The First Evangelical Church in the Philippines (Final)

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.


Initial strategy of the new church

   After the break with the mother Church, Zamora was elected by the General Conference of the new church as its General Superintendent. He was faced with a number of serious problems, which included a lack in preachers, finances and physical facilities. Despite these dilemmas, being freed from the restrictions of comity, as well as limited American support, prompted Reverend Nicolas Zamora to adopt a wide-ranging strategy that covered almost the whole of Luzon.

Nicolas Zamora
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
   The Manila area represented a large part of IEMELIF membership. The Tondo congregation alone consisted of about 600 who defected from the mother Church. It would only be by 1929 when the Templo Central (Central Temple) was erected in the area. Rev. Zamora had also pioneered congregations in Bataan, Nueva Ecija and Rizal in 1909. Also in 1909, the Bulacan congregation was begun by Rev. Alejandro Reyes and the Laguna congregation was begun by Rev. Victoriano Mariano. Revs. Mariano and Reyes also pioneered the Tayabas (now Quezon) congregation in 1910. In 1911, the Pangasinan congregation was initiated by Pastor Hipolito Guirnalda and the Cavite congregation was initiated by lay preacher Epifanio Garcia and Pedro Cruz. In 1914, the Batangas congregation was established by Rev. Jose de la Cruz and the Pampanga congregation was established by Revs. Juan Pring and Victoriano Lacsa. There was also a small congregation formed in Tarlac. Besides the congregations he pioneered, Zamora was able to visit the Laguna, Pangasinan, Nueva Ecija and Bataan congregations. All these congregations had to initially rely on “house churches” provided by willing members, as well as renting of theatres and halls. Zamora himself preached every Sunday morning in the Rizal Theatre, and every Sunday afternoon in a “house church” provided by Florentina Licerio and Inocencia Aguilar.

   This strategy disrupted the Methodist mission. From 1909 to 1914, the Manila, Bulacan, Rizal, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac and Bataan congregations were composed mostly of Methodists who seceded from the mother Church. Also, it must be remembered that the provinces of Rizal, Cavite, Laguna, Tayabas and Batangas were designated to the Presbyterian mission in accordance to comity. Thus, the strategy adopted by IEMELIF to gain membership also disrupted the Presbyterian mission. For instance, the first converts of the Tayabas congregation were 17 members of the Presbyterian Church. There were also converts from the Catholic Church, such as that of the congregation in Bulacan. This made the ranking members of the Roman Catholic Church to criticize IEMELIF leaders, especially Rev. Zamora. At the peak of all these evangelization and missionary works, a heavy blow would strike the emerging Filipino church.

Death comes to Zamora

   “With a booming voice that could easily be heard all over the theater, the Rev. Zamora preached in excellent Tagalog the Gospel of Salvation, richly supported with Biblical passages, many times quoting from the Roman Catholic version of the Bible.” This is how Zamora was described as a preacher. His charisma awed the audience that they were made eager to be baptized under the new church, just as what happened in Nueva Ecija. However, his ministry was not bound to last, as compared to contemporary church founders like Aglipay or Felix Manalo. On September 14, 1914, after 13 days of being ill, Zamora died due to kidney disease with heart complication in the presence of his family, as well as some of the ministers and church members. He was 39. Before his death, he had summoned all the pastors and members through Rev. Alejandro Reyes, then Secretary General of the Church, and encouraged them:
   Abide in your faith and obey the Gospel of Jesus. Love the Church of the Lord as you have seen me love her. Persevere in your responsibilities as loyal Christians and servants of the Lord Jesus, for a man’s honor lies in his fulfilment of his responsibilities.
The following day, news of his death was featured in all newspapers in Manila. By the time of his death, the church had grown to a membership of 11,000. The demise of Zamora was expected to deal the death blow to the new church. For instance, the IFI hoped that they would ultimately absorb IEMELIF membership since the former also stood for nationalism in the religious sector. Aglipay himself offered Zamora a high rank in the IFI, which the latter refused. However, this was not to be. By 1920, a full six years after Zamora’s death, membership of the church reached 14,000. This nearly doubled in 1925, when IEMELIF registered 27,000 members. Although, this level would not be reached again until 1960.

