"May God Make America a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation!"

I have been thinking lately about a question that has plagued me since I first came to UBF in 1999: What does the prayer “May God make America a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation” actually mean?

When I asked older shepherds this question, I got different answers every time. Of course, I wholeheartedly shouted this prayer slogan every time Pastor Ron asked the congregation to do so. But in the back of my mind, there was a lingering question about what I was actually praying for.

One day, when I was a student at college, I approached a man who had set up a table and handing out tracts. When he gave me one of the tracts, it showed a very detailed graph of the “Church Age” and the “Millennium” and Israel etc. After a short conversation, I told him that my church always prays for America to be a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation. It was almost like I had slapped him. He said, “What? That is not a good prayer! Israel is specifically called to be a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation, NOT America!”

In response, I quoted for him 1 Peter 2:9-10: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Then I said, “Well, who is Peter talking about then?”

The man replied, “Sure, I’ll give it to you, Christians being the redeemed of God are indeed a chosen people, and there is a universal priesthood of the believer now. And in that way, all Christians are a ‘holy nation,’ as it were. But your prayer for America is misplaced. Don’t you know that God has always only saved a remnant? Don’t you know that narrow is the path to life and only a few find it? I think your heart is in the right place but your theology is wrong.”

I was taken aback. I had never thought of it that way before. I guess I had always assumed that every time we said that prayer, we were praying for America as a whole to be saved, or something to that effect. But is that the case? When UBFers pray this, is that what you mean? Are you asking for something that almost certainly won’t ever happen? Does this prayer mean that we want a “majority” of America to be saved or to become missionaries?

While I was talking with the man at my school, he told me that he was a Dispensationalist. At the time, I had absolutely no idea what that meant. I asked a Chucago UBF leader what a Dispensationalist was, and the leader shook his head and said something like, “Oh, Shepherd David, don’t talk to those people!” Of course, this only made me want to find out more about them.

Dispensationalism is a Christian theological system which is too complicated to explain in detail here. Suffice it to say, they believe that the physical nation of Israel, the Jews, still have a very important role in God’s current and future plans, both in terms of salvation history and the end times. To the Dispensationalist, the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — in other words, the people of Israel — are the ones for whom we should be praying to be a Kingdom of Priest and a Holy Nation, because that is what God says they would be for Him if they obeyed him fully and kept his covenant in Exodus 19. In fact. the whole quote from Exodus 19:5-6 says, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you (Israel) will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

Indeed, that is why Paul says in Romans 11:13-15: “I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” Paul goes on to give a most wonderful eschatological (end times) prophesy about Israel finally being saved at some point in the future, thus ultimately fulfilling God’s original intent for his chosen nation, that they would be a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation.

I believe the following question is an important one for UBF: What does it mean for America to be “a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation?” Are you applying the Covenant promises that God made to Israel to America, declaring America to be the new “Chosen Nation”? Is there an eschatological sense behind your application of Exodus 19:6? Is it just a slogan to encourage evangelism? Are you praying that everyone America will become Christian? If so, do you believe that it will actually happen?

If we repeat something every day, I think that it is crucial to know why. If the meaning of a prayer is not clear, then would it not be a good idea to stop repeating it until it is understood?

I do not wish to argue the merits or drawbacks of Dispensationalism. Rather, I am simply asking if you really know what you are praying. Jesus said in Matthew 6:7, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” I am not accusing anyone else of doing this. Speaking for myself, I did pray, “May America be a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation” over and over every day without having a clear idea of what I was actually asking for.

86 comments

  1. David, thank you for this thoughtful and timely post. I say timely because this year, UBF passes its 50 year mark. For us this is a time of  thanksgiving for  what God has done and reflection on what he is calling us to do.

    Privately, some senior UBF leaders have  lamented that they  personally do not know what the prayer topic means, or that  their congregations  do not know what it means, or that they do understand what it means but  do not agree with it.  Your point is well taken. We ought to know, not just what we are praying for, but what we are working and striving and struggling for every day. Without a vision that is clearly articulated, understood and deeply felt, Christians lose their zeal and get burned out. Our purpose  degenerates to  surviving, writing the next message, planning the next conference, etc.

    For me, the salient question is this: How long can a missionary-sending organization last without a coherent theology of mission?

    At first, UBF missionaries went out by faith in simple obedience to the command of Jesus to “go and make disciples of all nations.” That pure and simple obedience was naive but beautiful. God blessed it in its time.

    But  after a few decades,  some  tough questions arose. Questions such as, “What is the role of a UBF missionary  in bringing the gospel to a place like the United States, a nation that already has a strong Christian heritage and many Christian churches and institutions?”   Or, “What should UBF ministries and UBF disciples look like in diverse places like the United States, the UK, Germany, India, Indonesia, and Mongolia? Should they be replicas of the successful UBF models in Korea? Is it reasonable to expect disciples all over the world to do what Korean missionaries did, to marry as they did, to raise children as they did, to relate to the broader church and society as they did, etc.?”   These questions are serious. They are urgent. They are difficult. They strike at the very heart of what a mission organization needs, which is a coherent theology of mission.

    One response to these difficult questions is to brush them aside. To paraphrase a famous movie line, the UBF leader can say, “Theology? We don’t need no stinkin’ theology!” And he can go on as he always had, trying to start UBF chapters and raise UBF disciples in the familiar mold. In brushing the questions aside, he believes he is virtuous. He believes he is preserving the pure, simple, obedient attitude of the early days when missionaries just went out “by faith.” But that attitude of those early days no longer works, because the times are now different, the situation is now different, the culture is  seriously different than it was just a few decades ago. The gospel  never changes.  But the nature of the missionary organization and the specific details of the work must  carefully adapt to the new realities, otherwise the ministry becomes a museum, a monument to its own past.   The UBF leader might say, “That will never happen to us! We are special. We are better.” But that is sheer hubris. We are not intrinsically better than any of the other denominations and organizations that started out well, were blessed by God for a time, and soon fizzled out.

    What we need is a theology of mission — not an abstract, pie-in-the-sky, ivory tower idealization, but a practical, bottom-line statement of what we are trying to accomplish. And this statement should be rooted in our understanding of Scripture, a Biblical understanding of the gospel and the kingdom of God, of the doctrine of election, the nature of the Church, the work of the Holy Spirit, and an understanding of the end-times.

    Quite simply, it is not enough just to say, “Our purpose is to evangelize and raise disciples.” It is not enough because that does not explain what the disciples are supposed to look like and what they are supposed to do. It is not enough to say, “We raise disciples so that they can raise more disciples.” Replication and reproduction is not the overarching goal that I see in the New Testament. It is not enought to say, “We want to plant house churches,” because, again, that begs the question of what the house churches are actually doing. It is not enough to say, “We want to transform America.” Transform it into what? A theocracy like ancient Israel? A nation whose government upholds biblical values? (Which ones?)

    Like you, I do not wish to argue  about Dispensationalism or  speculate on things that the Bible  does not intend  to teach  us. The times, the dates, etc. that the Father has set by his own authority have not been revealed to the church. Jesus will return like a thief in the night, and the ones who will be most surprised are the ones who were expecting God to  obediently adhere  to the carefully worked out systems that they imposed on the Bible.

    What I’m hungering for is a clearer understanding, both personally and within the UBF ministry, of the things that the Bible really does teach us about the mission of the Church in these last days. An understanding based on the experiences of the early Church in the book of Acts; based on Paul’s teaching about election in Romans 9-11; based on the mini-Apocalypse of Mark 13; based on the Upper-Room dialogues in John 13-17; based on the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes; based on Jesus’ parables about the kingdom of God; based on what Peter says about the priesthood of believers in 1 Peter 2:9. The Great Commission must be understood in the context of these passages, and in light of the overall flow of Biblical history. And it must be faithfully carried out in the context of the postmodern, post-Christian times in which we live.   Christians who charge ahead and just “go out” to preach the gospel without an adequate understanding might be able to win a few converts, but they can also make themselves irrelevant, or even  do damage to the cause of Christ, because they were operating under all kinds of cultural assumptions and implicit theologies that were unstated and unquestioned. That’s has happened repeatedly throughout history. Missionaries lost their bearings. They became cultural imperialists. They caused divisions within the church. They became culture warriors, moralistic do-gooders, political activists, revolutionaries, etc. So many errors and troubles can arise without a coherent theology of mission that is faithful to what the Bible actually teaches.

  2. Thanks Joe, (and sorry for couple typos I forgot to fix!) There was a time when I thought that the UBF prayer topic was the greatest prayer topic ever. Even though I didn’t understand it at all, it sounded so wonderful, so ideal. But over time I became less and less fond of it from both a theological perspective and a personal one. It’s not that I dont want Americans to be saved, of course I do, but I dont believe that America will ever be a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation, that distinction in the Bible is for those who believe in and follow  the Lord as Savior and King. And even if someone means by this prayer that  all of America will someday be Christians I still have doubts because as I mentioned in the article, Jesus says, “…small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matt 7:14).

    I dont mean to be offensive to anyone in UBF by this article. I know that some will probably be offended however, and if that is the case, I want to just say that is not my intent. Like Joe said, I think it is very important to have a coherent theology of mission, thats all.

    • For the record, I do not wish to offend anyone in UBF either. Nor do I wish to single out UBF for criticism. From my limited (and probably distorted) perspective, I do not see many churches that have a coherent theology of mission. And some do have a strong theology that seems misguided and unbiblical. I am not in a position to do anything to help other churches. But I do want to help UBF members and leaders sort this out, because we are, after all, a missionary church.

    • Just below your article, Related posts, written by Dr John Armstrong, titled, “A Holy Nation is a blessing to others” was well written about this subject.

  3. david bychkov

    Thank you David and Joe. We here in Ukraine are praying for Ukraine to be a shepherd nation and missionary sending nation. We sent out few missionaries as our five loaves and two fishes. And once in inharitance of dr. Lee I read that we should pray for each nation to become a holy nation and kingdom of priest. I just curious, if Samuel Lee couldn’t mean something like   to repeat that glorious period of history when USA had great revival and sent out many missionaries? Same thing happened to some of countries time to time in history (England, Germany, may be Sourth Korea)

    • Hi David. I do remember Dr. Lee talking about that very often.  He spoke about how, over the course of American history,  The United States  sent out  one miilion missionaries to all parts of the world.  He encouraged us to pray for the United States (and Canada, and other countries) to be missionary-sending nations once again. That is one of the original meanings of the prayer topic, “May God make [any given nation] a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

      Sending out any given number of missionaries is good. But, as I suggested before, that prayer topic is not sufficient to provide clear direction for UBF, because it doesn’t say what the missionaries are supposed to do.

