by Arsenio Dominguez
The title suggests two fundamentals: the primacy of the evangel, and the propriety in asserting this primacy in the context of true, mature nationalism.
The title suggests two fundamentals: the primacy of the evangel, and the propriety in asserting this primacy in the context of true, mature nationalism.
The evangel is the good news of Jesus Christ – his life, death, resurrection and coming again – and the necessity for every man to come to grips with Christ in order to be rightly related to himself and to his Creator. This article will concern itself with the second fundamental: the proposition that the speedy, spontaneous growth of the church in the Philippines can best be achieved in the spirit and context of true Filipino nationhood: Mr. Leonides Virata, then Secretary of Commerce and Industry, speaking before the Far East American Council Conference on Asia, Oct. 6, 1969 said: "We will continue to have principles and ideals, and we hope, many friends. But with them, we will hold on to the interest of our national self. In the field of foreign investment, or economic management as well as social reconstructuring, national interest shall be the overriding factor in our policies."1
Philippine nationalism is a "challenge to the scholar attempting to make comparisons in Southeast Asia…the only state to have had two recent colonial administrations: Spanish and American. And in the process the only state to have changed from the role of a government largely dominated by the clergy, which provided minimal opportunities for national self-expression, to the role of a power imbued hued with the philosophy of separation of church and state."2
We have lost our distinct self. But we are determined to find it. The student riots of early 1970 may yet carve a distinct, radical type of nationalism. This reaction will only plunge our country to a deeper step of self-interest, the type of which we, as a church, could do much to determine. If we miss the cue and thus make the wrong move, it may end in chaos and close the door for the evangel.
OUR RELIGIOUS HISTORY
The Roman Catholic priest did not just come to his own. "An interesting indication of this (of the second Council of Lima in 1591) may be noted in the rules and regulations drawn up by Governor Corcuera for the Seminary of San Felipe de Austria, which he founded in Manila in 1641. Rule 3 provides that the ‘collegiates must be of pure race and have no mixture of Moorish or Jewish blood, to the fourth degree, and shall have no Negro or Bengal blood, or that of any similar nation, in their veins, or a fourth part of Filipino blood.’"3
Publicist Francisco Canamaque in the early nineteenth century wrote: "This lack (of Indian theologians, canonists, philosophers, moralists) is not due to (their) professors, for they were always picked men. What does this signify, if not that the deficiency is in the race, and not in the professors or the books?"4 He concludes: "The indio priest is a real caricature. He is a caricature of the Spaniard, a caricature of the mestizo, a caricature of everybody. He is a patchwork of many things and is nothing."5 This view gradually changed. In 1750 we are told that native priests had charge of 142 parishes and missions out of a total of 569.6 But still when the revolution finally broke out the Filipino exiles in Spain had to issue a manifesto declaring their avowed intention that the "native clergy of the country would be those to direct and teach the people from every step of the hierarchy."7 Archbishop Michael J. O’Doherty of Manila reported that the Spanish friars "neglected the Catholic principle that no church can rest upon a substantial basis unless it is manned by a native clergy."8
The evangelical movement fared better in its early beginnings. As early as 1908 the United Brethren Church aimed at good Filipino leadership in the church.9 In the same breath in 1911 missionary Widdoes could write: "We are now in the midst of adjustments due to the second stage of the development of the Church. The responsibility for the local church has been largely shifted from the missionaries to the Filipino leaders."101 A Tither’s League was initiated by a Filipino leader, J. A. Abellera, and they established a Filipino Missionary Society shortly thereafter.11 In the Decalogue formed in the Protestant Youth Convention of 1926, No. 11 states: "We believe in the Christian interpretation of nationalism. Therefore we hold that God has called the Filipino people to a high mission of service to humanity."12 One is struck in a part of their 1928 Annual Report: "We (missionaries) are come as helpers to an indigenous church, which is already established here. We come as assistants to leaders who not only are our equals but excel us in their usefulness. As the work goes on, they must increase and we must decrease . . . No longer is the indigenous church in the Philippines a dream, it is a living, growing reality. There are many evidences of this fact…"13
