Some thoughts on the Great Commission and UBF
(by the webservant of these pages, June 2001)
In the time of his public ministry Jesus mainly preached, healed, called disciples and cared for them. It is therefore clear for a follower of Jesus that he also should teach the Gospel and make people become disciples of Jesus. Jesus taught the disciples to look at people as “sheep without a shepherd” (Mk 6:34) and a “harvest field” (Jn 4:35), and he called his disciples “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” (Mt 5:13,14). Already the Old Testament pointed out, how “beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news” (Isa 52:7). Jesus nevertheless considered it as necessary to explicitly give the disciples the “Great Commission” (Acts 1:2) between his resurrection and his ascension. By the way I consider the term “Great Commission” established in English language or the expression “instruction for world mission” more fitting than the term “world mission command” used in UBF. The NIV has in Acts 1:2 the word “instructions,” but in other translations you will also find the words “commandment(s),” “orders,” “charge” or “commands.” The Great Commission is given in the Bible at the end of the four gospels and at the beginning of the book of Acts (Mt 28:19,20; Mk 16:15,16; Lk 24:47-49; Jn 20:21-23; Acts 1:8). I will look at these five passages in detail later.
From the things said above it becomes already obvious that the Great Commission must be very significant for the followers of Jesus. It is put like a big exclamation mark or a vision at the end of the four gospels (at the end of the last gospel in Jn 21 the instruction given to Peter is also heart-moving). Everything which is reported about the beginning of Christianity in the book of Acts, is based on the Great Commission, too, and it is mentioned one more time explicitly at the beginning of the book. By the way, the fact that “world mission” is the will of God is also obvious from many other Bible passages, though they may not be so explicit as the actual Great Commission. Some of them are: Gen 12:3; Isa 6:8; 49:6; 52:7; Ps 22:28; Jn 4:35; Rom 10:11-15; 15:8-12; 1Tim 2:4; Rev 7:9.
Though this will and commission of God in the Bible is so clear, it is strange that is and has been overlooked and ignored by many Christians or has not be considered as a universal instruction, but as if it was only significant for the former time, only for the Apostles or for some “special” kind of Christians (“missionaries”). For instance I wondered why in the famous “Heidelberg Catechism” used especially in reformed churches with its 129 questions about Christian life, the Great Commission is completely ignored. Mt 28:19 is quoted several times, however always only in connection with the doctrines of baptism or trinity. Also, if you search for the German terms “Weltmissionsbefehl” (“world mission command”) or “Weltmissionsauftrag” (“world mission order”) in the Internet, you will be disappointed. Though these are the usual terms in German, you will find only a handful of pages, besides most of them being messages of UBF. You will experience the same, searching for the English term “world mission command” used in UBF. Only if you start searching for the expression “The Great Commission” which is more common outside of UBF, you will be delighted by ten thousands of hits. However, one thing is clear: The Great Commission is not taken serious and important enough, particularly here in Germany. The serious teaching and most of all practicing of the Great Commission by UBF therefore seems to be something which should be appreciated at a first glance. They say that the students in the beginnings of UBF, when they reading the Bible reached the Great Commission at the end of the gospels, helplessly pondered about how they could realize this “make disciples op all nations,” being poor inhabitants of a third world country. Later the Great Commission became the central element of UBF. How far this had been initiated by the founders Sarah Barry and Samuel Lee, the students reading the Bible or other missionaries or churches in Korea in this way, can be hardly found out in retrospect. Though the Great Commission does not mean that now every Christian has to go “into all the world”, many people including myself are glad and grateful that “missionaries” of UBF visited us and invited us to study the Bible, through which we became believers.
As far as this everything would be fine. But meanwhile, numerous problems of UBF have become apparent. Therefore I want to examine in how far these problems might also have resulted from a false understanding of the Great Commission, by which it in turn had been practiced in a wrong way by UBF. Particularly I will raise the questions: Which significance has this commission in comparison with all the other commands and teachings of Jesus? Is it really the most important command of Jesus (the “absolute command” as which it had been proclaimed by Peter Chang from Bonn UBF at the summer conference in 2000), under which everything has to be subordinated? Did we really understand this Great Commission properly? Is our way of practicing it according to the will of Jesus? Before I go into these questions, I would like to look at the passages in the Bible in detail at first.
The Gospel of Matthew ends with the Great Commission. Here Jesus at first mentions the basis for this commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Then he says: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt 28:19,20). We find here two imperative forms, “go” and “make.” In German, the other two verbs “baptize” and “teach” are also often translated with imperative forms. But actually, in the Greek original, only the “make disciples” is an imperative form, the other three verbs being participles: “by going”, “baptizing” and “teaching.” Thus, the meaning is: “Make disciples of all Nations, by 1) going to the people, 2) baptizing them when they believe in Jesus and 3) after this continue to teach them to obey all commands given by Jesus.” In these three points essential steps of the “making of disciples” are mentioned. Baptizing was known to the disciples in principle through John the Baptist and they also knew what has to precede the baptizing: The preaching of repentance. But after the resurrection of Jesus they were able to combine this preaching with a powerful preaching of forgiveness of sins, i.e. proclaim the Gospel (the “Good News”), and baptize in the name of the Son and the Holy Spirit, too. It is particularly emphasized that the baptized persons should be taught to obey everything Jesus has commanded the Apostles also for their parts. They should become as decided and consistent disciples of Jesus just as the twelve Apostles. Particularly, they should observe the Great Commission for their parts, too. Actually, what was “everything Jesus had commanded them”? This sounds like an extensive list of orders which must be studied by heart and followed exactly, quite similar as the Jews did with the law of Mose. But the commandments of Jesus can be very simply summarized: “And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us” (1Jn 3:23). Or with the own words of Jesus: “This is my command: Love each other” (Jn 15:17). Also, the commandments of Jesus are not so difficult to keep as the law of Mose but “his commandments are not burdensome” (1Jn 5:3b) or again with the own words of Jesus: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt 11:30). It is also important to realize that Jesus only has instructed the disciples to teach those things he himself had commanded them. They should not make up and impose on them additional orders and commandments. To impose unnecessary burdens wasn’t the will of Jesus when he gave the Great Commission. The apostles later themselves recognized: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements” (Acts 15:28). Jesus already had criticized the Pharisees: “They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them” (Mt 23:4). So certainly it was not according to his will to make the life of those who had been made disciples burdensome through this “obeying of commandments.” It nevertheless already in the first churches it happened that the newly converts were not only taught to obey the things Jesus had commanded, but to furthermore obey additional commandments and rules: This is mentioned in the epistles again and again: “This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.” (Gal 2:4). “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules?”(Col 2:20) The last word reported by Matthew was the wonderful promise of Jesus, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Jesus wants to be always with those who are following his Great Commission. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit as support and his “representative” (Mt 3:11 etc.). Rom 8:9 emphasizes that the Spirit of Christ must live in every Christian. Jesus wants to be with every single “disciple maker.” And nobody else besides the Holy Spirit is needed as a “representative of Christ”. The words “all nations” and “to the very end of the age” express the universal scope of the Great Commission. They particularly show that it applies to us just the same in Germany 2000 years later.
