Q and A: We're not divided, INC spokesman says

MANILA, Philippines – While the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) faces its worst crisis, INC spokesman Brother Edwil Zabala asserted in an interview with Rappler that their church is not divided.

Zabala said the INC, after all, has expelled several members who have openly criticized the church's leaders. 

The expelled members include Cristina "Tenny" Manalo and Felix Nathaniel "Angel" Manalo, the mother and brother of INC executive minister Brother Eduardo Manalo.

Zabala also sought to reassure INC members who have begun to doubt their church. (LISTEN: PODCAST: Saan patungo ang Iglesia ni Cristo?)

Even INC ministers, for one, have exposed the reportedly extravagant lifestyles of church leaders and the alleged abduction of a number of ministers. (READ: INC minister defies orders, quits during service)

How does the INC view these controversies?

To help readers make sense of the issues involved, Rappler is publishing excerpts of a 30-minute phone interview with Zabala on July 25.

An English translation follows.

RAPPLER: Brother Edwil, kamusta po ngayon 'yung mga kapatid po sa Iglesia ni Cristo? Anong mood ngayon, anong atmosphere ngayon sa inyong simbahan po?

ZABALA: Ang mga kapatid sa Iglesia ni Cristo, bahagi kasi ng aming doktrina, na nasa media naman, na kapagka mayroong mga problema, kapagka mayroon kang dalahin sa buhay, pinaaalala sa atin ng Bibliya na meron tayong tunay na Diyos, at ang Ama ay puwedeng lapitan. Puwedeng dalanginan.  

Doon yumayakap ang mga kaanib sa Iglesia ni Cristo, sa pananampalataya namin na nakabatay sa Bibliya, na kapagka dumaraan sa anumang suliranin ang indibidwal na kaanib sa Iglesia, kapagka mayroong pagsubok sa buhay ang isang indibidwal na kaanib sa Iglesia, maaari siyang sumamba, maaari siyang manalangin, sapagka't hindi naman malayo ang Panginoong Diyos sa kanyang lingkod na nangangailangan ng tulong niya. 

Kaya kung meron mang bumabangon na mga problema, eh hindi ko naman masabi kung ilan ang mga kaanib sa Iglesia ni Cristong naaapektuhan noong mga kumakalat na balita. Pero kung indibidwal na kaanib sa Iglesia ni Cristo ang pag-uusapan, at 'yan naman ay naturuan ng doktrina ng Bibliya, alam niya kung ano ang kinakailangan niyang gawin. Mayroong Diyos, mayroong paraan para lumapit sa Panginoong Diyos. Manalangin.

RAPPLER: Brother Edwil, may nagsasabi po na nahahati daw po ang Iglesia. Paano po n'yo iaia-address 'yung ganoon pong mga saloobin? 

ZABALA: 'Yung nagsasabi na nahahati ang Iglesia ay marahil bunga 'yun ng kakulangan ng kaalaman niya ukol sa pananampalataya ng mga kaanib sa Iglesia ni Cristo. 

Ang mga kaanib sa Iglesia ni Cristo, nagkakaisa sa pagtataguyod ng aral, at ang pangunahing nagdadala sa amin ng aral ng Bibliya ay ang tagapamahalang pangkalahatan ng Iglesia ni Cristo, si Kapatid Eduardo Manalo. May mga kinakatulong siya na naghahatid sa mga kapatid ng aral na 'yon. 'Yung pagkakaisa ng Iglesia ni Cristo sa pagsunod ng aral na itinuturo ni Kapatid na Eduardo Manalo – galing sa Bibliya, hindi personal na aral na inimbento, kundi galing sa Bibliya – nananatili iyon. 

Kung totoo man na mayroong itinitiwalag mula sa Iglesia, lalo pa ngang nagpapakita iyon na may pagkakaisa ang Iglesia na itaguyod ang aral. Kaya kung merong itiniwalag, itinitiwalag batay sa itinuturo ng aral na dapat gawin, depende doon sa naging paglabag ng isang tao. 

RAPPLER: Bakit po ba mabilis ang aksyon ninyo sa pagtitiwalag? 

ZABALA: Hindi naman mabilis sa sentidong baka isipin ng tao ay hindi pinag-isipan. May proseso. Kinakailangang may matibay na patotoo. Kung matibay na patotoo, aaksyon ang pamamahala ng Iglesia. Iyong salitang mabilis, maaaring relatibo sa nakita ng ibang tao. Pero doon sa proseso, dumadaan pa rin iyon. 

Mabalik ako sa kaninang tanong. Iyon na nga, mayroong impresyon iyong nagtanong, iyon ay hindi aplikable sa Iglesia ni Cristo sa kabuuan. Nananatili. Kapag mayroong itiniwalag, naiintindihan ng mga kaanib sa Iglesia ni Cristo, hindi na iyon miyembro ng Iglesia. Dahil hindi na miyembro ng Iglesia ni Cristo ay hindi sangkot ang Iglesia ni Cristo, o hindi masasabing ang Iglesia ang na-divide dahil sa mayroong inalis.

