(Printer-friendly version)

Beware! After being confined to Asia for so long, this group is now rapidly spreading in America and Europe!

The Iglesia ni Cristo ("Church of Christ") claims to be the true Church as established by Jesus Christ.

Although this is a huge group (an estimated 4-9 million members), many are surprised that it is relatively unknown here in the West; this is mainly because, for many years, the central focus of their proselytizing efforts has not been in the West, but in Asia. The much smaller Jehovah's Witnesses, for example, are famed because they were founded in the United States and have mainly sought to recruit new people in the West. However, Iglesia ni Cristo were founded in the Philippines in 1914 and - for many years - were most interested in spreading their message in that country. Yet the group has now grown to more than two hundred congregations in sixty-five countries outside of the Philippines, including a quickly-expanding United States contingent. Officially, the group refuse to release member numbers so the 4-9 million figure is an estimation.

The group were founded by Felix Manalo (1886-1963) who proclaimed himself to be a 'prophet.' Their modern centre of operations is the Iglesia Ni Cristo Central Office in Quezon City, Philippines. The central office is currently administered by executive minister Erano G. Manalo and deputy executive minister Eduardo V. Manalo, who are the son and grandson of Felix Y. Manalo, respectively.

As a child, Felix Manalo was baptized a Roman Catholic, his mother being especially devout in that faith. In Catechism class he learned the main fundamentals of the Roman Catholic faith, however, as a teenager he became dissatisfied with that and went on a 'spiritual quest' through several denominations, even spending some time with the Seventh Day Adventists. Unstable of doctrine, Felix - for a while - even became a follower of the 'Colorum' spirit-seeking cult in the Philippines which was highly secretive and apparently encouraged pilgrimages to a "sacred mountain." In 1904, after witnessing a debate between a Roman catholic priest and a Protestant minister on the use of images, he joined the 'Methodist Episcopalian Church,' attended their Seminary and even (according to some reports, but not according to others) became a pastor for a while.

Iglesia ni Cristo do not accept the doctrine of the Trinity and refuse to accept that Jesus was divine, being substantially 'Arian' in that regard (like Jehovah's Witnesses), Jesus is seen as the highest creation of God - but still only a creation!
Yet the Bible teaching is very clear on this point: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). We know Jesus is the Word because John 1:14 tells us, "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us." God the Father was not made flesh; it was Jesus, as even 'Iglesia' accepts. Jesus is the Word, the Word is God, therefore Jesus is God.

In Deuteronomy 10:17 and 1 Timothy 6:15, God the Father is apparently called the "Lord of lords," yet in other New Testament passages this divine title is applied directly to Jesus. In Revelation 17:14 we read, "They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings." And in Revelation 19:13–16, John sees Jesus "clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. . . . On his thigh he has a name inscribed, King of kings and Lord of lords." For further corroboration of the divinity of Jesus see The Major Doctrines of the Christian Faith and What is the True Greek-English Interpretation of John 1:1?
Paul also states that Jesus was equal with God (Phil. 2:6). But if Jesus is equal with the Father, and the Father is a God, then Jesus is plainly God. Since there is only one God, Jesus and the Father must both be one God—one God in at least two persons (the Holy Spirit, of course, is the third person of the Trinity). Paul stated that we are to live "awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13). And Peter addressed his second epistle to "those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours in the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 1:1). The teaching is also very clear in John 8:56–59, where Jesus directly claims to be Yahweh ("I AM"). "‘Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad.’ The Jews then said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.’" None of this leaves any place for doubting the divinity of Jesus for the serious Bible student.

However, it has been claimed that 'Iglesia' are really far more interested in attacking Roman Catholicism than in carefully outlining their own beliefs and are therefore parasitic in approach, feeding off, and expanding through, disgruntled Filippino Catholics. The Philippines, of course, are overwhelmingly Roman Catholic (84% of the population) and Iglesia's undoubtedly great success in poaching members from that organisation is why, in the opinion of many, they were very slow to spread outside that corner of Asia.

Through it's magazine, 'God's Message' (formerly Pasugo) 'Iglesia' appears to heavily rely on anti-Catholic scare tactics as support for it's own doctrines, which cannot stand up to a careful biblical scrutiny. When purely outlining their own teachings, many cult-watchers have noted contradiction and inconsistency.

From 1922, Felix Manalo started to teach his 'God's last messenger' doctrine (applied, of course, to himself). This was at a time of dissent and schism within the group and it was how he again centralized all power to himself and sought to make his own theological spin authoritative. Apart from being fervently anti-Roman Catholic, the group also rejects all other denominations and Christian-related sects, believing that true Christianity can only exist within their own group.

'Iglesia ni Cristo' claim that their emergence in the Philippines was prophesied in the Bible. To support this strange teaching they use Isaiah 43:5–6, which states, "Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, ‘Give up,’ and the south, ‘Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth.’" 'Iglesia' maintain that in this verse, Isaiah is referring to the "far east" and that this is the place where the "Church of Christ" will emerge from in "the last days." This point is constantly repeated within Iglesia literature, for instance, "The prophecy stated that God’s children shall come from the far east" (Pasugo, March 1975, p6). But the phrase "far east" is not and never was in the text. In fact, in the Filipino translation, as well as in the original Hebrew, the words "far" and "east" are not even found in the same verse, yet the 'Iglesia' combine the two verses to translate "far east." Using this completely erroneous technique, 'Iglesia' then claim that the 'far east' refers to the Philippines. No serious Bible Hebrew expert of any note agrees with them.

Like Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Armstrongists and numerous other extremist groups, 'Iglesia' teaches that the early Christian church suffered a major apostasy and it was left to their own group's founder to "restore the truth " in the 19th/20th centuries. 'Iglesia' believes in "the complete disappearance of the first-century Church of Christ and the emergence of the Catholic Church" (Pasugo, July-Aug. 1979, p8). Like most of these groups, this belief is based on a complete failure to understand what 'catholic' even means, still more on a terrible failure to extensively read, comprehend and evaluate early church history. The assumption is that "catholic" can only be a reference to the Roman Catholic Church at the peak of it's powers around the 11-13th centuries. However, early church writers did not use the term in such a way at all, indeed, the term was often used to separate the authentic, creedally-orthodox church from various heretical groups such as the Arians (both 'Iglesia ni Cristo' and 'Jehovah's Witnesses' actually support Arian heresy), and the Donatists. The assumption is that the 'catholic church fathers' like Athanasius, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Clement of Rome etc., were all heretics and impostors even though many such men layed down their lives for their belief that Jesus was the Son of God, and were martyred (Irenaeus, for instance). Do impostors and frauds do that?

While it is true that the modern Roman Catholic Church support certain highly erroneous doctrinal teachings, that does not make 'Iglesia ni Cristo' correct in simply opposing them at every turn, and for so strongly focussing on poaching their disgruntled and disaffected members in their evangelistic work within the Philippines. Moreover, the presence of the Arian heresy (Jesus is not God but only God's highest creation) is so serious as to make any preaching by them an actual denial of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. After all, if Jesus is not God, then your sins and mine remain unforgiven. Surely that would make their 'medicine' for Catholic doctrinal sickness far more deadly than the sickness itself!

It is almost impossible not to be reminded of Paul the Apostle's advice to Timothy:

1Ti 4:1: 'But the Spirit expressly says that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and teachings of demons..' (MKJ).

Beware! After being confined to Asia for so long, this group is now rapidly spreading in America and Europe.

Robin A. Brace. February, 2009.