  4. Abraham Nial

    Sorry, my comment is not about whether to pray for each nation to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation is a valid one or not. Rather, my comment is about the need of the hour for UBF even as the 50th year celebration approaches.
    First of all I agree with Joe when he says: “What we need is a theology of mission… bottom-line statement … a Biblical understanding of the gospel and the kingdom of God, of the doctrine of election, the nature of the Church, the work of the Holy Spirit, and an understanding of the end-times.” These are the foundational aspects of Christian faith and no individual or ministry can grow and stand in the long run without a solid foundation. In my experience, many UBF leaders discourage members to involve in understanding of these issues, brand ministries or individual who seem to have some understanding as cult-group and repeat some habitual phrases, “early morning prayer”, “daily bread”, “fishing”, “one to one”, “sogam” etc.  
    Secondly, does Joe mean that UBF does not have Biblical understanding of the subjects listed? To me UBF members do have some understanding of the subjects, but many a time  superficial and not rooted in the Scripture. In my opinion, this is the most serious problem which need to be clearly identified and acknowledged by the leaders. How can a ministry which boasts about Bible study and where so much time is actually spent in studying the Bible, writing and sharing daily bread, testimonies, messages and so on be superficial in foundational issues? As I view it, the Bible understanding in UBF is sufficient to bring a person to saving faith in Christ and in planting God’s [campus]mission. Many like me received the saving grace of Jesus and responded to the call to be shepherds. But without a deeper understanding of the Bible (I mean the foundational issues of faith) people are bound to get “Stuck at the Wall.” Most of the time a person stuck at the Wall is misunderstood causing further damage to inter-personal relationships. Sometimes the “process of recovery” from the Wall is looked with suspicion (often called cult-group influence) especially if individuals or ministries from outside are involved in recovering from the Wall.
    Thirdly, the solution as I view it is to “Go back to the Bible” in a true sense. In my twelve years life in UBF, mostly I studied (and also taught) the four gospels, one or two epistles, occasionally a book or two from the OT and mostly these studies were isolated from each other, and mostly focusing on salvation and/or discipleship. What is necessary is to get a whole picture of the Bible and understand Bible from the Author’s point of view instead of squeezing every book/passage to “discipleship.” Last year, in India, we studied the Book of Daniel for a conference. To me, it was frustrating because the focus was on the person Daniel (his resolution, his prayer etc) and not on his message. To raise up men of purity, faith and prayer is great but they also need to have a message, or they will end up as religious leaders. This requires studying the bible setting aside our pre suppositions and applications. I was receiving the end-time teachings of a ministry from their website. My leader, without even consulting  me once, sought the opinion of a senior leader in Chicago. And the senior leader said that it would be better for me to keep away from that ministry and their teachings. Now you cannot call every ministry that is different from yours (in focus, in methods, in gifts) as suspicious (or even a cult). In doing so there is a danger of blaspheming the Holy Spirit! If receiving poisonous food is dangerous then starving is no better solution. What I am trying to say is we have to recognize the “hunger” within  the members and supply them the food that nourishes. This will even require admitting what we do not have and seeking it from those who are having what we need. Perhaps this was one of God’s will in allowing different groups within the larger body of Christ with different gifts, so that we will be sensitive to our needs and be humble enough to seek other’s blessings, and this way glorify Jesus instead of keep on boasting about our leader or method or organization.  

    • This morning, I woke up very early and could not get back to sleep. My mind was troubled. My thoughts kept turning to India. I was thinking about Abraham Nial and realized that I needed to pray for him. But it was difficult to pray. Then I got up and checked this website. Behold, there was a comment by Abraham.

      Dear brother Abraham: Thank you for these insightful comments. I know what you are saying, and I couldn’t agree with you more.

      You mentioned your study of the book of Daniel: “To me, it was frustrating because the focus was on the person Daniel (his resolution, his prayer etc) and not on his message.”

      Exactly.

      For my first ten years in this ministry, our style of Bible study helped me to grow. But after twenty years, I was no longer learning from it. After 25 years, it was actually making me worse. Why? Because there were many bricks but no foundation. The bricks were the teachings on salvation and discipleship. They were the messages on familiar passages from Genesis and the gospels. In the early years of UBF, our leaders discovered some of those bricks. Those bricks were good. But then we stopped looking for more. We were content with the few bricks that we had. To us, those bricks looked so shiny, so precious. We began to squeeze every Bible passage to draw out those same bricks again and again. The bricks began to lose their shine. Once in a while we found a few more bricks, but they looked suspiciously similar to the bricks that we already had. Gradually we lost sight of the big picture, the grand story of God’s salvation work from beginning to end, and our Bible study became an collection of isolated passages, piecemeal principles, practices and slogans.

      Our study became an unimaginative and tiresome struggle to fit the Bible narratives into the UBF story, rather than an exciting discovery of how our lives fit into the still-evolving Bible story.

      Our ultimate reality became UBF campus mission, rather than the unfolding gospel of the kingdom of God.

      Hence the approach that Abraham described. Our study of Daniel becomes, “What can I learn from Daniel about how to be a pure man of God for the sake of carrying out campus mission?” The study of 1 Samuel becomes, “What can I learn from David about principles of leadership that will help me grow to be a leader for campus mission?” The study of the gospels, of Acts, of Romans, etc. all reduces to gathering of principles that will help us to carry out the mission that is presumed to be valid but can never be questioned, clarified or adjusted.

      Thoughtful disciples within UBF realized that we did not have all the answers, and to renew their faith they had to search for understanding from the outside. But leaders discouraged them from doing so. Leaders told them to stop being so complicated and just go back to what they had already been taught — the “pure” and “simple” spiritual practices of daily bread, prayer, testimony writing, fishing, and humble obedience. “Don’t look elsewhere,” they said, “everything you need is already here. There is nothing more.” That is a huge mistake. Everything we need can be found in the Bible. But to find it, we have to be willing to approach the Bible on its own terms, not on UBF’s or anyone else’s terms. To see how to do that, we need to be willing to listen to other parts of the Body of Christ. Not to uncritically accept everything that others say, but to carefully listen and learn and evaluate, and then go back to the Bible again with fresh insight. UBF is one part of the Body, not a self-sufficient whole Body. We can never be self-sufficient. Not now, not ever.

      I too have found that our leaders (including myself) have been quick to criticize ideas that come from teachers and organizations outside of UBF, warning of the dangers of incorrect doctrines and bad influences. We have been quick to denounce other churches that look different from us, forgetting how hurtful it was when other Christians branded us as a cult. But are we pointing our disciples in a better direction? Have we been providing a more solid foundation? Abraham is right. Eating poisonous food is bad, but starving is no better.

      This is why I am deeply troubled. When we prepare conferences, we now select passages and draw out lessons that we believe will advance our ministry of campus evangelism, our particular brands of discipleship, house churches and world mission. We have already set the agenda, and Scripture has become the tool to press forward with that agenda. We have stopped asking the big questions. We have eliminated the possibility of being startled, amazed, or shaken by the Bible and changing our lives in any radical way in response to it. We have stopped looking for fresh inspiration from the Holy Spirit. This is a recipe for non-growth.

      At this 50 year mark, some have been speaking of UBF in unrealistically glowing terms. Of course, we need to be thankful for what God has done. But where is the objectivity? The actual history of our ministry has been rocky. There have been problems, controversies and divisions, and the troubles are not over. I believe the danger that we face today is not division but disintegration because many of us don’t have a clue where we are headed — not organizationally, not spiritually.

      Question: How long can a missionary-sending organization last without a coherent theology of mission?

      Answer: About fifty years or so, I guess. Perhaps a bit longer. But not much.

  5. Dear friends:
    My recent comments on UBFriends — those above — are passionate and could cause some readers to take offense. At least that’s what my lovely wife tells me.  And she is usually correct.

    It is not my intention to stir up controversy or trouble. But unfortunately, there seems to be plenty of trouble around whether I stir it up or not.

    For those of you who do not know — I just heard this myself two days ago — Indian UBF has experienced a tragic event.  Many native Indian shepherd families have decided to leave the ministry. That includes Abraham Nial, who in my estimation is an intelligent, sincere and wonderful man. Abraham’s comment reveals some of the agony of his soul. After he posted his comment, I could not let  it go unanswered; my conscience urged me to respond. I believe that UBFriends  has an important role to play in keeping alive some relationships with those who chose to leave the ministry. Even if  they never return  to UBF, they are still our brothers and sisters in Christ. (That’s what I believe. You are free to  think differently.)  

    Anyway, I  was very upset by this, and that is surely evident in my recent comments.

    If you think that what I wrote is not suitable for UBFriends in content, tone, or whatever, please post a comment that says so, and then I will apologize, retract, etc.     Although I am the founder of this website, I should not be its dictator. I am not above criticism, and I must subject myself to the same rules of behavior that I expect others to follow.

    Please hold me accountable.

    I am conflicted about this. On the one hand, I think, “What happened in India UBF should be none of my business. I don’t know all the facts. There are multiple sides to every issue, and unless I hear everyone’s side, I need to just keep quiet.” On the other hand, if it is none of our business, why do we urge one another to pray for our brothers and sisters in our ministries all over the world? To share their joys, struggles and sorrows is our business. Abraham Nial dedicated 12 years of his life to serving in this ministry, standing side by side with us. He deserves to be heard in his own words, not through the back-channels of rumor and gossip. If anyone else has differing opinions, they deserve to be heard as well. UBFriends is a place for these conversations to happen. Not just pleasant, happy conversations, but also ones that are painful, difficult and sorrowful. That’s what friends do. They talk about real issues, including the hard ones.

    If you are reading this, and you have an opinion, please tell us what you think. The silence is deafening.

    • david bychkov

      I read everything. I’m very frustraited of what happened in India. I’m very frustraited of Abraham’s story and I feel him very well. Everything above is worthy to be mentioned here. I’m praying for those who left, I’m praying for us, who are staying in UBF. Very bad thing is to starve and to be proud of our Bible knowledge still. And I’m agree with Abraham that go back to the Bible in Biblical manner is only solution.

    • Abraham, Joe, thank you very much for your honest comments.

      Joe, i think your comment is devastating on the one hand. On the other hand, i think it is painfully honest and truthful, at least to the best of your personal knowledge. I absolutely share your concerns. My wife and i have talked these days alot about UBF especially in light of the upcoming 50th anniversary. If God lets me, i might even reach the age of becoming 81 to witness its 100th anniversary. =)

      Both, Grace and i, have super-abundant reasons to be thankful to God for UBF and for everything He has done through UBF. Many of my closest and best friends are members in UBF. This is the church where we had met Christ personally and experienced his grace for the first time in our lives. Grace and i have a commitment to this church. We have NO interest in ever participating in a church split and we will not leave UBF unless we are being kicked out. Our prayer is to be faithful to the kingdom of God and we believe that UBF has played and can play a wonderful role in this regard.  This is the very reason why i am deeply concerned and burdened about the many things that are not right in UBF. And my fear is that what Abraham Nial is talking about in the context of India UBF might only be the tip of the iceberg.

