The First Evangelical Church in the Philippines (Part 1)

In September 2014, the death centennial of Reverend Nicolas Zamora was commemorated. On December 29, 2014, the Wikipedia article about him was featured in the main page of English Wikipedia. This inspired me to create a series on the church Zamora had served with all his heart and might until his death.


George Dewey
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

   Protestantism came to the Philippines mainly through American missionaries, who managed to conduct missions in the archipelago after America’s victory over Spain in 1898. Before 1898, there had been few attempts by British and American Bible Societies to introduce Protestantism, but all were in vain. When Commodore (later Admiral) George Dewey defeated the Spanish fleet led by Admiral Patricio Montojo on May 1, 1898, many American Protestants saw the victory as “nothing less than the very hand of God” that forced open the lock keeping Protestant evangelism from the Philippines. Six weeks later, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. had proposed to apply comity in the Philippines to avoid rivalry among different missions. By the end of 1898, mission boards interested had agreed to implementation of comity. By 1901, the different Protestant Churches involved in comity agreed to form the Evangelical Union, which united them under a common name: Iglesia Evangelica (Evangelical Church). With only little adjustment, the areas allocated as per comity agreement can be seen in Table 1.

Table 1. Division of territory open to Protestant evangelization by mission
Denomination (date of first service)
Areas allocated
Methodists (1898)
Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya, Pangasinan, Zambales, Bataan, Cagayan, Ilocos Sur (south of Vigan)
Presbyterians (1899)
Rizal, Cavite, Laguna, Tayabas, Batangas, Camarines Norte, Albay, Sorsogon, Masbate, Cebu, Leyte, Bohol, Negros Oriental, Samar
United Brethren (Episcopals, 1901)
Mountain Province, La Union
Disciples of Christ (1901)
Ilocos Norte, Abra, Ilocos Sur (north of Vigan), Northern Mindoro, designated places around Manila in agreement with the Presbyterian mission
Baptists (1900)
Panay Island, Southern Mindoro, Romblon, Negros Occidental
Congregationalists (1902)
Mindanao, except western end
Christian and Missionary Alliance (1901)
Western Mindanao, Sulu archipelago
All churches
City of Manila

   Soon, serious trouble arose among early missionaries. First of all, there had been churches that had not entered comity arrangements, and were likely to have been outside the union. Seventh-Day Adventists, arriving in 1905, decided to go to every part of the archipelago. Episcopals, who saw themselves as siblings of the Roman Catholic Church, held that they would only go to non-Catholics. Among those that were involved in comity, the Disciples of Christ felt that territorial division as effected by the agreement was hindering “the leading of the Holy Spirit.” Meanwhile, Methodists entertained the idea to begin missions in the Visayas in 1903. This was soon abandoned, but evangelism problems in the Visayas would continue particularly with the Baptist-Presbyterian conflict in Panay. The conflict would only see final resolution by 1925. The comity agreement itself, revised in 1921, would last until 1950. This was the background wherein the first indigenous Protestant church in the Philippines would arise. It is aimed that the founding of the church, and the underlying factors that led to this establishment, be tackled.

Factors that led the founding of the new church 

   As discussed in the Introduction, the comity agreement limited the area available for the different missions. Early American missionaries had to struggle with problems such as the tropical environment, as well as differences in culture and language. They had to rely on Filipinos that they have trained to conduct evangelistic work. Swift advances of Protestant evangelism in the archipelago proved comity to be obstructing the Great Commission laid down by Jesus Christ Himself, wherein He instructed His followers to “make disciples of all nations,” and by “all nations”, the prophet Isaiah mentions that it also meant “all islands.” (see Isaiah 49:1, 6; Matthew 28:19-20) While the Philippines may not be considered an independent nation by this time, it cannot be denied that the Philippines is of island configuration. To top it all, Jesus had said to his disciples would be His “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (see Acts 1:8) This insight on the Great Commission would be likely to bolster the Biblical basis of Filipino missionaries for being zealous to evangelize outside their designated mission areas. 

   Another factor is the unwelcoming reaction of the Filipinos to President William McKinley’s adoption of the “Manifest Destiny” doctrine in the Philippines. This doctrine provided to “uplift, educate, Christianize, and prepare them (the Filipinos) for self-government.” At first, McKinley acted that he had no idea on what to do in the Philippines. Soon enough, it became clear that America intended to keep the Philippines under their control. This was against Filipino drive for independence, an impetus that even American missionaries expressed opposition to. Thus, the doctrine had not registered well among many Filipinos. The very desire of Filipinos for independence would be another factor. Independence here also meant religious freedom, especially from the Spanish clergy of the Roman Catholic Church who had aided the colonial government for more than three centuries. While the Protestant churches provided an alternative to the Catholic Church, Filipinos converted to Christianity did not take long to realize that the Philippines should have its own Protestant church. That is, a self-sufficient church free from American domination.

Gregorio Aglipay
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
   Although, it is to be noted that the idea of an independent church was not new. On October 22, 1899, Apolinario Mabini had issued a manifesto which urges the Filipino clergy of the Catholic Church to form a National Church. The next day, October 23, Vicar General Gregorio Aglipay organized an assembly at Tarlac with the aim to Filipinize the Catholic Church in the Philippines. However, the planned Church was not developed owing to the problems faced by the Philippine Republic during the Filipino-American War, with Aglipay himself fighting in the field. In August of 1902, with the aid of Isabelo de los Reyes, this church was founded as the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI, Philippine Independent Church) and had finally broke away from the Roman Catholic Church. Aglipay was elected as Supreme Bishop of the church by October of the same year. By 1903, IFI boasted a membership of 1.5 million. That is, out of a total Philippine population of 7.6 million. Among the Protestants, Manuel Aurora led a few members of the Methodist Episcopal Church to break away and create the Iglesia Cristianos Vivos (Living Christian Church) in September of 1904. The church did not last, with many members returning to the mother church, while some joining smaller Protestant groups. 

   The final factor would be the sense of racial superiority carried by the Americans. It is apparent that even the American missionaries had not escaped this mentality. The voice of Filipino pastors in the church administration was insignificant. Filipino preachers were treated as “second class,” their allowances reduced without consultation and given only “third class” passage on most travels. They were also deprived of higher positions in the church. For instance, all positions in the Methodist Church in the Philippines ranging from bishop to presiding elder (later changed to district superintendent by 1908) were held by Americans from 1898 to 1915. In fact, all resident bishops until 1932 were Americans. These factors combined would ultimately lead to the founding of the first indigenous Protestant church in the Philippines.


Want to continue this series? Read Part 2 of the First Evangelical Church series.

See the references by clicking here.


[Disclaimer: While some content may offend or cause disagreement with some readers, it must first be taken to mind that the author does not have access to the entire IEMELIF fountain of sources. Therefore, whatever analyses and conclusions made here are made as adequate as possible and are only built from the available evidences, sources and theories the author has access. Also, since only few editing, mainly grammatical, was made since this series was first written in 2014, then it is yet to be subjected to change. Any correction is welcome, but copying without permission is being frowned upon, since this blog has copyright. Thank you for reading the Young Filipino Historian.]

The First Evangelical Church in the Philippines (Part 1) The First Evangelical Church in the Philippines (Part 1) Reviewed by Al Raposas on Tuesday, January 06, 2015 Rating: 5

No comments