By Dudley R. Spears
Brother James P. Needham and I were the third pair of American brethren to visit with and work with the conservative Philippine brethren. We followed brethren Roy Cogdill, Cecil Willis, J. T. Smith and Connie Adams. The work these men did in their trips was indeed a great help to the work we were able to do. The work among the Philippines is greatly enhanced and encouraged by the visits of American preachers. The Philippine Christians are very cordial and hospitable toward Americans who visit them. They are also very concerned about the welfare of Americans as there are some dangerous conditions that exist there.
There are over 200 congregations throughout the Philippine Islands who stand for the truth on the institutional issue. During our stay in Luzon and on Mindinao we were in direct contact with somewhere around 130 preachers who are either fully supported or partially supported and stand for the truth. There are new congregations being started regularly by these brethren. While we were there, a new work was begun in the Visayan Islands and another work began shortly after our departure in the northern most part of Luzon in the city of Laoag. This is indicative of the efforts of these Filipinos who diligently work and preach. There were 63 baptisms while we were there, due largely to the teaching work of native preachers, and 14 more the day we left.
Viewing our trip as a whole, it is my judgment that the trip was well worth the time and money that were involved. Several interested brethren and congregations contributed to our support to make the trip possible. Without the financial help these people gave, we could not have gone and could not have accomplished what we did. From the letters we are already receiving from brethren in the Islands, it is evident that our trip served to strengthen the conservative preachers and congregations. One brother wrote, “. . . your visit is a great success. The knowledge you have imparted and the several souls that were baptized are worth more than the wealth of this world. To me, the things I have observed from the lectures are too edifying. I owe you a lot of things. Only God knows how I can pay for all of these.” Another preacher from the Philippines wrote, “The Lord be praised for our recently concluded meeting. It did so much good for the cause of Christ in this city (Baguio City, DRS) of 95,000. Only God knows the extent of good accomplished.” These are two samples of many similar comments we have received since our return.
It is often difficult to evaluate a work while the work is being done. During our stay in the Philippines, there were times when elation was experienced at the prospects for the cause and at other times we bad sad disappointments. It is only after the work is over and one gets back to his normal habitat and things settle in his mind that a man can honestly evaluate and describe such a trip as we took. In this article and others to follow, I shall try to set before you as accurate a description of our work there as possible and also some sort of critique of the entire situation among conservatives in the Philippines. I tried to keep an accurate diary, but the press of teaching and travel made it very difficult to record all that I wanted to remember. Therefore my memory will have to serve to fill in those spots that I have no written record of.
Our plans were laid well in advance before we left this country. We had many discussions with others who had gone before, and with their suggestions and their knowledge, we made our plans to work primarily with native preachers. From the first we tried to arrange our schedule and teaching materials so that the native preachers would be helped to do the work of an evangelist. We felt and still feel that in order for us to be of a lasting help to the cause of Christ there it would be necessary for us to help them stand on their own feet. One of the things that we emphasized in every place we spoke was that the Philippine churches should plan for and work toward the day when they will be no longer in need of foreign financial help. The Philippine people have traditionally been known for an “independent spirit” seen in their efforts for freedom from Spain which ruled them for over 300 years and for their desire to be independent as a nation which became a reality in 1946 when they were granted in. dependence by this government.
In view of our over-all objective we worked together for months preparing the materials from which we would do our teaching. Brother Needham and I spent many hours preparing the material in outline form. We intended to have it printed here in the United States and mailed to the brethren there before we arrived in the Philippines, but we met many obstacles to that plan. First, the work took much more time than we had anticipated. Both of us had several meetings to which we already had been committed. Next, the press of local work kept us from getting the manuscript ready by our self-imposed deadline. Then, the costs of printing the book and mailing it were absolutely prohibitive. Therefore, we mailed the manuscript of 100 pages ahead to brother Victorio Tibayan in Manila to see if it could be printed there. We learned that the printing cost there was more than it was here, so we abandoned that plan. Finally, we arranged to have it mimeographed there in Manila and it is now distributed among the native preachers and others who attended our lectures and classes.
