My goal in writing about these various reactions to my initial post on UBF has primarily been one—reconciliation between brothers and sisters in Christ. My motives and my insights have been attacked fiercely by some former UBF members. Meanwhile, UBF members have expressed appreciation, generally speaking. I also continue to pursue my real concerns with leaders within UBF and conduct a civil and respectful conversation. For this I am seen as foolish, unwise, self-promoting myself and unstable.
A friend wrote to me in private, after this discussion began on my original January post, saying: “It is very easy to take sides if you become friends with one party and feel their pain. However, if you appear to be taking sides—by, say, defending one group and at the same time criticizing the other—then you will not help them move closer to each other. I don’t think anything can be more important to God than reconciliation. Paul described the Christian mission as ‘the ministry of reconciliation’ and Jesus said ‘blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.’” I so agree with this and realize former-UBF people are likely to see me as taking sides with UBF and thus this is the end of the matter for them. I am no longer a credible agent of reconciliation or even of the message of Christ, at least to some extent.
One former UBF member, living outside of North America (UBF is an international ministry) wrote the following letter to me in private:
My fundamental problem with UBF is regarding heavy shepherding. I personally feel that UBF makes the mistake that some people were falling into when God inspired the apostle Paul to write his letter to the Colossians.
There is a great sense in UBF’s teaching that God will punish you if you do not obey your Bible teacher. I have been speaking with a current member for a while and he was recently told that if he left the ministry God would punish him. I was told this when I left the ministry and had been told it regarding a number of decisions in my life with the Lord Jesus while I was involved in the ministry. I was reading authors like John Piper where I saw that a love for Jesus and a delight in the gospel were what should motivate us in the Christian life, a teaching I now see dripping out of the Bible.
Before then I tried to do what I knew the Bible called me to do but I did it in my own strength, fearing God’s punishment if I failed.
I want to beg you to look into the complaints of ex-UBF members. Many are angry and upset. Many have been seriously wounded and may not appear to have faith in the Lord Jesus, because there is so much hatred and pain. Still many, many people have felt the strong arm of a shepherd. A strong arm which is not the model given by the Lord Jesus in Mark 9:30-50 or Mark 10:35-45.
I feel the reason UBF wants you on their side is to give them legitimacy. Speaking to a member thinking of leaving UBF your article has been used to show that UBF is not a cult. (I would want to say it is an abusive church). This is a young man who has been told that if he were to leave he would be punished by God because he would be disobeying God’s will for his life.
Please do consider the testimony of those who have left UBF and not just dismiss them. Please carefully consider if you should support them because your words will be used all over the world to keep people studying with UBF. If abusive shepherding is taking place you will be helping that abuse to continue by supporting UBF. If you end up feeling that abuse is not institutional then obviously you should support their work.
I have not reproduced every single word of this brother’s letter in order to protect him from any unnecessary personal misunderstanding and to cut out a few extraneous comments that might hinder the reader from hearing his primary points of concern. I have no doubt that he is earnest and that he has some serious points to be made that should be made and appropriately heard. I also believe there is, in his appeal, a word that UBF leaders should listen to and seriously consider in the days ahead. If he is wrong then they can learn much from him anyway. If he is right, in the slightest sense, then they can improve and correct excessive practices by hearing him out. If I see what he states in my own relationship with UBF leaders I will gladly make it known to them, as I have already indicated.
Another brother wrote the following accusation against UBF to me, again in a private letter. Once again I share only part of this and do so without his name for the same reasons as given above.
Where UBF gets its reputation as a cult is the abusive practices that it performs on members behind the scenes and the demands of absolute obedience of members to the leadership. You will not see this kind of abuse and psychological pressure while visiting the group or interviewing its leaders. New members are often attracted to the group because of their friendliness, their passion for the Bible, and the differences from typical US churches that you have witnessed. It’s only after members become somewhat committed to the group that the strange practices and teaching start really coming out. Obviously they will not showcase these things to outsiders.
Still another former-UBF member wrote to me:
I think that the sheer number of long-term Christian critics of UBF should raise a red flag.
Could there be truth in these kinds of statements that I do not see? Of course. But I also believe that most churches in America are in such a sad state that any group that practices serious church discipline, that disciples people with real intentionality, and that seeks a deeper abd whole-hearted commitment from its followers, will face similar challenges to its authority structure in every single instance. There can be problems, as John Bunyan once noted, on both sides of the road. There is a ditch to be avoided on the side of too much human authority and there is a ditch to be avoided on the side of human freedom and self-determination. UBF needs to recognize this more clearly as do former UBF members who are quite obviously convinced of its abusive patterns. The fact that these strong charges are made, that Web sites regularly attack UBF, and that people have been harmed by UBF does not finally mean that UBF is an evil cult. I repeat what I stated in my first blog. UBF has two major problems, at least from my perspective: (1) It retains an expression of Korean culture that is not always in its best interest, especially in non-Korean settings. This is an issue of missiology as well as an issue of authority. (2) It has been ingrown for decades and therefore less than open to outside voices and teachers. This is an issue of development and one that calls for improving ministerial accountability. Many evangelical groups that function like UBF have similar problems. Some correct them and some do not.