Interestingly the Great Commission in the Gospel of Mark mentions particularly the point which had been left out in the Gospel of Matthew, the preaching: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:15,16). The word “gospel” (“good news”) is in the center here. Instead of “all nations” we have “all creation.” It isn’t possible to emphasize more clearly that the gospel shall be preached to really every person in the world. It is also pointed out that preaching will cause a division among the audience, into those who believe and those who do not believe. Those who believe shall be baptized and, according to Mt 28:20, further instructed. Also the big difference in believing or not believing the gospel is explained: Those who believe will be saved, the others will be condemned. This again makes clear how important preaching is and how high our responsibility and task is doing so: It is not only about making disciples of Jesus, but it is about the eternal salvation or damnation of people! I also have to recall this every time I am thinking about the Great Commission.
The Gospel of Luke emphasizes preaching, too: “… and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Lk 24:47-49). Instead of “proclaimed,” other translations have also “preached.” Here the two essential parts of the preaching or proclamation are mentioned: First, the audience shall be told to repent of their sins, and second the forgiveness of the sins shall be proclaimed and granted to them based on the death of Jesus in their place (see verse 46 before). The words “beginning from Jerusalem” show that the Great Commission is not something indefinite, but can be carried out very concretely by starting in the place where you are living. Two new aspects are mentioned furthermore. First: The disciples should act as witnesses for the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus and everything they experienced with him. Through our changed life we can witness the power of Jesus even today. Second: The disciples should wait until they were “clothed with power from on high.” By this of course the Holy Spirit is meant. They should not start from their own strength, but wait until the Holy Spirit would come (which happened at Pentecost). This is also particularly emphasized in Acts 1:4,5 and in the Book of Acts you will find that the Apostles have prayed and feasted again and again until the Holy Spirit came and sent them out (e.g. Acts 13:2,4). The Holy Spirit gave them Orientation on who should go where and when. Without the Holy Spirit they should not set out. The work of world mission is not the work of men in the last end, but the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Gospel of John also emphasizes the importance of the Holy Spirit in connection with world mission: “Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven’” (Jn 20:21-23). Again it becomes clear that for mission (sending) the Holy Spirit is needed as essential equipment. Also the importance of preaching and their high responsibility and authority is emphasized when preaching about the way to forgiveness of sins.
The Book of Acts also emphasizes the importance of the Holy Spirit and the Aspect that the disciples should be witnesses of Jesus: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). You also see that world mission shall be spread out in “concentric circles,” like waves going out from a stone falling into the water.
In a nutshell: The Great Commission shall be followed by the disciples of Jesus by becoming active, preaching the gospel, being witnesses of Jesus, baptizing and teaching the commandments of Jesus. All people on the whole world alike shall be addressed in this way. The disciples are enabled to do this by the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is also the one who eventually convicts the audience and opens their eyes for the Gospel (Jn 16:8). The disciples are “making” new disciples of Jesus in this way, which shall carry on the Great Commission likewise. They will be successful, because Jesus, their principal, was given all authority in heaven and on earth and will be with them until the very end of the age.
I want to summarize my criticism of the concept of world mission in UBF in the following six points:
The Great Commission is a fervent will of Jesus for his followers, with a testamentary character. It is the will of God that all people are saved, and he wants to use the disciples as his tools to proclaim the good news of salvation. In UBF it is taught that the Great Commission is the “absolute command” of God for us, which we have to obey with highest priority, subordinating all other things in our life. Or to say it in a pointed way: It has to be obeyed by the “soldiers” of Christ like a topmost military order to go into action, in which they are allowed – as it is the case in any war – violate morals, ethics and humanity, the main thing is that the goal is reached. Eventually, the end justifies the means. Based on this way of thinking it is also as a regarded as necessary, to integrate the coworkers into a kind of hierarchy of military order and “train” them like soldiers for blind obedience.
However, the Bible shows me very clearly, that not the Great Commission is the highest command of Jesus, but the commandment of love. In Mk 12:29-31 Jesus says: “The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” And Jn 15:12 adds: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” Also 1Cor 13:1 says: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” Certainly the Great Commission can be also derived from the commandment of love, but being a derived commandment, the latter is of course subordinate to the former.
If the UBF concept of topmost importance of world mission would be correct, we could also expect that in the epistles it would be always the first admonition to obey the Great Commission. But actually the Great Commission is not mentioned in any of the epistles of the Bible. The epistles do not even ask to “evangelize” or engage in “world mission.” For me this is very amazing, particularly since the most important epistle writer, Paul, has been a great missionary himself, and the others also were engaged in the Great Commission. But other issues are considered more serious in the epistles, namely love, faith, living in the truth, freedom from the law, warning of sin, but also warning of false teachers and wrong leaders, instructions for prayer etc.
As “fruits of the Spirit” in Gal 5:22 are only listed: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” These fruits are, however, considered of lower value in UBF as being “inner fruits”, compared with the so-called “outer fruits,” the “raised disciples.” When Jesus told the disciples in Jn 15:16 that they are appointed “to go and bear fruit that will last,” then this is automatically related to the “raised disciples”, and not to the “love,” which is also mentioned in Gal 5:22 as the most important fruit. And how can they overlook that the mentioned verse Jn 15:16 is virtually “framed” by Jesus’ commandment of love?
The highest leader of the UBF, Samuel Lee, essentially teaches that in order to obey the Great Commission, morals and ethics of the world has to be “overcome,” just as in a war at times you have to shoot innocent people in order to gain the victory for your nation. This is a horrible teaching. It is true that Christian life is more than morals and ethics – but by no means it is less than these! In this sense also the Great Commission must be built upon the fundamental commandment of Jesus, and not stand above. It will not please Jesus if people follow the Great Commission in a wrong way, even if they do it with great zeal. In Mt 23:15 Jesus complains: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.”
With this I don’t want to say that the Great Commission should be considered as insignificant. However, we are just told to obey everything Jesus has commanded us, not only the Great Commission. It is good to continue to carry out the commission with high engagement and devotion. But doing this, the most important thing in Christian life must not be neglected. We are talking about setting the priorities straight again. Jesus also complained in Mt 23:23: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”
In UBF, the Great Commission is not only considered as the highest command of God, but also as the ultimate meaning of our life, so to speak as our only right to exist and our only purpose in life. It is often equated with God’s command in Gen 1:28 (which is also actually rather a “word of blessing” than a command): “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” The “be fruitful” is then understood as “be fruitful in raising disciples”, which fits very well into what was said above, that UBF understands the “fruit” of a person foremost as the disciples he or she raised in his or her life. I considers this concept as problematic as well, also in this respect the Great Commission is given a too high significance .The meaning of our life is simply to honor God with it and please him, and just to live in a close love relationship with him and our brothers and sisters in Jesus. Who can determine the “meaning” of love relationship? Therefore neither Gen 1:28 was the ultimate meaning of the life of Adam and Eve, nor it is the Great Commission today. For both are not talking about the relationship between God, the creator and father, and the creature, the very person, who is given this “command.” This relationship is, however, the most important.
From the Analysis of the Bible passages the importance of the Holy Spirit for world mission was already clearly visible. Also if you are reading the Book of Acts, it is indicated again and again that the Holy Spirit is playing the main role in it. The disciples did not preach because they considered it as a “command,” but because they were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4; 4:31; 6:10; 18:25). The audience became believers because they in turn were overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44). The Holy Spirit picked out disciples for special tasks (Acts 13:2), he sent them out (Acts 13:4), told them where to go (Acts 19:21) and where not to go (Acts 16:6,7), sometimes even to whom (Acts 8:29; 10:19); by him disciples were appointed as ministers (Acts 20:28), he helped them in difficult decisions (Acts 15:28), he affirmed their ministry (Acts 20:23), through him was also prophesized (Acts 11:28) and spoken in tongues (Acts 19:6), he just filled their hearts (Acts 13:52). In short, world mission was in all its aspects the work of the Holy Spirit. It did not happen by ingenious methods nor by the zeal of the disciples alone. The crucial point was only the readiness and obedience of the disciples towards God (Acts 5:32) in order to receive the Holy Spirit.