      The last International European conference in 2009 was a celebration of the 40th anniversary of UBF mission in Germany. According to official UBF websites, this conference was a great success. But many of the young people i have talked to would not agree with this. What many young people perceived was a glamourous show of an organization that was celebrating itself. The absence of any sort of critical self-reflection or honesty about the many mistakes in the past, the apparent lack of humility and repentance for everything that had gone wrong, the failure to provide future vision, were frustrating and disturbing. The theme was the ‘hope of God’. But i know of so many young people who felt disillusioned after the conference because we still have no clue of what the hope of God for UBF is. My last visit in Germany was disheartening in this regard as many young people i have talked to, felt that the church is stuck and miles away from what a spirit-filled church according to the blue-print of the bible ought to be like.

      What should we do? i guess it is praying for UBF leadership, growing in love to Christ and our neighbors, studying and spreading the Word… … and waiting patiently?

    • david bychkov

      waiting patiently… and trying to fix ourselves how we can do it – pray, study and trying ourselves to keep right way (or the way which we believe is right – Phil.3:16), trying ot be honest and balanced in the same time…and keep hope.

    • Joe,
      You asked whether your comment was appropriate for the UBFriends Website.   I went back and read the commenting policy.   My conclusion is that your comment was appropriate, and in fact, heart-moving.   We need more of this level of honesty, willingness to be vulnerable and caring enough to be passionate.   I thank God for you.

    • Jen Espinola

      I have been keeping up with this post and I think it is along the lines of honest, respectful communication and self-evaluation that has defined the tone of this website.  In my experience, i have often received negative feedback about pursuing Christian growth outside the UBF model.  It is quite unfortunate that UBF leaders regard other Christian ministries suspiciously and would rather their members be “starved” in a sense.  There are many things i value and appreciate about UBF.  But ultimately, my family also realized that God was leading us differently now and we have chosen to leave UBF.  I hope in revealing this, it won’t discourage my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  My point is that what happened in India UBF is not an isolated event at all.

    • Jennifer, I’m sorry to hear this, but I truly understand. I want you to know that we respect and love you.  And Richard too, of course. You will always be our friends. We would still love to have you come and visit us anytime.

      You said that you hoped this news would not discourage anyone. I appreciate that. But, honestly, we should be discouraged, because it is truly discouraging. The fact that our ministry, which we speak so highly of in our meetings and reports, cannot  provide a long-term home to a  wonderful family like yours should cause us to do some serious soul-searching and figure out what is going on.

      Please keep reading UBFriends and keep in touch. We love you.

  6. Joe,

    Very thought provoking comments, and they are valuable. I have been in UBF quiet a while and there has been no other times that I seriouly agonizing  on our church than this time. I pray for God’s mercy. Among  your comments, this one touches me most,
    “many of us don’t have a clue where we are headed — not organizationally, not spiritually.” We can argue on this,  but it is bacially true. I hope that we will be a new wineskin. Always heditant to write  something here (you  can guess  why)  but I am compelled to drop a few words today.

  7. Hi Abraham, Joe, Henoch, David B, Young,

    Like Joe, I was quite saddenned to hear about India UBF last week. I didn’t want to say anything publicly because I was  asked to keep this information in confidence, and I wanted to honor my friend’s request and trust in telling me this. But since Joe mentioned it, I am now free to also address this.

    As I’ve often said to many, many  people in UBF, “The problem is not that we in UBF can’t resolve our issues or problems. Rather, the problem is that we can’t ADDRESS them in any meaningful, honest, respectful, prayerful, humble, open and transparent way.” What happened in India UBF is the tragic unfortunate outcome of the FAILURE of UBF (including and especially myself) to welcome, embrace, understand, hear, trust, and affirm  our wonderful brothers and sisters among our Indian UBF leaders, some of whom have been with UBF for 2 decades!

    Surely, if a brother or sister leaves the church after 20 years of friendship and fellowship in Christ, it is a major and serious indictment of our collective failure as a church. This has eaten me up on so many occasions, because we are one body in Christ, sealed by his blood. Yet we have hurt and wounded the very brothers and sisters we profess to love. And after that, we may say something even more hurtful, if they leave UBF. I know this quite painfully, because I have inexcusably done so, and I am saddened by how I have hurt others because of my own pride as a UBF leader.

    One brother in India UBF shared with me in detail about his heart felt agony, which just broke my heart. What he went through was quite humiliating, disrespectful, culturally insensitive,  and unnecessary. But he sucked it up, took it and complied, until he couldn’t take it anymore and left after 20 years of being in India UBF. Can we humble ourselves so that we can begin to address these unfortunate situations, which surely do not please God, and grives His very heart?

    If we in the church can’t be co-workers and friends with Abraham and the other Indian leaders who left, who are we going to be friends and co-workers with? Abraham, as Joe said, is a Christian who loves Jesus because of the grace of God. Yet, he left us. This is really not Abraham’s issue, but our failure as a church of the living God.

    Sorry for venting without a clear plan of action, other than my appeal that we in UBF learn the heart of God who said to his people, “Come now, let us reason together” (Isa 1:18). God didn’t say to Israel, “Just listen, accept, obey, repent and keep the spiritual order.” Rather, he said, “Let’s sit down as gentleman and talk heart to heart, man to man.” I think that until and unless we begin to do this more and more in UBF, we are going to loose more and more wonderful brothers in Christ like Abraham.

  8. Dear UBF  brothers and sisters,  I left UBF 6 years ago or so after being in the ministry since 1999. After months of heart searching prayer and inner struggle,  My (then future)  wife and I  finally decided to leave  for both theological reasons, and because I was extremely concerned with  many practices that I saw in the ministry. When we made the decision, I  spoke to  my shepherd and other leaders to explain my decision and my  reasons, and suffice it to say, it did not go well! My shepherd (Who led me to Christ)  refused to continue being my friend unless I stayed in the ministry, and through the grapevine I later heard all kinds of reasons that people came up with about why I left (everything from “David is not a Christian anymore” to “his girlfriend’s cursed woman’s desire stole him away” to “He left because he is immoral” etc).  

    The reason I am recounting this, is because God forbid, the Indian brothers who decided to attend another church would be treated the same way. All of the comments on this thread seem to be supportive of those brothers and sisters, and certainly this blog site is. But I just feel burdened to make this point, if you ever  hear people slandering dear brothers and sisters in Christ just because they decide that UBF is no longer the church for them, it is your duty to admonish them and correct them. Ephesians 4:31 says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” Just because someone leaves UBF that does not mean that they have “run away” from Christ. UBF is not Christ. I suggest that UBFers continue to be friends with Abraham and the others, and support them with gladness in the new roles that Christ has for them in the Kingdom.

    I agree with Dr. Ben Toh, “If we in the church can’t be co-workers and friends with Abraham and the other Indian leaders who left, who are we going to be friends and co-workers with?” Amen

    • Wise words. Just because someone leaves a certain theological stance does not mean they have left Christ. Theology is not Christ.

  9. Yongha Lee

    Never met Abraham Nial in India but my heart is broken. And, I’ve seen the Espinola from a distance when I visited NY a few times and frankly am stunned by their decisions. But I do respect their decision. We are just one of many churches and evangelical organizations. In my 25 years in UBF, I’ve seen many of my UBF friends leave UBF. Some of them had dedicated to UBF more than a decade, others a few years. All of them had their own stories and legitimate spiritual “reasons”. But, from my experience, (and in UBF’s 50 years history) I foresee how our church is going to respond to their departures. It is all about their problems, never about ours. We always are right; they are rebellious, unfaithful, disobedient and finally, they are now led by Satan. Yesterday, we’re all brothers but today all of suddent, only because they left us, they’re treated like our enemies. I’m not speaking for all UBFers but that’s what I know. I honestly hope and pray that we examine ourselves with honest and repent our sins, instead of examining and blaming their problems. I am feeling great pain in my heart… God mercy on us please.

  10. Dear Friends, it is sad when our own leaves. In fact last year John and I were also seriously thinking of leaving UBF after almost being in this ministry for 30 years. We could not take the humilation anymore under a certain leader. So we gave an ultimatum to let us do a church plant or leave. By God’s grace Chicago UBF granted our request. Since our church plant God has given us so much freedom and soul search and our new church even visited other churches. We made new friends not only in UBF but with other Christians in other ministries. UBF raises leaders and should let the leaders grow. Abraham and Lot could not stay together because of God’s blessing. I heard from some one that 20 people is a mega church. Leaders should try out their wings and our UBF leaders should give them the respect and support like Chicago UBF and Kyiv UBF gave us. We should not be like enemies. We should be like Paul and Barnabas who split up but continued the Gospel work. The more church plants we have the more we  can increase the kingdom of God. There is no need to brood over who’s wrong and who’s right. Jesus died for us and came to us as the first missionary. There are 7 billion or more people in the world. Let’s reach them. If a leader has been in UBF for more than 10 years they should go out and begin a new church plant. Let’s be  expanding not fix. When Jesus began his ministry in Mark 1 his disciples were looking for him because Jesus was a big hit with the people of the town. Everyone wanted him. It was the perfect chance for him to make a big church but he said, “Let us go somewhere else to the nearby villages so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” Satan is not our brother who left our ministry. Satan is the one doesn’t want us to preach the gospel and fight amongst ourselves. Jesus came to give us the good news and many people are under the power of Satan. My solution is more church planting.

  11. Correction: Satan is the one who doesn’t want us to preach the gospel. He is the one who wants us to fight amongst ourselves.

  12. Hi Maria. Thanks for this comment. I understand what you are saying. Planting new churches is good. But I don’t think that the process of church-planting should be driven by interpersonal conflict and sin. Sometimes that happens, and God can make something good out of something bad. But ideally, church-planting should be driven by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, not reaction to the work of Satan. Jesus wants his church to be one. The disagreement between Paul and Barnabas was regrettable, not ideal. The gospel should reconcile us to one another in this life, not just in the life to come. In my opinion, too many new churches have sprung up because of argument and division. That leaves the Body of Christ fragmented, riddled with unresolved conflict. It’s not a good witness to the world. A church community should be a place where people experience deep love and real freedom and opportunity for spiritual growth, not humilation. If the only way that you could be free was to leave a particular community, that is  sad, and an indication that something has gone terribly wrong.

  13. Hi Joe and everyone else,
     
    I just wanted to clarify Maria’s letter.   Please don’t misunderstand our situation–our relationship with our old church members, who sent out us to pioneer,  is solid spiritually and humanly.   In fact, I’m writing this letter from our old church because our church members are practicing here for our upcoming praise concert.   In fact, before going to pioneer Maria and I prayed about pioneering our own chapter someday, and even Chicago coworkers encouraged us to go out to pioneer someday.   Just an unfortunate incident that happened during a meeting was the final “sign” that it was God’s time  to move on and spread the gospel.   We live in a city with 5 million people and only one UBF chapter.   Having one more chapter  would certainly help the gospel cause.   I’m not a frequent reader to this website as my wife is, not because I have anything against it but honestly speaking I just don’t have time to read as much as I want to.   But since I’m online I thought I might just add my two cents worth to the ongoing converstation.   I think from a Korean missionary’s point of view, who has been in UBF a long time, the race card has to be an issue.   I’m just guessing because I’m not Korean, but am from an asian background.   I know that it was one of the main’s issues why UBF was persecuted  during Dr. Samuel’s time.   So when a person or community receives frequent persecution due to their race or culture they naturally develop a defensive mechanism.   So even though they may receive persecution because of their theology or church practices they will also interpret it as an attack against their kind.   Consequently, they will ask their young church members (I guess sheep is a UBFism) to not listen to those people because the controversy, from their perspective, has become personal not theological or best practice.   I know personally, when I receive some criticism my first reaction is that it’s because I’m asian.   Of course, it may be true in a few cases, but for the most part it was because of my own fault or neglect.   But my point is that its important for those who are recent members of UBF or who lack the history of persecution that our church has received throughout its 50 years need to understand others’ point of view.   I can’t forget the funny event that one person wrote in his testimony when one missionary  called his home his family members would tell him, “Korea is calling.”   I don’t agree everything that goes on in UBF but I always thank  God for the abundant grace and blessings I received through this church and my Bible teacher.   I don’t know when I’ll write again, maybe when I have to clarify Maria’s letter but thanks for this forum for me to espouse my opinions.