Bishop James M. Thoburn of the Methodist Episcopal Church ordained Nicolas Zamora in Manila on March 10, 1900 as a deacon "to place an intelligent pastor over the Filipino converts, and thereby strengthen the brave company of those who had come out from the house of priestly bondage."14 Zamora was ordained as the first pastor of Cervantes Church (now Knox Memorial) in 1903 and had a great teaching and evangelistic responsibility until February 28, 1909 when he announced he would form his own church. "It is the will of God for the Filipino nation that the Evangelical Church in the Philippines be established which will proclaim the Holy Scriptures through the leadership of our countrymen.15 Zamora "had chafed under what he felt was the small voice Filipinos were given in the actual policy-making decisions of the mission…(He) found himself in a church whose life was controlled by foreign finds and personnel. Strides were being made in self-leadership, but they were not fast enough for the Tondo independistas."16 In this schism out of the 1,500 Methodists who joined Zamora "not a Bible woman, a deaconess, or a young person trained in the public schools and able to speak English…(was) drawn into the new organization."17 Already the influence of the foreigner was weighing heavily on our nationalism. A new kind of illustrados were emerging, the difference being while the old kind was Spanish influence, now it was the American.18
WHAT NATIONALISM IS AND ISN’T
About seven years before the Zamora incident, during the schism of the Iglesia Independence Filipina from the Roman Catholic Church, Pedro Brillantes took possession of St. James Church in Bacarra, Ilocos Norte, and announced he was Bishop of the province. On the eve of his consecration he wrote a friend: "Without being dependent or independent (from Rome, that is), I am merely Filipino, Catholic, Apostolic and Divine, and for this reason I shall be consecrated situ divino et apostolica…"19
I believe his words, "merely Filipino, Catholic, Apostolic and Divine," are the best definition of Filipino evangelical nationalism. For in becoming a nationalist we simply want to be Filipino. Nationalism is "the self-conscious assertion by a people of its own individuality in relation to other peoples."20 It is the trait and characteristic of a people forged by traditions, geography and race. There is an element of patriotism there. Loving one’s own country is a universal, natural characteristic. Renato Constantino’s portrait of the late Don Claro M. Recto’s "development proved that only the decolonized Filipino is a real Filipino" is one good way to put it.21 A Filipino should be his own natural self. He has pride in it.
As a Filipino churchman I must recognize my oneness with the church of the world. No Christian is an island. Christ’s church in the Philippines should be concerned with the mission and role of the whole church. The problems of evangelicals anywhere should be our problem. The church under persecution in other places is our concern. We are part and parcel of a truly ecumenical body in the different hues and colors of redeemed humanity. We have a world responsibility. We are catholic because we recognize our universal brotherhood as God’s children in Christ but catholic or universal without ceasing to be Filipino. We are proud to serve God according to our ways and culture.
Being Filipino should not mean becoming "anti-foreign." We should become anti-foreign when foreigners impose on us traits or characteristics all their own without considering our need or desire for them. An example of this is the assertion that the Filipinos "must adjust and accommodate themselves to our institutions, but we must not adjust our institutions to any features of their medievalism…It is not our mission to travel back through the centuries and meet an inferior civilization but to flood it with our better light, and when its iniquities are thus revealed, compel them to be promptly forsaken by entering upon this better way."22 So wrote a religious leader in 1899. This should, of course, be viewed in the shadow of religio-political power that was just disentwining itself in the Philippines. It is a disdained form of colonialism.
But a missionary leader confirms that the Philippine church’s "theology, worship and organization—all are duplications of American types, not always good duplication or duplications of the best in America. Churchmen in other Asian countries sometimes complain that the Protestant churches in the Philippines are not truly a part of the church in Asia, but are simply appendages or extensions of the churches in America, because of the dominating influence of a dependence on the United States."23
Observes an American theologian: "When a Filipino goes shopping he asks, `Is this stateside or local made?’ and buys foreign. That is his privilege, of course, and his decision is often enough justified. But seen more deeply, this shopping question manifests a wound. The `stateside mentality’ is a Filipino disease,. and while it may flatter some Americans, it should alarm all concerned for the real welfare of the Philippine Republic. It is wrong to be ashamed of what one is. It is wrong for professionals to leave their own country in need and to seek more comfortable lives for themselves abroad."24 By becoming mentally colonialized the Filipino has become artificial. In the words of a nineteenth century writer again, he is a "caricature." Possessing a culture of my own, however, does not mean a deliberate and wilful rejection of the good things in another nation’s culture. I should welcome them and may even adapt some of them if they are proved workable in my own situation. But they should never colonialize me, nor make me an imitation of anybody. I must be myself.