In UBF, however, the role of the Holy Spirit is not respected highly enough. In a hierarchically structured chain of command a Holy Spirit is not needed, anyway: Everybody is simply following his or her leader. If you have a leader, you don’t need to find direction yourself, take decisions yourself or take on responsibility yourself. Nearly everything is predetermined for you. Therefore you also don’t need a Holy Spirit. Also the rigid agenda of UBF is putting out the Spirit’s fire. “Field-tested” methods, busy routine, training, a fixed program, long before prepared and only read out sermons and the instructions of the leadership replace the leading of and the being filled with the Holy Spirit.
In Mt 28:20a Jesus said: “Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.” As had been said above, this refers mainly to the commandment of love, but also to the Great Commission. In UBF, this “teaching” is not only over-emphasized, but they also teach to obey more than the things Jesus had commanded. It is certainly good to read the Bible regularly. But Jesus did not command to do this once a week, with a prepared questionnaire, at least one hour long and with always the same “shepherd” as our Bible teacher. This is nothing else but a rule which has been set up by UBF and imposed on their members. It is just the same with the weekly writing and sharing of “testimonies.” Another rule UBF rule is that as a member you may never miss only one time the UBF Sunday worship service or “obligatory” UBF meetings, even if you visit a worship service in another church or have other sound reasons like caring for an ill person. Col 2:20 says: “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules?” UBF clearly teaches to submit to certain rules which are not even biblical (e.g. the “testimony” mentioned above), far beyond the things Jesus has commanded his disciples to obey. The Apostle Paul warned in this regard: “‘Do not go beyond what is written.’ Then you will not take pride in one man over against another”(1Cor 4:6b). As a remark, besides the rules mentioned above, UBF members are commanded a lot of things which should be private decisions of the respective person, e.g. at which place he or she shall live or whom and when he or she should marry or also not marry.
Moreover, it is very problematic that every coworker in UBF has to identify himself as being a “Bible teacher” and has to exert authority towards others as a “teacher” during the Bible study (except towards the own Bible teacher). “Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you” is certainly not be understood this way. Jesus himself pointed out this problem: “Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ” (Mt 23:10). This word of Jesus isn’t taken serious at all in UBF. Also James is warning us: “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” Paul is asking the church members rhetorically: “Are all teachers?” (1Cor 12:29).
As “Bible teachers” by no means we should regard ourselves as “teachers of infants” (Rom 2:20). Our “Bible students” are, when they believe in Jesus and have been born again, mature citizens in the Kingdom of God. We can recommend them to lead their life of faith in a certain way, tell them our experiences (what helped us and what did not help us), encourage them, admonish them, but we shall not burden them with unnecessary loads which in the end do not even help them, but only make them tired. In Acts 15:8-10 Peter says: “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?” We shall lead the “Bible students” to full maturity and independence of us and not forever be their “Bible teachers,” permanently giving them instructions.
UBF is not content with “teaching,” but goes one step further, towards “raising” disciples. This “raising” or “raising up” is understood in UBF always as similar to the raising of little children, with the connotations of upbringing, educating, parenting and disciplining. The German language has a specific word, “erziehen”, having exactly all of these connotations, and UBF is actually using this word in Germany, translating “raising disciples” with “Jüngererziehung.” In he following, please keep in mind that I am using the words “raising” or “education” with this meaning. Actually, in UBF, “world mission” is equated with “raising disciples” (a typical UBF catchphrase). This is a very problematic point which must be listed as one of the crucial problems. How synonymous these terms are handled in UBF is e.g. shown in the German UBF “Daily Bread” of 04/06/2001 with the Great Commission from the gospel of Mathew as key verse. At first it quotes properly: “It was their task to make all nations to disciples of Jesus and baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” But then the “Daily Bread” all of a sudden concludes: “All Christians should be disciple educators.” Whereas the Bible was talking of “making” disciples by “going,” “baptizing” and “teaching,” the “Daily Bread” automatically reads this through the “UBF glasses” as “raising” or “educating” of disciples. This is then repeated in the prayer: “Lord, I want to obey your command and be a disciple educator.”
I want to point out very clearly here that there is a significant difference between “teaching” and “raising” of children, and thus between a “teacher” and an “educator” in the sense of those who actually raise the children. Those who are “raising” the children are mainly the parents. At the most, a certain education is tolerated in the kindergarten, but it already starts to become problematic when teachers in elementary school interfere in raising children in a way which is actually reserved to the parental authority. And finally it becomes and absurdity for grown-up people. “Teaching” and “intense mentoring” is different from “education.” No doctoral candidate would say that his PhD tutor is his “educator”, even if he could identify himself as being his “trainee” (“disciple”). Educators need a special kind of authority for their education. For instance I am allowed to educate and raise up my own child and should do so (up to a certain age). But I am not allowed to raise up the child of my neighbor, even if I could do this better than him, except he had explicitly authorized me to do so, or for instance an authorized court had appointed me as a guardian for the child for some reason (thus the word “parental” authority). In order to perform the “educational program” UBF has created artificial structures of authority (being called “spiritual order” in UBF), which are permanently demanded by challenging the obedience towards these authorities, in order to maintain them. All of this is not biblical in principle either (Mt 23:8; Mk 10:42,43 etc.) and has lead to severe problems through authority abuse in many cases, which can be predicted due to the sinful character of people who always want to dominate others. However, this is a topic of its own and has to be analyzed in detail elsewhere.
The step from somebody who is “teaching to obey everything Jesus has commanded” (Mt 28:20) towards an “instructor of the foolish,” a “teacher of infants” (Rom 2:20) seems to be small for coworkers accustomed to UBF. They hardly notice it any more in the “Daily Bread” or UBF messages. But neither in the five quoted Bible passages with the Great Commission nor anywhere else does the Bible say we should be “disciple educators” and “raise disciples” with the above connotation. It is one of the typical UBF phrases which do not exist in the Bible at all. The German word “Erzieher” (“educator”) used by UBF appears in the Luther Bible edition of 1984 used by UBF in Germany only in Rom 2:20 and 1Cor 4:15 (as “paidagogos” in the meaning of a “disciplinarian”), both times, however, in a rather negative context. In the NIV Bible, you will find the word “instructor” or “guardian” in these places, and the word “educator” is used nowhere in the Bible. The German noun “Erziehung” (“education”) appears only three times in the Luther Bible: In Deut 11:2 and Hebr 12:5,7 as education (in the NIV Bible translated as “discipline”) “of the Lord” and in 2Tim 3:16 as education (in the NIV Bible translated as “training”) “in righteousness”. The German verb “erziehen” (“educate” or “raise”) appears in the Luther Bible besides in the context of school education (2Kings 10:6; Dan 1:5; Acts 13:1) in the Old Testament only a few times in connection with the people of Israel who are raised by God, but in the New Testament only in Eph 6:4 in the context of child education! In Deut 8:5 these two important biblically sound kinds of real education are mentioned together: “Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.” The Luther Bible has “erziehen” instead of “discipline,” the same word UBF is using in Germany when they speak of “raising disciples.” The Bible does not support at all the thought that Christians should be “disciple educators” or “raise disciples.” If Jesus really wanted us to be “disciple educators” he would have expressed this explicitly in his commission towards the disciples. Jesus told Peter to “catch” men for Jesus (Lk 5:10) and should “feed” the lambs of Jesus (Jn 21:15). But he never commanded him to “educate” or “raise” them. By the way, besides in the “Daily Bread” I could not find any association with the word “Erziehung” (“education”) in all of the Bible commentaries I have read. It is very strange that the “Daily Bread” derives from this verse the quintessence that everybody has to be a “disciple educator.”