I also agree that UBF leadership should answer more of the general questions that are raised against it. I know why they choose not to respond, feeling that answers take time and serve no positive purpose. But I think they would be served, as some critics have noted, to provide some general acknowledgement of past mistakes and some present public recognition that they are attempting to listen. I have offered this advice to UBF, and I will continue to encourage them to follow it where possible, but in the end there is nothing they can do that will please many of their critics, so it seems to me.
Surely every present member of UBF, as well as every ex-member, must recognize that I am not personally the person who can solve these claims and counter-claims, contrary to some of the posts that have appeared on this site. I am only one inconsequential teacher seeking to faithfully follow Christ and to serve my brothers and sisters wherever possible. I have discussed every single issue that has been brought to me with my friends who are among the UBF leadership that I personally know. I have tried to listened to these criticisms with an open mind. I will continue to do this in the future but this blog spot will not be dominated by discussion about UBF.
I will post a few final comments over the next two days. Then, unless there is reason to say more, I am done with this discussion since it does not help me or ACT 3 to fulfill our commitment to the well-being of the kingdom of Christ to continue this type of debate as a regular part of my ministry. Further, comments that are rude or inappropriate are not welcome. If I read comments that cross this line I will delete them if that becomes necessary. Finally, I urge ex-UBF members to respond to present living UBF leaders as much as possible, not to me. Your issue is not with me. If your problem is with me then you have made it so since all I have done is share my heart in ministry to UBF groups when invited to do so. I can not resolve your issues with past abuse that you believe was inflicted by UBF. I began these comments only because I was asked to speak for UBF and then began to receive personal attacks on my motives when I did so. I have also received phone calls from third parties telling me to back off from helping UBF and open accusations that I was being used to advance cult purposes. None of these attempts to correct me serve a positive purpose at all.
Comments are closed.
My Latest Book!
Use Promo code UNITY for 40% discount!
Mr. Armstrong, it’s really hard for me to believe that anybody wants you to stop helping UBF. I think many members and ex-members agree that UBF needs external counseling. The thing that probably made some people upset was your one-sided praise of UBF and belittling of the problems and abuse in some of your earlier articles.
As an ex UBF member I want to assure you that I am all for UBF being helped, by whoever. You wrote that “in the end there is nothing they can do that will please many of their critics.” How can you say that? So far UBF has not even made a small step towards an honest public confession or apology. I think even a small step into that direction would be well appreciated by critics when it will be clear that it’s not only a tactical maneuver, since it would be something so unusual and unheard of in UBF’s 45 years history. The crucial point is whether UBF and particularly those in UBF who really have the say are serious about it.
You identified Confucianism and Inbreeding as UBF’s major issues, but I would say that the hierarchical authoritarianism itself is the major issue. In that UBF is very comparable to a group like the ICOC which does not have this additional problem stemming from Korean culture. Even if you don’t want to compare ICOC with UBF because of their teachings of baptism, their concept of discipling is very comparable with UBF’s concept of shepherding. Even without their teachings of one true church and baptism, the ICOC would have a problem, just as UBF. It’s this concept of discipling itself that is problematic.
Dear Dr. Armstrong
It is very unfortunate that you had to experience such difficult time since you posted an article about UBF. I myself posted several comments on your article. I am truly sorry that some of them were very rude. Please forgive me. I hope that you may not have to go through any more difficult time than you already have. I want to urge current UBF members as well as former UBF members not to be emotional attacking each other personally when posting comments. Both sides need to be calm and discuss the real issues in UBF honestly with civil manners.
Thank you so much for your sincere efforts to bring healing and reconciliation on both current UBF members and former members. Hoping to add to your efforts, I would like to post this comment on one of the most fundamental doctrines in UBF system. It is the doctrine of “marriage by faith”. To be more accurate, I should say “UBF style” of marriage by faith. Before I discuss this doctrine in detail, I think it is better to see how this doctrine is practiced in UBF. There is a testimony by a UBF member posted on the official website of Korean UBF ( http://www.ubf.or.kr/bbs/view.php?id=2006Missionaryconference&page=1&sn1=&divpage=1&sn=off&ss=on&sc=on&select_arrange=headnum&desc=asc&no=26 ). English translation of an excerpt of the testimony can be found here ( http://community.livejournal.com/rsqubf/80235.html?thread=448619#t448619 ).
I will quote some of the testimony by Becky. She writes, ““하지만, 모두들 그와 결혼하라고 압력을 넣고, 그렇지 않으면 하나님께 불순종하는 것이란 느낌을 심어왔습니다 (But everyone around me kept on pushing me so hard to marry him. They also made me think that it would be disobeying God if I didn’t marry him.)” But she strongly refused to marry the first candidate. Becky’s case is kind of special case because she is a child of UBF Korean missionary. Then finally she was introduced to the second candidate immediately. She married the second candidate after “just one date”. Before her UBF style of marriage by faith, she met a nice Christian boyfriend. She planned to marry him. But it didn’t work out because he wanted her to leave UBF.