  14. Hi all,
    Can I put a positive spin on something that is obviously tragic and heartbreaking? I’m doing this just on the basis of the sovereignty of our wonderful Lord who is in charge of all things.
    I believe God works for the good in all things for those who love him, and that includes heart-breaking events, divisions, persecutions, etc. That doesn’t make these things good in themselves. But here’s the good I see in the sort of thing being discussed in this post and the comments:
    Through people we love who are good Christians leaving our ministry, God is helping us to see that there are areas where we need to grow. God wants our whole hearts. God has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ, and He wants to be first in our hearts. Any church or organization that begins with good intentions but eventually hardens into our own fixed ideas, conceptions of God, patterns of behaviour, tradition, practice, etc. without being serious about “Back to the Bible” is destined to break apart when the living gospel and the new wine of God’s Spirit is poured into it. And God is going to keep pouring it in because he loves us so much! So it’s up to us to pray earnestly to be new wineskins who can respond to the dynamic power of God’s ongoing activity in His church and let Him raise us up as the people he has created us to be.
    So now here we are with pain in our hearts before You Lord. But we thank you for this pain because it makes us hungry for more of You, to be fed by You and healed by You. We have been like the church of Laodicea (Rev 3:17-20):
    “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. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
    19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”
    I praise you Lord Jesus for helping us to begin to understand who wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked we are. This makes us cry out to you for your gold, your clothes, and your salve for our eyes. Give us your word! Give us revelation of yourself! Enable us to respond to you when you speak to us!
    We need a coherent theology and a clear Bible and Spirit-inspired vision for UBF ministry. The only one who can provide it is the Lord. I for one am willing to listen, and I look forward to fellowship with others who will listen too, to hear what our gracious, loving and holy Lord will tell us. May the Lord be with all our brothers and sisters in UBF and outside and bring us all to unity with Him.

  15. Joshua Yoon

    Hi, all

    Thanks for all of you who shared heartfelt thoughts and prayer. David  L.  started with the UBF long term prayer, “May God make America a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation!” The Spirit of the Lord had led to many thoughtful comments and provoking questions, including about the future direction of UBF ministry. Some of us expressed their wishes for Abraham and Jennifer to be our good friends and brother and sister even after their departure. I hope  they would continue to be friends of UBFers not only in cyber space but in real world. One thing that has bothered me so long was why  leaving UBF was regarded as something  bad.  Their leaving is sad but what makes me really sad is that they are treated as if they left Jesus. AS David said, UBF is not Christ. Last year the Lord led me to encouter some people who left UBF and are wonderfully serving the Lord in other churches. Some of them really wanted to visit their old friends in UBF and share their life and ministry freely  but sadly they were not allowed. Even some were told to leave the city to prevent “bad influence.” This really broke my heart.   Many questions arose in my heart.Can they have freedom to see their old friends?   Is leaving UBF  all bad? Is staying in  UBF forever  all good? What is UBF? Are people going to worship God denomination by denomination or church by church in heaven? Why can’t we freely associate with anyone in Christ regardless of which church we belong to? If we do not mature enough to bless those who find God’s calling else where along the way, I wonder what would happen to us even if we pray 10,000 times “May God make America (Korea or any other nation)  a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. ” We would be in danger of becoming like the Israelites who were caught in narrow view of the world and of God  and failed to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation due to their pride and close-mindness. It would be  good if UBF becomes a permanent home church for all of us. But it would be inevitalbe for some people to  receive  a different calling from God even after 10 or 20 years, for God is much bigger than our ministry.  I hope our ministry will be a place where people can be truly connected each other  in Christ whether we are inside or outside UBF.  Our final destination is  neither UBF  nor any other church but a heavenly home in our Father’s house  prepared by Christ. (Jn 14:2) Over the last few years God helped our chapter to  practice this    and many wonderful thing have happened. I hope there will be more open and free dialogue among leaders and members, more collaboration, team spirit, open mindedness in our ministry, not so much top down, authoritative directorship, old wineskin mentality. Hopefully we will all humbly  realize that  UBF is only a small member of  the body of Christ  and there are many things we don’t and can’t do but other churches  take care of.  There are a lot of rich resources out there in  other members of the body of Christ  we could benefit for our personal  development and ministry growth  . It is my prayer that Abraham N. will continue to go deeper in his fellowship with the Holy Spirit with his new found resource and serve the Lord in freedom and power with the hope of the Return of Christ.  

    • Jen Espinola

      Thank you everyone, for being very kind and supportive of those who have decided to continue their spiritual journey in ministries other than UBF.  My family has made many wonderful friends in UBF and in leaving the ministry, we have not abandoned our friendships.  I am aware though, that there is a certain stigma attached to people who have left and I ask that those people who know me and Richard, whom we’ve befriended over the years, know and understand that we are not rejecting them.  When we left the ministry recently, we did so quietly and quickly because we wanted to minimalize any hurt that would undoubtedly result.  To our friends, we have not changed and we still love you and respect you as our friends in Christ.

  16. I think there has been some great discussion on this thread and I am so glad for it. But I am still very curious about the original question, In your understanding, what does “the Prayer” mean?

  17. Hi David L,

    For over a decade or more in the 1990s till his passing in 2002, I heard Dr. Samuel Lee repeatedly articulate and expound and explian this prayer topic  for American to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, quoting Exo 19:6 and 1 Pet 2:9. He did so on Sun during worship service, at conferences, and at prayer meetings during the week almost without fail.

    I may be wrong about this, but I believe that it was his hope and vision and prayer for America to be what she was, which was a missionary sending nation, one that had sent out over 1 million missionaries. When he explained it with spirit and passion, I remember that it was usually inspiring and moving. Because he repeatedly articulated it in multiple contexts and with interesting stories, it did not feel trite, banal, hackneyed or habitual. You were in Chicago for a few years and likely heard him too, didn’t you?

  18. I did hear him a number of times (he would always do the announcements after Pastor Ron’s message as I remember), but to tell you the truth, I always had a very difficult time understanding his accent! SO, if that is indeed the meaning of the prayer, then why not articulate it in that way? “May God continue to  make America a Missionary Sending Nation!” or “May God bring America back to her heritage!” etc…Do you think that there was an eschatological sense as well?

    • I don’t think the word eschatology was ever mentioned. Dr. Lee was a missionally driven man, which I believe stemmed from his glorious hope of eternal life and the kingdom of God, and his gratitude to the grace of Jesus. That I believe was why he exuded grace in his missional imperatives and directives.
      So to answer your question, I would say that “No,” in that there was not a clearly defined eschatological sense (but more of a missional sense here on earth), though Lee himself was quite clearly looking forward to his reward.
      He probably didn’t articulate the prayer the way you suggest, perhaps because he over-read or over-interpreted Exo 19:6 and 1 Pet 2:9 by applying it to the U.S. Not sure if this makes sense.

  19. Darren Gruett

    To me, saying this statement aloud is more like a rallying cry to move people to action in evangelism. It certainly cannot mean to us what it meant to Israel at Sinai, but it does have spiritual relevance for all believers, as Peter shows in his epistle. I do not know what the official UBF position is on this statement, but a good place to start would be Dr. Lee’s sermon on this passage, available here: http://chicagoubf.org/dsl/exodus/ex06.txt. Theologically it is solid, and interestingly, there is no mention anywhere in the text about America becoming a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
    PS – Call me back! I left you a message today.

  20. As Ben pointed out, I think that what Dr Lee had in mind by this prayer topic was for America to send out lots of missionaries. And, as Darren said, I think that UBF members commonly interpret this as a rallying call to evangelism and disciplemaking, both domestically and abroad.

    Sending missionaries and evangelizing are very good. But if that’s what the intention is, then I believe there is a mismatch between
      * what we mean by the prayer topic,
      * what the words actually say, and
      * the contextual meaning of 1 Peter 2:9.
    As I read the book of 1 Peter, it  is not apparent to me that he is talking about evangelism and sending of missionaries. The recurrent themes that I see are enduring hardship and suffering and living holy and pure lives. Although evangelism is important, that is not what I see in 1 Peter 2:9, and I don’t want to pull that verse too far out of its context. Ditto for Exodus 19:6.

    Because our identity as UBF members is so heavily tied up in evangelism and sending of missionaries, I think we have zeroed in on the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 and the “world mission command” in Acts 1:8 as the defining purpose of the church, and these short  passages have become the lens through which we tend to read the  whole New Testament.   But I’m thinking that we need to do the opposite. I think we ought to be  interpreting the Great Commission and world mission command in light of rest of the New Testament. That’s what good scholarship is about. But it’s not easy, because it brings up some difficult questions. For example, it forces us to think about why the Apostle Paul never urged any of the churches to engage in mass evangelism and sending of missionaries.  Calls to the whole church to go out and try to  convert nonbelievers  are nowhere to be found in the epistles. (Have I missed something? Am I wrong?) I think that God’s purpose for the church is much more complex than to simply grow itself through replication and reproduction. That’s why I have been saying that I think we need a coherent theology of mission that is true to the whole NT and the flow of the whole Bible. It  needs to be integrated with  ecclesiology (understanding the nature of the church) and eschatology (understanding the end times). I want to gain a better understanding of what the apostles, especially Paul, Peter and John, believed about the early church and its mission. I suspect that their understanding is somewhat different from ours. And if our understanding of our own mission is going to be any different from theirs, I want to know why that’s okay and justify it from biblical and historical perspectives.