Take the case of language. True, Filipinos are made up of many tongues and have all been instructed in schools in English. But there is a lingering misconception that our own tongue is inferior. Why should the ability to speak English be a status symbol? Unless, of course, we are prepared to admit that the flair for learning a language (which incidentally entails a good deal of memory work), is a sign of mental superiority. English has been tried to unify the nation and yet many of our countrymen just do not learn it. Many of our university graduates do not learn it well. Somebody so aptly said: "Our grandfathers spoke broken Spanish, now we speak broken English." True, in some modern branches of knowledge English is the best medium. But this is not altogether true in the church. The language hat can touch people’s emotions, will and aspirations would be more effective there.
There is need to restructure our theology in a form the barrio folk can understand. Is it strange that the cults :rake headway in the text-proof catechetical method of teaching the Bible? If we can be understood in the barrio, it will not be so difficult to speak to the universities. For the concern of the latter is the welfare of the barrio man. There is a dire need of good evangelical literature written by Filipinos in our dialects; also for some written by Filipinos in English for the Philippines. Some of our best melodies should be used in church music. The kundiman for one fascinates me. We need music that can capture the Filipino soul. True, most of what we call native folksongs were European songs brought here by the Spaniards. But we have adapted them through centuries of usage, and they have become distinctly Filipino. Let us have some of them for our churches.
It is time we examine our church polity. The Filipino is a man who wants to admire his leader. The barangay system of his past generation was led by a cabeza who had the respect of both the old and the young. Many will still give their lives for their political leaders. Church boards are hard to work in many of our churches. This is a set-up transplanted here by the missionaries. The pastor makes the decisions anyway, and the rest just follow.
WHERE LEADERSHIP SHOULD LIE
A Filipino leader told me that leadership in the church should be based on spiritual gifts rather than race. This sounds very spiritual, and biblical, since the church is a cosmopolitan community.
Let us face the facts about it. Many a naturally shy Filipino has been stifled in his God-given gifts. Normally a Filipino does not completely feel free among his foreigner-colleagues. The reasons for this could be because of Philippine history, education and social standing. The foreign missionary has money. The Filipino has none normally. After a time the Filipino could only suit his actions to please his foreigner-colleagues – to the bewilderment of some of his compatriots.
In the normal run only the Filipinos who have hobnobbed with foreigners in their study abroad discuss freely and frankly with foreign missionaries here. This has vexed the latter. They harbor the feeling that somehow study abroad has spoiled the Filipinos. The truth of the matter is that the Filipino only wants to show him and his countrymen that he is not inferior. He may also be in the process of extricating himself from foreign influence. He wants to show that he has not changed, that he has not become un-Filipino. He is in the process of being himself again. This accounts for much of the strain in our national-foreigner relationship.
A Filipino colleague has made some incisive observations. He said the vested interests of foreign mission groups have become an obsession with many of our foreign missionaries. To guard this they have offered a "packaged theology" to our Filipino leaders. This is done by suppressing liberal ideas that would cause our leaders to grow into full mature leadership. This is not done with their evangelical leaders in their own countries. This is a sign of insecurity on the part of some foreign missionaries. This has also stifled the gifts of some of our best leaders. To be evangelical does not mean being narrow and shallow; it means being discerning and deep.
Has the time arrived for the foreign missionary to leave? An American colleague observes: "The missionary relation to this problem is real. The missionary usually stays until he thinks the national churches where he serves are ‘mature’ enough in his estimation, financially and personally, to be able to sustain themselves when he leaves. Of course the moment of maturity, in the missionary’s judgment, rarely arrives. The missionary, very often unwittingly and unwillingly, perpetuates by his very presence the problem: namely, the myth of Western superiority and Filipino inadequacy. The missionary is present in the Philippines precisely because the Filipino church claims to be unable to afford or to provide the goods or services which are available in the missionary. The missionary then, whether he realizes it or not, is a breathing monument to Filipino inability. And such monuments, it seems to me, need to be removed, not multiplied, in a developing nation."25
We cannot dispute the truth of this sense of inadequacy in the thinking of many Filipinos. Some of our churches can only maintain their "high class" membership because of their foreign missionary pastors. There is no doubt that foreigners can get a better hearing in many of our churches than the Filipino. In some sense this mentality has been allowed by the missionaries. Some of them have really thought of themselves as being indispensable. If this attitude is perpetuated by the missionary’s presence, then he should be removed. Anything that stands in the way of a person’s complete dependence on the Lord should be removed.
But the missionary’s physical presence need not be removed if his role is to build up confidence in the Lord on the part of the Filipinos. Often, however, his paternalistic, authoritarian presence must be removed to accomplish this. In the final analysis the greater responsibility rests on the missionary, since he has the stronger personality.
