Philippines: Salvation and Religion (6)

By Wallace H. Little

Since this series deals with religion, something needs to be said about salvation and religion, considering the various forms existing in the Philippine Islands.

The claim is made by believers in Catholicism and repeated by those who do not bother to check that out, that “The Philippines is a Christian nation” equating Christianity with Catholicism. It is true that about 83% of the people hold to what they consider some form of Catholicism, but this is not even the same as saying it is a “Catholic nation.” Among the most faithful members of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC), their brands of Catholicism have been altered and adjusted over the centuries since it was originally introduced by the Spanish. These include a number of non-Catholic, strictly Philippine elements. Many of the traditional holidays (Holy Days) have been altered either in practice or date to include some pre-existing belief or practice among the people there. In some cases, if the Pope were to visit during that period, he would scarcely be able to recognize what he might have been assured was this particular occasion. The last figures I saw on the subject stated there were as many as twenty different branches of Roman Catholicism there today, each sufficiently distinct as to have evolved as organizational structure totally separate from every other RCC organizational structure there. In some cases, these are only nominally connected with Rome. For example, in one group, sometimes referred to as “Black Catholics,” there is the annual Flagalation on “Good Friday.” It is in imitation of Christ’s scourging, carrying His cross to Golgatha, and finally, his crucifixion. I have watched and photographed several of these. Those who participate are stripped to their waists, and blindfolded. Their hands are tied in front of them, and a whip is in their hands. They will walk for some distance alternately swinging these whips from one side to the other, until their backs look like a piece of raw hamburger. Then they may actually carry (drag, really) crosses for some additional distance. Finally, they are laid on the crosses and tied to them (I know of one instance, where the man was nailed and tied both) and the cross is placed upright and those on them are allowed to hang there for a time.

Paganism and animal sacrifice are not unknown there, even today. Occasionally we will hear of a tribe being discovered having a “stone-age” culture, with their worship pagan. In 1973 when Frank Butler, Jady Copeland and I were there, while taking an obscure trail from the road down to the river to baptize several, we found the remains of animal sacrifice. I have pictures.

The Spanish held sway in that nation for 350 years before the Spanish-American war at the turn of the century ended it. With the Spanish army came the Roman Catholic “priests.” In the decades which followed, Catholicism in variously modified forms became the religion of that nation, working its way into the warp and woof of its society until the impression was left that the Philippine Islands were indeed a “Catholic nation.” As far as a commitment to Catholicism on a religious basis is concerned, this is best measured by the emptiness of their places of worship except on important “holidays.” But it is well to remember that what the RCC may lack as far as religious commitment of its members, it strives to replace with its control of the society there through politics and other means. To a very large degree, it has been, and continues to be successful. It is a mistake to underestimate the real power of Catholicism there. Often the display of power is neither blatant nor even very obvious; but it is there nevertheless. It shows up in the conditioned reaction of the people. For example, a priest does not have to tell the Barrio Captain not to issue a gospel preacher a permit for an open-air meeting. The Captain, automatically “knowing” the RCC is the only real church, will refuse such a permit because his previous conditioning and beliefs will not permit him to allow disruption of what he sees as necessary religious Christian (i.e. Catholic) harmony.

The impact and effect of the Roman Church there is great. It has so many tentacles and tendrils that I am no longer surprised at anything I see which stems directly or indirectly from the RCC. My own guess as to the reason Mr. Marcos, President of that nation, has not moved against the RCC, to expropriate its vast land holdings and return these to the people, is the all-pervading influence of the RCC in that society. Rightfully, the land belongs to the people. It was taken from them unlawfully and unethically during the centuries of Spanish occupation. But the power of the RCC is so great that any attempt to take back that land would probably produce social chaos among the very people such expropriation would be designed to assist.

Prior to the Spanish-American war, the Spanish had effectively prevented any serious penetration by Protestantism in the Philippines. With the end of that war, came the end of Spanish control and the immediate introduction of various Protestant denominations. These groups generally taught a great deal more Bible truth then the RCC ever did, and numbers were attracted. But the total inroads were not great – something along the line of 3% of the population. In this figure, I have included God’s people. Numerically, we are so small, and so impossible to count, that computing a percentage is not practical.

In 1914, one Felix Manalo started his own Church (it surely was not the Lord’s!). It carries the name Iglesia ni Christo (Church of Christ). More than a religion, it is a political organization, a social one and one with tremendous power in the economic area. It is also very tightly-knit. In elections, the members vote as a block for whichever candidate or party its leaders select for them. In recent years, the government has taken action to curb its political and economic abuses. Indeed, the very fact of its tight organization has permitted the government to move against it more effectively than would be possible for it to act against the RCC. The central doctrine of the Iglesia ni Christo (commonly called the “Manaloists”) is that Christ is not divine, and that Felix Manalo was a prophet equal to Jesus. Felix Manalo has long since kept his appointment (Heb. 9:27) and today the organization is run by his son.