  21. I agree that often we need to explain this prayer topic. But I hope that the fact that this prayer in UBF sometimes seems like a babbling mantra does not mean we should throw the baby out (meaningful and bold prayer topic) with the bath water (meaningless, repetitive mantra). There is a rich theological basis for this prayer in the modern context that nearly moved me to intellectual/theological tears when I read this paper: Walter C. Kaiser, “Israel’s Missionary Call,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Mission, ed. Ralph D. and Steven C. Hawthorne Winter (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1981). Since I cannot seem to rip it off the internet, this paper basically summarizes the theology of mission that Kaiser formulates well: http://www.wordoftruthclass.org/articles/Theology%20of%20Missions.pdf
    Of course, whether UBF leaders actively thought through the rich Old Testament theology behind this prayer topic is another thing. I personally consider it one of those graces of the Holy Spirit in which a leader may be inspired by the Spirit to pray a prayer topic whether or not they have may rigorously aware of a deep theological justification for it. Obviously someone thought it was biblical enough to make it a prayer topic – but I hope you’re getting my point.
    I also wonder if there is a sense as a Christian, that sometimes out of humility and trust we are led through the Spirit to pray prayers, even when they don’t make sense to us intellectually at first. I’m thinking of the verse in Romans 8:26 “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” I’m not a charismatic Pentecostal, nor am I advocating meaningless prayer mantras, but I want to leave open the possibility that sometimes the Spirit might lead us to pray as a Body with corporate groans that individual words cannot express or understand. But I’m open to correction on this last point.

  22. And I agree with Joe that likely Dr. Lee and many others probably mainly interpreted and used this prayer as a rallying call for more US missionaries. I think that the sending out of missionaries is one important expression of this prayer but indeed a narrow lens. The “blessed to be a blessing” thread (see Kaiser’s article) throughout the Bible, in my mind, does not just refer to evangelism but also a larger purpose of the Church who was blessed by God to be a blessing to the world (in a missional, evangelical, and eschatological sense).
    I guess the real point to my response to this question is really the last thought in my previous comment. So many times in my “UBF spiritual development” I found myself reflexively reacting against things I did not understand initially: “Why on earth are we praying this kingdom of priests and a holy nation thing? So strange?” And later on, after doing some reading, I would come to a gradual realization, “Hmm. maybe there is a strong theological basis for this”. It would get to the point that I find myself realizing that God in his good sovereignty led me to start praying a prayer that I clearly understood in a narrow sense (which was perhaps the way it was understood by others) but over time expanded it so that at least I can begin to pray a prayer in a way that I believe is theologically sound, emotionally motivating, and personally heart-convicting each day. And though I agree with the general sentiment of this whole posting thread, again I want to leave open the possibility that sometimes the Spirit leads us to pray as a Body with groans that words cannot express. And that perhaps prayer topics are given to the Church as sort of a gradual revelation from God to the Church…I mean the fact that we are discussing this prayer topic in a deeper fashion as believers is sort of proving my point. But I assert this very tentatively, because I have no clue about the Person of the Holy Spirit and need to think over Joe’s recent posts!

  23. John, thanks for the helpful points that you have made. Lest anyone misunderstand, I am not saying that this prayer topic is wrong and must be changed. Nor am I suggesting that the many prayers that have been offered up by faithful UBF members weren’t accepted or heard by God because we didn’t know what we were praying. John makes a very helpful observation about the role of the Spirit who sanctifies all of our imperfect prayers and translates them into something beautiful before God.

    What I am seeking is, first, personal understanding and, second, an informed consensus about the vision and role of UBF in the years ahead. I am grateful for this discussion and hope that more leaders will begin to join in.  

    Of course, we  have different gifts and roles in the Body of Christ. Some of us may have been called to be evangelists who just go out and preach the name of Christ wherever and however, without worrying about the implications or theological underpinnings. Others may have been called to be shepherds who take care of the existing flock. Others may have been called to be managers who handle the resources. Others have been gifted as teachers or as event-planners. There is a wonderful variety in Spirit-giftedness within the church that we can celebrate and use.

    And surely there must  be some among us have been called to think  through the issues  and frame the mission more carefully. As the ministry matures, our self-awareness and understanding should mature. I hope that we never think that we fully understand what God has called us to do. There is an ever-present element of surprise and mystery, because we do not know what the future holds specifically for us. But we do know that all of history is moving forward to the second coming of Christ and the unveiling of his kingdom.

    Is that kingdom going to come because we successfully establish a given number of house churches and sends out a given number of missionaries? I don’t think so. Is that kingdom going to be come because we raise up a given number of leaders who go out and influence society so strongly that America (or any given nation) becomes a “holy nation”? I don’t think so.   God’s kingdom is already fully present in the person of Jesus Christ. It is still hidden from our sight in many ways. But that kingdom is present now in this location of space and time. That spiritual reality should be gradually revealed more and more through the life of the Church. Dr Lee  occasionally said, “UBF is nothing; the kingdom of God is forever.” I believe that. Not only do I believe that, I hope and pray that UBF will testify to that more and more. I do not want to be a triumphalist. A triumphalist is someone who thinks and says that the church, by its activities and efforts, is somehow going to conquer the society and the earth. I don’t think that’s going to happen. I don’t believe that the Bible says that will happen. The picture of the last days that I see (for example, in Revelation) is one of a church suffering, enduring, remaining faithful in its witness even while being persecuted. The church, in some sense, is destined to fail, just as the ministry of Jesus was an apparent failure when he was rejected and killed. The center of our faith is the cross, a symbol of rejection, humiliation, and death of self. But there is also the empty tomb, the power of the resurrected Christ, that enables us to be ever-victorious even as we are apparently failing. Can we expect UBF to grow forever without ever declining or falling short of our goals, without ever being collectively rebuked, without ever retooling or re-examining the fundamentals, without ever exposing and repairing weak and damaged and sinful parts of the foundation that are present in every human organization? I don’t think so. What I long for is a spirit of Biblically-sound realism about who we really are and what God wants to do through us.

  24. Ok, so here is another related question then: Do you think that God will  actually make America a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation? Is this subjective? And, if not, is it ok to pray for things which almost certainly will not happen? For instance, would it be  good to pray: “May God cause the Third Temple to be built in Illinois!” Or “May God make Antarctica the world leader in sending missionaries!” Or something to that effect?

    • David, I believe your question may be in the same vein as, “Is it okay to pray for a terminally ill person to be miraculously healed?” Yesterday I spoke to a friend who just lost a dear family member to cancer. We prayed for healing and it didn’t happen. God chose not to heal, and  I don’t think it was  because we didn’t pray long enough or hard enough, or because we didn’t have enough faith. Was it ok to pray for healing? I think so. I think that the Spirit translated our prayers into something else, something that is more painful in the short run, but which will ultimately be for his greater glory and our greater happiness. Christians pray for all kinds of things that God won’t grant. Those prayers are accepted by him. But I do believe we always need to be seeking greater wisdom and refinement in how we approach God and what we pray for.

    • And speaking for myself: I want to model my prayers more and more after the prayers of Jesus. Especially the Psalms (which Jesus prayed),  the Lord’s Prayer, and the great prayer of John chapter 17.

  25. Thanks Joe, I  feel sorry  for your friend, and I see your point.  I guess I should have framed my question differently. I  also lost my own mother to cancer, I prayed for her healing everyday  but I dont think it is the same thing as what I am talking about.   Miraculous  healing is most certainly possible, but is it possible for America to be a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation?

    Of course, I know that  ALL things are possible with God…it is possible for Him to him to turn all people into frogs if He wants, but that prayer seems so nebulus and subjective that its fulfillment could mean anything. You could say “America is a KPHN right now.” and I could say, “Only Christians are a KPHN, and every American is not a Christian so America is NOT a KPHN.” and someone else could say, “When America sends 10,000 missionaries from UBF then America will be a KPHN.”  

    I guess what I mean is, what would fulfillment of THE PRAYER in the eyes of UBFers  look like? Is there a numerical threshold that would have to be reached, that we could finally say, “ahh, there are now  200 million confessing Christians in America, and 10,000 missionaries from UBF, and a Christian President,  and every state has a Christian Governor,  so NOW  America is a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation!”

    • One day, America  as we know it will be no more, God’s people will inherit the whole earth, and we will truly be a kindom of priests and a holy nation. I guess I’m unclear about what you mean by “America.” Is it a  society, a people-group, a government, a land, a way of life, a principality/power? None of those are static. God is working to transform all of those things in ways that we don’t understand. There will be many surprises, I’m sure. It’s good to pray for the healing of a nation, just as it’s good to pray for the healing of a person. But as we pray, we also realize that every person — and every nation — is still terminally ill, and no matter  how  often a  person or nation is healed, it  will ultimately have to  die before it is resurrected,

    • It should be clear by now that UBFers are not monolithic, and we do not have a single, common understanding of the KOPAHN prayer. I  believe there is a diversity of opinion about what its fulfillment will look like. It is worth asking individuals what they really think. Every Christian has a tacit missiology, ecclesiology and eschatology, and it would be interesting to bring them out and make  them more explicit, so  that they can  be examined and compared to the Bible.

  26. Right. And speaking for myself, I guess what I should say is that I’ve always re-interpreted the prayer “May God make America a kingdom of priests..etc” into a UBF-tradition specific version of the Lord’s prayer, “Thy Kingdom come”. That was the spiritual vision I sensed behind this prayer topic. And as one often stuck between two worlds (older Korean vs. younger American), for good or for bad, I do a lot of internal re-interpreting as my way of 1) respectfully acknowledging the biblical, spiritual essence from which this UBF-ish prayer topic derives 2) wisely discerning when the Spirit might be leading me to better understand why I’m praying a particular prayer topic and whether this prayer needs to be sanctified so that it is more pleasing to God 3) humbling acknowledging that a lot of my personal prayers in my pathetic prayer life don’t even rise to the high level of “Thy Kingdom Come” or the mid-high level of “May God make American a kingdom of priests and holy nation” and rather more like “May God bless my work so I can be famous” and “May God bless this burrito that I’m about to partake.” So I might as start with what I sense to be a more nobler prayer topic, as imperfect as it may be. What Joe said about the Spirit sanctifying our prayer lives so it can be beautiful to God is so absolutely right on. Couldn’t have expressed it better. Exactly.
    By the way, but I really appreciate David L honestly bringing up this topic as it forces me to recognize this internal re-interpreting process I undergo when I face situations similar to this in UBF. I know this internal re-interpreting process is helpful for someone like me trying to both affirm and yet also change things in my particular Christian community, but often it is not helpful for others when this re-interpretation process is left to myself. So I appreciate opportunities like this forum to express this, hopefully for sake of others’ edification. A topic for another time. Ok I’m done posting before I break the rule on avoiding long comments. Wait, oops, I’ve already broken it.

    • Lord, please bless John Y’s burrito, and bless my spaghetti too. And, Holy Spirit, please sanctify this strange and awkward prayer. Amen.

  27. And here is one more gratuitous comment, so that David L’s article will rise to the top of the UBFriends “Most Commented” list and reign as the undisputed champion for a while.

  28. Yup, I did notice that this was creeping up the “most commented,” and I will be #47 to  comment, to surpass the #2 most commented at 46! Did you take off the list of “recent comments” for space reasons, perhaps?

    To say each week KOPHN might be somewhat equivalent to pre-fixing “JUST…” to the following that some might say: obey, pray, repent, etc.” Unless it is explained, exegeted,  and applied in context, verse or passage, I think it just becomes trite, banal and hackneyed, as I had mentioned. It’s like I might understand it in my head without thinking and even agree with it, but my heart is not really moved, though it once was.

