by Kenneth O. Gangel
American Christianity has long been identified with an institutionalized and democratic church structure. What happens when such institutions are superimposed upon a quasi-Western cultural mold operating in a basically oriental society?
American Christianity has long been identified with an institutionalized and democratic church structure. What happens when such institutions are superimposed upon a quasi-Western cultural mold operating in a basically oriental society? Should the church overseas be democratic in a society that is largely authoritarian? Does matriarchal social structure oppose biblical patterns? How do Western values like competition and individualism fit into a culture whose values are just the opposite? These are some of the issues that Kenneth Gangel challenges the missionary to face in a constructive, culturally sensitive way.
Typhoon winds in Central Luzon in the summer of 1972 created the heaviest rainfall in the Philippines since the keeping of such records began in 1949. The country rocked under the impact of the flood disaster, which took 300 lives and left more than 500,000 people homeless. It was my second trip to the islands in three years; both gave me ample contact with Filipinos. The rains forced us all indoors most of the time, and gave me an excellent opportunity to research the church in this diverse culture, both through a study of the literature and discussions with veteran missionaries.
The result of my research is a survey of the progress and problems the evangelical church faces there after almost three decades of hyper-activity in this syncretistic society. I do not present this survey as an expert’s view, nor do I presume to offer advice to seasoned soldiers of the faith. An old Indian proverb suggests to an outsider, "If you say that you understand our problems and then offer simple solutions, we know that you do not understand our problems." What follows is simply an account of my observations about the state of Christian education an the Philippines during the early 1970’s.
The New Testament church developed in the context of Palestinian culture which was essentially oriental. The role of Christian education is to extend that church in all cultures by equipping God’s people for mature ministry of Eph. 4:11-16). Although the church has practiced it frequently through the centuries, deculturization is not a part of the equipping process of biblical Christian education. Enlightened modern missionaries, of course, have come to realize that a nation’s social system does not have to be unbalanced in order to communicate the good news to its people. Ignoring, bypassing, or deliberately attacking the culture may do more harm to the church than can be repaired in attempts at nationalization.
Filipino culture with its Malayan base is historically more oriental than occidental. But 350 years of domination by Spain and the radical Americanization since World War II have pulled these islands into a quasi-Western mold. Much missionary activity has also sought to impose western values and standards, a most tempting option given the wide-spread use of the English language in the islands.
But nationalism is a rising factor in all of world mission and a daily reality in the Philippines. The indigenizing of the church is no longer a philosophical nicety to be debated in seminars, but a practice to be applied in careful but generous measure now. The fraternal status of cooperation is the new pattern for missions in this land and one can hardly argue that it has corns too soon.
Some deplore the trend, considering it irresponsible to turn over mission property to nationals. Others maintain that the Filipinos, because of their mentality and temperament, can never attain genuine leadership status, and the whole ministry will atrophy. I am unconvinced by both of these arguments and others like them. There seems to be ample evidence that Filipinos can indeed run their own institutions, and that many aspects of their culture lend themselves very well to alliance with New Testament values. The problem is to lessen the cultural overload of Western Christianity.
No doubt there are times when a traps-cultural gospel defies social mores in any culture. In those instances, culture must give way to absolute truth. But whew that is not the case, positive Christian education seeks to emphasize in a culture those factors of New Testament truth that can be clearly reflected. It is essential of course, for missionaries here and supporters at home to recognize that the church is in the Philippines now. Church planting has given way to church growth, and although there is an enormous amount of evangelization continuing, it is not so much an issue of finding ways to share the gospel with a pagan populace as it is equipping and enabling national Christians to be the church in their own cities and barrios. It is my contention that they can "be the church" better with more lasting results if we enable them to do it as much as possible within their own cultural motif. Let me be specific.