You can see the issue of leaving UBF organization. Leaving UBF is very difficult. Once one is in UBF, he cannot get out without enormous amount of spiritual, emotional, mental and physical distress. Becky, like many UBF members, chose to break up with the one whom she planned to marry rather than to leave UBF.
In relation to UBF style of marriage by faith, one needs to know how romantic feeling is treated in UBF. There was debate on romantic feeling on UBF Korean website. One of the Korean staff shepherds posted a response to the questions about romantic feeling here ( http://www.ubf.or.kr/bbs/view.php?id=counsel&page=5&sn1=&divpage=1&sn=off&ss=on&sc=on&select_arrange=headnum&desc=asc&no=1371 ). English translation can be found here ( http://community.livejournal.com/rsqubf/88751.html?thread=493999#t493999 ). The UBF staff shepherd writes, “그리고 저는 연애와 연애결혼의 문제에 있어서 절대로 양보할 생각이 전혀 없습니다 (Therefore I would not allow romantic relationship and marriages based on romantic feeling in my chapter.)”
Dr. Armstrong, you wrote “serious church discipline, that disciples people with real intentionality, and that seeks a deeper abd whole-hearted commitment from its followers will face similar challenges to its authority structure in every single instance.” I wonder whether I should regard UBF style of marriage by faith as “serious church discipline” or as “spiritual abuse”.
I would like to turn away from the issues of the practice of UBF style marriage by faith and turn to the doctrinal issue of UBF style marriage by faith. As you can see from the examples above, the doctrine of UBF style marriage by faith consists mainly of two principles. One is “UBF member must marry only inside UBF”. The other is “UBF member must marry anyone presented by the UBF leaders”. The UBF leaders justify the UBF style of marriage by faith by using Rebekah’s marriage in Genesis 24. But they do this without any serious and rigorous theological study. Therefore their justification lacks the extent of theological certainty that is required in any Christian ministry. I am going to use labels to make it easier to present my argument.
A: UBF style marriage by faith
B: Rebekah’s marriage in Genesis 24
The UBF leaders claim that A and B are the same or A very well approximates B. Considering the previous examples of UBF style marriage by faith again, why should they conclude that A and B are the same or effectively the same? If you ask any UBF leader this question, I can assure you that they cannot give you any answer. It is because none of the UBF leaders are trained in rigorous theological reasoning. They cannot carry out rigorous theological reasoning to establish any criteria to determine the sameness of two different events. They do it because it is UBF tradition initiated by Dr. Samuel Lee based on his flawed theology. As you correctly points out UBF system and its theology is “ingrown” only to obey Dr. Samuel Lee’s spiritual authority and preserve his spiritual legacy. So the UBF leaders are at the point of being pushed over the cliff of theological bankruptcy unless they are really helped by outsiders. They cannot distinguish the difference between A and B. UBF system is made not for sheep but for the praise of Dr. Samuel Lee. In recent Chicago Sunday message, the messenger said, “I will be glad to meet Dr. Lee in heaven–and my mother and father, as well.” ( http://chicagoubf.org/view_updates.php?url=http://chicagoubf.org/bbs/view.php&id=recent_messages&no=78 ) Praising Dr. Lee is almost norm in UBF messages and testimonies.
As you know very well, the sameness of two triangles can be determined based on the well established principles of elementary geometry. Likewise, the sameness of two molecules can be also determined based on the established principles of chemistry and physics. But establishing the sameness of A and B is not as easy as the cases of physical sciences. It requires more complex and rigorous reasoning. But in UBF this kind of rigorous theological reasoning is considered just mere talk or useless or even humanistic. In UBF culture any serous theological reasoning is bypassed only to emphasize “obedience” to the UBF system. The UBF style marriage by faith is not just coincidence. The UBF style of marriage by faith is not just cultural thing introduce by UBF Korean missionaries. It is the product of the UBF cult-dynamics that discourages rigorous theological reasoning but fosters blind “obedience” to the UBF system. Anyone who brings up this kind of theological issues is condemned as a “proud” sinner who needs to write a lengthy repentance testimony and share it in public.
In conclusion I don’t think anyone can say UBF style of marriage by faith is the same as Rebekah’s marriage in Genesis 24, even just using the most common-sensical criterion of establishing the sameness of two different events, which is that two events are the same when they share the same essential characters. Obviously the essential characters of Rebekah’s marriage in Genesis 24 are not the same as the essential characters of UBF style of marriage by faith. The UBF doctrine of marriage by faith is a good example of the fundamental problems that exist in UBF system.
Thank you, John. We are listening. Happy birthday.
I remember one passage from your message on “The powerlessness of the divided church”. How true it is we become easily “boundary set Christians” instead of “Center set Christians”. When we become boundary set Christians, we become sectarians with unforgiving heart. However, when we set our hearts toward Jesus Christ we have mutual respect and brotherly love and understanding. I am only learner of Jesus as we all should be. Jesus said, “the sheep listen to his voice” in John 10:3.
