Misunderstanding Faith

faithIf you have faith, you can marry.” “If you have faith in God, you can raise 12 disciples.”

Did I miscommunicate biblical faith? I used to make such statements 100s of times to countless Bible students for over a quarter of a century….especially to those who are single and in (restrained desire and) need of a spouse! I am so sorry for all those I did this too… I realize that inherent in such seemingly “innocent” and “cute” statements is that it could be provocative and possibly misleading and miscommunicating biblical faith.

What’s so wrong about making such statements? On the surface, and without much thought or critical reflection, they do sound biblical, don’t they? For Jesus said, “Have faith in God” (Mk 11:22). Also, we Christians absolutely need faith to please God (Heb 11:6), and “the righteous will live by faith” (Rom 1:17c, Hab 2:4). In the OT, when Abram believed God, his faith was credited to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6). Therefore, when we have faith and pray with believing faith (Mk 11:24), we can move immovable mountains (Mk 11:23). We can marry the person of our wildest dreams and raise many disciples for the kingdom of God! Wow…all I need and the only thing I need is faith. This is surely all true, correct and biblical, isn’t it?

The problem is… and there are several potential problems with making such unqualified statements and other related statements regarding faith, such as “With faith you can be a great man, and a Ph.D professor shepherd, and a successful businessman.” So what’s the problem?

It’s up to you and your faith. It presents faith as though it is entirely up to you and to the quality and purity and correctness and soundness of your faith. It puts the burden and pressure on you to have and to exercise the proper kind of faith. Then you, through your faith, will please God and move God’s heart to bless you abundantly according to your faith. It is basically having faith in your faith, rather than in God.

It takes emphasis away from the primacy of God. I am not denying that each Christian is fully responsible for exercising their faith. But to place the burden of faith primarily on the Christian denies or obscures the primacy of God in our faith (Phil 1:6; 2:12-13). It is as though God is not sovereign but that I am sovereign to fulfill God’s will, since God is dependent on my faith before he can or will act to bless me.

It can cause self-centeredness and excessive unhealthy introspection. It causes you to think primarily about yourself (what’s wrong with me or with my faith?), rather than to think or focus primarily on God.

It can be a form of control and guilt-tripping. It gives the church leader and the Bible teacher the control by putting pressure on the Bible student as the one who needs to prove themselves through the exercise of their faith expressed by their performance.

God’s Not Dead misrepresents faith. In the movie God’s Not Dead, a college professor is a staunch atheist. When he was young his mother became ill. Growing up in the church, he believed and prayed that God would heal her. But she died. He became bitter and concluded that God is dead. His idea of faith is that God would answer his prayers if he sincerely and genuinely prays to God by faith. His idea of faith is that he is in the driver’s seat and that God is the one who should do what he prays for. I shared this extemporaneously in my sermon Gospel Faith to express the fallacy of such faith.

Does your faith make you righteous? Interestingly, Rom 1:17 can also be translated “the righteous by faith will live” (Rom 1:17, NET), or “And the righteous one by faith shall live” (Rom 1:17, YLT). This perhaps conveys the essence of faith more clearly by emphasizing what God has done. We Christians do not live by faith to become righteous (or to get what we want or to have our prayers answered). Rather, it is precisely because of our faith in Christ who saves us by his grace that we live! This is the emphasis in my sermon Gospel Power.

What are your experiences with faith? How was faith taught or communicated to you?


  1. Yes Ben many things are misunderstood and mistaught at ubf. ubfers are lulled to sleep however. They should be SHOCKED and APPALLED at the things done by SL and other directors.

    How is the late SL any different from Mr. Angley? Former member reports are now rocking his ministry.

    “‘The most appalling thing I heard from former members was that Reverend Angley has so much sway over his members that he can talk them into getting vasectomies or abortions. He doesn’t believe people should bring children into the world and I talked to a number of people who begrudgingly got vasectomies and abortions,’ said Dyer.”

    Reports: Shocking allegations against Televangelist Ernest Angley

    • When you misunderstand faith like you describe, Ben, then it is easy to do all kinds of ungodly things such as lying. Such “faith” is just a form of godliness that lacks any power to restrain. Lying has been unrestrained among ubf directors and echelon.

      For example, we just heard that SL trained a man with bouncing ball training for 3 hours:

      “As a result, I had to bounce a volley ball to the ground for three hours in the staff conference.”

      SL however claimed the training was for 3 days (which would be impossible actually, how can you survive that?)