Church institutions and programs still foreign-administered should be nationalized. The sooner the better. We have enough cues to force us to act soon before it is too late. This is right for the sake of Filipino dignity. It is right before the government and before youth and students who pulsate with actions for a new order and nationhood. The time is right in view of the radicals who would instigate this change sooner or later.
The Filipinos should not simply wait till the reigns of leadership and administration are handed over to them. They should be in a better position to gauge the current political climate of our country and, discerning the signs of the times, instigate this transfer. Of course, the process of transfer need not be fraught with misunderstanding and jealousies. There should be qualified Filipinos to take over. The Lord of the church will see to this. We cannot go on with the status quo. As a church we should be open for change, indeed initiate it, if that is the proper thing to do.
One perplexing matter is foreign aid. Strange, that the church, called in the vocation of the Master to minister and not be ministered unto, should find this so perplexing and complicated. The whole history of Philippine evangelical Christianity is replete with failures and frustrations is making her work self-supporting. Until now very few evangelical churches are truly self-supporting. "Although Filipinos are now generally at the head of the Protestant churches, these churches and their related institutions are still heavily dependent on support from the United States. Part of the reason is that a burdensome American pattern of organization, adopted by the early missionaries has been carried over. It is a pattern of organization and administration that the Philippine churches can ill afford. Many pastors are so poorly supported by their congregations (the average Methodist minister’s salary is $23 a month) that they must supplement their income by other part-time employment. Inadequate stewardship is a major problem of all the churches, and there is need to rethink the pattern of pastoral service and support in the local churches.
Perhaps the full-time pastorate system is an imported commodity not workable in the Philippines. In the Book of the Acts we see elders who worked on a normal life occupation while overseeing their local church. The Filipinos should devise some system of support for their ministers. In many cases, a part-time pastorate is the answer. In others, circuit ministers have worked just as well. Some pioneering ministers have supported their work partly through home industries, piggery, poultry-raising and gardening, where only a small part of their time is necessary to allow them to carry on an uninterrupted service in the ministry. The important thing is to discern the answer in each situation.
We are still faced with the question of finding support for our seminarians, their instructors, and others whose responsibilities require the whole of their time and efforts in the ministry. Christian organizations and functions cannot be discontinued. Aid is necessary. But aid has repercussions on the evangelical leadership. It is only natural and proper for the giver to be concerned about how his gifts are spent. This concern is often looked upon by the recipient as having "strings attached" to the gift. For in the end, the bigger the pocket-book, the bigger the say in the work. Consequently, the recipient thinks the donor paternalistic and the donor thinks the recipient ungrateful.
Furthermore, foreign-designed ministries are also appealing for support from our local churches. Their ads and gimmicks are far more convincing than the puny challenge the pastor gives. Filipinos as a whole are sensitive about asking for money for themselves. And so funds axe siphoned from the churches.
The argument that the foreign-based institutions use the funds they receive here for the work here does not stand the test, for the simple reason that the programs they initiated are far beyond our churches’ ability to maintain. The vicious cycle continues: we cannot be self-supporting, for our churches give to programs beyond them. We appeal abroad for programs that should be supported here.
What can be done in the face of such a problem? We can only give some guideposts. God has prospered certain peoples and sections of the world. It is part of their Christian obligation to give to those in need. Giving carries with it a duty to see that the money is used properly. But, after the gift is given, it is given. The donor’s responsibility ceases there and the recipient’s responsibility begins. It has come from his own heavenly Father.
Our churches should be taught that their first responsibility is to support Filipino pastors and missionaries. Their work may be unglamorous and less appealing – in terms of hands raised and letters received – but it makes for permanence. A work in one part of the world should be the concern and responsibility of the church everywhere. It behooves the church in the Philippines to be prepared to send assistance abroad, not only prayers but money as well. This is part of our responsibility.
ROLE OF MISSIONARIES
The role of foreign missionaries is a very complex matter. But certainly in this day of ecumenicity it is a testimony to the unity and oneness of the church to have different races of men harmoniously working together for a common goal. It should be a demonstration of God’s work in the midst of our chaotic racial tensions.
The church here needs specialists, especially in the areas of biblical translation and interpretation and related disciplines: archeology, original languages, biblical customs, etc. We also need men of world-wide vision who can sharpen our focus on the needs of the world at large. Pioneering missionary ministry here is still done by the foreigners. This is to our shame. When more than fifty percent of the world’s population still has not heard of Christ’s saving grace, we need all the missionary force available.
