By Jim McDonald
The Philippines are a land of 7,000 islands and approximately 70 million people. It is the single “Christian” nation in the Orient: the rest are dominated by the various eastern religions or are Moslem. The 300-400 years occupation of the Philippines by the Spaniards is responsible for the Philippines differing from other eastern nations and accounts for the fact that at least 80% of Filipinos are Catholic. The Spanish-American War in the late 1890s brought an end to Spanish rule and placed the islands as a protectorate of the United States. Freedom of religion through U.S. rule allowed the introduction of the various churches, sects, and cults from abroad. The “instrumental Church of Christ” (the work of the Christian Church here in the U.S.) celebrates its 100 year jubilee in 2001 which means that Christian churches in America began their work in the Philippines about 1901.
U.S. brethren also soon began sending preachers to the Philippines. In some regions the work dates back 75 years. In Mindoro at least one congregation “boasts” of continued existence before the Japanese occupation in 1942. The work then must be at least 60 years old. Disdado Menor, a well known preacher among brethren and who was well into his 90s when he died in 1999, was among the pioneers who spread the Word in Mindoro. While the congregation he preached for in Calapan has obviously seen better days than its present condition, it had one of the nicest buildings to be found in the Philippines, although now it has been damaged by tremors and earthquakes over the years. In a nearby barrio of Calapan lives Elelsio Sikat, who is himself in his late 50s or early 60s but who is a “second generation” preacher and Christian. His father was a gospel preacher before him. There were once many more congregations than the now 20-30 churches in the island speaking of the impact the gospel had in yesteryear. The decline in number of congregations and Christians is due to many varied reasons.
During the conflict in the 1940-1960s of the institutional battles here in the United States, the work in the Philippines fell largely under the influence of institutional brethren. Many Bible Colleges were begun in various regions of the islands, of which three to four still remain. However, in the 1960s changes began to take place in which Filipino preachers challenged the positions of institutional brethren. Several raised their voices against apostasy and their work bore much fruit. Among those preachers were men like Rueben Nortarte, Romulo Agduma, and Juanito Balbin in Mindanao and J.R. Tibayan in Luzon, particularly in Manila. Wallace Little was a great influence in helping to advance the work both in the Philippines and in the minds of American brethren. Debates were held. One prominent one was the Smith-Lacuata debate in 1971 in which J.T. Smith met Eusebio M. Lacuata in Malang, Cotabato, Mindanao debating the issue of sponsoring churches. The number of other preachers who worked in the islands in those early years are legion but included were men like Roy Cogdill, Cecil Willis, J.T. Smith, Connie W. Adams, Larry Hafley, Warren Berkley, Jerry Parks, Don Wilson, Jerry Bassett, and Jim Puterbaugh. In the late 1980s and 90s many other U.S. brethren have spent much time preaching in the Philippines including Kenneth and Kenny Marrs, Johnie Edwards (with Johnie Paul and John Isaac), Mike Hughes, Ron Halbrook, David Maxson, Keith Malone, R.J. Stevens, Jeral Kay, Jim E. Everett, Steven Locklair, Steven Deaton, Kyle Campbell, Larry Jones, and others.
Today churches are found in many islands. I have personally preached on at least a dozen different ones and found existing congregations on almost all of them; the single exception I can remember is the island of Romblon. There are other islands which I have not visited but where the work is found. It is not possible to give exact numbers of preachers, Christians, or churches in the nation, but there are valid reasons to believe there are at least 800-1000 preachers and congregations with at least 35,000-50,000 Christians. The greatest bulk of these churches and members is found in two regions, northern Luzon and Mindanao. In the Ilocos region (northwest Luzon) there are nearly 100 congregations. Across the mountain range that separates the eastern half of the island from the western half, there are likely 100 congregations in the Cagayan Valley, a region which includes many provinces. Manila has likely 35-40 congregations in the greater metroplex, but nearly all of these meet in temporary quarters and offer little sense of permanency. Among the two oldest churches in Manila is the Pasay church where J.R. Tibayan once preached and the Kapaitbahayan church in Navotos where Benjamin Cruz presently preaches. But by far, Mindanao is where the largest number of churches is found. The work in Zamboanga del Sur is old and 50 or more congregations are in that province. In the south-central region of Mindanao (Davao City, Digos City, General Santos City, and the various provinces around these cities) there are likely 400 churches. Congregations also are scattered in other parts of the island.
Many problems plague the Philippines and thus plague our brethren. There is at present a major financial crisis in the devaluation of the peso, the nation’s currency. As I write these lines, efforts are being made to impeach the president on charges of immorality and corruption in receiving millions of pesos from illegal gambling and drugs. In Mindanao civil war has raged because of the large, yet minority, Moslem population in that island. In April 2000 armed conflict between Muslim rebels and government forces erupted causing mass evacuation of thousands of the civilian population, including many hundreds of brethren. While the back of Moslem organized efforts has been broken, their acts of terrorism, vandalism and/or hostage taking continues as it has for years. This places even greater stress on the weary nation. When will such conflicts cease? Opposition may be largely suppressed but is no more likely of being fully resolved than the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. In addition, the nation suffers greatly from nature for it is constantly battered by typhoons and because it is a third world country, this contributes to the woes of its suffering population.