I think you are doing a good work.
The complaints about authoritarianism and the UBF could be said of more than a few groups and Churches (to varying degrees)
I have had experience with a Church that used Church discipline in a borderline cultic way.It was a Baptist Church. The elders of the Church were very controlling. In fact, if a person wanted to leave the Church they could not do so. They had to have permission. If they left any way they were disciplined out of the Church. Marked as an unbeliever
Bruce is right; the complaints about authoritarianism could be said of more than a few groups and churches, unfortunately. But the point is really the degree, the intensity of the authoritarianism in UBF coupled with the amount of time, emotion and money people (need to) spend in UBF which is usually more than in other churches, hence the potential harm is much greater. Here, UBF clearly transgresses the borderline to cult groups. Plus the stubbornness in officially admitting both concrete individual abuse of authority as well as systemic issues with authoritarianism, for over 45 years. The degree of this stubbornness is really amazing. Dr. Armstrong said some leaders recently admitted some flaws to him. What I am talking about is admitting it to the public and all of the members, officially (e.g. on the UBF newsletter and UBF website).
Thank you so much for sharing your thought. How wonderful it would be if we all became “Center set Christians”! However in reality, at the center of UBF organization, Jesus is not there. Dr. Samuel Lee and his legacy are at the center of UBF system. That is why there was a big division in UBF during the reform movement a few years ago. In fact the reformers were all against the division. It was actually John Jun, the current UBF general director, who materialized the division ( http://ubf-info.de/int/ref3/expulsion2001.en.htm ).
We former members are against division and sectarianism. All we question is this: “What is at the center of UBF system?” We left UBF: (1) because we strongly believed based on numerous factual evidences that Jesus is not at the center of UBF system; (2) because we realized that UBF leadership does not have slightest intention to restore UBF system by repenting the sin of placing Dr. Samuel Lee and his false theology at the center of UBF system. When I decided to leave UBF, one of UBF shepherds told me that we have to become one. So I asked him, “what should I do to become one?” He said, “you must respect spiritual order first.” I finally realized at that time that to be united as one in UBF means to put UBF at the center of my faith but not Jesus.
Are you a true learner of Jesus? Do you truly listen to his voice? Then what do you think about Dr. Samuel Lee’s teaching that it is ok to violate human rights to help sheep? Do you truly think that UBF style of marriage by faith is effectively the same as Rebekah’s marriage in Genesis 24? What is at the center of your Christian faith? Is Jesus at the center of your faith? Or is it rather UBF organization? If you have UBF at the center and I have Jesus at the center, how can you and I be united as one? Can you stand up and speak for Jesus even if it means that you have to turn your back against UBF organization that you love? If you can not, then what is at the center of your Christian faith?
When I was in UBF, I heard so many times UBF leaders quote John 21:15 and only emphasize “fee my sheep” and love UBF more than my family and my friends. After I left UBF, I learned that the key point of John 21:15 is “Do you love me more than these?” Jim K, do you love Jesus more than UBF? Do you love Jesus more than love and honor you receive in UBF? Do you love Jesus more than Dr. Samuel Lee? Do you love Jesus more than John Jun? Do you love Jesus more than your UBF 1-to-1 shepherd? Then you a true learner of Jesus. If you love Jesus more than UBF, I believe you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. Then you can truly feed Jesus’ sheep.
We all must become “Center set Christians”. But what is really at the center of our Christian faith? UBF kicked out the reformers because Dr. Samuel Lee is at the center of UBF system. UBF leaders do not want to acknowledge the problems in UBF system because Jesus is not at the center of their hearts.
Ex UBF, you surely made a good point. But I fear UBF members will vehemently disagree. They also believe that Jesus is at the center of their hearts, so they will be offended to hear something like that. During emotional conferences, worship sessions, when they repent with tears about their shortcomings to fulfill UBF expectations in their sogams, when they give a lot of time and money for UBF work, they do honestly believe that Jesus is at the center of their hearts. However, when it comes to the test then in their practical lives, when they would have to speak up for Jesus and against injustice and unbiblical things in the organization, then the organization and fear of leaders again thrust Jesus aside from the center. This is because in end effect, UBF has become kind of the authoritative voice of Jesus in their lives, and the image they have of Jesus is a UBF Jesus who is a Confucian hierarchy and honor man, not the real Jesus who was against hierarchies and taking honor of men. In end effect you’re right, but UBFers have a very strong impression and belief (delusion?) that Jesus is really at the center of their lives.
So it’s very difficult if Christians accuse each other of not having Jesus as their center point since everybody believes or wants to believe that. The question is how close is that imaginary Jesus from the real Jesus Christ and how big is the distortion of the image? In order to see this, one cannot only look at how much somebody prays or worships with heartfelt, honest emotion, sacrifice and tears, but also how people behave when they are concretely challenged to speak up for the truth, to take side with the “little ones” etc. Even Apostle Paul believed that God was at the Center of his heart when he persecuted the Christians and actually Christ who is God.