Despite its apparent Westernization, Filipino culture is basically Asian and, therefore, stands in striking contrast to many of the values of the West. In terms of the institutional church, for example, the West patterns itself largely in a bureaucratic structure. Students of administrative science recognize immediately that a bureaucracy is not essentially bad and we seek its forms because of the benefits it provides our institutions. However, one of the emphases of church renewal in the early ’70s has been a reaction against the over-bureaucratization of the church and an effort to get back to a more personal thrust. Interestingly enough, Filipino culture is built more on personalism than bureaucracy. Consequently, bureaucratic institutional forms have difficulty penetrating the culture. In this way the church of the New Testament seems to be more Filipino than it is Western. One Roman Catholic writer suggests that bureaucracy in the Filippino church is "due more to Roman influence than to the native culture." He further emphasizes that "it is the task of the church to find for the Filipino `spiritual community of believers’ a local habitation and a name within our native culture" (Gorospe: 26).
Another confrontation in values comes in the Western commitment to punctuality versus the Filipino freedom from time pressures. Some missionaries become extremely upset because the Filipino does not seem to have high regard for the schedule of Sunday services. He might appear 15 or 20 minutes late to a meeting, which seems to be a lack of respect for the church at best, and for the Lord at worst. But can we really argue punctuality biblically? Is there really some crucial factor of Christian theology that is being shoddily handled because Filipinos are loathe to adopt our Western rigidity of scheduling? By the way, it is just as likely for that Filipino to be most willing to stay 30 or 40 minutes after the announced ending time. I-3e is rot resisting spending the time at church but rather having his life run by the hands of a clock.
Still a third area of apparent conflict is the traditional Filipino authoritarianism as it encounters Western ideals of democracy. This is a significant factor because it affects our whole understanding of how the church should run and how the role of a pastor should be conceived. Although some (and I among them) deplore rigid authoritarianism and condemn it as unbiblical, there are some quite public examples of such ministry in American churches, and certain segments of American society gravitate toward this type of leadership. We ‘should certainly expect it, therefore, in a country in which submission to authority has been a way of life. It creates enormous problems when national leaders constantly defer to the authority of the missionary. Delegation of responsibility and accompanying authority become extremely difficult to achieve.
Americans have extreme commitment to their public institutions such as church and school, whereas the Filipino society is largely familial making its commitments not only to the nuclear, but also to the extended family. It is most interesting that as emphasis on family is ascending to new heights in the American church, the Filipino church has a ready-made commitment to an essential biblical authority. Gamboa suggests that "a study of the family system will help the Christian educator to understand the nature of the community system." He emphasizes that the spirit of unity apparent as family members work together toward mutual goals (pagkakaisa) can be a key to developing the communal ministry of the church (Gamboa: 56).
America has long described itself as "the land of opportunity" and a reasonably positive expectation has prevailed in the minds of its citizens. Filipino culture, on the other hand, practices an unswerving acceptance of and commitment to the results which come from following standard cultural patterns. According to Douglas J. Elwood, theologian at Silliman University Divinity School, "The belief in swerte proved to be the strongest factor in determining the quality of human resources for community development and rural re-construction." It may also be the key to understanding why the Filipino has allowed himself to be dominated by foreign cultures as well as his own leaders during almost all of the years of his national existence. Elwood describes swerte (palad in most Filipino languages) as "an outlook on life which Filipinos share with many other Asians, sometimes described as the ‘cyclical’ view of life, and which may have roots in the ancient Hindu concept of the transmigration of souls. Life moves inevitably in a circle from extreme good to extreme evil and back again, and the process is endless" (Elwood: 41).
One of the difficulties in developing leadership in the culture is to somehow create a biblically positive mentality which seeks out opportunities for evangelism, church growth, and self-improvement. Here it is not a question of the Filipino culture being likened to the West, but rather recognizing that the New Testament church learned in a most alien environment to rise above earthly hindrance, grasp maximum value out of every opportunity, and retain a consistently positive and optimistic attitude towards its existence and ministry. It is the process of learning to trust faith instead of fate.
