Evangelicalism in the Philippines: Uniter, not a divider?

He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." (Mark 16:15)

Luther used the term "evangelische kirche"
Evangelicalism is a trans-denominational movement within the Protestant Church derived from the term evangelical. In turn, evangelical comes from the Greek word euaggelion (εὐαγγέλιον or evangelion), which means the "gospel" or "good news" (see Strong's Concordance). One of the first to use the term was Martin Luther (1483-1546), who adopted the Latin evangelium and used the term to call the movement the "evangelische kirche" (evangelical church). However, the modern usage can be traced to the time of John Wesley (1703-1791) and Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), when evangelicals began to be distinct from the so-called "mainstream" or "mainline" Protestantism (Lutheranism, Calvinism, among others) during the First Great Awakening. Nevertheless, due to the trans-denominational nature of evangelicalism, adherents also take their traditions from the various "mainstream" denominations. This is evident in current definitions, wherein "Evangelical" is equated with "Protestant" (see the Merriam-Webster definition). In this century, there are three ways wherein the term can be used:
  • All Christians who affirm a few key doctrines and practical emphases.
  • A set of beliefs, and an attitude which insiders “know” and “feel” when they encounter it.
  • The self-ascribed label for a largely American Midwest-based coalition that arose during the Second World War.
Historian David W. Bebbington (1949- ) provided a quadrilateral definition of evangelicalism in 1989:
  • Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity.
  • Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life long process of following Jesus.
  • Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority.
  • Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts.
The term is also evident in popular culture, like this anime series
Meanwhile, the National Association of Evangelicals, an American association of more than 45,000 local churches from 40 different denominations formed in 1942, offers a definition based on two years of research and a complementary survey of 1,000 Americans in 2014. From 17 statements, the resulting definition of an evangelical was narrowed down to four in 2015:
  • The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe.
  •  It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.
  • Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.
  • Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.
Pew Research, meanwhile, conducted a global survey among 2,196 evangelical leaders, which show that most of them (80% and above) adhere to the following beliefs:
  • Christianity is the one, true faith leading to eternal life
  • The Bible is the Word of God
  • Abortion is usually or always wrong
  • Society should discourage homosexuality
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)
Nicolas Zamora led IEMELIF from 1909 to 1914
In the Philippines, the Evangelical movement arrived with the beginning of the American occupation in 1898. By the end of the year, boards from the different evangelical missions agreed to a comity agreement. Each denomination was allotted an area to evangelize, thus minimizing the risk of rivalry. Three years later, on April 26, 1901, the Evangelical Church (Iglesia Evangelica) was established to coordinate the work of all Protestant denominations under the comity agreement in the archipelago. All churches under the union were made to use the name "Evangelical Church" and have their respective denomination as a subtitle. The setup began to break down with new missions coming to the Philippines, such as the Seventh-Day Adventists (in 1905), which were excluded from the agreement, and conflicts between those who were within the agreement (such as the Baptist-Presbyterian rivalry in Panay). A major blow to comity was the split in the Methodist Episcopal Church, leading to the establishment of the first Filipino Evangelical Church, the Iglesia Evangelica Metodista En Las Islas Filipinas (IEMELIF), in 1909. Within five years, IEMELIF was present in at least 11 provinces and had a membership of 11,000, disrupting the different American missions. At the time, the Methodists were the largest denomination in the Philippines with a membership of 30,000. Later on, other denominations also recorded schisms of their own, such as the Iglesia de los Cristianos Filipinos, whose founder Gil Domingo, Sr. split from the Presbyterians in 1913, and the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), whose founder Felix Y. Manalo left the Adventists in the same year (INC was formally registered in 1914). On a side note, Manalo had an interesting back story: after leaving the Roman Catholic Church, he was first a Methodist, then a Presbyterian, before becoming an Adventist. All of these were within a decade before the establishment of INC (1904-1914). While there were churches still seeking unity prior to the Second World War, such as the establishment of the National Christian Council, and the United Evangelical Church of the Philippines in 1929 (a collective effort of Presbyterians and Congregationalists), the number of independent churches continued to increase. Even the Japanese, with all their (military) power during the Second World War, failed to have all denominations join the Evangelical Church of the Philippines (福音教会), even though it was the first time wherein church union leadership was all Filipino. In all, thirteen churches took part in the Evangelical Church of the Philippines.

Logo of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches
Two major agglomerations emerged after the war: the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP, 1948) and the Philippine Federation of Christian Churches (PFCC, 1949), both claiming to be heirs of the old Evangelical Church (1901). As of 1955, UCCP had a membership of 125,000. On November 7, 1963, the PFCC was succeeded by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), wherein the UCCP and nine other member churches were grouped (including churches from the so-called "Catholic tradition" like the Iglesia Filipina Independiente or Aglipayan Church and the Episcopal Church in the Philippines). As of 2013, the 50th anniversary of NCCP, adherents were estimated to have numbered 11 million. Meanwhile, in 1965, the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) was established as a group of churches distinct from the NCCP. To date, PCEC has more than 70 member churches. As of 2011, adherents were estimated to have numbered 11 million as well. Fifty years later, the two councils remain the largest representative groups of "mainline" and "evangelical" Protestants. NCCP is a member of the World Council of Churhces (WCC, 1948), while PCEC is a member of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA, 1846). In 2015, former PCEC National Director Efraim Tendero was elected Secretary General of WEA, perhaps the first Filipino to head the alliance. Of course, there are still churches which choose not to be affiliated to any of the two councils.