Meanwhile, Zamora continued to be honored long after his death. Besides the recognition of being the first Filipino Protestant minister in the Philippines and founder of the first indigenous Protestant church in the Philippines, he was also referred to as the following:

1) Martin Luther of the Philippines
2) John Wesley of the Philippines
3) Apostle Paul of the Brown Race
4) The Apostle of God and Minister of the Gospel
5) Defender of Religious Liberty
6) The foremost leader of religious liberty in the Philippines (El primer lider de la libertad religiosa en Filipinas)

On October 18, 1980, Sande Street in Tondo was renamed in his honor through efforts of the IEMELIF and the United Methodist Church.

IEMELIF lives on

   The other Protestant missions apparently had not seriously considered the schism led by Reverend Zamora. However, the secession from the Methodist Church proved to be a trailblazer serving as an example to other Filipino pastors. In 1913, Rev. Gil Domingo, Sr. broke away from the Presbyterian Church and founded the Iglesia de los Cristianos Filipinos (Church of the Christian Filipinos). At least two secessions occurred from the Disciples of Christ. Meanwhile, the Seventh Day Adventists, and the Christian and Missionary Alliance experienced serious disruptions within their congregations. IEMELIF was not able to unite the defectors simply because of their inclusion of the word Methodist in their official name. The church may have attracted more of the separatists had they adopted the name Iglesia Evangelica en Filipinas, since it emphasized more on the Evangelical than Methodist nature of the new church. Rev. Samuel Catli of the Federation of Evangelical Churches had this to say on the impact of IEMELIF:
   The IEMELIF group demonstrates the feasibility of a self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating Filipino Protestant Church, which our beloved missionaries have been trying to build. They (Rev. Nicolas Zamora and his followers) have lived up to the dreams of their leaders for which they fittingly deserve to be congratulated. 
It must be remembered that in the early period of the IEMELIF schism, some Methodist missionaries had not welcomed the new Filipino church. They made the latter “look like an illegitimate and poorly founded response to the capricious action of a self-serving egoistic leader.” These efforts were determined to undermine the reputation of Rev. Nicolas Zamora in particular, attempts which were also undertaken by the Catholic Church. Therefore, the Methodist Church, from which IEMELIF had seceded, would perhaps provide the best congratulatory note to the legacy of the first indigenous church in the Philippines:
   On March 1, 1909 [sic], with profound thought and prayer, you made a historic step in banding yourselves into a Christian fellowship and then in organizing yourselves into the IEMELIF CHURCH for the noble and high purpose of propagating the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ among the Filipino people. Yours was a courageous venture of Christian faith. During these fifty years, your Mother-Church, the Methodist Church, has been watching the progress of your work with love and prayer. She will continue to do so in the years to come.
And what progress had IEMELIF achieved. From 1,500 members concentrated at Luzon in 1909, the church had grown to 30,882 members nationwide in 1997, and 35,000 members in 2000. Excluded in this membership count would be the more than 90,000 more adherents of the church in the same time period.


   Protestantism in the Philippines, brought mainly by the Americans, had also been dominated by them. While it took the Filipino people 48 years to achieve political independence, Nicolas Zamora and 1,500 of the initial members of the Iglesia Evangelica Metodista en las Islas Filipinas took a stand for the Filipino people after only 11 years of American dominance and lighted the road towards religious independence. The experience of the Catholic Church in the Philippines during the Spanish period was not to be repeated. The significance of IEMELIF lies not only in her members, but also in her setting ablaze the wave of self-supporting and self-propagating indigenous churches that grew all throughout the archipelago. While Zamora himself had not lived long to see the further successes experienced by the church he had served as her first General Superintendent, the church itself is a living testament to the fruition of the efforts he had given in forwarding the Gospel to the Filipinos by Filipinos.


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[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 (Final) The First Evangelical Church in the Philippines (Final) Reviewed by Al Raposas on Monday, January 19, 2015 Rating: 5

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