      “The 1991 Newsletter passage:

      (ii) Leadership training. By nature, the characteristics of Korean people are a sorrowful mind and an obedient spirit. In UBF, those who had a sorrowful mind were not tolerated. They were regarded as crippled people. On the other hand, those who had an obedient spirit were highly regarded as the candidates of Jesus’ disciples and future conquerors of the world with the gospel of Jesus. Our training programs were of more than 20 kinds. But the training program was not planned for a group of people. The training program was individually based. For example, one who had Confucius’ idea and who was 10 years older than other staff members claimed seniority. As a result he could not receive any kind of training. When training was given, he bounced it back in one way or the other. So in order to teach him that not receiving training, but bouncing it back is not good, he was given volleyball training. He had to bounce a volleyball on the floor for 3 days and nights without eating and sleeping. After that, he did not bounce back any kind of discipleship training. Later, he became a most humble servant of God and director of Kwangju UBF.”

      Someone is lying. And regardless, “bouncing ball” training is physical and mental and emotional abuse.

    • What Samuel Lee claims in the 1991 newsletter – “He had to bounce a volleyball on the floor for 3 days and nights without eating and sleeping.” – is virtually impossible. After 2 days without sleeping your reactions are like after drinking 2 bottles of wine alone. After 3 days you start to halluzinate. So SL was clearly lying and exaggerating, as usual in his newsletters.

      Also, forced sleep deprivation is actually torture, like forced hunger, forced cold, forced exposure to loud music etc. It is a well-known technique used for brainwashing people by totalitarian regimes and cults.

      So what Samuel Lee openly admits in the 1991 letter is “I tortured one of our group members”. And yet people claim is not a cult. Even this small quote from Samuel Lee’s newsletter, disregarding the mountain of other evidence, shows that UBF at the time of Samuel Lee was a cult, by any meaning of the word. Nobody inside the group protested against the training mentioned in this newsletter, nobody criticied Samuel Lee for it, nobody even raised an eyebrow. You may object that what he wrote was exaggerated and never took place. However, the point is that the newsletter does nowhere indicate that this was a joke. People took it deadly serious, and any UBF leader in the world could use this as an example that needed to be imitated, and many did so. Samuel Lee clearly tought people that torture was allowed in the name of training human rights and dignity are nothing to care about. If this is not a cult, then what is a cult?

      The other hallmark of a cult, besides disregard of human dignity, is lies and deception. Someone is clearly lying here, either Samuel Lee (“3 days and nights”) or Joshua Lee (“3 hours”). Even after so many years, you should remember whether the training was 3 hours or 3 days! A Christian church can never be built on lies. I am pretty sure both leaders were lying here. Samuel Lee was clearly lying because it is impossible to bounce a ball for 3 days without sleep. And Joshua Lee was lying because the training he got was certainly more abusive than just 3 hours of bouncing a ball which is still unacceptable. Also, he tries to downplay the abusiveness of Samuel Lee and depict the abuse done to him as something positive, again encouraging other leaders to continue the abuse. Joshua Lee clearly shows that the brainwashing done to him worked. Maybe it’s a combination of Stockholm syndrome and the wrongs Joshua Lee did in his own ministry after learning from Samuel Lee that makes him justify such things. Joshua Lee clearly paints a deceptive picture of UBF in the early days. Many people in UBF still believe that UBF in the early days was a healthy group and then somehow deviated. The truth is that UBF from the very beginnings, soon after Samuel Lee was made a leader, became an abusive cult in Korea, as the 1976 letter clearly shows, then became a little bit more moderate in the US, and only in recent years after the death of Samuel Lee has made some changes to appear more moderate. But the abusive founder and leader is still glorified, together with his practices and teachings that encourage abuse. This should not be accepted by UBF members.

  2. The report about Angley is rather shocking, especially about not having children. I’m wondering if he has a wife and kids, since he is alleged to be homosexual.

    Regarding SLee’s training, I said after he died in 2002 that no one can ever train people the way he did. In a sense I think I’m right in that such practices are no longer carried out. Of course, problems still exist. But even if it is done too slow and too clandestinely, changes are happening.

    Though what SL did is shocking to our ears (and rightly so), it is not as shocking to those who welcomed it. To this day, I still have no serious misgivings of the training I received under SL. Mine was really relatively mild, relatively speaking. But SL knew that he could not do what he did in Korea in the US, and for the most part did not.

    Without justifying or excusing what he did in any way, I believe that SL did what he did, believing that that was his way of pleasing, serving and glorifying God. Likely, others who followed in his footsteps believed so as well, wrong as it is.