    How do we refresh and  renew the prayer or prayer topic, until we are empowered and energized with the Spirit of God to mount on wings like eagles (Isa 40:31)?

    • Re: the Recent Comments widget: I didn’t remove the Recent Comments list from the sidebar but maybe Joe did. Just in case it was a glitch, I’ve added it again.

    • No, I didn’t remove it. But I tried to put it back as well.

  29. Thank you, Amen,  America and Americans WILL be a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation in the Resurrection of the Righteous! Now that is a statement I can get behind!

  30. Hannah Love

    I must say that this was overwhelming to read and has made my heart heavy.
    It did go off on different tangents but I was able to learn of different things.  

    A few things that I’ve been learning is the importance of praying for the restoration of Israel! I’m very new to this but I don’t remember learning about Israel and the importance of Jesus’ second coming and how the two are related. I’m praying to learn more about this so I won’t be ignorantly working for or against something.
    I’m deeply saddened to hear about Abraham’s family leaving, BUT at the same time believe that God is doing something right now in the midst of this situation. God is good all the time, amen?
    Being in Korea, I decided to also not go back to UBF. I agonized over this due to the stigma of not being in UBF yet God gave me grace, peace and freedom as I made my decision. I don’t know if this means leaving UBF, but for a while I will not be part of UBF. I was terrified of going back to UBF in Korea, I was terrified of meeting people and even telling people anywhere. However, I realized most of the fears weren’t of God and had to discard them. The people I met welcomed me with so much love and it didn’t matter that I wasn’t going to UBF.
    My heart is stirring up and shaken because I don’t know where this is going. Where UBF is heading. I pray that God will mightily intervene and do what He must do. I pray that we will not resist to HIS leading of his ministry and that each of us will be able to follow this leading.

    • Hannah, glad to hear from you. i am very sad to hear, though, that you have decided not to go back to UBF…

      i absolutely agree with everyone here that we are called to love people who left UBF as our brothers and sisters in the Lord and continuously be friends with them. I love this online forum of ubfriends because it seems to offer an atmosphere of mutual respect, irrespective of one’s own church background. I love the fact that UBF members, non-UBF members and former members can talk here, exchange ideas, befriend each other etc… This is wonderful.

      As for your decision i trust that you have thoroughly prayed about it and that you are following to the best of your knowledge the guidance of the Holy Spirit. So wherever God may be leading you, i hope that you will be blessed and can be a blessing.

      There is one thing i want to say in defense of UBF. And this may not apply to you at all so don’t take anything personal here. From my own experience i felt that many Americans do not take church membership that seriously and there seems to be a a lot of church hopping. (Germans do not seem to be any different in that regard). I heard one non-UBF pastor complaining about it, saying they do not want to belong and commit themselves to any flock. They say: “today i feel like belonging to this flock. Tomorrow i want to go there. i’m such a free person…” And then he said that wolves have a nick-name for these kind of ‘sheep’: “Lunch!”

      I like the fact that UBF does take church membership seriously. In this regard, it is good that UBF is counter-cultural. I think it is very necessary because only then can there be submission to eldership, responsibility, accounting and real growth in fellowship. I believe it is biblical to commit oneself to one expression of the body of Christ and to be faithful.

      And yes, i know: UBF has again gone too far in forbidding its members to visit different worship services and calling people who left “run-aways” and so on and so forth… So striking a good balance is the key. Plus, members should always want to be members of their church and not be forced to stay…

  31. Hannah Love

    Henoch. Thank you for replying.
    It’s interesting that you mentioned that because while I was in Korea last year, I almost left for another church but that church talked about how we “marry the church and don’t date the church” so they emphasized church membership where we had to take a class and I believe we even become baptized if we haven’t been already. With that, I actually decided to just commit to UBF because I knew it was very important for me to stick with one church rather than go to two at one time. I knew that I needed to give it time and become active in it in order to experience what the church was really like.
    However, being a second gen and in UBF for almost 25 years, I haven’t been able to fully believe that this is really where God wants me to be. It’s where my parents and friends want me to be and where I feel the most comfortable. I think before committing to UBF, I wanted to seek and see if there is any other place the Lord wants me to be at. As a friend once told me, being in UBF isn’t a mandate for me.
    I also really respect and have high regard toward the seriousness of church membership that UBF emphasizes. It builds up a community and a strong body of Christ. I know that I personally do have a problem with sticking to one thing, so I believe now is the time and am praying that I’m just being led by the Holy Spirit. Wherever HE goes, I go :)  
    Sorry this diverged from the original content!!

    • david bychkov

      God bless, Hannah. And yes, it is still sad news, inspite of I don’t know you and all conditions.
      It is really not easy for those who thinks or feel different to stay in UBF during long time and to feel pressure. Someone could be mature and motivated enough for continue his way in UBF inspite of this things and in that time to be faithful to the ways God is leading him. But not anyone is able for it. It is just a general comment, not for your case Hannah, b/c I don’t know it.
      Once again, God bless you.

  32. Hi Hannah, I missed you when my family visited Waterloo in the summer. I wish we could have met. Sometimes we have to leave and see other ministry and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. I know many people who left UBF and came back, more sure and confident that UBF is where God wants them to be. I also know many who left UBF and never came back but are very thankful for our ministry and putting the experiences they learned here in their new ministry. But going back to the orginal question of this article, I agree with Joe that we need a clear theology of mission for UBF so that we may know what is our clear prayer topic. May God be with our UBF leaders and give them the Holy Spirit to lead us beyond the 50th year of our ministry. I will be praying for this.

  33. Joshua Yoon

    I think Hannah’s writing did not provide the full account of her not attending Korea UBF during her 7 months’ stay in Korea. It was not “leaving” UBF. Before she went to Korea, we had a long talk. She gave her whole heart to serving the student ministry in Waterloo in the fall term. The ministry experienced God’s multiplaying blessing while she was here. After much thoughts and prayer Hannah made a personal decision to go back to Korea, with a desire to meet her God personally not necessarily in UBF frame and boundry where she had been for 25 years. I fully respected and supported her pesonal decision. I am sure Hannah is completely free to pursue the knowledge of God and cultivate intimacy with God, without being viewed and expected as a daughter of missionaries, while attending an English speaking church. (She had some difficulties in adjusting to her parents’ home UBF ministry  last year. Language and culture were big barriers.) I believe God heard her heart’s cry and put her in a different community where she could gain right perspective of who God is and who she is. It is my hope that she will meet her God deeply and discover God’s call. So when she is back to Canada, she may have unshakable faith and continue to commit her life to loving God and serving his purpose. As a parent I want to see where God is leading her and fully obey the will of God upon her rather than  trying to keep  her in the ministry I  was personally called.   I am very happy that Hannah grew a lot to a point of pursueing her God personally, not depending on her parents or following others without personal conviction. So please, don’t feel sad thinking that she left UBF, which is not the case. Please, bless her and pray for her to be deeply rooted in Christ and develop a personal relationship with God. I personally wish I could have such courage and freedom to seek God and gain fresh perspective of what I am doing and what   God really wants me to do with the rest of my life.

  34. Hi Dr.Joe,

    I hope you’ll forgive me for going off on yet another tangent. In an earlier response you stated, “For my first ten years in this ministry, our style of Bible study helped me to grow. But after twenty years, I was no longer learning from it. After 25 years, it was actually making me worse.” I wonder if you might be willing to share how you overcame this?
    I believe spiritual undernourishment is something we all experience at different times. Everyone seems to agree that it is most important for us to go back to the Bible. While other sources may be useful and edifying to us, only God’s living word can actually feed and satiate our souls. Having said that, I see it as an area of need in our ministry to help our members, especially our younger members, learn HOW to study God’s word so that we can be filled, so that we can let it startle and amaze us, so that we don’t end up merely regurgitating what we’ve once learned, and so that we don’t end up feeling starved, dry and frustrated. There are several practices followed in UBF that are intended, I believe, to feed us, e.g. testimony writing and daily bread. Yet even amidst these activities we can find ourselves very dry. It’s easy then to blame the practices or the church. And while I think the church does bear a responsibility, it is the personal responsibility I would like to address. Instead of looking to another person or church to fill me, I need to really go back to the bible and I need to know how to do that. I am not saying that seeking out other people or churches is a bad thing and I am also not suggesting self-sufficiency. Rather, I am saying that we need to be independent. And our ministry needs to help our members get there. Perhaps I am just stating the obvious here since our ministry focuses so much on raising bible teachers and missionaries. But honestly, I still see it as a need. At the very least, it is my need and prayer, so I’d appreciate hearing what you have to say about it. “Give a man a fish…”
    Thank you!

  35. Hi Deborah. I’m grateful for your honest question and for the chance to clarify.

    When I wrote disparagingly about “our style” of Bible study I realize that some people cringed. I broke the unwritten commandment that one should never hint anything negative about our ministry, at least not in public. I could have done the safe/humble/acceptable thing, which would be to say “my style” of Bible study, thus taking full responsibility for it and saying it was just my own personal problem. But that would have been disingenuous. I am, for better or worse, largely a product of UBF; this ministry has been the single biggest influence on how I approach the Bible. Not everyone in UBF is alike. Not everyone will have the same problems that I had, or have them to the same degree. But I have been around long enough to see that there are indeed some common elements to the ways that we do things. There are good habits and bad habits that have spread throughout the community. And some of the bad habits that I picked up were hindering my spiritual growth. Whatever bad habits I acquired, it is ultimately my fault that I acquired them. But I did pick them up in our community, and I spread them to others, and the community reinforced (or at least did not discourage) them. So with those caveats, I stand by my words and say that it was “our style” of Bible study.

    So what was it about “our style” of Bible study that was hindering my growth? It’s hard to put into words, but I will try. Before that, let me say that it was *not* simply the disciplines of daily bread and testimony writing. Those are, after all, just methods. As such, there is nothing intrinsic to them that will cause us to grow spiritually or to hinder our growth. It is the underlying beliefs, attitudes, character and habits of the persons who use those methods that will ultimately determine whether they are helpful or counterproductive.

    One big problem is that my Bible study had become self-focused and moralistic. This attitude was described very well by Ben Toh in his recent article on Counterfeit Gods. I saw the Bible as a book of principles. I approached every passage with the intent of finding and extracting the right principles and then applying them to my life. The point of every Bible study became, “What am I supposed to do?” In every passage, I tried to find
    * the tasks God was directing me to do
    * the sins I was supposed to repent of
    * the bad habits I was supposed to avoid
    * the promises I was supposed to claim and believe
    and so on.

    Over time, this reduced my Christian life to a to-do list. That list became so long that I could never, ever fulfill it. I constantly felt like an utter failure, because I was never living up to the standards and expectations that I had set for myself and that the UBF culture had set for me. (In case you haven’t noticed, we maintain a climate of very high expectations.) So I did what I had been implicitly taught to do, what others had taught me to do: Keep Choong-Shim. Maintain soldier spirit. Keep up appearances as an exemplary servant of God at all costs. I hid my weaknesses in order to save face, so that I wouldn’t become a “bad influence” on others.