By the way, this blog is probably not intended and suited as a discussion forum, so we should restrict our comments to the respective articles and not start detailed discussions about e.g. UBF’s marriage practice which is too big an issue to be handled as an aside in the comments.
Also, I don’t think Mr. Armstrong wants to be so much of a UBF defender. My understanding is that he just was impressed by the spirit, emotion, activity and zeal in UBF which is understandable. (Again, if when it’s only zeal without knowledge like the Pharisees had or more zeal for the organization than for the truth, this is has little value and is rather harmful.) Inadvertently, this made him an UBF defender to some extend which inadvertedly, in turn, made some people angry, because it gives UBF a kind of seal of approval by an outside scholar, something that UBF does not deserve as long as they not honestly admit and change the problematic issues and really process their troubled history.
So let’s all calm down a little bit. One thing that these articles and follow-up comments showed for sure is that UBF creates a lot of quarrel, division, anger, bad emotions etc. Inside the organization, there is unity and harmony (at the surface), but if you look at the large borderlines of the organization (which often crosses marriages and families), there is so much discord, and if you look at the mass of people who went through UBF and left (only a very small tip of that large iceberg is visible and talks in the Internet), there is so much hurt and harm in their lives caused by UBF, many may have abandoned God completely because of this confusion and frustration. Only this one fact, that UBF automatically creates discord instead of peace and Christian unity and fellowshipping (contrary to their name), is surely a sign that something is wrong. A Christian organization should not be like that. Some may object that being centered on Jesus automatically creates disharmony and persecution, and they will quote Bible passages about this. But the disharmony and persecution is mostly not stemming from the fact that they follow Jesus too closely (if they would do that and follow Mt 23, then these problems wouldn’t exist), but it is caused by issues of the organization, their man-made rules and regulations and idea that they need to train others from a position of absolute authority. The organizational issues are causing the disharmony. I observed this phenomenon in all of the so-called shepherding/discipling groups including ICOC. It’s one of the bad fruits showing that there is a problem with the tree.
“I observed this phenomenon in all of the so-called shepherding/discipling groups including ICOC. It’s one of the bad fruits showing that there is a problem with the tree.”
Now we come to the heart of the matter: shepherding.
Can anyone shepherd another person in a proper, healthy, Biblical way? Is shepherding really Jesus’ method of spreading the gospel? Did Jesus intead that the Twelve shepherd others and train them in Godliness?
Chris, as you mentioned, you no longer have any personal issue with UBF. Yet after all these years, why can’t you bring yourself to add even one thing to your “Isn’t there anything good about UBF?” section on your website?
Why are you so motivated to champion the anti-shepherding theology, not just about UBF, but against one-to-one shepherding in general?
It should be known publicly that some who criticize UBF ministry do so in order to stop the ministry (perhaps this is not you Chris). I asked one such critic: What if I assume all you say about UBF is true? What if UBF repents as you want? Then what? He said the next step is for UBF to end one-to-one Bible study, to send all the Korean missionaries home so as to get rid of the Korean influence, and then to end all conferences.
I pray that we may distinguish between UBF’s need to grow and change and the theology that no one should shepherd another person.
I think a healthy blog would be about shepherding from a Biblical perspective.
“So it’s very difficult if Christians accuse each other of not having Jesus as their center point since everybody believes or wants to believe that.”
Thanks Chris. You are absolutely right. I think my commnet in response to Jim K was a bit stupid.
Jim K, I am sorry if you were offended by my comment. Please forgive me. I absolutely believe that Jesus is at the center of your life.
Thank you Chris for being a such a good shepherd. God bless you.
Brian, as I said I don’t think here is the right place to discuss this in detail, but since you asked directly, I will give some short direct answers.
“Now we come to the heart of the matter: shepherding.”
Exactly. At least one point where we seem to agree.
“Can anyone shepherd another person in a proper, healthy, Biblical way? Is shepherding really Jesus’ method of spreading the gospel? Did Jesus intead that the Twelve shepherd others and train them in Godliness?”