In UBF, the main focus is set on something which God does not want of us at all. He does not want at all that we are permanently educating our neighbors and Christians. This he is already doing himself. He wants that we first of all lovingly care for them and support them as brothers and sisters. Occasionally, an admonition (even a strong one) from a brother or sister can be useful and necessary, too. But unfortunately, “education” and “raising up” in UBF goes much farer. At least two well-known “extremists” in UBF (Samuel Lee in Chicago and Peter Chang in Bonn) even went so far as to use beatings as “educational measure.” By the way, already Paul complained about things like these in 2Cor 11:20: “In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face.” In the extreme case no only “inhumane” measures are taken, but primarily inadequate measures which can only be called “spiritual abuse.” Here also a wrong conception of man of UBF can be seen. University students and coworkers are adult people and not children. Educational methods as used for little children are here out of the place and only do harm.
In UBF it is also claimed that Jesus had “raised” the disciples for three years, thus we are following the example of Jesus when we are “raising” disciples as well. Concerning such an argumentation at first a warning has to be pointed out, that though we are followers of Jesus, there is still a fundamental difference between Jesus himself, who is God (Jn 10:30) and his followers. Mt 23:8 says: “‘But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers.” We are not allowed act in the “Master role” of Jesus! It is similar in other regards. You can condemn you “educational object” very easily, but Jam 4:12 is warning us: “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you – who are you to judge your neighbor?” But even if we would not care for this fundamental difference between Jesus and his disciples: Has Jesus really “raised up” his disciples in the way UBF is doing it? Did he squeeze them into a weekly repeated pattern of meetings, Bible studies, testimony sharing etc.? Did he force them to do certain things or not to do? Primarily he taught them and exemplified everything to them through his own beautiful life. He was no “preacher from the pulpit” or “disciplinarian with a stick.” Jesus is the Master pedagogue, and if UBF wants to take him as example, they should really do so and treat the people in the way Jesus had treated them.
In UBF, “training” is seen quite similar to “education” or “raising up.” And the same applies to this: It is a UBF term which rarely appears in the Bible, at least not as understood by UBF, where one person gives “training” to another person. In the NIV Bible, the word appears in Eph 6:4 where it refers to the training of children by their fathers, and at three other places (1Cor 9:25; 1Tim 4:7,8; 2Tim 3:16) where it is used in the context of the process of sanctification where a person trains himself and is trained by God through reading and applying the Scripture every day. It is more of a continuous training of the inner person. 1Tim 4:8 explains the difference: “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” Normally people “train” dogs or dolphins. But under no circumstances a disciple of Jesus should “train” another disciple in any spiritual sense. Sometimes I go jogging with a brother. But even then we are jogging together. I do not let him propel me to run faster while he settles on a bench. From training and education it is only a small step towards control and manipulation. “Shepherd training” and “raising disciples” are two destructive, unbiblical elements in UBF, which ought to never we taught and practiced any more.
Jesus wants us to make disciples with independent faith, who not only have started to believe and have been born again with the help of the Holy Spirit, but who continue to depend only from God and be guided by the Holy Spirit in their further life of faith. In UBF, however, members are made dependent from their shepherds and leaders. The leaders don’t trust in the Holy Spirit to work in others and lead them continually. Therefore they believe they have to permanently control the others and to plan and use up their time completely with various programs and tasks, and keep them in tutelage and educated them until the end. How different did Paul and Barnabas act on their first mission journey: “Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust” (Acts 14:23). They trusted in God to protect and lead the churches, which consisted of entirely new believers, without any “education,” “training” and “control.” They appointed “elders” in each church (and not one director who should decide everything alone). They considered it as their main responsibility to pray for them from their whole heart. By the way, this is the only passage in the Bible where we find that “disciples had been made” (Acts 14:21) corresponding to the expression used in Mt 28:19 (in the Luther Bible, other translations including the NIV use here the expression “they won a large number of disciples”).
While UBF on the one hand is caring so much about things which are not demanded by the Great Commission, on the other hand they are completely ignoring things the Bible explicitly talks about in this context. I have already mentioned that the leading and work of the Holy Spirit is not really taken serious and replaced by the control and “raising up” by people. But also the instruction of Jesus is ignored, that “making disciples” includes baptizing them as an essential element. This follows clearly from the passage in the Gospel of Mathew: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…” (Mt 28:19). The Gospel of Mark also emphasizes the importance of baptism: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved… ” (Mk 16:15b,16a).
Though this is not the crucial point I am criticizing, I still want to mention this issue. UBF does neither have a practice nor a concept of baptism, and they never cared about achieving such (by the way, concerning the Lord’s Supper it is very similar!). The passages in which “baptism” is mentioned are overlooked in UBF, or they are dismissed as a merely symbolic expression for “repentance.” Though both is connected, “repentance” is not a one-time act as baptism, which is therefore something special. Peter listed the two also separated when he said: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). The Book of Acts makes it sufficiently clear how important the disciples considered baptism.
Newly born children are not baptized in UBF. This can very well be justified in a biblical way. However, they “acknowledge” the baptism of children in the Protestant and Catholic church, i.e. Christians who only started to believe personally in UBF, are not baptized “again.” One might even be able to justify this. But strangely even those people are not baptized, who started to believe in UBF, but have never been baptized as a child. Neither are they encouraged to be baptized elsewhere. The children of the missionaries are not baptized either, neither as a child, nor as teenagers, nor as adults. It is certainly not the case that baptism is strictly repudiated. There have surely been baptisms occasionally in UBF, but as exceptions that prove the rule (mostly in “non-Christian” mission countries), and mostly using a not very biblical Korean ordinance of sprinkling with water. If somebody would demand very urgently to be baptized he might be successful depending on the respective chapter and its director (it is again similar in the case of the Lord’s Supper, which sometimes has been held in UBF, but extremely seldom).
The thing which needs to be criticized here is not that UBF has a wrong concept of the sacraments or wanted to disestablish them. The problem is rather that UBF has no concept of them at all, and also no ambition to develop such an understanding, though this is an important teaching of the Bible and part of the Great Commission. Because nothing is taught concerning the sacraments in UBF, most leaders and coworkers like to ignore them and deliberately “overlook” them during Bible study. This also results from the fact that the doctrine, interpretation of the Bible and practice in UBF is passed through top-down in the “leaders’ pyramid”: The messages of the leader are more or less copied. The leader alone decides about the “program,” and thus about which things should be considered important and which things should be neglected in the practice. Because the top leader Samuel Lee obviously had not interest in baptism and Lord’s Supper or has not developed any understanding of these, they are completely meaningless in the whole of UBF. The philosophy of “raising disciples” of Samuel Lee is, however, the unquestionable basis of the work of every UBF member.