If we are to believe these estimates, there must have been more or less 22 million Protestants in the Philippines (around 22% of the total population), provided there were no overlaps in counting souls. Of course, there are reports which portray larger numbers of Filipino evangelicals today. For instance, in the Pew Research Report in 2010, Protestants accounted for 10.7% of the total population (9.98 million). The Joshua Project's latest estimates show that Evangelicals account for 12.2% of the population (12.37 million). However, government statistics show a more conservative count. In 2000, PCEC-affiliated Christians totaled 2,152,786 (2.82%) and NCCP-affiliated Christians did not even figure in the census. However, a rough estimate can be made if five of the ten member churches are accounted (Aglipayans were 1.98%, UCCP 0.55%, CPBC 0.29%, UMC 0.26%, ECO 0.16%). Ten years later, in 2010, PCEC-affiliated Christians totaled 2,469,957 (2.68%) and NCCP-affiliated Christians (including IFI and UCCP) numbered 2,437,734 (2.65%). While it is mentioned that there are churches which choose not to join any of the two councils (3.95 million in 2010 were either unaffiliated or did not report any denomination), these numbers solidify Evangelicalism as the third most populous denomination in the Philippines. However, their numbers (5.33% if combined) are nowhere near the generous estimates mentioned earlier.

2010 presidential election results
While there are differences in provenance and membership, the two councils may still have points of similarity. NCCP envisions this life in all its fullness as a just, egalitarian, self-reliant, and sustainable society. PCEC envisions a transformed nation through the discipling of every Filipino for the Lord Jesus Christ. Both visions involve changing society and nation through united efforts. In addition, the perseverance of these councils throughout the years may well exhibit the continuing goal to unite the church, at least in the Philippines. However, what parameter can be used to measure unity? While voting power during elections is not the best measure to define church unity, especially since evangelical churches are not known for endorsing candidates, it may show how strong the churches plant convictions into their members. If all members share the same set of beliefs, would they not go for the same choices? In the 2010 presidential and vice presidential elections, however, there seemed to be no evangelical vote yet. Muslims (48%) and INC members (85%) voted overwhelmingly for a single presidential candidate (Aquino). Combined, they constitute 9% of the voting population. INC members (86%) voted overwhelmingly for a single vice presidential candidate (Roxas). Alone, they constitute 4% of the voting population. Evangelicals? Exit polls accounted a sizeable 10% for all other denominations. If we are to believe government statistics, evangelicals constitute more or less half of these voters. The ten percent did not vote as solidly as the INC, which is known for bloc voting. However, their preferences are clear. 34% of them voted for a single presidential candidate (Estrada), and 44% for a single vice presidential candidate (Binay). Evidently, they sided with an opposition tandem made up of populists than with an opposition tandem made up of elites. Still, not only did they not unite their voting power under a fixed set of candidates, they constituted the highest percentage of voting candidates other than the leading two (Aquino-Roxas and Estrada-Binay). For president, 42% of them voted other candidates, compared to 28% of Roman Catholics and 5% of INC. For vice president, 26% of them voted other candidates, compared to 18% of Roman Catholics and 5% of INC. This is in contrast with American evangelicals, which usually coalesce around a single candidate (54% in 2008, 56% in 2012, 60% in 2016). Evangelicals around the world also believe in activism and expression of political views (84%). Despite efforts towards unifying the church, perhaps evangelicals cannot escape their roots. Trans-denominational in nature and born out of separation, perhaps evangelicalism attempts to be representative of a broad array of values that it may end up not representing any fixed set of beliefs at all? However, this is not to say derogatory remarks about the movement. It is even a compliment, because evangelicalism shows how Christianity has responded to the global trend towards decentralization and devolution, keeping the church as one in the process. From representative, evangelicals become involved in participatory churches, wherein every member has the capacity to be equipped with the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18), and eventually to equip others (Ephesians 4:11-16). Of course, we are one church, and will always remain as one church because there is only one builder (Matthew 16:18). What remains to be seen is when people begin to act as members of one church, focusing not on the differences that divide, but emphasizing on the similarities that bind. Indeed, the disciple may tend to distort the master's teachings.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
(Hebrews 12:1-3)

Evangelicalism in the Philippines: Uniter, not a divider? Evangelicalism in the Philippines: Uniter, not a divider? Reviewed by Al Raposas on Monday, January 16, 2017 Rating: 5

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