The Philippines

Manila, Philippines
FACTS AND FIGURES  

Geography: 7,100 islands (700 inhabited). Land area 300,000 square kilometers.  Typhoons are frequent. There are about twenty active volcanoes. 

Population: 102 million (2011). 12 million in Metro-Manila. Manila is the most densely populated city in the world.

Languages: Tagalog (Filipino) and English (both official), also many other dialects.

Economy: High population growth, corruption, political unrest, natural disasters and guerrilla wars have exacerbated poverty and unemployment. There are large urban slums, and many street people.



THE PHILIPPINES: A CHRISTIAN COUNTRY?

Religion: Roman Catholic 80% declining; Muslim 5%; Protestant 10% and growing; Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons 2%; others, including animists 3%.

In terms of the doctrine of justification by faith, pulpit and pew alike are generally ignorant of the issues that were at stake in the Reformation. The feel-good factor is substituted for the assurance of sins forgiven. The terminology of deliverance from guilt and condemnation through Christ’s propitiatory work is strange to the average Filipino Christian churchgoer. ‘Speaking in tongues’ and the term “born again” has become more familiar than the vocabulary of the gospel. 

Focused on Miracles

The Filipino idea of faith is belief in the visibly miraculous. From his Catholic childhood the average Filipino is brought up on stories of Mary’s apparitions, miracles connected with icons, and wonders occurring during religious festivals. When this same Catholic is ‘converted’ to an evangelical or charismatic faith, he often carries his baggage of ‘miracle-faith’ with him. 

Youthful excitement

Christian meetings have to be exciting and emotional to be well supported. Music must be prominent. A crowd in the Philippines means youth, for young people comprise over 60% of the population. Showbiz personalities, actors and actresses are all represented. It is this excitement that is sustaining the ‘gains’ of many churches. This writer recently spoke in a conference on the need to make the Word of God central to worship. During the open forum, a local Christian radio presenter protested that, if this were done, no young people would remain in his church! One wonders how many of those who now pack churches and crusades would be there with joy if the doctrines of grace were expounded. 

Hope

Without a solid faith, that rests on a faithfully expounded Word of God, the paraphernalia of excitement, emotions and miracles are worthless husks. But there are small beginnings of a movement for true reformation in the Philippines. The full flowering of this awakening may lie in that distant future when the charismatic movement is spent. Even now there are questioning minds; and good Reformed literature is helping in this direction. A good number of churches, founded on the doctrines of grace, have been established in the past generation. Cubao Reformed Baptist Church has been holding an annual Pastors’ Conference for the past 22 years. An average of 300 pastors and preachers now attend each year. Those present have demonstrated an inquiring spirit and openness to the truth. Could this small cloud, some day, become a shower of blessing? 

Manila skyline, The Philippines