In this example the “Biblical relativism” of UBF can be clearly seen. On the on hand they pretend to take the Bible and all of its commandments very serious as their only measure stick. On the other hand they ignore clear instructions of the Bible and try to enforce certain things in their own way. They play off the Bible against itself. What is considered as important and correct, is only determined by the leader in the end. In all such unhealthy hierarchical structures the doctrine is also unhealthy in the end and tends to be extreme, no matter in which direction. In this context it is a very interesting observation that in the “International Churches of Christ” (“ICC”), a cult-like church operating otherwise very similar to UBF, especially also baptism is a severe doctrinal problem. Specifically, they are teaching in ICC that baptism is needed for salvation, and furthermore they are regarding the baptism of ICC as the only really valid baptism. This is just the other extreme of the teaching of UBF that baptism is unimportant.
To say it a bit cynically, UBF has reinterpreted the Great Commission in Mt 28 like this: “Therefore go and make UBF-shepherds of all students, you don’t need to baptize them, but teach them to obey everything Samuel Lee has commanded you (like writing a testimony every week).”
(Recent developments regarding the practice of baptism in UBF are discussed in the subsequent remarks below.)
Many Christians consider the Great Commission as something special, separated from everyday life, sermons in the church, “domestic” or “home” mission, “normal” evangelization etc. Also UBF members basically believe that the Great Commission is a “special,” namely the “most important” and “highest” commandment for the Christians, and they are especially proud that UBF has realized and is accomplishing this commandment.
However, from Acts 1:8 it is completely clear that mission in your home city and country is equally important and is part of the Great Commission, it clearly states that you have to start with world mission “right before our own front door.”
In UBF they believe, to say it in a provoking way, that you can gain higher honor in front of God when you go to a foreign country as a “missionary” instead of working as a “shepherd” in your own country. UBF is driven by people being avid for honor. You want to be “great” somehow. The enthusiasm for world mission of the Koreans was not only inspired by the Bible, but also arose from their being cumbered with inferiority complexes through the history of their country which was always like a “wallflower,” which is the reason why they really dream of one time “conquer the world” instead of only be conquered by others. In the beginning they even used the battle cry “Bible Korea – World Mission.” The motto was “Conquer the World with the Gospel” with Gen 1:28 at the back of their minds (“… fill the earth and subdue it. Rule …”). If you have such an ambition, you should examine yourself, whether your motives are completely pure. It is also “suspicious” in this regard, that UBF later did hardly send any missionaries from other countries, but still nearly all missionaries are coming from Korea, so that in UBF the word “missionary” is almost a synonym for “Korean.” Generally, UBF likes to use titles. Every coworkers is either a “Missionary” or a “Shepherd” and also has to be addresses with that title constantly. Also secular titles, especially the PhD degree, are esteemed very high. Does not such love of titles stimulate us too much to accept praise from one another and are only eager for the appreciation from others? The titles also bring off differences among the coworkers. Anyway, Jesus recommended (or commanded?) us to consider ourselves only as brothers and should not adorn ourselves with special titles (Mt 23:7-10). Meanwhile it is already considered even disrespectful in UBF, if you don’t address somebody using his title “Missionary” or “Shepherd.” By the way, the term “missionary” does not exist at all in the Bible (only the terms “apostle” or “evangelist”) and the shepherd was a specific task or office. Eph 4:11 says: “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors (shepherds) and teachers, …”In any case, such terms for specific ministries were not used as titles in the early Christian community. Even such “superior” personalities such as Peter, John, James, Paul or Mark have not been addresses as “Apostle Peter,” “Saint John,” “General Director James,” “Missionary Paul” or “Evangelist Mark.” Peter called Paul just “our dear brother Paul” (2Pet 3:15). Paul called his coworker Timothy just “our brother Timothy” (Col 1:1; Heb 13:23). But usually they addressed each other just with their forenames. Paul e.g. wrote “greet Priscilla and Aquila” (Rom 16:3) and not “greet Shepherdess Priscilla and Shepherd Aquila.”
Unfortunately it must be said that the “organization” UBF and its leaders, especially its top leader Samuel Lee, strive very much for honor and for being “great” – though they actually know that Jesus has radically redefined who is considered “to be great” (Mk 9:34-37). The wrong concept of greatness despite all of the Bible reading – actually an “elitism” – can also be observed when peculiarly the rich Christian industrial countries USA and Germany are considered as particularly important, when “intellectual students” are considered as the only “disciple candidates,” preferring to invite and “raise” white in favor of colored people, and when UBF members with PhD degrees are esteemed particularly high (the leader having even two such degrees, which he as an aside acquired in a very dubious way). In the last time UBF even propagated to become a “Professor Shepherd” as a particularly desirable goal in life. The elitism of UBF can also be seen from the not existing cooperation with other churches, ministries or mission organizations.
National borders are considered very important and e.g. “Germany” is declared as “kingdom of priests” (in future). The Bible says, however, that the “kingdom of priests” consist of the scattered Christians (1Pet 1:1; 2:9) of all nations, and that we shall not think any more in terms of the limiting categories of the world. Particularly the Great Commission (“all the world”, “all nations”, “all creation”) makes it very clear that nationality, race, education, intelligence quotient etc. shall not play any role in the proclamation of the gospel. Other passages make this completely clear as well: “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (Rom 10:12,13). “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism” (Jam 2:1). “Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth – to every nation, tribe, language and people” (Rev 14:6).
In this regard it should be again examined very well whether it is right for a mission ministry operating on the basis of “full-fledged” local churches isolated from other churches, to only address students, or to say it with other words, that UBF is not carrying out “world mission,” but “world campus mission.” The fact that local churches are so “homogeneous” because of this definitely have negative results. Elder, more experienced church members with other backgrounds would have recognized the problems of UBF much earlier and could have intervened in a warning or correcting way. The fixed view of students as the only “objects” of world mission is also bad. Having this view, it is often forgotten that the own relatives, friends, colleagues at work etc. need the gospel just as much – however, they are neglected because they are not students.
Mission is understood in UBF primarily as to win UBF members. Only those things are done which are effective in this regard. Reading the Bible with somebody who has his home in another church or when there is no prospect that he will eventually become a member of UBF, is considered as ineffective in this regard and avoided. UBF does not hand out general tracts about the gospel, but only invitations directly to UBF. UBF members do not visit old people’s homes, hospitals or prisons because they cannot win members for UBF there. Evangelizing the own parents or relatives is regarded as unimportant in this regard as well, as I already mentioned. For the same reason, cooperating with other churches is considered as unproductive. Social work or support of people in need doesn’t enlarge UBF either and therefore also is considered as unimportant. But Jam 1:27 says: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” To look after orphans and widows will neither earn you honor nor enlarge the church or organization. Nevertheless James introduced it as an exemplary ministry pleasing God. The way Abraham has lived looks from the view of UBF very ineffective and fruitless as well. He lived in tents and raised cattle. Due to the lack of the Bible he could not make Bible study and it is not known whether he wrote “testimonies” or something similar (maybe he could not even write) or whether he observed the Sabbath (the 10 commandments did not exist yet), also he has not preached or evangelized actively. But nevertheless he can be regarded as the father of the world mission (Gen 12:3).