One of the issues that is most difficult to deal with is the problem of the matriarchal society in Philippine culture. In most Filipino families, mother is the prime mover and the go-between. Here the culture seems to stand in opposition to the patriarchal emphasis of Scripture. Evangelical church leaders in the Philippines face the task of somehow communicating the importance of male leadership in the home and the church. Furthermore, the role of women in the church is a constant source of discussion. Overseas Crusades missionary Jim Montgomery indicates that one of the key factors in the rapid growth of Pentecostal churches in the Philippines is tie use of women ministers. He asks, "If the Pentecostal movement throughout the world is, for the sake of argument, an evidence of the out-pouring of the Spirit in the latter days, would we not expect that the portion referring to women prophesying would be accomplished also?" (Montgomery: 185).
Still another point of cultural confrontation is the difference between competition in Western society and cooperation or bayanihan in Filipino culture. Jose Gamboa sees a trinity of Filipino values playing a distinct role in the processes and life of the church: pagkakaisa, pakikisama, and bayanihan. The latter he defines as "a value that operates in a community when there is pagkakaisa, or unity among its members, and then they express their pakikisama for one another . . . . it is a group approach to perform a task; that is, all the members of the group pitch in to get something done for one of its members or for the community itself" (Gamboa: 57). It should be obvious to all students of the New Testament that such a value of community is clearly taught in numerous New Testament passages, and particularly in Ephesians 4, a model for Christian educators. Is it really necessary to introduce our typical Western "contest mentality" as a means toward enthusiastic involvement of the Filipino people? Could we not by-pass the channel once again and take our brethren right back to the New Testament model with which they seem to be more compatible?
The final point of comparison I want to make is the contention between individualism and community. The West, particularly the United States, has been marked by a pioneer frontierism and poetic rugged individualism. But Daniel Boone would have made a poor Filipino. And whereas the Apostle Paul seems to fit the Western mold as he stomped along across Asia Minor as a pioneer missionary, the overall tone of the New Testament clearly centers on the community urging believers to be more concerned about the needs of others than they are about their own interests. The old Filipino barangay may be a satisfactory base for the development of a New Testament teaching community.
To be sure, many of these cultural patterns are traditional and therefore, being challenged and changed in urban centers like Manila. But the key question still retains sufficient validity to push our thinking: Is it possible that the Filipino church can best grow and thrive by ignoring the patterns of its Western mentors and linking itself directly with the New Testament model developed in Palestinian orientalism?
Gamboa thinks the answer is yes and proposes an educational model built upon "pagkakaisa, pakikisama and bayanihan; the church is a teaching community, with great emphasis on living-in-community as a resource for learning; and its chief objective is for this community to be in mission for God in the world" (Gamboa: 581). Though he may be writing out of a theologically liberal context, this Filipino church leader has identified a model with which most evangelical Christian educators in the Philippines must agree.
Allen, Frank W. "National Leadership and Missionary Preparation," Evangelical Missions Quarterly, 8 (Winter, 1972 ), 73-77.
Deats, Richard L. Nationalism and Christianity in the Philippines. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1967.
Elwood, Douglas J. "A Theological Approach to Some Traditional Filipino Beliefs About Man," The South East Asia Journal of Theology, 11 (Spring, 1970 ), 37-53.
— Churches and Sects in the Philippines. Dumaguete City: Silliman University, 1968.
Gamboa, Jose, Jr. "A Proposal for An Educational Model for Christian Education in the Philippine Setting," The South East Asia Journal of Theology, 12 (Spring, 1971), 54-64.
Gorospe, Vitaliano R. "Christian Koinonia and Some Philippine Cultural Forces, " The South East Asia Journal of Theology, 11 (Spring, 1970), 19-36.
Mercado, Leonardo N. "Filipino Thought," Philippine Studies, 20 (Second Quarter, 1972 ), 207-272.
Montgomery, Jim. New Testament Fire In The Philippines. Manila: FEBC Marshburn Press, n.d.
Tuggy, A. Leonard and Ralph Toliver. Seeing the Church in the Philippines. Manila: OMF Publishers, 1972.
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