Disclaimer: This article is only for those who have hope of UBF reforming. The commentary in this article was made by my friend Chris.
Published by the Committee of USA Reform UBF in the year 2000 on their former web site reformubf.org.
It has been 39 years since God, in the aftermath of the Korean War, gave birth to University Bible Fellowship (UBF) as an evangelical student organization. Recently, a certain consensus has been reached among many UBF members in Korea as well as overseas: that UBF needs to reform itself. (Even those who do not actively participate in the reform movement that takes place in Korea and Europe generally express their approval for the urgent need for a reform. They hesitate to join in the reform mainly because of their sense of loyalty to the present UBF leadership, because of fear, or because of their disagreement about how to go about reform. Nevertheless, it is a fair judgment to say that the sentiment for reform is widespread.) Such a consensus has arisen out of a genuine concern about how we can be continually and more effectively used in the service of God for the rapidly changing world. We in America also wholeheartedly agree with those who wish for a reform. It is in fact long overdue. Therefore, on our part, we also express our opinion about why UBF is in dire need of a reform, what calls for it, and what objectives we are hoping to achieve through this reform.
Looking back, we can confidently affirm that the birth of UBF was the result of a great revival in many Korean campuses. The grace of God through Jesus Christ was received enthusiastically by many students who had suffered from economic and political depression that followed the Korean War and the corruption of the Rhee government. Freed by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ from despair and hopelessness that had entrapped them, these students passionately embraced the gospel and its teachings.
They loved to gather together to study the Word of God and for various activities. It was a spiritual oasis in the desert of despair and hopelessness. These gatherings were marked by joy and enthusiasm rarely seen in Korean society. They broke down the Confucian barriers between female and male students, as they called each other “sister” or “brother.” Along with spiritual activities, there were often romances among young college students, dreams for greatness and vision to embrace the world with the gospel. They challenged despair, self-pity, deeply seated fatalism and an inferiority complex. They also felt that they could go into the whole world and conquer it by the gospel. The birth of UBF was a fresh air to Korean soil. Never has there been such a vibrant student fellowship in Korean Christian history. Many of these students would later become seminary professors, well-respected pastors and dedicated lay Christian leaders in their working places as well in their respective churches. (Some of them are Dr. Se Yoon Kim, Dr. Suk Tae Sohn, Dr. Yul Soo Lim, Dr. Kwang Soo Kim, Rev. Seung Jang Lee, Rev. Hee Won Yoon, Dr. Kwang Pil Koh and many others.)
During this early revival period, the theology of UBF was relatively well balanced between grace and mission. Those who were used as instruments to found UBF showed genuine love for students, seemed to know how to treat the nation’s elite, and were able to lead them with vision and hope. Excessive emphasis upon obedience to human beings, which would later dominate UBF life, was not yet introduced. Rather, based upon customary Confucian virtue, people naturally respected the elders and leaders. Led by the Spirit of Christ, UBF exemplified a community that understood the grace of God and was compelled by it to bring the gospel to others. Out of such a healthy community came a powerful and dynamic vision and dream well summed up in the catchphrase, “Bible Korea and World mission.” Under this motto, UBF has thus far achieved a remarkable feat, sending out 1,500 lay missionaries in 87 countries as well as establishing a chapter at almost every college or university in Korea. (Upon honest analysis of these numbers and the practical conditions of our missionary works, we came to realize that this number does not really tell the accurate strength and condition of our mission. We need in the future to carefully and systematically assess our mission work and come up with better analyses and strategies to truly be effective in mission fields.)
But the genuine Spirit-led work that gave birth to UBF began to be tainted, as ambition for success replaced the power and vision of the Spirit as the driving force of UBF. One man’s (Samuel Lee’s) ambition, though it appeared harmless, was great at times. He led UBF out of the Spirit’s path to rigid institutionalization, out of the Spirit-filled community to an exclusive and arrogant organization, and out of the work of the Spirit marked by freedom and joy to a suffocating business venture.
UBF’s misstep toward the wrong path began with its misguided biblical hermeneutics (interpretation). Excited by its growth, UBF began to solely focus its energy and thought on growth, namely bringing more “sheep,” more offering, and more missionaries. This shift deeply affected the way UBF interpreted the Scripture. The dominant paradigm of its biblical interpretation became “mission,” which was often interchangeably used with the idea of “taking up the cross.” Within this interpretation, then, the grace that had been the real force of the birth and growth of UBF was reduced to a mere preliminary step toward mission.