When new UBF chapters are founded, this is always called “pioneering” in UBF, even if there are already numerous Christian churches in the mission field. This one will permanently switch Many UBF missionaries like to be sent out as “pioneers,” since thereby they can escape the pressure that is permanently exerted on UBF members, and instead do as they like in the their newly founded chapter, and exert pressure on others. It has to be regarded as particularly problematic, that the “pioneers” go into the mission field with the declared goal of acting as the long term leaders in the chapters founded founded by them. Even after 40 years of UBF mission, the directors in almost all UBF chapters are those Koreans who once founded these chapters. This is a very unhealthy and dangerous practice. Usually, Christian missionaries try to appoint native elders as leaders in the churches they have founded as soon as possible, since it is known from practice that otherwise, problems will nrearly inevitably arise sooner or later. You will also find this proceeding described in the Bible in the book of Acts, as already mentioned above. The missionaries of the UBF, however, do not only stay as long-term directors, but often also make themselves dependent on their churches financially, by making their living from the offering money collected from their church members. They often consider “their” church as their possession and their life’s work, which they are proud of, and in the end are not able to step down as chapter directors any more, since they would lose their living and their assumed meaning of life.
Another problem with the practice of mission in UBF is that the missionaries are not willing to really show interest in the culture and language of the respective mission country and the group of people to be evangelized, the students. If you do go into another country as a missionary, then you have to really love that country and really try to understand its culture und live in it. If you do restrict on campus mission, then you should really try to understand the scientific, intellectual way of thinking of students and other aspects of their student life. Paul wrote: “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1Cor 9:19-22). Are UBF coworkers really willing to adapt to their “target group,” the students, in such a way and empathize with them in such a way? My impression is that though UBF is inviting in student dormitories and on the campus, it does not develop any particular attractiveness for students and could target any other group like e.g. “house wives” just as well or even better. From the point of view of the Great Commission it is already very questionable whether a church should restrict itself to a certain group of people such as students. But in any case, if you are doing this, than at least you should do it properly and consistently.
I want to underline that the points of criticism listed above do only concern the concept of the Great Commission in UBF. There are definitely even more very serious problems in UBF which need to be strongly criticized based on the Bible as well. These things shall be covered elsewhere.
I could list here some concrete proposals for improvement for a “reformed” UBF, but I rather want to refrain from doing so. This should be discussed together. Many things which need to be improved follow directly from the listed points of criticism. Many things still need to be discussed in detail, however. Some things need to be questioned and possibly disestablished completely, other “traditions” of UBF especially in connection with the Great Commission might be very good in principle and could be kept in a “purified” form. I pray that my criticism concerning the understanding of the Great Commission, which certainly is not the final conclusion in wisdom and spiritual insight, but which I have written according to my best understanding and conscience can contribute something to the discussion which absolutely needs to take place.
Meanwhile I have had almost two years time thinking more about these questions and recognizing that my criticism was only too legitimate and must even go much deeper in some points. Unfortunately, the discussion requested by me hasn’t taken place, remarkably not even in the allegedly “reform minded” part of the UBF which apparently soon will bear the new name “Campus Mission International” (CMI), but still supports essentially the same concepts. Until now, unfortunately, particularly the Korean leaders of the UBF and Reform UBF insistently refused to even discuss their concept or idea of world mission and “raising disciples” and to define a “reformed” belief. This disappointing experience has led me to abandon my hope for a real reform of the UBF. In the following I would like to deepen a bit the criticism in three of the mentioned problem fields:
Regarding the problem that mission is considered as the highest value: This is often evident when young members of UBF cut off any contact with their parents or are forced to do so by the demands of spending their whole time only with UBF and when married couples in UBF neglect their children due to these demands by UBF. Even for a young mother it is regarded as a sin to be “family centered.” The Bible has a quite different view of this, however. Even the unmarried Apostle Paul who completely gave his time for mission, writes as a recommendation for the young women in the church only “to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God” (Tit 2:4,5). He doesn’t mention the mission here at all, but mentions particularly those values, which are disparaged in UBF or even considered sinful. The meaning of a marriage is understood in UBF mainly in that it has to carry out mission. “To be busy at home” is never denoted a virtue for a woman in UBF. Often the women seem to be even those who are particularly active in UBF because they are more naive and virtually adore their respective leaders. In the majority of these cases the man, who in order to emphasize the focusing on mission is not called “husband” in UBF, but only “coworker,” is the one who has to subordinate. At the same place in the epistle of Paul to Titus, not only the young women are addressed, but also the young men and the older members of the church. It is demanded of none of these groups of people that they should carry out mission in a similar way as UBF is doing it. Instead it is assumed that an exemplary, healthy church, where the teaching is in accord with “sound doctrine” (this is stressed particularly), automatically will exert a strong missionary influence on its neighborhood.
Now you might still object that at least certain people could be called to perform mission with a top priority as in UBF and give the Apostle Paul as an example. This is definitely right, but this doesn’t justify the UBF concept of mission. Paul knew he had a calling to live like that. But he did not marry either, exactly because of this calling! The UBF members always boast that they are particularly devoted and self-sacrificing. But actually in UBF they do not want to do without marriage and really live in extremely miserable surroundings as many true missionaries, who are despised by UBF. All UBF leaders I known (apart from Sarah Barry) are married, and the vast majority of all “missionaries” sent out by UBF have been sent out to the two richest countries of the world, Germany and the USA. They also don’t care about, for example, poor, homeless people, but look after university students, who can sacrifice plenty of money to them as future members. The headquarters in Chicago have accumulated already millions of dollars in that way. Nevertheless UBF is still proudly claiming to be a “manger ministry.” The assertion that “we in UBF are living exceedingly consistent and hard as followers of Jesus” applies only to the minority of members, especially not to the upper echelon leaders. Unlike Apostle Paul most chapter leaders and all upper echelon leaders do not work, but let the members pay for their cost of living. It is even worse, however, that the high quota of dropouts is explained by alleging they fell back to an “easy-going lifestyle,” because not everybody could cope with their hard-working lifestyle, and that they profess everybody was free to leave UBF. In reality the lifestyle of UBF is not only declared as the only right one, but also as the only one guaranteeing salvation. When e.g. Jesus is saying that we have to enter through the “narrow gate” and that the “broad road” leads to destruction, then UBF understands the “narrow gate” as the life in UBF, and the “broad road” as the easy-going lifestyle, by which not only the unbelievers, but allegedly also other Christians and dropouts of UBF are living. The members are very clearly made believe that UBF is God’s calling for them and that leaving UBF means leaving God. But actually, the “narrow gate” is Jesus Christ himself, and what is important is the relationship of a Christian to him, not certain mission activities in a certain organization. But instead, the faith of a member in God gets inseparably tight interlocked with his or her coworking in UBF. Moreover in sermon and talks the fear is stirred up that leaving UBF will automatically result in horrible accidents and that only the loyal coworkers of UBF could expect any blessing of God. A member indoctrinated so much, tormented by feelings of guilt and fear and having only UBF as social environment, therefore virtually has no choice of deserting UBF. It is pure ridicule of UBF leaders to indoctrinate their members so much, and then to publicly claim that they are “free to leave UBF,” if they could not cope with the “hard” lifestyle. The students converted in UBF are not at all given the free choice to join UBF and continue to cowork there in their “special” way, but this is suggested to them as the only lifestyle pleasing God and leading to salvation. Members who decide for a different ministry in a different church are not sent there with blessings, but with feelings of guilt. Leaving UBF is nearly always a traumatic experience.
