History of the church in the Philippines and call to world mission

Sadly, yet under God’s providence, the first 400 years of the history of Christianity in the Philippines involved a false church (Roman Catholicism) and false doctrine (liberal Protestantism). Today 80% of 100 million Filipinos (the capital being Manila with 12 million) profess Roman Catholicism but only 40% attend (contrariwise approx. 6% are protestant and 2.7% evangelical). The country is riddled with corruption, poverty, unemployment and crime. Catholicism arrived with Magellan in 1521 when he held the first mass on one of the 7,000 plus islands. The islands are named after Philip II of Spain by Ruiz Lopez. The early leaders imported Spanish Augustinian friars and priests from Mexico to spread their false doctrine and also administer the colony, so that by the 17th century Catholicism was entrenched among the lowland Filipinos, albeit it being very syncretistic (mixed with local paganism). When the US took over the country after winning the Spanish-American war in 1899, they followed their avowed political territorial expansion importing presbyterianism, but sadly it reflected the liberal and ecumenical stance of the Presbyterian Church in USA at the time and its offspring the indigenous Unida Evangelical Church was a church of the lowest common denominator, neither confessional or Reformed reflecting its source in the PCUSA Princeton  seminary which was liberal. Princetons’s  “Rethinking Missions” manifesto reduced evangelism to a common grace social gospel and their theology was rank Arminianism ditching Biblical inerrancy and all the vital foundational Biblical doctrines. The country became independent in 1946.

The twentieth century saw a proliferation of independent churches and all kinds of cults, most notably Iglesia Ni Cristo with growth among Pentecostal and charismatics. This fact, alongside the inference that the protestant churches that existed were badly compromised by liberal theology, ecumenism and syncretism meant that the need for Reformation and the preaching of the true gospel was then, as it is now, badly needed all over the country.

It is not far-fetched to believe that true Reformed mission work only started in the Philippines through the Protestant Reformed Churches in America following correspondence with interested locals and annual delegations beginning in 1997 through to 2001 visiting these contacts, people who had knowledge of the Reformed faith through correspondence courses, had been reading Reformed books and accessing the internet. One wrote in the Standard Bearer,” Without making premature judgments we can make at least a few observations. The Lord has His saints in the Philippines who have the beginnings of love for the Reformed gospel, and some more than the beginnings. The Philippines is not a heathen country. It is in fact devoutly Roman Catholic. The work of missions in the Philippines therefore involves largely the calling of God’s people out of the darkness of Roman Catholicism which according to modern day Protestantism  would be viewed as unnecessary it  being said that Protestants ought not proselyte Roman Catholics, but recognize them rather as brothers in Christ  but we believe that mission work among Roman Catholics, nominal Protestants and cultists even today is true mission work and work that carries on the purpose of the Reformation.”

Of the Philippines 42,000 barangays (smallest administrative unit) 23,000 have no evangelical church (30 million people)-so the need is great.

“The (PRCA) delegates found many of the “pastors” poorly trained with a pervasive Pentecostal and prosperity gospel influence but also some well led Reformed churches with great interest and receptivity especially evident in the regular conferences they organised. Two major concerns for any future mission were safety and the comparative low standard of living of the people.

At this point it is worth quoting from a key Standard Bearer article on the grounds for calling a missionary: 1) We have found the field to be white for harvest and believe that God has opened the door for our work. 2) Many pastors and individuals have expressed their desire to be instructed by us. 3) The locals’ lives are not adverse to the covenant. The family is considered even by the pagans there as an important structure of society. There are many families, including many young people, male and female, who are interested in the Reformed faith. The institution of marriage is honored. 4) The government is relatively stable, making it a safe place to labour. Although a local language would have to be learned, English is understood by many and is taught in all the schools.

