You might think studying the Galatians letter in the Bible would be a liberating thing to do. Not in UBF.
Here is the public link to the message, delivered in Toledo UBF on July 1st, 2012:
Here is the link to a PDF of the message, in case the link above disappears:
Toledo UBF (a ministry of about 75 in 2010) went through a disastrous 2011, watching 7 or 8 leader’s families either leave the ministry or dis-engage from the ministry almost entirely. That’s about 40 people. The recent Toledo UBF conference photo confirms that the ministry has been cut in half in the last couple years.
A visiting messenger is asked to deliver a message on Galatians, which somehow ends up being a chopped up passage from Galatians 4:8-31. This visiting messenger is the highest-ranked, official authority in UBF outside the Korean missionaries, Ron Ward. So when Ron gives a message, people in Toledo UBF are going to listen. When Toledo UBF is in trouble, this is often the solution: to invite some authority from Chicago UBF to deliver a message. That has happened many times the past 25 years.
The ministry leadership in Toledo UBF is currently a Leadership Council. For the most part, this has been a good move. The 22-year-term Moses-style director may be stepping down soon and the plurality of leadership concept is really starting to take hold.
There is much more context here which I won’t share publicly. But the people involved know what I’m talking about.
The Message Structure
Here is how the message is structured with the main points:
I. Paul’s zeal for Christ to be formed in the Galatians (8-20)
- First, Paul rebuked them for returning to slavery (8-11).
- Second, Paul pleaded to restore their love relationship (12-16).
- Third, Paul’s zeal to win them over to Christ (17-20).
II. “We are children of the free woman” (21-31)
Problem 1: Dictating what to learn
The UBF mindset is to tell you what you will learn. This message is no different. In the last sentences of the introduction, we find what we “need to learn”:
“Today let’s realize that though we are saved by faith in Christ alone, we need to grow to maturity. And let’s learn from Paul how to care for God’s children.”
The introduction sets an ominous tone for anyone hearing this message who knows what just happened the past 11 months. Immediately, thoughts of “Who is immature?”, “What does it mean to be mature?”, “How should we care for God’s children?” and “Who is caring for God’s children?” come to mind. Is Galatians 4 about growing in maturity, as if that is something greater than faith in the gospel? No. But that is the kind of thing we are called to learn even though we haven’t even learned anything yet!
Problem 2: Using a trigger word “rebuke”
The word “rebuke” is used a lot in UBF. It has special meaning but I won’t go into that here. The messenger quotes verses 8 to 11, claiming that these verses are Paul’s rebuke to the Galatians. When we look at the various Bible translations and the titles they insert above this section, we can learn that the Bible translators understood these verses correctly. The verses here are Apostle Paul’s concern, questioning and his love for the people. But rebuke? That’s very strong language. But in UBF, all negative words are automatically a “rebuke”! They normally make no distinction between correction or discipline or encouragement: it’s all “rebuke” and usually with a harsh tone. And Apostle Paul’s rebuke? That was in Galatians 3.
Problem 3: False appeal to American author
Normally, you’ll find a jab at America or American churches in UBF messages. This one is no different. But it also has an appeal to a popular American preacher/author, Tim Keller.
“While most Americans do not bow before statues and figures,we still find rampant idolatry in our nation. Dr. Tim Keller, in his book, “Counterfeit Gods,” has exposed them: money, sex, power, and success. Moreover, many have created gods in their own imaginations by mixing various elements from many religions and new age ideas. In fact people are in bondage to forces that make them miserable. Though idols may seem to be nothing, behind them is Satan’s power.”
I would agree that idolatry is a key problem in America. But what “false gods” did Tim Keller refer to in his book? I personally have not read this book, but I did read the excerpt from Tim Keller’s website. Ron says the idols in America are four: money, sex, power, success. (Note: if you don’t know these are four key “sins” UBF often fights against. If you are free of these, you are considered “pure”, which seems to me to be very Eastern-thought oriented.)