    I’m very very sorry about all this. It is clearly and unequivocally wrong and absolutely needs to be addressed, apologized for and corrected. But the fact remains that God is good, and his love endures forever (Ps 136:1), and that in all things God works for the good of those who love him (Rom 8:28), even amidst all the wrong that has been perpetrated.

    • “But SL knew that he could not do what he did in Korea in the US, and for the most part did not.”

      It did not only depend on the country, but also on the individual. The leaders knew pretty well how far they could go with each person. Those with a high self-assurance (like maybe you) were treated more carefully, those with low self-esteem experienced more abuse.

      Also, Samuel advertized training like bouncing a ball three days without sleep as something normal, even in the English-language newsletter. I remember a Channel 5 report on Triton UBF where an American father said: “What they (UBF) did to my son – nobody should be allowed to do that in the United States of America.”

  3. There are some cases in which it is really God working and someone is carrying out God’s will. It’s clear to me that SL had a gift, in some form, of prophecy.

    The problem is that he was idolized and worshipped as many Korean pastors have become, and then people started doing what he did, picking up his weaknesses as well as some of the good, “by faith” believing that’s all they needed.

    There’s a U2 song in which he says, What no man can own, no man can take. What we really do before God, no one, not the devil or any holy person, can ever take away. It’s our victory before God.

    Ben, your discussion of the “by faith” aspect of UBF heritage is spot on. In many ways UBF people have followed the footsteps of some “word of faith” movements in thinking they can create a reality. This kind of focus ultimately leads women and men to condescend others.

    “By faith” often means, now, “carelessly, arrogantly, and condescendingly”.

    I married “by faith” in outward obedience but complete inward rebellion against the reality of what too many missionaries mean when they say “By faith.” By faith to me means, we trust in God more than man, including my pastor or even my entire organization. We beleive God can do great things in any situation. But it also means that I will do everything I can to obey God more than man, and trust him to be with me no matter what.

    If FAITH really leads us to do something, we should trust God that we have to follow the rules even. God knows we’re in America. He knows all the laws more than us. Shouldn’t we follow basic laws and avoid careless persecution?

    Interestingly, another controversial prophetic movement “International House of Prayer” has made official statements on their website that prophesying, while a gift of the Holy Spirit, should be used carefully, and never to tell people who to marry, divorce, what job to get and so on.

    Word to the wise.

  4. Ben, just pointing out that your article is our 500th article in about 4 years. And we’ve had 15,392 comments.

    • Wow! 125 articles/year; 10+/month; 2+/week.
      3,800+ comments/year; 300+/month; 75+/week; 10+/day!

  5. So it is interesting to look back on some history here…please update or correct anything I’m about to say :)

    – In 1976 the 1st crisis/reform movement seems to have lasted only 1 year. In 1977 SL and other ubf Koreans moved the HQ to the U.S. in Chicago. ubf appeared to be a new ministry on the surface and took root in many countries outside Korea.

    – In 1989 the 2nd crisis/reform movement seems to have lasted a couple years. This one seems transparent to me with little impact on most of ubf? What was the impact of this one? ubf seemed to grow dramatically after this.

    – In 2001 the 3rd crisis/reform movement seems to have lasted about 6 years. The Voy forum shut down around 2005. Major leaders (like Trent) left in 2006. The lawsuit initiated against Chris seems to have ended all discussions by former members. ubf joined the ECFA and rejoined the NAE in 2008 after being kicked out in 2004. ubf seemed to have survived.

    – In 2011 the 4th crisis/reform movement is still going on, the past 3 years. I don’t see any end in sight to this one. The big success was the world-wide communications, fostered by blogging and social media.

    Thoughts? Corrections? Modifications?

    • This is my spontaneous reaction (by putting on my triumph UBF lens): “This is your opinion and your perspective. While Satan always hinders and opposes God aggressively, THE WORK OF GOD IS GOING ON and GOD WILL WIN THE FINAL VICTORY!!!”

    • LOL. Yes that is exactly what both of us said a several years ago!

    • FWIW, that’s called an “over-realized eschatology.” Sorry for showing off!

    • Ben, there’s nothing wrong with that UBF lens reaction, it’s what all Christians believe.

      The only problematic thing is that the UBF lens view carries an implicit “work of God = UBF” in it. They never say it explicitly, but they always mean it implicitly. In the UBF view, there is no or very little work of God outside UBF, while everything in UBF is the work of God, including the abuse and everything Samuel Lee did. The two are really identical in the view of a hardcore UBFer. This implicit belief makes it very difficult to discuss with UBFers.

  6. Mark Mederich

    too much tender talk too long, right or wrong period..