In short, it is surely right that certain people could be called to dedicate their life completely for mission. But it cannot be accepted that this is defined by an organization or church as the average case or even the only right way of life. The decision must be made personally, voluntarily and based on the particular individual spiritual gifts and vocation. In UBF, however, only two spiritual gifts and ways of living are accepted, that of being a “shepherd” and that of being a “missionary” (both understood in the sense of UBF). And even someone who is devoting his life fully for mission, may not give mission the “absolute” value it has in UBF and as a result neglect other commandments of God according to the motto “the end justifies the means.” Love is still the highest commandment. Apostle Paul who can be taken as an example for such a “mission centered” person, wrote despite of his putting priority on preaching and evangelizing, as already mentioned: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1Cor 13:1).
It comes added to that, that particularly if you decided to carry out mission with top priority, it is important that you also do it in theproper way. Or, as 2Tim 2:5 puts it, “Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules.” And the next great problem of UBF is just lying here. What use is it, even if the UBF lifestyle would be exceedingly “hard,” but if it is biblically wrong and harmful nevertheless? I have already mentioned the problem of the wrong idea and concept of “raising disciples.” I have recognized more and more that this is really one of the crucial problems and found out that this idea and the automatically resulting problems have not at all appeared in UBF for the first time. The concept of “raising disciples” as applied in UBF is also known by the term “discipling” or by the term “shepherding,” since often the person “raising a disciple” is called a “shepherd” and the person “raised” – the subject of his “education” – is called his “sheep.” Biblical terms such as “disciple” and “shepherd” are used in order to suggest that this concept is biblical. But the Bible understands these expressions in a completely different way. The concept of “discipling/shepherding” therefore has to be rejected as unscriptural. This wrong doctrine and practice is already mentioned in the epistles of Paul (e.g. in 2Cor 11:1-21) and has later appeared in various variants throughout Christian history, e.g. applied by the Jesuits in the Roman Catholic church or by the “elders” (“startsi”) in the Russian Orthodox church and particularly in the last century within the charismatic movement, where it always lead to spiritual abuse, disaster, divisions and extreme pride of the leaders. Because of these negative experiences these ideas aren’t applied by most of the Charismatic churches any more. Only some organizations like the “International Churches of Christ” (ICoC) are still using these methods as they are applied in UBF and have rightfully fallen into disrepute as being cults. But even the ICoC seem to meet the beginning of the end of their practices. The critical voices within the ICoC are getting louder and high-ranking leaders start to frankly admit the fundamental failures and admit their guilt. Searching for keywords such as “discipling,” “shepherding,” “covering,” “authoritarism,” “authority abuse in the church,” “spiritual abuse” or “ICoC/ICC” you will find many articles in the Internet explaining for which reasons the concept of “raising disciples” is wrong and unscriptural, and many negative examples and reports showing that it has done mischief wherever it had been applied. Therefore I won’t go into more detail here, though I think it is actually the main problem. It is harmful not only for the “sheep,” who is trained, among other things, to become spiritual dependent of people and hypocritical, but also for the “shepherd,” who, among other things, usually becomes overbearing, autocratic, and proud of his great “work of raising disciples” accomplished by himself. Unfortunately, the two prevailing motivations of UBF members which make them act in a seemingly self-sacrificing way, are just these two: Obedience, driven by permanent feelings of guilt on the one side, and on the other side righteousness by works and the desire to accomplish a particularly great work for God to receive a particularly great “crown” at the end for this. Doing so, the UBF leaders often seem to have Dan 12:3 as their secret motivation: “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” They are dreaming of once shining in the heavens as very special stars, believing they had “taught” and “led to righteousness” so many people. Unfortunately, the opposite is often the case.
The excellent expert for the human soul, Fyodor Dostoyevski, wrote in his book “The Brothers Karamazov” in the part about the tradition of the “elders” (“startsi”), which can be considered a very old Russian Orthodox variant of “Shepherding”: “An elder was one who took your soul, your will, into his soul and his will. When you choose an elder, you renounce your own will and yield it to him in complete submission, complete self-abnegation. … The obligations due to an elder are not the ordinary ‘obedience’ which has always existed in our Russian monasteries. The obligation involves confession to the elder by all who have submitted themselves to him, and to the indissoluble bond between him and them. … In this way the elders are endowed in certain cases with unbounded and inexplicable authority.” The relationship between the elder and his “trainee” described here, amazingly resembles the relationship between “shepherd” and “sheep” in UBF. Though most of these elders surely were much superior to UBF leaders in terms of age, wisdom, experience and modesty, nevertheless Dostoyevski resumes his assessment of the tradition of this kind of elders with the following remarkable sentence: “It is true, perhaps, that this instrument which had stood the test of a thousand years for the moral regeneration of a man from slavery to freedom and to moral perfectibility may be a two-edged weapon and it may lead some not to humility and complete self-control but to the most Satanic pride, that is, to bondage and not to freedom.” Dostoyevski recognized here two problematic results of “shepherding”: Bondage and dependence of the “sheep” on one side, and pride and righteousness by works on the other side. These and other negative effects can obviously be clearly seen also (or maybe even clearer) by outsiders.
At this point we already touch the last point mentioned, “patriotic” world mission and searching for own honor. The thought of having to “raise” disciples by own efforts seduces to build up a large “work” or “ministry” and to become proud of it. It is called the “work of God” in UBF, not with the main connotation that it is the work done by God, but a work which God should be very pleased of and which he will absolutely support. Every UBF member is proud of his organization, the UBF, but the chapter leaders are particularly proud of their ministries, regarding them as their personal life’s work which therefore never can be questioned without questioning the whole life of the leader and thus making him “loose face,” which Koreans fear as the worst thing that can happen to them. Every member of their chapter is regarded as their own merit, and the bigger a district is and the higher it is in the hierarchy, i.e. perhaps having other dependent chapters under it, the higher is the reputation of the respective leader in UBF, and the prouder he is. The pride of the topmost leader Samuel Lee already was without limits, as can be clearly seen in his letters, too. In one of his last letters to all coworkers of April 2001 he wrote for instance, “From age 29 through age 70 the only thing I have done is to pioneer UBF. I pioneered Korea; I pioneered Germany; I pioneered the USA. And no one can deny that it was my influence that sent out self-supporting missionaries to the ends of the earth.” His letters are filled with such kind of bragging about UBF and himself. How different was the attitude of Apostle Paul, who really was a great “pioneer,” as he wrote, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14). The searching for own honor is in effect provoked by the concept of “raising disciples,” by which the raised disciples are actually regarded as the possession and merit of the one who raised them, because the emphasis is not laid on the work done by God and the Holy Spirit, but the conversion and inner change of people is subscribed to the own “hard work.” Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, where “pioneers” like Apollos or himself had been adored immoderately: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1Cor 3:6,7).
