Following Up on the UBF Conversation, Part 3

John ArmstrongMissional Church

I will continue some thoughts I began several days ago on this blog. For those who have not read this train of thought it would be best to go back to January 27 and then read the February 28 and March 1 comments first.

What I believe all of us should remember, UBF members, ex-UBF members, and every other Christian from any church or mission group, is what Jesus plainly taught us—if you are on your way to the altar and remember that someone has something against you, go and deal with this person and that issue first. That is an incredibly strong statement about the importance of reconciliation. My friend, who I noted previously wrote to me about this conversation, also wrote: “To me it’s as if God is saying ‘take care of your relationships with other people before you take care of your relationship with me’–wow.” Yes, I would agree: “Wow!”

I believe that those of you who have chosen to leave UBF are best served to forgive those who you believe wronged you, to let the past go as much as possible and then to move on into a deeper faith in Christ. As a friend accurately wrote me about this discussion, “support groups, while helpful in some ways, often make the mistake that their members don’t challenge each other to do this but rather, stop at affirming each other’s anger. This is appropriate as step one but then people need to progress from there, rather than be stuck in the anger.” It is important that you move on from being victims to forgiving and seeking to cover with the love of Christ. This counsel does not take lightly your pain and the sins that may have been committed. It is, however, biblical and quite necessary for anyone who leaves any church for whatever reason.

Those who have left UBF also need to guard their own hearts, not nurse their anger. You need to finally come to the place where you see that anger will never accomplish the work of Christ. (I am not saying you are angry but some of the comments posted on this blog spot indicate this point.) I also agree that some things have happened in UBF settings that pushed the envelope way too far or I would not have printed the excerpts from the letter(s) of former-UBF members who addressed me kindly. I am asking you to allow your hurt to become a means toward a deeper relationship with Jesus who knows your pain and understands. This is easier said than done but it is the way of the kingdom. If you are not extremely careful you will project your response toward UBF on to everything that you now think and do as a Christian, responding as if UBF is the whole story of your life. Remaining angry with any authority, even if it has been abusive, will only keep you locked into a place of immaturity that will drive you away from Christ and his grace and into more human brokenness and pain. Think of the numerous Christians who have been attacked, harmed and lied about over the centuries. Some of this has even come from Christians, maybe a great deal of it. Remember the examples of those who have learned to pray for their enemies as our Lord taught them and us. And recall that even he urges us to do good to those who have done evil to us.

This is a primary issue that counselors face every day with adult children who were abused by their parents. The child, who is now an adult, must finally come to grasp a simple fact—¬they may never be completely restored in a healthy way to their abusive parent(s). The child will eventually have to learn to let this go, step by painful step. And the child will also need to forgive the parent without agreeing with everything the parent says or does. Many parents will even deny that they ever did anything wrong at all in such circumstances. Christ wants to heal these types of pains in all of us but we must invite him to do so and pursue him for it in good faith.

I ask a simple question: Did Christ die specifically for the leaders of UBF? Did he also die specifically for former-UBF members? Are you all one in Christ, even if you now disagree about methods of ministry, errors and sins in former leaders, shepherding and group decision making? I have to remind myself daily that Christ loves even my enemies. And I am called to follow him in that love.

Another former UBF member who wrote to me said: “In your public comments, I plead with you to not minimize the seriousness of the sins and problems of UBF.” This same writer added:

I know there’s only so much my words can do, but I have been praying for you, that God’s Spirit might lead and guide you in whatever way he deems best, that he gives you his wisdom. If you do decide to continue in your public relationship with UBF, I hope and pray that you keep in mind the seriousness of the sins that have been committed in God’s name in UBF and the many lives that have been damaged, shattered, and even cut short because of UBF.

Now, in an attempt to show how complicated this whole discussion really is I want to include some reflections from another letter. This letter comes from someone who remains active in UBF after many years of service. This letter will allow fair-minded readers to see how very complicated this issue remains for many.

I wanted thank you for your kind support of the work of God in UBF. Your messages to us are very encouraging. I have followed the comments made on your blog site. I wanted to join the fray but held back. But I wanted to share with you what is on my heart and mind about this issue. I realize that mistakes were made by some, in the past and that as individuals and as a ministry we need to learn and grow. And that is what we are doing. But I also want to share a little of my spiritual struggle on this matter. Why? I just need to and I covet your prayers in this matter.  I first met Jesus through 1:1 Bible study with UBF.

I have been a UBF shepherd many years.  I thank God for how he has used me and my family over these many years as we have pioneered small UBF ministries. Because of Jesus’ grace alone, we could bear fruit for him.

It amazes me that over these years I could spend almost a decade caring for peoples’ parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. I could also serve people and befriended families and I could pay the property taxed on two properties, contribute thousands of dollars a year to the local economy, be friends with various local groups and sing to aged and even dying people in nursing homes and teach basic Christianity through 1:1 Bible study to students and locals for years, befriending them and encouraging them and praying for their spiritual lives and academic success.

My wife and I could raise children who are good students and a blessing to their school and community and appear to have a personal relationship with Jesus.  I thank God that I could set an example to my children and to young families by loving my wife for all these  years and I thank God, that by his grace, that my family and I could be a blessing and bear fruit for Jesus within our church, neighborhood and community. But to some people [who oppose UBF] all of this does not matter. When one person, for whom this does not matter, comes to a Bible student with one subjective article, via the Internet, then Bible students suddenly become fearful and suspicious and break-off their relationships with me and with my family. Some begin behaving like my enemies instead of my friends, almost overnight, not because of what they have seen with their own eyes or experienced themselves after years of a relationship with us, but because of information that one or two strangers passed along to them, directly or indirectly through the Internet.

I realize that my battle is not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. I can thank God that I could suffer in many of the same ways that Jesus suffered. I could learn Jesus’ heart. I also can learn that I am in a spiritual battle, for I am called to serve Jesus as a 1:1 Bible teacher and shepherd. I am called to teach the Bible inductively to students. I am called to live as a "tent making" shepherd and church planter.  I am called to live as a house church ministry. I am called to be a life long campus minister. I am called to serve God through this UBF ministry. This is my calling in life. Satan wants me to despair and stop doing what I am doing. He wants my children to be fearful of serving Jesus. He wants me to stop living in a house church. But by the grace of God I can go beyond the confines of self in order serve my Lord Jesus Christ.

Fair-minded Christians can see the obvious differences in these types of letters and the pain that exists, sadly, on both sides. This is what I have witnessed personally. I have listened, and continue to listen, but do not intend to become an enemy of UBF. All of the blogs, comments and Web sites do not lead me to adopt such a position after reading thousands of words now.

Finally, as I noted a few days ago, I will not turn this blog spot into either a place for constant criticism of UBF or a place for its perpetual defense. My orirginal desire remains—to report on the ministry that I have had among these dear Christian people and to continually encourge reconciliation. I have come to love many new friends, not simply as UBF or non-UBF. I intend to continue to love my friends regardless of how they feel toward this group, pro or con. If my name is misused by anyone, for or against UBF, please make sure that they read my own words before they assume anything about me or my motives.