    As I treated the Bible so mechanically and hid my weaknesses so effectively, my soul withered; prayer became useless and my personal relationship with God almost nonexistent. But as long as I continued to say the right things in my Bible studies, testimonies and messages — i.e., as long as my words were sufficiently UBF-ish, upholding the group mission, identity and ethos — leaders continued to praise me, and no one seemed to mind or even notice that I was adrift. We put so much emphasis on mission and so little on friendship, relational honesty and intimacy that no one bothered to call me out or even saw that I had any problem whatsoever. No one, that is, except my wife, who saw what was going on and was greatly concerned.

    To summarize, I would say that the negative aspect of “our style” of Bible study — which again, is not found everywhere in UBF to the same degree — involves a relentless, unquestioning reinforcement of the group’s identity and mission, a moralistic and self-focused approach to Bible passages (as opposed to gospel focus, as Ben Toh described), and a personal projection of faux strength and commitment (“soldier spirit”) which easily masks superficiality and hypocrisy.

    For me, the keys to coming out from this difficulty were
    * opening myself up to Christian influences in the greater
    body of Christ by reading articles and books and by
    making friends with committed Christians outside of UBF
    * becoming honest and revealing my weaknesses
    * allowing myself to express doubts and ask tough questions
    about the Bible — the kinds of things that raise eyebrows and
    make people uncomfortable in most UBF group Bible
    studies, because they are considered too volatile,
    controversial or off-topic
    * taking time off from my habitual Bible study to read, think,
    contemplate and pray, and just to be with God, and to be
    with God’s people (Ironically, by taking time away from the
    Bible to read, meditate and pray, my Bible study was greatly
    refreshed.)
    * stop beating myself up over the fact that I never pray enough,
    never study the Bible enough, never work hard enough,
    and am always falling short of
    my and others’ standards and expectations
    * take seriously what the Bible says about the person and work of
    the Holy Spirit

    If you haven’t done so, you can read the “Stuck at the Wall” series of articles that I posted several months ago on UBFriends that explains more about this.

    Thanks again for asking. Sorry about the length of this reply! God bless you.

  36. Thank you for the detailed response, Dr.Joe. I actually did not read your comment as disparaging – I saw it as honest. It wasn’t my intention to ‘call you out’ on it and I apologize if I came across that way. I agree with your analysis of the limitations of ‘our style’ of bible study. I suppose this is why I think it necessary that we learn how to study the bible – not just learn what it says. Your reply was very helpful and it has got me thinking. I have not yet read the articles you mention but will do so. Thank you again, and God bless!

  37. Hi Joe, thank you for sharing your honest struggle with many friends. Recently I was deeply moved by a story of William Carey. He dedicated his whole life of 40 years for Indian mission. I was moved by his humbleness. On his request a simple sentence was written on his grave stone. “William Carey, born in 1761, died 1834. A wretched, poor and helpless worm, On thy kind arm I fall” No doubt this is his honest and sincere testament of amazing grace of God. Because he knew who he was before the great grace of God he must have been so happy, joyful and thankful. When I think about these words, I cried many tears because I found myself so proud and arrogant. I was always called, “Dr James” at my working place or in the church. I did not think myself as “wretched worm”. Truly I am nothing but a wretched worm before the great grace of our Lord Jesus. As Paul said, “By the grace of God I am what I am”.

  38. Dear Joe, I wanted to comment on something you just said in your reply to Deborah. While I am not sure about how other fellowships around the world do testimony writing (and conference message preparation), I sincerely think that the way we did/do it in Chicago is not good.

    I was always encouraged to spit out, pretty much verbatim, the lines and structure of the sunday message, with a little bit of personal failings sprinkled in. In addition, I was also encouraged to add toward the end, some way in which I could be a better shepherd, feed more 1 to 1′s, or be altogether better than another shepherd (whom I would then name).

    I can say in all honesty, I was reading through some old testimonies that I kept in a big binder recently, and they made me sick to my stomach. They were chock full of pride and competition and legalistic moralism. I decided to keep them instead of burning them outright in my garbage can to remind me how it is very easy to be self deceived. But here is the funny thing, no one EVER confronted me about it, not ever, and instead, the more I showed a competitive and prideful spirit toward the other testimony sharers on friday nights the higher on the totem pole I rose. There used to be a guy named Chris (name changed) who was around my age and status in the ministry, and I remember saying in my testimony in front of all of the Chicago UBF leaders “someday I want to defeat Chris in every way, in Bible knowlege, and in 1 to 1′s, until I share my testimony last on fridays.” Everyone laughed and clapped…ugh. I know that I am not alone in the way that I did my testimony. I just hope that things have changed since I left, because otherwise, I think that testimony sharing in UBF is intrinsically wrong.

    • Hi David, thanks for your honest sharing of your experience. I think I know what you mean about how testimonies can get.

      Just to share my own experience, writing testimonies in the chapter I’m associated with (Waterloo, Canada) generally isn’t like what you described. There is a lot of freedom in whether people want to make use of the message manuscript or not, and it isn’t a place to compete with others but to personally wrestle with the word in prayer, to internalize the word of God and be encouraged by it, and to bring our struggles to God in a real and thoughtful way, seeking his answer. We don’t even share our testimonies all that often with each other – sometimes just between two friends or once in a while in a small group setting. I’m not saying every time someone does this it works out in some kind of ideal way – it’s easy to become habitual and superficial about it, to do it just for the sake of getting it done, and to write thinking of what others will think about it. I guess a lot of spiritual practices have the potential to degenerate in these ways.

      Even so, I was just wondering about your experience… when you and others wrote in the way you’re describing, were you being serious or were you joking around? I think I’ve heard people in the ministry saying things like that before (whether in testimonies or in other contexts), but I usually understood them to be just joking around and having a bit of fun with each other. I think it would definitely be disturbing if it was being said seriously. And even if it was joking around, it seems to me like there are much more fruitful ways of meditating on the word of God.

      I’m also interested to know – have you found positive alternative ways of meditating on Scripture other than say listening to a sermon or thinking through a passage in a group study? I mean for the sake of personal devotion with God in a kind of discipleship context where we’re seeking to put Jesus’ words into practice? I think the basic idea of going deep in the word and opening up to its applicability to one’s life is a good idea, but I don’t think writing testimonies works for everyone, and I would like to be able to make more of a repertoire of methods available to people who are interested in pursuing God more deeply.

  39. Thanks for your post Andy. I am pretty sure that I was serious even though I may have said it with a smile on my face…I know that I did actually have those goals after a while.

    As for your question about alternative ways of meditating on Scripture, I must prepare a sermon each week for my church, and so I spend alot of time reading commentaries. Some that have helped me the best are the Pillar Commentary set, the New International Commentary on the OT and NT, The Bible Speaks Today Commentary set, and the Crossway Classic Commentary series, and the Life Application Commentary set to name a few…I have been preaching through Matthew, so I have about 10 different Matthew Commentaries ranging from more technical to more application based, each help in their own way.

    I have also grown alot in my Christian walk from listening (and reading) the sermons of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. In my humble opinion, he was one of the greatest preachers since the Apostolic era.

  40. John Peace

    I wasn’t planning to write again but this topic hits home.   I believe that commentaries, different resources like books, TV programs, news, what we read in newspapers, life experiences, etc. are all possible references we can use to write messages.   Now that Maria and I are writing messages each week we are spiritually  struggling to accept God’s word and prepare messages pleasing to God and applicable to us and the people in our mission field.   Having written testimonies faithfully each week for many years has greatly helped us in our message preparations and helped us experience God’s presence in our daily spiritual walk with God.   In UBF I learned from the guidance of many mature servants of God that testimonies must be mostly about Jesus and less of ourselves.   As John the Baptist said, “He must become greater and I must become less.”   I also learned in UBF that when we write testimonies or messages we should preach to ourselves first and be moved by the Holy Spirit in our hearts, otherwise how can we move the hearts of others.   Also, through testimony writing we should have a repentant topic and a small decision based on the grace of God we received from God’s word and put it into practice.   As Jesus said, “He who puts my words into practice is like a house built on rock.”   But I understand David’s point of view that before a crowd of people we can say things that sound exciting to make us look spiritually great or compete with others.   I also had those temptations when sharing my testimonies at the Friday’s Leaders’ Meeting.   But I believe that when we write and share things sincerely from our hearts, however selfish and conceited they may be, God can still answer our requests as he answered Jacob’s selfish vow.   For example, when I heard others share “I want to be one of the 561 American Full Time Shepherds” it intrigued me and I found myself sharing the same thing.   But you know God answered my request and later I received 7 years of Bible training under Dr. Samuel Lee as a full time shepherd.   Later, when I was preparing a message on “Abram’s Call” I made a decision, “Next year I will be a missionary.”   God heard my request again and the following year God sent my family out as missionaries.   These are but a few examples of how God answered my requests through testimony and message writing.   Really, if someone writes many testimonies and shares them and doesn’t experience God’s answer what’s the point of writing and sharing?   Just to show off maybe?   As Andy mentioned testimony writing may not be for everyone but it has worked for me.   From my personal experience I can say that testimony writing has been the foundation of my Christian life and helped me experence God’s presence in my life so many times.   Confessing our sins and also sharing our life testimonies is a Biblical practice.   James 5:16, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.   The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”   Wow!   I thought I would never say this but this website is really getting more and more interesting for me.   Thanks for all your comments and sharing your thoughts.   God bless all those who are struggling each week to write messages in each of your churches and mission fields.  

  41. david bychkov

    Hi M. John! I’m glad to see you here and hear from you. I saw your family pictures from Italy. They are very nice.
    As for testimonies. I also like this practice and believe that God used it greatly in UBF and in my particular   life. It helped me to struggle for accepting word of God,   for deeper Bible understanding, for deeper and more clear thinking and thought expression, for Bible interpretation, for Bible studies and for preparing to be messages. As for messages writing it was and it is really blessing, and I guess, one of most blessings in my life.
    I will add one general negative thought though (forgive me for being so rough – you know my English is not so perfect for being flexible enough). Because of we in UBF are hardly open to be corrected (at least at some base practices and beliefs) our good practices and methods with time seems to became less and less effective and useful. Let me try to explain what I mean here. There are hardly could be found some ideal method, which is only good. I believe usually methods, practices, activities etc. could are both – good and bad. The same practice could be good for someone and bad for someone else. The same practice could be good for some time and then became bad for the same person, Moreover the same practice could be good and bad in the same time for the same person.
    For example testimony writing. As you and many others and I wrote that it has very good sides and was very helpful for us. But in the same time it has negative points as well. David L has mentioned some of them and there more. I will mention some as well. A testimony could be written before men just in order to look the same as others and sounds like a leader wants. Such kind of testimony writing leads to hypocrisy. Longtime testimony writing base just on one persons manuscripts, or even different persons’ manuscripts which were written based on some defined Bible interpretation approach could easily leads to stop of learning and growth. The testimony writing could lead a person to overemphasizing of deals and in the same time prevent more wide look at the Bible, just see trees and not see forest. There are more…
    So the same practice could have and actually does have good and bad sides. And with time both will bring fruits – good and bad. And just like thorns chokes plant without careful attention, the bad fruits once will choke the good ones. That’s why humbleness and willingness to be corrected are very and very crucial.
    But it is the hardest thing! If we have such a holy and good practice which brings such blessings to us and real good spiritual fruits, how it could even be “touched”? It is anything but bad! To “touch” it will be unfaithfulness or even blasphemy!
    But without careful attention and correcting it could with time not just stop to bring the good fruits and not just bring bad. Thing is deeper. It could make us think that we already have something great, so we don’t really need to humbly learn. This attitude should prevent us from having poor heart and even trying to humbly look for God’s help, truth and leading. And while we are faithfully keeping this practice it is actually killing us.
    I’m not voting hear agains testimony writing or something else. Not at all. And sorry if I sound too radical. It is because of my English. I just want to say that such attitude last time made me almost hate some practices which I loved very much before. This is, I believe, also really wrong and some opposite extreme. The only right way, I think, is to keep humbleness and willingness to correction. It is to carefully and humbly look at our ways and separate wheat from thorns.

