(Eagle News) – The Iglesia Ni Cristo or Church Of Christ, which is celebrating its 104th anniversary this year, as well as its 50th year in the West, has a significant role in nation building, as well as in spreading Philippine culture around the world.
This was the observation of noted Philippine historian, Professor Xiao Chua, who teaches at the Dela Salle University in Manila.
Chua observed how the INC’s leadership, the INC members’ strong sense of brotherhood, and the use of the Filipino language in the Church’s worship services around the world, were significant points in the INC’s role in nation-building.
The Filipino-Chinese professor also noted that when the Church began in the Philippines, particularly when it was registered on July 27, 1914, this was a time of “historical change.”
-Willed by God-
“The Church came out at the right time at the right situation. It was willed by God,” Chua observed in an interview during Eagle Broadcasting Corporation’s special coverage of the INC’s 104th anniversary.
“What happened was (that) the time of the formation of the Church in the Philippines was a time of change, a time of historical change. It was a product of historical change at the right circumstances,” he said.
He observed that the year when the Church’s first Executive Minister, Ka Felix Manalo, was born in 1886, was 10 years before the Philippine Revolution in 1896.
In June 1898, the Philippines declared its independence from Spain.
At the time that the Church was registered in the Philippines, in 1914, the Americans were already occupying the Philippines.
The Americans were more tolerant of other religions, unlike the Spaniards.
“The Americans came; there was religious freedom because the Americans were tolerant of other religions,” Chua noted.
“This was the time when Ka Felix began his journey to search the Bible,” he said, noting the American occupation of the country then.
Chua explained that at that time, Bibles were also being widely distributed in the country, and were also being translated into Tagalog.
-The right circumstances, the proper time-
“The right circumstances, the proper time, made the Church blossom, of course, not without difficulties,” he said.
The INC’s teachings were Bible-based, and a lot of the doctrines did not sit well with many Catholics and Protestants at the time.
“A lot of people found some of the Church’s teachings awkward,” said Chua recalling that time in history when “Ka Felix” started preaching about the INC.
“When there’s a new faith that people think is against their belief, there’s a lot of reactions to that,” he said.
But the Church overcame all those persecutions, and is now an international Church with a distinctly Filipino character, Chua observed.
-Exporting the Filipino language, culture-
“The main language of the Church of Christ, the Iglesia Ni Cristo, is Filipino, Tagalog,” he said.
Chua observed that even though there are many members of the Church in other countries, INC ministers — whatever their nationality was — still have to learn Tagalog since this is the main language used in preaching the INC’s doctrines, and in officiating worship services.
“This in a way exported our language and our culture — the Filipino culture — from the Philippines worldwide,” Chua said.
“The Iglesia Ni Cristo has (thus) become one of the main exporters of Filipino culture,” he noted.
“My message to a lot of people is that the Iglesia Ni Cristo …yes, it is a Bible-based religion, but because Ka Felix came from the Philippines, it is inevitable that the context of this religion — even if it has spread worldwide — would be Filipino,” Chua said.
He also observed that whenever the current INC Executive Minister, Brother Eduardo V. Manalo, goes to another country to officiate worship services, he uses the Filipino language, and this gets translated to various other languages so those attending the worship service who are not Filipinos can understand the lectures.
The message sent is, “This is a Filipino church, and we want to speak the language of the Last Messenger,” Chua said.
“There is a special bond that is created (with) those who use that language,” he observed.
And this bond is “more coherent, cohesive and unified,” he said.
This use of the Filipino language, the strong sense of brotherhood, and the leadership of the INC that takes care of its members – all these are significant in the concept of nation-building, the noted Philippine historian explained.
-INC, a model of unity-
Chua said that the Iglesia Ni Cristo has managed to create a unified and “more cohesive” concept of nationhood that transcended boundaries and diversity.
The INC, at present is spread in 143 countries, and its membership consists of 133 ethnic groups and nationalities.
The Filipino-Chinese professor, who has long been an observer of the INC, explained that a nation comes about “when we have one heart and one mind.”
“We have a national sentiment to be together. We identify ourselves with each other. When we have that, you become a nation,” he said.
“We as Filipinos, if you’re going to look at how fragmented a lot of us are, despite the nation building project started by Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, there are still difficulties in nation building,” Chua observed.
“But the Iglesia Ni Cristo was able to have their own identity, their Filipino culture — but also their own distinct version of it — and they are able to export it to the world,” he said.
“This is what we should be doing as Filipinos.”
Chua sees the Iglesia Ni Cristo is an ideal model that the Filipino nation should emulate.
“What I’m saying is that we should look at the example of the Iglesia Ni Cristo, in how we, as a nation, can also try to find our unity despite diversity; find our common symbols; find the things that unite us. And we work together as kapatiran ng mga mamamayang Pilipino just as what you are doing today,” he said.