Tim Keller says there are far more than these four… “anything can be an idol” (Introduction, page xv). Keller also mentions many things that can become idols: beauty, money, family, sex, power, glory, success, military discipline, fame, marriage, etc. In fact, this Keller quote from “Counterfeit Gods” would have been far more appropriate for this message:
“The biblical concept of idolatry is an extremely sophisticated idea, integrating intellectual, psychological, social, cultural, and spiritual categories. there are personal idols, such as romantic love and family; or money, power, and achievement; or access to particular social circles; or the emotional dependence of others on you; or health, fitness, and physical beauty. Many look to these things for the hope, meaning, and fulfillment that only God can provide.”
Counterfeit Gods, Introduction, page xix
Problem 4: Thinly veiled attack of ex-UBF members
One favorite game UBF messengers like to play is “attack the R-Group”. The pulpit in UBF often turns ugly, but such “messages” are only picked up on by certain people. After some brief words on Galatians 4:9-11, this messenger quickly implores emotional control and takes a jab at those who just left Toledo UBF in protest last year.
“Sometimes we feel like Paul did. We work hard to serve God‟s sheep with the word of God, prayers, counseling, delicious food, and so on, so they can grow in Christ. Then, through a false teacher or a bad influence, they suddenly change, becoming crazy. They have become slaves of Satan. By the time we recover from shock, we realize that we are powerless and don‟t know how to help them. It is easy to give up. What did Paul do?”
This is utterly out of context with Apostle Paul’s thoughts here in the text. But Ron W. sticks it in anyway. Who is this “false teacher” in Toledo UBF? Why it is me of course! Well, me and my friends who left. But of course such thoughts won’t be expressed in writing.
Problem 5: Preaching UBF ideology
What is Ron’s conclusion from verses 12-16? Here is verses 12-16:
“12 I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you. You have done me no wrong. 13 As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. 14 Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. 15 What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?” Galatians 4:12-16
Here is the conclusion from this part:
“Here we learn that our attitude toward shepherds or mentors in Christ can be a barometer of our spiritual condition. When we have the gospel in our hearts, we love God‟s servants even if they have a serious weakness. But if we lose the gospel, our relationship with our shepherds can become very burdensome. Then we become critical; we can even treat them like enemies. At such times, we must stop struggling with people, come back to Christ, and restore our gospel faith. Then our relationships with God‟s servants will also be restored and we can have peace.”
He could have preached some teaching about brotherly love, or a pastor’s love, or bearing one another in love when someone is sick, or even something like “wounds from a friend” as in Proverbs 27:6.
Instead, what does he preach from Galatians 4:12-16? Well first of all he leaves out the first part of verse 12 and all of verse 16. Then he teaches that the only way to have “peace” and “restoration” is to stop struggling with people and have a “good” (meaning totally submissive) attitude toward UBF shepherds. This is twisting Scripture text to preach the UBF ideology of shepherd-sheep relationships. This means, for the un-indoctrinated, “no criticism of shepherds or missionaries; listen and obey what you are told to learn.”
Summing it all up
There is much more I could criticize here in this message. However, the main point is the conclusion. The summary paragraph drives home the teaching we “must” learn from this:
“In conclusion, let’s read the key verse, verse 19: “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…” In truth, this is God‟s heart for sinners. God’s love never fails and God never abandons his children. In his mercy, God gave his one and only Son Jesus Christ as our Savior. Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (Jn 3:16). Our Lord Jesus Christ suffered more than the pain of childbirth on the cross to save us from the power of sin and Satan. Though we betray him, Jesus has mercy on us. Jesus faithfully forgives and restores us, and helps us grow in his image. As we trust in his love alone, Christ is formed in us. We grow in his love toward his dear children. We are willing to suffer the pains of childbirth to save lost souls and raise them until Christ is formed in them. Let‟s pray to be mature in the love of God so that we may pray with tears, even for those who act like enemies. Amen!”
We learn here that it is not Apostle Paul or God, but Ron W. and UBF leadership who “rebuked them (8-11), pleaded with them (12-16), and decided to go through the pains of childbirth all over again until [UBF] Christ was formed in them (17-20).”
The message here to Toledo UBF is: stop struggling with people, fall in line with UBF ideology and begin rebuilding the UBF heritage in Toledo.