conversion in 1980.

But along with this glorious, mystical, loving, gracious, mysterious certainty of Christ, I realize that I also added “other certainties,” which were basically non-negotiable to me, such as:

  • One to one Bible study is the best way of discipleship.
  • You must always answer the Bible study questions before meeting for Bible study…and prepare a Bible study binder.
  • Writing testimonies weekly is the best way to grow as a Christian.
  • Marrying by faith is the way to marry.
  • Everyone should be a one to one Bible teacher and teach the Bible.
  • You must never ever miss Sun worship service for any reason unless you’re dying or moribund or for four weeks for a mother after delivering a baby, but NOT for the father.
  • You must never miss your weekly church meetings.
  • You better never miss any church conferences, even if you have to go into debt by paying for the travel expenses and conference fee.
  • You must always defer to and agree with your senior and your leader, even though they are clearly wrong.
  • You must not disagree with, object to, or challenge your leader, because God appointed them and not you to be the leader.
  • If your Christian leader does not bless you, God will not bless you.
  • God’s blessing on your life invariably and necessarily comes through your leader and your church.
  • UBF is the best church in the world.
  • Caucasian Bible students are the best, while others are dispensable. Sorry for having to make such a racially offensive and disgusting statement, because it was sadly true of me then.
  • Any Christian or church who does things differently from me or my church is really compromising, inferior, suboptimal, nominal, culturally contaminated, sad and pitiful.

Of course, I developed these absolute certainties because my church communicated these certainties, either implicitly or even explicitly at times. These are not necessarily all bad or wrong, though some clearly are unbiblical. I’m sure you can identify which.

The problem with these certainties other than Christ and the gospel is that I became arrogant and condescending toward anyone who did not value and treasure MY certainties. I was also known by others–such as my family–for these other certainties, as though Christ is like that, when clearly Jesus is never ever so rigid, narrow, inflexible and intolerant of anyone who is not like ME!

Today, Christ remains my single certainty. But the others are not longer certainties to me.

  • I enjoy group BIble studies, which I think are far more interesting and illuminating.
  • People can come for Bible studies prepared or completely unprepared.
  • They can share written testimonies, or oral extemporaneous testimonies, or not share at all.
  • No church meeting or church conference is mandatory.
  • Come if you want to, not because you have to.
  • Learn to make decisions on your own before God and not think that you need the mediator of another person, since Christ is the only mediator (1 Tim 2:5).
  • Overcome unhealthy dependency on another person, as though your blessing comes primarily from a human being rather than from God.
  • Sorry to blow burst anyone’s bubble, but UBF is NOT the best church in the world. Nonetheless, I love this church, because ultimately it is Christ’s bride and He is my bridegroom.

What are your certainties? Have you dispensed of any unnecessary certainties that you once held dear?

15 comments

  1. Incidentally, this is my spontaneous random written testimony for the day after reading the excellent post Joe shared on facebook.

  2. This is a quote from Peter Enns upcoming book, The Bible Tells Me So:

    “Sweating bullets to line up the Bible with our exhausting expectations, to make the Bible something it’s not meant to be, isn’t a pious act of faith, even if it looks that way on the surface. It’s actually thinly masked fear of losing control and certainty, a mirror of an inner disquiet, a warning signal that deep down we do not really trust God at all.”

    This is how I used to handle the bible text, not so much from what I learned in UBF but more so from evangelicalism in general.

  3. hi dad, I think you meant “burst anyone’s bubble,” not blow :). I grew up believing all the things on your list. Wow. I remember as a child/teen wondering why we even sang hymns from a hymnal that was not written by UBF people. Because it couldn’t possibly be that there were sincere Christians outside of UBF, or existing before UBF came around and began “pioneering” the world…

  4. And to be fair, UBF isn’t the only church that thinks it’s superior to every other church. Geoff grew up going to a Plymouth Brethren church that was very focused on Bible study and Bible memorization, and he says he also believed the same thing about his church and Plymouth Brethren Christians.

  5. forestsfailyou
    forestsfailyou

    Begin with certainty and you will end in doubt, begin with doubt and you will end in certainty.- Francis Bacon

    • Indeed, Francis Bacon said some true things. This one has often been quoted on UBF forums: “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” But the most famous is this one ;-)

  6. Very good points. As I grow older, most of these certainties are fading away, but a few are only growing in me. Such as “God is love”.

    Ben, I appretiate that you clarified “I developed these absolute certainties because my church communicated these certainties”. This is an important point. To be more precise, it was not so much your church, but your personal shepherd and trainer, and it was not just “communicated” but rather systematically “inaculated” and “trained”. If a church simply communicated such things to you, you would not believe it so easily. It is necessary that such things are repeated and emphasized obsessively and that people get punished, shamed, shunned or rebuked if they disregard these “certainties” in order to make people internalize them as their own certainties.

  7. “Sorry to blow anyone’s bubble…”

    THAT has got to be the funniest thing I have ever read!! Sorry but I’m laughing too hard to even remember what this post was about…

    • I didn’t realize how funny “blow your bubble” is. I was going to change and edit it to “burst your bubble,” but I guess I’ll leave it.

  8. When I read your article, I realized many overlaps with what I had been told during my time in UBF. Now after almost 2 years of quitting it is hard for me to understand how I could have been so “blind”. But maybe this is because whenever I tried to criticise the practices or certain persons I was told that there is something wrong with my faith and that I had a problem with obedience and that I should repent on my sin and accept God’s control over my life. Today I know that it was not God’s control but the one of the leaders… Still I miss most of the people that I co-worked with very intensively. But there was no way of staying, because I felt too much oppressed and forced to adapt to the “rules”. Today, my husband and me are attending the service in another church in our city and we want our daughter to grow up with nothing else than Jesus as the Lord of her life. Thank you for this clear article, Ben!

    • Welcome and thanks for sharing, Fiona. I think that your comments and experience do resonate with many, especially with those under a dominant, dogged, domineering leader who loves to call the shots and who are unable to be called to be accountable. May God bless you and your family on your journey of faith.

    • Thank you!

  9. Charles Wilson
    Charles Wilson

    Thought of this tweetby Benjamin Corey. I’m at a point where I don’t trust much of what I have learned about the Bible, ministry, church, family, Christianity, and how I have learned it, so that I need to go and learn it newly. Where certainty also made me arrogant, blind, insensitive, and so on, I find that in my time of uncertainty and facing uncertainties I have to be careful to not impose those on others as well, being certain of my uncertainties.

  10. A 1 year reminder from Facebook. I realize that those who live in certainty incline toward arrogance and condescension, while those who live in doubt incline toward humility and generosity.

  11. Neat Post.

    Indeed for me, Certainty has become Christ.

    Interesting the mention about other ministries having some of the same attitudes about other ministries. In particular, it seems that ministries that heavily emphasize the study of Scriptures including memorization, seem to be “prone” to this kind of attitude.

    Something tells me there is a mechanism in the spirit of a person that gives us a sense of certainty and rightness, which we can rationalize even from portions of Scripture, yet locks us away from God as much as we feel we are near to him.

    Of course, scripture study and memorization of the words are of greater worth than we can imagine. Yet we must still put uncertainty into God’s hands and be willing to let him surprise us with what he does and allows in our lives . . .