  42. Thanks, John, David. I wrote testimonies for 28 years. Now instead of writing testimonies, I read books, sermons, blogs, and listen to or watch sermons and lectures. Personally, I’ve found this a much better use of my time in place of testimony writing. I still share my “testimonies,” but I do so orally and extemporaneously, and not from reading off what I had written. When I do write, which is often daily, I’d rather blog what I’ve read and studied.
     
    Testimony writing is good, but as David said, no method is perfect or full proof; it can become habitual, man centered, and people pleasing; it can lead to work righteousness; and our faith can be rooted in our practice, rather than in Christ alone.

  43. Former UBF member

    It’s been two and half year since I left. I’ve been in the ministry for 12 years. Sadly, I left because of the mind-controlling of leaders using the scripture to back up their so-call righteous theology. Since I left, I was treated like a non-believer. I agree with Joe, UBF is not Christ. Leaving UBF doesn’t mean you leave Jesus. Since I left UBF, my faith and desire to know Christ has been pure and genuine. Every morning I thirst for his words more than I was in UBF. This is not to attack UBF, but tell my story and my faith while I was in UBF. Through the burden of writing testimony and the burden to go out and raising disciples only among college students made me feel alienated of what the gospel suppose to reflect. The gospel is the good news for all people not only college students. If you have a calling from Jesus to be his worker, you have to have an open mind to reach to anyone who doesn’t know him and bring this good news to that person, instead of trying to reach the UBF agenda to make America a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation. This phase has became a cliche of UBF. Like Joe said, this promise was only for the Jews not Gentiles.
    Anyway, I gave my two cents.
    I have to go.

    thanks to all for being more open minded now.

  44. Thanks for sharing. Many of us understand your words more clearly now, especially me. I really want to discuss issues without malice or anger or blind defense of an organization. I respect those who can do that.

  45. Thanks, former UBF member, for sharing.

    I decided to stay in UBF even though I virtually fully agree with your comments. But I also fully understand and even support those who cannot stay in UBF for those reasons.

    I empathize with you that what you described is unbearable and intolerable, even unbiblical, yet to be fair the leader’s in UBF are Christians, who intend well, and who love Jesus. But as you might be hinting at, we might be over-emphacizing our agenda of world campus mission and our UBF tradition more than Christ and the glory of God.

    I believe that many issues raised on UBFriends will begin to be addressed in the coming years. Hopefully, if we change by God’s grace and become more Christ-centered, you may consider returning.

    Again, I am personally sorry for your negative experience in UBF even though I likely do not personally know you. But God is your God, and God led you to UBF to realize the “good and bad side” of Christians and the church and Christianity to enrich your own Christian life experience with Christ.

  46. rollen nolasco

    Exodus 19:5-6  “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you (Israel) will be my

    treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’

    These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

    I believe God says, anyone can be my children but the children in Israel will stand out before others, but with

    condition.  God has given a condition, If Israel obey God and fully keep God’s covenant, then out of all the nations

    that obey and keep God’s covenant, Israel will still be God’s treasured possession more than other nations. For God

    Israel will be a Holy Nation, a Kingdom of Priests. Israel will be higher than any nations if and only if they fully

    keep God’s covenant. God hope Israel to spiritually lead us all. The important key to this discussion is God’s

    Covenant made to Abraham.

    Christians are not the chosen ones. Christians are the gentiles. God choose Israel, due to His covenant to Abraham.

    Jesus came for the sinners, the gentiles and those who have never heard about God. This is the reason Jesus made a big

    change after His death and Resurection. Mankind use his death and ascending to Heaven as a very significant event (

    B.C. and A.D.). It has a big impact to the world, enough to reach even to the littlest corner of the world. Not

    because you carry the name Christians, you are the saved ones, or the chosen ones. Only those appointed by God, are

    the chosen ones. We who believe in Jesus, (not by being Christians) as the way to God are welcome by God, and those

    who believed in God directly to God are also welcomed by God. Jesus did not divert everything to Himself. He came to

    earth to show us how to live and how to enter Heaven. Every man must live like Him, follow his footsteps. His way of

    believing in God is the only way. He showed us the way how. This is Jesus message to us, “Their is Heaven that God The

    Father has prepeared for us, I will show you the way to get there, follow everything I do”. He said his way of living

    here on earth is the only way everyone can live here on earth to be able to enter the Kingdom of God.

  47. Recently left ubf....

    Ex 19: 5-6 was assigned as my wedding/marriage key verse. It was changed to this key verse about two weeks before wedding. I never fully understood this either. I accepted it as a prayer for our country to be revived I guess. Originally we were supposed to have “faith that moves mountains.” we have recently left ubf and are praying earnestly for God’s leading.

    • Hey… you are always welcome here, and in Detroit :) Unfortunately, this website has become a landing point for quite a few who have left UBF. That was not our intention, but free, open discussion has helped quite a few before, during and after leaving.

    • Hey Recently, God be with you wherever you end up! I will pray that He leads you to a good healthy church

  48. Welcome recently! Hey, can anyone tell me what the whole process of choosing a marriage key verse is like? Isn’t it your decision what your marriage key verse is? Or, what the purpose is? I mean, does one have to have a marriage key verse? Let’s pray the God will lead you to a great ministry.

    • Oscar, no you don’t get to pick your own verse. Perhaps there are some examples of this, but I’m not aware of anyone picking their own verse. If they did, they wouldn’t be allowed to marry. And yes, you must have one.  In the Toledo chapter, you also must have a banner and must display this banner with your key verse on it in your house, if you want to be a “good, obedience disciple” that is.

      By the way, for anyone considering leaving UBF or speaking up about problems, you don’t have to worry..everything in UBF is “fine and wonderful and so joyful” (http://www.priestlynation.com/archives/496#more-496). There is so much collaboration and wonderful fellowship now…

    • Darren Gruett

      I did not pick my marriage “key verse,” although over the past couple of years for the weddings I have attended I was under the impression that the couples picked their own. I could be wrong, but that is the way they made it sound. Also, I was never told to display it in my house on a banner.

    • Darren, UBF leaders have ways to let you make a decision and think it was your own. Also, the banner thing is unique to Toledo UBF as far as I know.

  49. Recently left ubf

    Our banner came down a couple years ago. Felt strange having it when I did not understand verse and should have spoken up about it when we married a while back…I was being obedient and humble I guess or so I was told. Hope I have not skewed the thread topic with my posts. Ex 19 caught my eye and I had to comment.

    • “Recently” (or so your known here :),

      Feel free to keep commenting. It is good for all of us to hear your viewpoints and especially your stories about your transition. 

  50. That’s interesting. Ex 19 is the prayer topic of the church, but if it’s not something I’m not really interested in (maybe that makes me a jerk) should I even pray about it, or care? Feel free to comment any time Recently. It’s good to hear from new people!

    • Oscar, after reading the most recent post on Bonhoeffer and re-reading this post, I see a clear contrast between a “community” and “movement”. If you are not interested in Ex 19 or 1 Peter 2:9, that doesn’t make you a jerk. Perhaps it simply means you are thinking clearly. 

      The “kingdom priests and a holy nation” mantra is something that should be analyzed and critiqued. But before anyone can analyze, we must document clearly. I started to do this today with the heritage, which is the heart of UBF teaching, stemming from this holy nation phrase.

    • by the way, if people really want to know what is those kingdom of priest and a holy nation, they just need to study Exodus (the whole book) and 1 Peter (the whole epistle) and listen from Moses and from Peter! Does our heritage have something in common with Peter teaching? I never saw there 1:1, disciple making or campus evangelism. just never.

  51. I do concur with most of what are said here. If I make an attempt to make excuses for such use of ‘a kingdom of priest and holy nation’ 
    1. Korean use of language is conceptual[English use of the language is more factual--each word carries its own meaning unless redefined by other clauses or adjectives ]: The conceptual understanding of ‘a kingdom of priest and holy nation’ is a collection of God’s people, wherever they are. In this line of thought, it is applied to many parts of the world when Dr. Lee used this prayer. It is not within the boundary of the exact term of this phrase, but it CAN be used if one is willing to embrace the concept of the user.  In this regard, many Korean missionaries may not see a problem of such a use.
    2. The exact meaning of the phrase is understood correctly in covenant theological view. Application of this to America is wrong since America is a nation or a country. Also here there is a conceptual transference of idea: America become the people of America. 
    3. It is deeply rooted in covenant theological trait, in which Christians replace the Jews in all aspect of God’s blessing and purpose, which is strongly denied by dispensational Premillenialists. 
    Does this make an excuse for continual use or application in such  a way?

    • Hi LukeL, and welcome to ubfriends! Just some reactions to your comments:

      You make an interesting point about Korean language. I would tend to agree, that the conceptual understanding of KOPHN (to use a UBFism :) is beyond the boundaries of any particular nation. 

      There is some truth here, in that, all believers do indeed have a priestly duty. It is clear however, that such duty is not uniform among all believers. Our duties will be vastly different, depending on what role God has for us in His kingdom.

      So therein lie the two problems I have with KOPHN in UBF. UBF teaches KOPHN as a unanimous, identical duty for every believer, as if every believer is to be a teacher and to have the same expression of faith. 

      And secondly, it is HIS kingdom. The blatant disregard for respecting the Spirit’s work in His kingdom is more and more clear to me.

      And as for covenant theology… I’ll just say that, in my observance, such theology is an attempt to resolve the perceived tension between works and grace.

      UBF, along with most Christians in our generation, seem trapped in an endless looop: Which comes first, the works or the grace? And so we build many walls of hostility instead of uniting under one Lord.

      God already answered this question by nailing the written code to the cross. Grace comes first, second, third, and last. When we don’t understand that, we end up with an upside-down gospel which is really no gospel at all. And then KOPHN becomes a millstone that we are tethered to like donkeys grinding wheat.

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