Regarding the (nonexistent) teachings of baptism in UBF, meanwhile the following remarks have to be made: One year after the death of Samuel Lee, Sarah Barry apparently starts to practice baptism in UBF again. At least the official Canadian UBF website reports: “On January 22nd, Mother Barry used her birthday to baptize 37 newly converted disciples. All members came at 8pm and participated in prayer for those who were baptized. They memorized the Lord’s prayer, 10 commandments, the apostle’s decree and wrote one page sincere testimonies. They were tested and passed the tests to declare as God’s children to the world.” At a first glance, the fact that Sarah Barry introduced baptism again might be interpreted as a positive sign. On a second look, however, extremely problematic aspects of this baptism are standing out: First, the parallel of this “mass baptism” to the “mass weddings” performed by Samuel Lee on his birthday is striking. Both obviously want to support their “claims” towards the baptized resp. married members with such a ceremony, and celebrate their own achievements. Such events are also hardly about the baptism resp. marriage and the individual persons any more, but rather about the organization and its leaders. The individual person has to disappear in the crowd. Not his or her needs and individual time schedule are important, but everything has to be done for the honor of the leaders according to their time schedule. The baptism on the occasion of the birthday of the leader fatally reminds of the problem mentioned by the Apostles Paul in 1Cor 1:14,15: “I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name.” What a completely different spirit can here be seen comparing the Apostle with UBF leaders! Here we are obviously meeting again the very same problem as mentioned above, of leaders taking credit for baptisms themselves, and conversely, members becoming dependent of these leaders as special authorities. Furthermore the strange baptizing prerequisites are standing out, not even mentioning repentance and faith, giving the impression that baptism is essentially about passing an “examination.” A clear teaching of baptism is still missing in UBF, and just as before only the capriciousness and personal preferences of individual leaders decide whether, when and how members are baptized. The Chicago members seemingly aren’t even astonished about the fact that they never baptized for 40 years and now are suddenly practicing it without any explanation. While Samuel Lee obviously in contempt wanted to disassociate himself from the churches and took care that church symbols, liturgy and sacraments weren’t used in UBF (by the way quite similar to the founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses), Sarah Barry now probably wants to give the impression of being a mainstream church again. For long years the missionaries of Heidelberg UBF took off the big wooden cross on the front wall every time they made a Bible conference in a Christian recreation center and put it away into a junk room during the conference. Instead, they pasted the motto of the conference on the wall, in big colored letters, such as “You will be a blessing.” It would be interesting to know whether this practice now also has changed. They unintentionally committed a highly symbolic action, which was very exactly representing the spirit of UBF.
Finally I want to mention yet another negative aspect and a fatal consequence of the practice of “raising disciples” in UBF. This practice divides the brothers and sisters in the church into two categories, the “educators” (Bible teachers, shepherds) and the “trainees” (Bible students, sheep). This is not only bad because of the reasons already mentioned (bondage of the sheep, pride of the shepherds), but also because the educator puts himself into a position where he believes being already educated and trained, discontinuing his own learning from then on, unless by someone higher in the UBF hierarchy. He can never learn from the “sheep” with whom he studies the Bible and accept admonitions from them, because the “disciple” may never stand above the “master,” for this would undermine the authority of the shepherd. (As an aside, the word “fellowship” in the name of UBF suggests that you can find such in UBF. But in reality all relationships in UBF are afflicted with a hierarchical incline, and real fellowship or friendship where you can talk frankly with each other, virtually do not exist. You will realize this especially if you leave UBF.) In UBF people also do not learn from other churches, do not attend seminars or lecture evenings, and read few Christian books, unless perhaps some few books which are recommended by the leader and deal with topics which don’t touch the UBF practice or seem to even support it. UBF members are not only discouraged of doing such things as being unspiritual compared with the “hard work” of mission in UBF, they are also loaded with a program filling out their time completely every week and leaving them no time for other activities which would help them to learn and grow to spiritual maturity. Instead members stew in their own grease every week and become more and more restricted in their way of thinking. Though chapter leaders are regarded as subordinate to the respective national leader, actually they are hardly “trained” any more and the top leader has of course not “trainer” at all. The newly arrived “missionaries” from Korea, whose only “missionary training” consisted in testing their obedience and letting them write even more “testimonies” as usual for some weeks, are very proud of their position as a “missionary” from the beginning and believe they are spiritually far superior to all Germans, though they hardly know the Bible themselves and need to grow spiritually. Some pretend that they want to grow spiritually, but whoever calls himself a “missionary” and permanently teaches and trains others, speaks another language in practice. Also they make students who have just started to believe in God quickly to become “fellowship leaders,” “shepherds” and “Bible teachers,” though they are spiritually immature and hardly know the Bible (the Apostle Paul warned of such a practice in 1Tim 3:6; 5:22). Not to speak of topics like “counseling” which aren’t mentioned at all. In that way members come quickly into a situation in which they become proud and are not willing to learn any more. They think that they already know everything, particularly how mission has to be accomplished. Already Jesus had to face the problem that the Jewish teachers of the law themselves proved to be incorrigible. Paul wrote about the basic problem of such an attitude in his epistle to the Romans: “Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth – you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal?” (Rom 2:17-21). Such a mindset is by no means only criticized as a problem of the Jews, but as a general problem, and particularly also as a problem of a later Christian church: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Rev 3:17).
This attitude could particularly be seen again in the reform movement which was primarily driven by long standing UBF leaders from Korea. Though they became aware of some extreme excesses in UBF and wanted to change them, it seems to me that their “reforms” are always only addressing the symptoms and in any regard inconsistent and full of compromises. Samuel Lee was not completely wrong when he said that the “reform movement” was a “political game.” (Nevertheless of course he was the one who “raised” such people similar to himself, who are not able to make clear and honest decisions based on the truth and biblical norms, but try not to “loose face” and please people.) The leaders in the reform movement didn’t really care to find out the true problems and causes of the abuses. They never want to discuss or question their basic beliefs like the one of “raising disciples.” They still address themselves using the titles “shepherd” and “missionary.” At the various reform conferences there were never seminars or workshops addressing these basic problems of UBF (besides a short workshop which I once initiated myself, but where the key people did not take part). Concerning the analysis above which I have published on the Internet for almost two years, I never received a feedback, to my great disappointment, also not from the so-called “reformers.” As already mentioned, the discussion I considered as necessary and which I sought after, has never taken place, particularly not with the “ordinary members,” and there were only some “leader meetings” behind closed doors, where, however, never any essential decision was made. Also other principles of the UBF, like one-man-leadership, arranged marriages, hierarchy of leaders and local chapters, the practice of tithing etc. weren’t discussed. This again only proves how dangerous the concept of “raising disciples” is, because the people who were in the position of teachers and educators for years are hardly correctable. They are neither willing to admit mistakes of the past and repent (there is still no public declaration of guilt of the “reformers,” who had applied the same UBF methods in the past), nor are they willing to discuss the real crucial problems, accept criticism like the above, question their own practice based on the Bible and develop new concepts, but the former practice is still regarded as a premise which cannot be challenged. The Korean members, particularly the elder ones, seem moreover to be confined in a way of thinking which is stamped by Confucianism, according to which values such as truth, correctness and justness do not count so much as outward harmony, unity and “saving face,” making them inclined to use diplomacy and look for compromise solutions and carefully avoid to address the real problems, especially their own. Most German or American UBF members who once set their hope on a “Reform UBF” have left not only UBF, but also Reform UBF, due to this incorrigible attitude and lacking willingness to repent and change. As far as I see it now, the only actual change in “Reform UBF” will be the change of the name. It might be that still something will happen in UBF or Reform UBF/CMI, but after all my disappointing experiences I personally do not believe this any more and will not invest energy in any attempts to reform this deadlocked and failed system any more, but engage in another ministry. This experience was again very sad, disappointing and bitter for me, but it seems to be the only sensible solution. There are sufficient healthy churches and Christian student movements you can join. Nevertheless I still hope and continue to pray that as many members of UBF and Reform UBF/CMI as possible will recognize the wrong way they are following and decidedly return back from that wrong way, and I wish them all the best for this.