As a consequence Rev.Audred Spriensma was the first foreign missionary sent by Doon PRC in Iowa to labour in what would become the Berean Church of God Reformed in Manila from 2002-2007. He pastored the church, taught future office bearers, instituted local broadcasting of the Reformed Witness Hour and even at this early stage saw the need for a local seminary to train men and was convinced there were other receptive churches eager to reform and eventually form a denomination. Presently there are three missionaries labouring in the Philippines, preaching and pastoring, teaching pastors, future pastors and office bearers, alongside and accountable to the classis of the small denomination conducting evangelism and investigating new fields. In comparison to the “post-Christian west “ this far eastern nation appears to be a favourable and receptive harvest field.

Interestingly the churches in the Philippines are active in world mission.  The year 2005 saw Filipino Evangelical churches and various mission groups forming the Philippine Missions Association Movement (PM3) that seeks to mobilize, equip and deploy 200,000 tentmakers and career missionaries to make disciples among unevangelized peoples effectively by 2010. In 2000, the Tentmakers Task Force (TTF) of the Philippine Missions Association (PMA) estimated that there will be at least 8 million “overseas Filipino workers” (OFWs).  Assuming that about 10% of them are Evangelicals and Charismatic/Full Gospel, there would be about 800,000 Christian OFWs out there. Conservatively thinking that they can mobilize and train 25% of them to be effective tentmakers (cross-cultural disciple-makers), that would easily make up to 200,000 tentmakers, most of whom are already deployed in some of the most unreached peoples of the world.  This is all very well and even impressive BUT it is the quality of the missionaries and the purity of their doctrine that is of prime importance. These are potential lay tentmakers and the need for ORDAINED TRAINED missionaries to pastor and teach remains huge worldwide.

Which brings me to the biblical mandate for world mission clear from earliest times, God revealing his purpose as one that encompassed all nations, even to Abraham (Gen.17:5, 18:18). David’s Psalms, particularly Psalm 67 reveal the missionary mandate for the church clearly reiterated by Christ in the great commission (Matt.28:20). For reasons known only to the almighty the church for millennia was comprised almost entirely of Jews but this all changed at Pentecost when the disciples were given supernatural ability to speak in many languages, with proselytes from all over the Roman Empire converted and the church then becoming truly catholic. Where are we today? Is the job nearly finished? Might Christ bring in his last elect soon and return in glory? I think NOT! Here are some facts:  Only 1% of mission giving and 5% of missionaries go to reaching the unreached. At least 500 people groups (the “nations” of “Go and teach all nations” ) and a total of nearly two and a half billion people have not heard the gospel in their own language!  It is vitally important to realize that the word for “nations” (TA ETHNE-Greek) does not mean political nations like the U.S.A or Belgium or the Philippines but groups of people who are the same race, speak the same language and have the same culture, i.e.ethnolinguistic peoples, for example the Kurds in middle east or the Han Chinese or the Auca Indians of Ecuador. Interestingly the Philippines comprise 100 ethnolinguistic groups! The harvest is plenteous but the labourers are few. What can we do?

  1. PRAY for trained labourers (ordained and lay) to be prepared (language!) and sent out to disciple the nations by forming indigenous churches.
  2. PRAY for God to open the door to the unreached nations (see Joshua Project) and closed political nations.
  3. GIVE to mission work.
  4. GO if you are called.
  5. Ensure mission is well covered in the SEMINARY
  6. PRAY for, and seek to witness to, the various nationalities on your doorstep.

We must be confident in Christ who said, “ other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” John 10:16, “ All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” John 6:37. Every last one of the elect for whom Christ died will be infallibly called and saved and given to him as his inheritance. Lord fulfil your eternal purpose!


Archivist’s note:

This article was submitted to a Beacon Lights writing contest, with the prompt to “Describe the history of the spread of Christianity in another country than the United States. If applicable, include an explanation of Reformed church work in the region, and explore the Christian calling to witness to all nations, tribes, and tongues.” The article above was selected as one of the top 5 submissions in its category.