Nationalization of all missionary organizations should first be accomplished before the role of foreign missionaries can be put in its right perspective. The Filipino leadership should be able to determine the needs and to request the sending organizations to fill them. Should the qualifications and character of a particular missionary become questionable, the Filipino leadership should have the right to request his transfer. This will provide the right setting for a harmonious relationship.
If developing a national church were just a matter of mere pride in our culture and in our nation, then it would not be worth considering seriously. But what is at stake is not simply developing a church that we can boast is truly Filipino. What really is important is that we build a strong and distinctly national church, so that our compatriots throughout the nation can easily identify themselves with our churches as being truly Filipino. Only this way will we be able to reach our full potential for winning the unsaved of our country. A foreign-looking, foreign-sounding, foreign-dominated church will not appeal to those outside of Christ. But one that is both fully Christian and fully Filipino will.
Nationalization of our church and its related institutions would not mean anything if it were simply an end in itself. Nationalization should only be a means for the church to take a posture that is acceptable, or at least with as little prejudice as possible, to our kababayan (countrymen). Unless we allow ourselves to come under the scrutiny of the Word of God and be set afire by the Spirit of God for God’s work, we will simply be like the proverbial politician who talks much about patriotism but allows himself to sink in corruption and to perpetuate his own vested interests.
God who has called us and made us what we are, and has ordained his work to be accomplished by poor flesh and blood, can use us just as we are, Filipinos who know how to give God their all and to serve him in their own way.
1. Address by Leonides S. Virata, Secretary of Commerce and Industry, before the Far East American Council Conference on Asia, Waldorf Astoria, New York City, Oct. 6, 1969. Italics mine.
2. Religion and Nationalism in Southeast Asia by Fred R. von der Mehden (The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1963), p. ix.
3. In BRPI, XLV, 175, quoted in "Development of the Native Clergy in the Philippines," by Horacio de la Costa, S.J., Studies in Philippine Church History, edited by Gerald H. Anderson (Cornell University Press, London, 1969), p.75.
4. E. Zamora, "Las corporaciones religiosa," in BRPI, XLVI, 348-49, Ibid. pp. 101.
5. E. Retana, "Frailes y clerigos" (Madrid, 1890), p. 100, Ibid., pp. 99-100.
6. Cf. Brou, "Notes", pp. 546-47, Ibid., p.97.
7. Philippine Insurgent Records, 1125.3 NA; "Las Memorias," Ibid., p. 226.
8. "The Religious Situation in the Philippines," American Ecclesiastical Review, LXXIV (1926), 131-32, ibid., p. 102.
9. The Filipino Church by Rev. Walter N. Roberts (The Foreign Missionary Review and The Women’s Missionary Association, United Brethren in Christ, Dayton, Ohio, 1926), p. 35.
10. Ibid., pp. 45, 46.
11. Ibid., p. 49.
12. lbid., p. 138.
13. Ibid., p. 129.
14. The Philippines and the Far East by Homer C. Stunz (Cincinnati, 1904), G. H. Anderson, op. cit., p. 329.
15. Aklat Pang-Alaala sa Ika-50 Anibersario ng Iglesia Evangelical en las islas Filipinas, 1909-1959, (Manila, 1959), p. 8, Ibid., p. 335.
16. "Nicolas Zamora: Religious Nationalist," by Richard Deats, Ibid., p. 333.
17. "Bishop Bashford in Manila," World-wide Missions, XXI, 7 (19-9) Ibid., p. 336.
18. The illustrados were the elite class among revolutionary-period Filipinos who wanted to be like the colonials in their ways. For a fuller treatment of this see The Making of a Filipino by Renato Constantino (Malaya Book, Inc., Quezon City, 1969), pp.5-22.
19. Religious Revolution in the Philippines, Vol. I by Pedro S. de Achutegui, S.J and Miguel A. Bernard, (Manila, 1960), p.194.
20. "Nationalism as an International Asset," by M. A. C. Warren, International Review of Missions, XLIV (Oct., 1955), 387, quoted in Nationalism and Christianity in the Philippines by Richard L. Deats (Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas, Texas, 1967), p. 3.
21. The Making of a Filipino by Renato Constantino, op. cit., p. 296.
22. "Facing the Twentieth Century: Our Country, Its Power and Peril," by Rev. James M. King, New York, 11899, p. 593 quoted in G. H. Anderson, op. cit., p.157.
23. Christ and Crisis, edited by G. H. Anderson, op. cit., p.157.
24. "The New Macedonian," F. Dale Bruner’s unpublished address, California, 1969.
26. "Is There a National Church?" by Arsenio Dominguez, Crusader Magazine
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