Faith in action: The practices of Iglesia ni Cristo

For non-members of the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), what happens within the walls of the INC's church buildings sprawled all over the Philippines is shrouded in mystery.

But members say the "Church of Christ” is not as secretive as people perceive it to be. Just a quick search on one of their websites, Kabayan Ko Kapatid Ko (My Countrymen My Brethren), and one can find answers to frequently asked questions:

Why are members prohibited from marrying non-members? Why are there weekday worship services? Why are infants not baptized?

Nielson Pangan, topnotcher in the 2013 Bar Examinations and an INC member since birth, explained there is Biblical basis for their practices. (READ: INFOGRAPHIC: What you should know about the Iglesia ni Cristo)

For starters, it is a known fact that during worship services, men are segregated from women. “[That is an] interpretation of a Bible verse: do everything nang may kaayusan (with order). That's our way of observing that kaayusan (order),” Pangan told Rappler.

A typical worship service, which lasts for around an hour, also observes “order:”

Both men and women should wear formal attire during services.

INC holds two worship services per week: one midweek service (Wednesday or Thursday), and a Sunday service. On why there is more than one service, the INC explains:

The early Christians worshiped on the first day of the week (Sunday). But there were times when they worshipped every day (Acts 2:46 LB) – as the Church deemed it necessary.

In our case, we hold worship services twice a week as the Church has decided through the authority of the Church Administration (Matt 18:19) and in obedience to God’s admonition (John 4:23; Heb 10:25).

Every local church has a minister, deacons and deaconesses that help in leading members to their seats and collecting offerings, and a choir that leads the congregation in singing hymns. Pangan, a choir organist, had to learn more than 300 hymns since he joined the ministry.

Every member has a tarjeta where their church attendance is recorded. If a member attended another INC local congregation, he or she will be given a certificate so that it can be counted as an attendance. If a member is no longer attending the services, Pangan said a katiwala (overseer) will visit and check on him or her.

Prayer, baptism, and offerings

There is a wide gap of differences in the practices of INC and the Roman Catholic Church, especially in prayer and baptism. While Catholic prayers are usually memorized, the INC has no format when praying.

But Gina,* a 29-year-old INC member from Laguna, told Rappler how they personally pray.

"Sa prayer namin, unang-una dun yung pagpapasalamat, binibigyan mo ng kapurihan yung Panginoong Diyos. Tapos yung pangalawa, yung paghingi ng kapatawaran sa mga kasalanan. Tapos pangatlo, kung ano yung mga bagay na gusto mong hingin, tapos kasama rin sa prayer namin yung pamamahala ng Iglesia, ipinapanalangin namin yun,” she said.

(In our prayer first of all, we thank and praise the Lord God. Secondly, we ask for the forgiveness of our sins. Thirdly, we ask for whatever we need, and we also pray for the administration of the Iglesia.)

Unlike in the Catholic faith, parents who are INC members have their newborn child dedicated, not baptized. At around 12 or 13 years old, the process of "indoctrination" begins, lasting for about 6 months.

"After months, meron yung susubukin ka if the teachings nag-instill sa iyo and [you’re] observing the practices. That's the only time you'll be baptized,” said Pangan, who was baptized in his early teens. 

(After months, you will be tested if the teachings were instilled in you and if you're observing the practices. That's the only time you'll be baptized.)

During baptism, members are immersed in a bautisterio (baptismal pool).

Contrary to popular belief, INC does “not practice the giving of tithes.” Church expenses are supported by voluntary contributions – "offerings given freely based upon what one has decided in his heart.” These are not dictated by INC.

Prohibitions

Members do not celebrate Christmas, finding no Biblical basis for such practice. They also do not celebrate fiestas. Nor do they observe All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day, and Holy Week

They, however, observe Sta Cena (Banal na Hapunan or Holy Supper).

"Sa amin kasi instead of celebrating the birth of Christ – the date is not known – we commemorate the death of Christ through Holy Supper,” Pangan explained.

(Instead of celebrating the birth of Christ – the date of which is unknown – we commemorate the death of Christ through Holy Supper.)

The church also has two thanksgiving celebrations every year: one for the church anniversary every July 27, and another during the end of the year.

Gina said other prohibitions include eating food mixed with blood, worshipping “idols” (the statues of saints), gambling, drinking excessively, and other kalayawan or worldliness. 

Members cannot date, be engaged to, or marry anyone who’s not a member of the church. Once married, Gina said, couples are not allowed to file an annulment. 

Pangan, meanwhile, said they cannot hold elective positions in government, but they can be appointed to office. All members – about 2.25 million as of 2010 – can only vote as a bloc and elect candidates endorsed by their leaders. – Rappler.com

*Not her real name, following her request for anonymity

Other sources: A Study of the Iglesia Ni Cristo: A Politico-Religious Sect in the Philippines by Hirofumi Ando; The Baptismal Rites in Filipino Christian Churches by Enrique Gonzales; The "Iglesia ni Cristo" by Joseph J. Kavanagh; The Voice of the Iglesia ni Cristo: 1951-1961 by Joseph J. Kavanagh;  Three Essays on Philippine Religious Culture by Fernando Elesterio

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.

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