Converting folks out of both the RCC and the Manaloists, we face problems and difficulties erected by these organizations. Often, there is no direct opposition ordered or even condoned by the organizations themselves. But such obstruction results from the thinking of its members who occupy important governmental positions, because of their training and beliefs. These make them resist the pure Word of Truth. On some occasions, however, the opposition to teachers of God’s Word is both official and dangerous. I have been with a Filipino preacher when he was told by a Manaloist that, “If more of my people had been here, we would have hurt you.” The preacher believed the man; so did I.

Muslims comprise about 4% of the population, mostly in Mindanao. They have little influence beyond their own people and area.

The real beginning of New Testament Christianity in the modern period was in 1928 when George Benson was on his way to China. Due to a delay in obtaining permission to enter that country, he spent 8 months on the Philippine Island of Mindoro. While there, he converted a number of people. I know some of them who are alive today. They are still believing, living and teaching the truth Benson taught them – and it is a shame their teacher is not. The next year, Harold Cassells went there and converted more. God’s work there grew slowly for several decades. The Second World War greatly hindered its spread. Following hostilities, the church in many places almost had to begin again, so many had ceased to worship or were discouraged from it during the Japanese occupation that most of the congregations were no longer in existence. In 1948, our liberal brethren sent Ralph Brashears to that nation to establish a college. It started on the Island of Luzon, the city of Tayug. Several years later, it moved to Baguio City, where the Philippine Bible College (PBC) continues until today. Growth expanded somewhat, but is tainted by the loss of local autonomy which such centralized institutional activities always bring about. In the early 1960’s, Kenneth Wilkey became the president of the PBC, having ousted Brashears in a move which had all the ear marks of political ambition. By 1962, several U.S. military personnel were openly opposing the institutionalism of the PBC. One man, Dave Turner, a naval pilot at our base at Subic Bay, was the object of a campaign of the American liberals at the PBC to ruin his military career because of his opposition to their unscriptural activities.

But the tide had turned, and liberalism was beginning to lose ground there. On one island, not a single church nor preacher had defected to the liberals. Not that they had been specifically taught against it, but rather, they had been taught truth so well, liberalism had no appeal for them. Men such as Romula B. Agduma on Mindanao were openly opposing the institutional apostasy there. Castorio F. Famit and Victorio R. Tibayan, Sr. were seeing the errors of the PBC, especially as related to congregational activity, and teaching against it. They and others who did so, suffered as a result of their stand for truth.

Beginning in 1970, American preachers have gone to the Philippines to teach. Roy Cogdill and Cecil Willis were the first to do so. Others followed. In 1971, Connie Adams and J.T. Smith were there. in 1972, it was Jim Needham and Dudley Spears. In 1973, Frank Butler, Jady Copeland and I were there. In 1974, it was Larry Hafley and Earl Robertson. In 1975, Connie Adams and Cecil Willis returned. In 1976, Jady Copeland returned with Harold Trimble with him. In 1977, Keith Burnett and I went there. Keith stayed six weeks and I remained three months. During my last month there, I was joined by Paul Casebolt and Jim Puterbaugh. Jim remained a year, teaching the brethren much as he had done in the program at Kirkland, Washington. In 1978, Leo Plyler and Hiram Hutto went, and I made a hasty trip later, in mid-summer, to assist with a critical benevolent need in one area. Others plan to go in the years ahead.

Much good has come from these trips; Two of the greatest effects are the increased contact between the brethren there and those in the U.S., and the consequent support of native preachers there, most of whom are doing good and effective work.

Since 1973, the growth there has been explosive. Rarely has history recorded a growth such as has taken place in the Philippines. The early church, outlined in the book of Acts is one instance. Others I know of are: the U.S., both in the period of 1800-1850, and 1900-1940, and Nigeria, West Africa, 1955-1965. Today in the Philippines there are more than 500 preachers who oppose the institutional error. Of these, about 150 are supported, and many of these preach in at least two churches, sometimes three. There are at least 800 congregations, and possibly the number is a lot higher; there is no way to know for sure.

Several things hinder the work. One is the conduct of some who have made godliness a way of gain (1 Tim. 6:5), and the time it takes for these to be exposed and unmasked. Another is the lack of depth of so many of the preachers (Jim Puterbaugh did a great deal to help in improving this). A third is their lack of experience in methods of teaching. God willing, Jim plans to return to continue his work there for another year in 1980. In the same year, God also being willing for me to do so, I plan to return for three months to teach on methods of teaching. Then in 1982, or 1983, my family and I plan to move there, to work with the brethren for several years. Essentially, I would like to accomplish two things. First, help the churches by spending about half my time working with them in gospel meetings, which are very effective there. Second, I want to research the information necessary to write a book on the modern history since 1928) of God’s people there.

Another hindrance is the multiplicity of dialects. However, the three major dialects account for between 40 and 45 million people. Several of the more accomplished brethren are working on an Interlinear translation of the New Testament from the 1901, using these three basic dialects. The value of such a tool in reaching people there would be difficult to over-estimate. I am in the process of trying to raise the necessary funds to assist these men in their work, and see to the publication of it.

Helpfully simple and direct, this manual presents overhead transparencies and the many other audiovisual materials that can be utilized as teaching tools. Includes many helpful charts, diagrams and pictures.

Truth Magazine XXIII: 12, pp. 198-200
March 22, 1979