As the saying goes, “The best laid plans of mice and men . . .” pretty well describes what occurred during our visit to the Philippines. There are several contributing factors to our inability to do what we planned. We had planned to have daily classes beginning around 8 o’clock in the morning, taking off for dinner, beginning at 1:30 in the afternoon and ending at 5 in the afternoon. Then we were scheduled to preach each evening beginning at 8 p.m. with questions and answers to follow the sermons. This is not said to the discredit of the Philippine people, but merely as an explanation. We found that the brethren there are not as conscious of beginning “on time” as most of us would be. Some of them have to depend on public transportation to travel to the place of meeting and back home. To say that public transportation in the Philippines is not the most dependable way of getting somewhere is quite, an understatement. It is also true that the Philippine people do not live in the rush that most of us live in and therefore do not get as concerned as we do over timetables and schedules. At any rate, very few of the daily teaching sessions began on time.
The materials we selected were divided into the following categories: Preachers and Preaching, Church Organization and Work, The Scheme of Redemption and Scriptural Authority, all taught by brother Needham. The rest of the material consisted of Biblical Interpretation, Denominational Dogmas (Catholicism, Calvinism, Pentecostalism, etc.), The Christian Life and Christian Evidences, which I was to teach. To the best of our knowledge, these were the subjects that we felt were needed. We had written to several preachers there before we outlined these subjects and discussed this with bretheren here who have been over there before. But in nearly every place we went, it was almost impossible to keep our schedule. Probably, we laid of too much land to plow in the short time we were there. This is a mistake others can profit from.
In the daily teaching sessions the major portion of the time was devoted to what they refer to as “Open Forums.” In these sessions there are many questions that are proposed. There is no way to anticipate the kind of questions that will be raised in such sessions. They range anywhere from how the church spends its money, to the time when the Lord’s Supper can be observed, to the covering question and on and on. The Philippine preachers also face a formidable foe in the denominational world in the form of the “Eglesia Ni Christo-Manalo.” This is a rather large denomination begun by a man named Manalo. Apparently, Manalo took from the larger religions of the world what he considered the best feature and incorporated them into his religion. He is dead now but the church is still operated by his son and heir. The preachers for this church are militant and will debate nearly anytime they have the chance.
The Manaloist position on the personality of Christ is their central point of contention. Manalo taught that Jesus was not Deity but only humanity and took passages that mention Christ as “man” and ignored all those which attribute Deity to Him. Perhaps more will be said about this later. Brother Tibayan has promised to write some articles on this question in Torch magazine which is edited by Brother Needham. Since this is one of their problems, we tried to deal with this question. Often we found ourselves to be the student rather than the teacher. I assembled a set of debate notes several years ago that deal with the “Jesus Only” doctrines and had a copy with me which helped. I left the copy with brother Tibayan who may be able to have it duplicated and distributed among the preachers there. Here again, we ran into extremely high printing costs there as we considered having it printed in Manila.
The daily sessions in every place we visited were characterized by more questions and answers than anything else. Brother Needham presented his material on “Preachers and Preaching” in all of the four locations where our classes were conducted. Needham is the author of a book by the same title and is certainly qualified to deal with preachers, their problems and their preaching. This he did as effectively as any man could have. Many of the questions that came up in the open forums had to do with what Needham had presented. All in all, his classes were most effective and what I consider the “high light” of our work there. In fact, that subject became so important that both of us talked about preachers and preaching on Mindinao and omitted the other materials. We felt that since the materials would be given to them in book form, we could devote all of our time to the matter of preachers and preaching.
We held our first classes and lectures in Manila. The classes were held in the meeting house at Pasay where Victorio Tibayan is one of the preachers. The evening lectures were held at the Philippine Christian College auditorium. The PCC is a denominational school. We held the next sessions in Baguio City in the basement (A the United Church of Christ of the Philippines meeting house. The UCCP is also a denomination. Next we went to Mindinao and taught in Lambayong and M’Lang. We left the Islands on April 27 for our return to the States. In subsequent articles I will go more into detail on the work in these four places.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 35, pp. 6-9
July 13, 1972