In recent years there have been reports of a large number of conversions of denominational preachers and members, particularly in Mindanao and Negros. Just how correct are these numbers? Perhaps more important, how genuine are these converts? It is impossible to give absolute answers to either of these questions. Some of the conversions are not genuine. When we preach to denominational preachers, we tell them we offer no support to them, now, tomorrow, or ever, but apparently some do not believe what we say. How can one tell which of these are genuine and which are after “loaves and fishes”? In lectures to preachers I remind them there are two kinds of preachers: those who preach to receive support and those who preach because they love lost souls and want to see them saved. Only time can tell which is which. Those who preach to get support, when such does not come, will quit preaching and/or return to their former denomination. Those who preach because they love men’s souls will continue to preach whether or not support ever comes. Again, this is not a problem unique to the 21st century. One only need read Paul’s epistles to know the same problem existed in the first century.
Still many, likely most, of the converted preachers and members are genuine. That this is true can be seen by the increase both in size and number of Filipino congregations as well as in other nations through the leaven of Filipino Christians who migrate there. I have received reports of Filipino Christians who continue to worship in many foreign lands and, when they are permitted to do so by law, preach the word to inhabitants of that land. Filipino Christians can be found in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malasia, Indonesia, Australia, Japan, Canada, France, Israel, North Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia, as well as the United States.
It is imperative that these genuine converts be established. Since only God knows which is which, we can only preach the word just as the sower did in Luke 8, knowing the Word will fall on various kinds of soil. True, the word will fall on some who will not be profited by it, but it will also fall into the good and honest heart. Stable and mature Filipino preachers are busy conducting lectures for smaller groups of these new converts, spending two to four days teaching and answering their questions. U.S. preachers conduct lectures for larger groups, doing the same thing. Other efforts likewise are at work to establish these men. Books for new converts are purchased by U.S. brethren to help them in their private study. (One excellent plan is the “Adopt A Preacher” in which Christians purchase one book each month for 12 months, the cost of which is not to exceed $25.) A quarterly periodical called Sword and Shield (paid for by five or six interested American brethren) and ably edited by Lordy Salunga, is sent to nearly 1,000 subscribers. While Lordy includes some articles from brethren outside the Philippines, his paper is largely a paper written by Filipinos for Filipinos. This paper is having its own impact in the work.
Brethren have need for many things. Faithful U.S. preachers need to continue to go to the islands, preaching and teaching in all the regions. Tracts on varied topics are badly needed. One of the most effective tracts and for which Filipino preachers constantly plead is James Cope’s “The One True Church.” Individual Christians can help build buildings, something both proper and needed. Brethren will always need help when calamity strikes. Because the work is vast, this multiplies the numbers of requests that are received from there. Support to worthy men also is urgently needed. Often preachers plead for just help for transportation. However, we strongly advise brethren who provide support to any preacher that they insist that he give a monthly report of all the support he receives, as well as the names of the churches/individuals who provide that support. Such preachers should be warned that if they give false information about their support, the support to them will immediately cease. Then, if such is discovered, cut off their support.
Are there problems of various sorts among Philippine brethren? There are. There are problems of corruption and immorality. There are problems of doctrine, many of the same doctrinal errors we face in the U.S. are likewise faced there, although some are peculiar to that nation. Again, this is not unique to either that nation or to our age. When one turns again to the New Testament, he sees the same problem(s) existing then. We have had to do extensive teaching against various errors: Premillennialism, the “one cup theory,” “No divided classes,” “No women teachers,” “No located preacher,” the “Mutual Edification Error,” and the “One Eternal Covenant” error. This latter doctrine is taught by Jim Puterbaugh and Wallace Little and affirms that in regards to salvation there is only one eternal covenant. In brief, the doctrine affirms that God’s moral law has never changed although ceremonial law does.
Although the Philippine government does not allow divorce, it does allow annulments of marriage on some counts and some misunderstanding about marriage, divorce and remarriage exists. In many of the tribal cultures and traditions, polygamy is accepted and practiced and this creates some problems among brethren.
Despite many problems, the field is white in the Philippines. The need is great. We never ask brethren to cease supporting work either in the U.S. or in other parts of the world in order to help support the work in the Philippines, but we do encourage brethren if you have additional funds you can use in advancing the gospel of Christ, there is no better nor more receptive field to invest in than in the Philippine Islands. May the gospel of our Lord find root and prosper throughout his earth!
P.O. Box 155032, Lufkin, Texas 75915-5032 jim_mc@juno.