Once the success of the organization became the central concern of UBF, another concept was introduced to further enforce it, namely the idea of obedience. Before, obedience need not be stressed, because it was natural for us to respect our leaders due to our Confucian upbringing. (For heavens sake, there was no need whatsoever to emphasize obedience then. We still do not understand what came upon Samuel Lee to take such a course. It was totally unnecessary and in fact a detrimental element that came into UBF. It was the most tragic theological move he made.) What had been a virtuous and voluntary respect to leaders suddenly became coercive obedience imposed forcefully upon us and legalistically demanded of us. (Obedience to a human being is a strange animal. Those who give it become more and more dependent upon the person whom they obey, while they themselves become less and less. They fall into a sense of worthlessness, unless they get some kind of approval from the leader. On the other hand, the leader who is on the receiving end of this obedience becomes bolder and bolder in demanding it, thinking that he somehow deserves it. He falls into self-conceit. Giving obedience to a human being destroys both parties, the giver and the receiver alike. It is quite a dangerous game to play.) What we had given him freely and joyfully was now forced and squeezed out of us. As we ignorantly and fearfully obeyed him, our obedience to him was gradually identified as obedience to God. There was a 180-degree turnaround in our theological understanding of grace and mission. The dynamic power of the Holy Spirit was replaced by the strength of organization.
These theological shifts in turn have caused profound changes in the practical life and mission of UBF. First, the central theological tenet of UBF became no longer grace that prompted us to work but work induced by all kinds of human ingenuity, coercion and program. All of sudden, “feeding sheep” or how many Sunday attendants one brought has became the central agenda. Everything revolved around this topic. Second, the authority that had been freely and voluntarily offered was now made into a legalistic and coercive one. Moreover, it fell into the hand of one man, thus setting up the stage for a dictatorial authority. As a result, the abuse of power is a widespread, chronic problem in UBF. (Chapter directors learn and imitate Samuel Lee’s pattern and have become little Samuel Lees in their abuse of power and are simply unaccountable to anyone. Missionary Susanna Park’s letter to Missionary Peter [Dae-Won] Chang in Bonn UBF clearly tells the abuse of power in various chapters.) There have been so many cases in which Samuel Lee, along with some others in leadership positions, failed to demonstrate transparency and honesty, such as about money, women, physical violence, verbal abuse and back-stabbing, and the like(the sexual harassment case of Shepherd Mark Yang illustrates this well, too.) So, our trust in the present leadership of UBF has been dwindling, is historically low at present and we do not apologize for it. But what disappoints us most is how the leadership goes about to restore the broken trust. It does not go by way of truth but by way of cunning persuasion, trickery and coercion. Such a base action irreparably damages our relationship and forces us to painfully ask questions about what kind of future UBF can have.
For these reasons, we declare that UBF must reform itself. Fundamentally, we must return to the gospel of grace and let this gospel revitalize us. We must let the gospel of grace shatter the shackles of institutionalism, organizational arrogance, groundless confidence as “chosen people,” and most of all free us from the fear of one man. That fear is largely built upon the idea that disobedience to this man would result in some kind of punishment. (The irony is that this person taught many times that the gospel frees us from the law of cause and effect or the law of crime/sin and punishment. Yet, he has aggressively promoted the superstitious idea that disobedience to him will bring some kind of bad luck or punishment. Some people in UBF, especially those who work closely with him, are plagued by this fear. This is incredible. The gospel of grace is literally the gospel that tells us about grace. Grace is God’s unmerited love for sinners. That means that God, due to Jesus Christ, does not deal with us according to this law of sin and punishment but with the law of grace, namely, sin and forgiveness. Grace has broken this chain that causes such fear and terror. Although Samuel Lee preaches this gospel of grace, as far as his authority is concerned, the gospel of grace does not apply. What hypocrisy it is! Such a practice brings us back to the slavery from which Christ set us free through this gospel (cf. Rom 8:15-16). Furthermore, it is a more serious sin to fear a mortal man than God. As a matter of fact, fearing mortal man (Isa 51:12-13) stems from not fearing God.) We must relearn the meaning of the grace of Jesus Christ and be forgiven of all our sins of corrupting his gracious gospel with our sinful greed and desire for power and success.
We also must give due credit to the Holy Spirit, not that he desires it, but that our theology may be humbly in tune with the Spirit. We must further destroy the idols of human worship, falsehood of leadership, and abuse of power from among us and restore the sovereignty of Jesus Christ our Lord over his church, UBF. (Lest someone should accuse us of weakening mission and obedience for the sake of grace, let us make ourselves clear: that it is simply wrong to pit mission against grace. Creating such dichotomy between grace and mission reflects the serious theological misstep UBF has taken in order to make mission the center of its theology. Mission and grace need not be separated. Paul understood mission and grace go together: “We have received grace and apostleship” (Rom 1:5). We believe and maintain that understanding the grace of our Lord Jesus and knowing the wonderful justification for us will strengthen our commitment to mission and obedience. Having said this, we now desire to elucidate, as clearly as possible, what we believe, what the gospel means and what needs to be changed in the theology and life of UBF.)
Our goal of the reform movement is to eliminate all these abuses, falsehood, pride and greed from UBF, so that we might be again faithful to the gospel of grace. It is naive to think that we will be able to simply go back to the past, but we can dream and hope again for a purer, more joyful, freer future with the Spirit. Only by walking with the Spirit of our Risen Lord in humility can we truly find a new future, because the Spirit alone holds the future of UBF, his creation. Our ultimate trust is in God the Father who sent his only Son to the cross and raised him from the dead and in God the Son who, rising from the dead, sent us his Holy Spirit in order to be with us to the very end of the age.