You already imply that a shepherd is a 1:1 shepherd. I don’t see 1:1 shepherds in Acts, the Epistles and church history (except in these failed movements I mentioned). The basic erroneous idea of shepherding is that mission and life of faith means we need to copy the life of Jesus in the 3 years before his death (as an aside, interestingly, nobody speaks of the time before where he quietly stayed at home and served his family). I admit that this idea seems to be very compelling, logical and Biblical at a first glance. However, the problem is that we are not Jesus. We are not God, we are not without sin. We could not really resist Satan as Jesus did. Put a man in a position of power, where nobody must dare to criticize him, and people only flatter him and worship him, and he will inevitably become corrupt, even the most spiritual man. Also, we have not the authority of Jesus, we have not his complete knowledge, we cannot look into the hearts of people and see their real thoughts and motivations etc. But authoritarian 1:1 shepherds who think they need to “train” people believe they are in such a position as if they could really judge the heart of their sheep and see their problem, when they often have a completely different problem. Moreover, they will only create hurt. Only God has the power and authority to really “break” people with training, no man. Thirdly, didn’t Jesus say “Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have *one* Teacher, the Christ.” He explained very clearly that there is only *one* good shepherd. All others who purport to be like him are thieves. With other words, there is a *fundamental* difference between Jesus and his followers and the style in which they should even teach (not to speak of “train”) other people. While Jesus had disciples, we should not have disciples. Jesus mission on earth was a unique mission in history by a unique man and I don’t see any passage in the Bible that suggests we should imitate him in that. Of course, as his disciples we shall learn from him and imitate many things, but we should not feel greater than the Master (as Jesus Himself explained) or start to replace the Master, because we would start to usurp His place. Yet another reason why the idea of 1:1 shepherding/discipling or recently the G12 movement is wrong is that if it would be so important and kind of the only way as UBF claims, then how come that the Bible does not show this pattern in Acts or admonish people to feed 1:1 sheep in the Epistles. How come that only Samuel Lee said things like “You need to raise 12 shepherds or you will go to hell” (as somebody wrote in his testimony) if it would be so important, but Jesus followers like Apostle Paul never wrote anything like that. I cannot see the first Christians building a UBF-style organization. And a last argument against 1:1 shepherding is the bad fruit and the divisions, hurt and distress that I can see in the case of UBF and wherever it has been practiced elsewhere, as I mentioned in another comment.
To your last question particularly:
“Did Jesus intead that the Twelve shepherd others and train them in Godliness?”
Even if Jesus intended that the Twelve should do that, these twelve were special people, namely Apostles. But “Are all apostles?” in the words of Apostle Paul. Second, you and UBF like the word “train” for the task of shepherds, but I don’t see that in the Bible. Whenever I see this word, I see this in the context of God training his children directly. I don’t see Christians “training” other Christians. Also, once the idea “training” has been swallowed by UBFers, it gets a far stretch, so that UBF leaders can do virtually anything to sheep in the name of training.
“Chris, as you mentioned, you no longer have any personal issue with UBF. Yet after all these years, why can’t you bring yourself to add even one thing to your ‘Isn’t there anything good about UBF?’ section on your website?”
The first reason is very simple. Maybe you noticed that I did not add *anything* to my website, neither about good things nor about bad things (I actually should list many bad things that I became aware of in the last time). This is simply because I did not find the time for working on the website, though it’s on my todo list. Actually I want to redo the whole site because it is pretty outdated and I am not satisfied with it either. Maybe I should engage less in personal discussions like this one in favor of writing the website. But personal discussions always seem to be more urgent and important, but maybe other things and revamping the website is more important. I need to think about that.
The second reason is that I feel it does not make much sense to speak about the good things in UBF because that’s not the point of the website and you can find them on all the UBF websites already. With other words, the website is about the little yeast in UBF. Nobody (of the Christian critics) likes to write about such negative things, seemingly “non-edifying” stuff, neither do I, but since nobody does it, I somehow felt obliged to do this though I know I am doing a poor job here. I don’t think it makes sense to write about the “whole batch of dough” (or even brag about it as UBF does) as long as this little leaven is there that will (and in this case already has, as I think) work through the whole batch.
“Why are you so motivated to champion the anti-shepherding theology, not just about UBF, but against one-to-one shepherding in general?”
Because I think the “anti-shepherding theology” is the Biblical theology and one-to-one sheperding is not Biblical and I am very sure in this point, though one can discuss many other theological issues. Of course the term “anti-sheperding” is unlucky. I am not against shepherding in the sense of Biblical eldership, but against what is usually understood as shepherding in connotation with the shepherding/discipling movement. By the way, this question is also answered in more detail in some of the articles on my website and on the Internet.
“It should be known publicly that some who criticize UBF ministry do so in order to stop the ministry (perhaps this is not you Chris). I asked one such critic: What if I assume all you say about UBF is true? What if UBF repents as you want? Then what? He said the next step is for UBF to end one-to-one Bible study, to send all the Korean missionaries home so as to get rid of the Korean influence, and then to end all conferences.”
Your problem is that you already start to think about consequences before thinking about what is true and what is Biblical. First start to find out what is true and what is Biblical, and then start to think which consequences this should have. Anyway, because this seems to be your leading thought: I could imagine a lot of different ways of dealing with this, but the main point is that UBF missionaries for some time would have to go through a phase of *learning*, which must include outside counseling as well as starting really open discussions among themselves and maybe with some former members or critics. They may do this in conferences, and also attend conferences of other Christian organizations to learn something new and from different perspectives. The outcome of this phase of learning and openness may be unpredictable, but I am sure it will please God and He will make the best of it. Maybe a new, really reformed UBF will be founded that operates according to Biblical principles, maybe some or all of the missionaries will go to other churches, and work there according to their real spiritual gifts. In the latter case, the organization UBF may vanish as a visible human organization, but the impact of all these people scattered to all these different churches or founding new house churches and fellowships with others may be a thousand times bigger than if the UBF organization continued to exist in its current form. Admittedly, this would bring less glory to the human founders of UBF, but more glory to God. Just as God did not want to establish a “Jerusalem Bible Fellowship” under the leadership of James, but he scattered these Christians everywhere. Today, we do not know who they were and who their leaders were etc. but their influence on the history of the world and God’s salvation plan was tremendous. These scattered UBF missionaries will both mature themselves, as well as bringing the good aspects of UBF (eagerness etc.) to other churches. But as I said, it is also thinkable that a different, better organization will emerge from a thoroughly processing the issues in UBF. I am not a prophet, I cannot predict the outcome, all I know is that God will bless it if people act according to the truth and their conscience, no matter what will happen.
