MANILA, Philippines – The Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) on Saturday, September 26, stages its biggest event to woo non-members as an internal conflict threatens to diminish the church’s membership.
No less than the powerful church’s leader, Brother Eduardo V Manalo, is set to lead the event called a grand evangelical mission.
The INC is holding the event in the P8.7-billion ($190.96-million), 55,000-seater Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan, a symbol of the global stature that the INC has reached.
Speaking to Rappler, INC spokesman Brother Edwil Zabala confirmed that this is the biggest evangelical mission in the 101-year history of the INC.
This grand evangelical mission, after all, is set to reach even those who cannot come to the Philippine Arena. Zabala said the INC is airing the event live in its temples across the globe.
The event, Zabala added, is not primarily for INC members. Instead, the grand evangelical mission is targeting “curious” non-INC members who want to know more about the church.
Previous evangelical missions, for instance, saw thousands of “akay,” or potential recruits, coming with family and friends who belong to the INC. In 2013, the INC's huge evangelical mission in the city of Manila came with a medical mission that attracted many non-members – and also forced Metro Manila mayors to cancel classes. (READ: The lure of Iglesia: Recruitment and the perks)
Zabala said the INC, on Saturday, expects at least to fill the 55,000 seats of the Philippine Arena.
The Manila North Tollways Corporation, which runs the 90-kilometer North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) that traverses the Philippine Arena, has warned the public about heavy traffic along NLEX because of the INC event.
This huge event comes as the INC grapples with the worst crisis it has ever faced.
The crisis erupted in July after members of the secretive INC, including Eduardo’s brother Felix Nathaniel or “Angel”, exposed the alleged corruption among the church’s leaders.
In late August, the INC staged a 5-day rally to protest the “religious persecution” allegedly perpetrated by the government against the politically influential church. This was triggered by a case filed by a suspended minister against INC’s leaders before the Department of Justice. (READ: INSIDE STORY: The end of the Iglesia ni Cristo protest)
Credibility of 'expansive' INC
While Saturday’s event comes in the face of this crisis, Zabala pointed out that the INC has been staging evangelical missions even before. He said Saturday’s event, in any case, sends a positive message.
Zabala said: ”Ipinakikita nito na ang Iglesia ni Cristo, hindi kami nawawala doon sa focus kung ano talaga ang misyon ng Iglesia bilang relihiyon. Iyon ang ipangaral ang Ebanghelyong nasa Bibliya, ipag-anyaya sa mga tao, ihatid sa kanila 'yung mensahe ng pag-ibig ng Diyos at ng pagliligtas ng Panginoong Hesukristo.”
(This shows that we, in the Iglesia ni Cristo, do not lose focus as to the mission of the Iglesia as a religion. This is to preach the Gospel in the Bible, encourage people, and bring them the message of the love of God and the salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ.)
Still, the crisis in the INC continues to divide church members.
The INC’s 5-day rally in August, for instance, drew up to 20,000 protestors but earlier events such as evangelical missions attracted as many as 700,000 people.
Sociologist of religion Jayeel Cornelio, in an interview with Rappler in August, explained that issues hounding the INC can affect the church's membership. This is because the INC is an “expansive” religion.
“It wants to evangelize. It is a missions-based church,” Cornelio said, so public perception “matters for the Iglesia ni Cristo.”
“Sa ngayon, malaking bagay para sa publiko na ang mga pinuno pala ng Iglesia ni Cristo ay merong mga sariling eroplano, ay merong mga extravagant lifestyle – mga bagay na kuwestyonable para sa publiko,” the sociologist said. (READ: Multi-million Airbus used by Iglesia leaders being sold)
(For now, it is a big thing for the public that the leaders of the Iglesia ni Cristo have their own airplanes and have extravagant lifestyles – things that the public finds questionable.)
“How can you believe in a church that preaches holiness if there are allegations of corruption?” Cornelio asked. – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.