“I pray that we may distinguish between UBF’s need to grow and change and the theology that no one should shepherd another person.”
I think that’s the problem. UBF kind of says: We can discuss many things, but let’s not discuss UBF’s “spiritual heritage.” But I say: You should at least discuss it openly and question *everything* whether it is Biblical or not, even if it is “tradition” in your organization and you have become so accustomed to a certain teaching or practice. At least you should question what “shepherding another person” really is according to the Bible. Is it 1:1? How long does it go? Which authority has a shepherd? In which areas of the life should he interfere? Is the shepherd a trainer, a mentor, a counselor, a father-figure, a guide, a teacher, all of this? Etc. etc. There are many questions. UBF needs to start dealing with these questions and find answer in the Bible, through sound reasoning, and learning from experiences in its own history and the history of other, similar groups like the ICoC.
Is UBF open to that? Or are the UBF traditions so “holy” that they may never been questioned and touched? At least 5 years ago it was like that and it was the exact reason why the UBF reformers in Korea were expelled by John Jun. The summarized, official reason for expelling them was that they did not follow the tradition of UBF. As exUBF already commented, the core question is whether the traditions are at the center of UBF or whether Jesus is at the center.
Sorry, this was longer than intended but I hope my answers were helpful for you and the whole discussion.
Is discipling necessarily un-biblical? UBF is not the only disciple-making ministry i have heard of. What about Jesus’s command in Matthew 28:19, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”….?
Now, as far as spiritual abuse, that is surely not biblical nor is it pleasing to God. But I do believe the Bible includes instances of discipling by people other than Jesus. For example, Paul had disciples Timothy and Mark. Whether we use the term ‘disciple’ or not, i don’t believe this is against Jesus’s will but actually abiding by it.
the above post is referring to Chris’ quote: “While Jesus had disciples, we should not have disciples. Jesus mission on earth was a unique mission in history by a unique man and I don’t see any passage in the Bible that suggests we should imitate him in that.”
I agree with the dangers of spiritual abuse but strongly disagree that “we should not have disciples.”
To “question of discipling”:
“Is discipling necessarily un-biblical? UBF is not the only disciple-making ministry i have heard of.”
“Discipling” (personal shepherding, understood in the way of the shepherding/discipling movement) is something very different from just “making disciples” (of Jesus Christ). The problem is 1) *of whom* you make disciples – are you leading people to Jesus whose disciples they then will become or are you making them dependent of yourself so they will be rather disciples of you than of Jesus. And 2) *how* you make disciples. UBF equates “making disciples” with “raising” or “training” disciples and interprets many things into the word “make” though your quoted verse does not speak about training etc. but only about baptizing and teaching things that Jesus had commanded. UBF teaches more than Jesus has commanded (writing Sogams etc.) and also interferes into the lives of the disciples, arranges marriages etc. which is something that I see not mentioned in Mt 28 or anywhere else.
“For example, Paul had disciples Timothy and Mark.”
I cannot see where Mark is called a disciple of Paul, he just accompanied him and Peter. You could call Timothy, Titus and Philemon disciples of Paul, but the Bible actually does not call them disciples of Paul. There are only some passages showing how much Paul loved them as younger coworkers like sons. And again, please keep in mind that Paul was an Apostle, even a very special one. Again, “Are all Apostles?” By the way, disciple means just “pupil”, i.e. a “discipler” would be a teacher. Doesn’t the Apostle James warn that not many should become teachers? (Not to speak of *personal* disciplers.) In 1Cor 1 and 3 Paul also speaks very clearly against the idea that he or anybody else is somebody special, Jesus is the only foundation, the others are just coworkers.
Again: I do not say that shepherds and teachers should not exist in the church, but 1) not *everybody* should become a shepherd or teacher (several passages in the NT state this explicitly), 2) a shepherd or teacher should not have a role in which he becomes a kind of mediator for God’s will, 3) the shepherds and teachers collectively care for the whole flock, it is not a one-to-one (one-over-one) relationship of personal shepherding, and 4) the shepherds should not “lord over” the flock, try to “train” them, interfere with and regulate their private lives. UBF style shepherding/discipling violates all of these 4 points.
It’s also not like every form of 1:1 teaching or mentoring or counseling must be bad, but the problem is that UBF’s 1:1 teaching is so much more and too much in one. The roles of teacher and learner are fix and predetermined, the teacher is at the same time the shepherd whom the learner must obey, the teaching is mandatory once a week, etc. etc.
Thank you for your meaningful explanations about shepherding. I believe this topic is where some real value can be found.
I agree with you mostly that a bad shepherd (authoriation, etc. as you describe) is not what Jesus intended. Yet I fully believe we are all flawed and that God uses our strengths just as much as, if not more than, our weaknesses, failures and shortcomings. Sometimes I even feel that weaknesses are all I have to give to God!
In regard to shepherding being one person to one person (1:1), I mostlly disagree with your comments. God’s way from Genesis to Revelation is to help one man or one woman: Adam, Abraham, Joseph, Samuel, Rahab, Isaiah, John the Baptist, Mary, Zechariah, Peter, Judas Iscariot, Barnabas, Paul, etc.
You do present a certain logic. Yet I believe that Jesus had no other plan for world salvation than for his disciples to teach others, one by one. This is very slow, most difficult and very dangerous (as Dr. Armstrong pointed out). Still I would rather stand on Jesus’ words in John 14, which is one of my favorite passages. “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” -John 14:12 (NIV)
Brian, you wrote: “God’s way from Genesis to Revelation is to help one man or one woman: Adam, Abraham, Joseph, Samuel, Rahab, Isaiah, John the Baptist, Mary, Zechariah, Peter, Judas Iscariot, Barnabas, Paul, etc.”
That is right. But as you correctly observed, this is *God’s* way of dealing with individual people. There was no human shepherd who “discipled” any of these people. It was always God dealing directly with them. It was God who called them, it was God directly who broke and trained and healed them. None of these persons made 1:1 Bible study, wrote sogams etc. etc. These are all good counter-examples to UBF’s concept of shepherding.
You also wrote “Yet I believe that Jesus had no other plan for world salvation than for his disciples to teach others, one by one.” But in Acts you see how there were events were thousands of people became Christians through one sermon by Peter, John or Paul. Acutally I see the Spirit at work and changing people, not people training other people. If you search for the word “train(ing)” in the NT, you will hardly find it, and the few places talk about parents training children, Christians training themselves (not others) and one place where older women train younger women (not to do UBFish things, but to love their husbands and children).
You mention John 14:12 and you immediately imply that it refers to shepherding. But I cannot see where it refers to shepherding, rather it refers to the miracles He had done (see the preceding verse for context). Jesus said in the next chapter: “No servant is greater than his master.” You cannot play the Bible off against itself. Jesus said very clearly and explicitly in Mt 23, “you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers.” How much clearer do you want it to have? If you interpret John 14:12 as meaning the opposite, you are certainly making an error of interpretation. It may also refer to the conversion of thousands of people to Jesus Christ by the Apostles (actually by the Holy Spirit, but in a way also by the Apostles), but nevertheless this does not invalidate Mt 23 nor anything else I wrote above. It means that you and I theoretically can experience similar things, revivals which were greater than in the time when Jesus was on earth, when we engage in evangelization. But it does not tell anything about the way in which these revivals will be achieved: By training and manipulating people from a position of authority, or rather by relying on the Holy Spirit, praying for this and letting the Spirit work mightily in the people. Also, the passage speaks about doing things with faith in Jesus. Training other people seems to be the opposite of having faith. A person who “trains” others actually does not trust the Spirit to work in these people, but thinks that *he* is the one who needs to change them.
Thanks for your comments and input. They are really welcomed and I hope will lead to constructive debate. May all of us have ears to hear!
When I left the Catholic church, I had similar feelings as Chris and ExUBF do toward UBF. I couldn’t accept that anyone could be a Christian and still be in the Catholic church, especially when there are SO many confirmed abuses. I also loved Jack Chick tracks.
Now I still would be hardpressed to agree with much of the Catholic doctrine. And I cannot condone any of the Catholic churches sins. But I now have no problem with Catholicism. And I can even see quite a few strengths of the church and how God can use it.
I now see that the kingdom of God is truly one kingdom that goes beyond any boundary setup by mankind. This is one reason I really appreciate the work of Dr. Armstrong and ACT3 ministries.
How did God change my attitude? There were two ways.
First, I met the parents of a good friend who were genuine Christians AND were Catholic. So I had no choice but to accept that God’s people could indeed exist in the Catholic church.
Second, and most importantly, Luke 9:49-51 convicted me: 49″Master,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” 50″Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” (NIV)
While Chris and ExUBF may reject the council of a Godly man like Dr. Armstrong and others, I pray they may accept God’s council.
“At least you should question what “shepherding another person” really is according to the Bible. Is it 1:1? How long does it go? Which authority has a shepherd? In which areas of the life should he interfere? Is the shepherd a trainer, a mentor, a counselor, a father-figure, a guide, a teacher, all of this?”
Excellent questions! And questions that have been discussed in UBF ever since I first began Bible study in UBF ministry.
I have visited your site 882-times