Inalis nga siya, eh, mula sa Iglesia ni Cristo. Iyong nananatili, nagkakaisa. 

RAPPLER: Ano po 'yung gusto n'yo pong sabihin sa mga miyembro n'yo na humaharap ang Iglesia sa ganitong sitwasyon, eh 101st anniversary po ninyo? 

ZABALA: Una sa lahat, nagpapasalamat ako sa iyo dahil sa binibigyan mo kami ng ganitong pagkakataon. 

Pangalawa, hindi bagong bagay sa mga kaanib sa Iglesia ni Cristo 'yung dumaraan sa mga suliranin, dumaraan sa mga pagsubok. Hindi bagong bagay sa Iglesia ni Cristo na may pagkakataong nalulungkot, at kung papaanong hindi rin naman bagong bagay sa amin iyong may pagkakataong masaya kami. Pero ang laging pinanaligan ng isang kaanib sa Iglesia ni Cristo ay ang mga salita ng Diyos. Iyon ang kaaliwan ng isang kaanib sa Iglesia ni Cristo – ang sumunod at ang manalangin sa Panginoong Diyos. 

Ang mga kaanib naman sa Iglesia ni Cristo, kausap ng mga ministro, hindi bababa sa dalawang beses sa loob ng isang linggo. Kapagka kami kasi ay may pagsamba, tinuturuan ang mga kaanib ng mga salita ng Diyos. Samakatwid, kaya ko binanggit iyon, para lang ipaalaala na ang mga kaanib sa Iglesia ni Cristo, kung meron mang pagsubok na pinagdaraanan sa panahong ito, alam namin kung saan kami tatakbo. 

RAPPLER: Sa mga nagdududa sa kanila, ano pong masasabi ninyo? Siyempre may mga iba na nagdududa o nawawalan ng loob o baka napapaisip. 

ZABALA: Kita naman ng mga kaanib sa Iglesia ni Cristo kung ano 'yung nangyayari, kung ano 'yung mga kaganapan sa Iglesia. Walang pagsambang hindi naisasagawa. Ang pagtatayo ng mga kapilya ng Iglesia ni Cristo, tuluy-tuloy. Iyong mga kilusan para ipalaganap ang Ebanghelyo, tuluy-tuloy. 

Kung meron man na pinanghihinaan ng loob, inaaanyahahan ko silang tingnan nila kung ano ang nangyayari. Hindi 'yung sinasabi kundi 'yung aktwal na nangyayaring lantad na lantad naman, sa isang kaanib sa Iglesia ni Cristo. Hindi magdidikit ang mata ng isang kaanib sa Iglesia ni Cristo sa katotohanang hindi naglilikat – malalim-lalim na Tagalog – hindi naglilikat ang pamamahala sa Iglesia ni Cristo na itaguyod yoong mga gawain na kailangang gawin dahil ang Iglesia ni Cristo'y relihiyon. 

Samakatwid, kung mayroong isang kaanib na tila nababagabag, inaanyayahan ko siya, tingnan mo, ano bang ginagawa ng Iglesia ni Cristo talaga, na itinutuloy hanggang ngayon?

English translation:

RAPPLER: Brother Edwil, how are your brothers and sisters in the Church of Christ? What is the mood? What is the atmosphere in your Church?

ZABALA: For our brothers and sisters in the Church of Christ, part of our doctrine, which is in media, is that when we have problems, when we have burdens in life, the Bible reminds us that we have one true God, and we can approach our Father. We can pray to Him. 

That is what the members of the Church of Christ cling to – our faith that is based on the Bible, that when any individual member of the church undergoes trials, he or she can worship, can pray, because the Lord God is not far from His servants who need His help. 

So if there are problems, well I cannot say how many members of the Church of Christ are affected by those pieces of news. But if we're talking about individual members of the Church of Christ, and they've been taught the doctrines of the Bible, he or she will know what do. There is God, and there is a way to approach God. Pray. 

RAPPLER: Brother Edwil, some people say the Church is divided. How will you address these opinions?

ZABALA: Those who say that, do so because of a poor understanding of the faith of the members of the Church of Christ.

The members of the Church of Christ are one in upholding its teachings, and the main person bringing us the teachings of the Bible is the executive minister of the Church of Christ, Brother Eduardo Manalo. He has people helping him in bringing those teachings to our brothers and sisters. The unity of the Church of Christ in following the teachings of Brother Eduardo Manalo – from the Bible, not personal teachings he invented but teachings from the Bible – will remain. 

If it is true that some members have been expelled from the Church, that shows all the more that the Church has unity in upholding its teachings. If a person was expelled, that person was expelled based on the teachings that have to be upheld, based on the wrongdoing a person committed.

RAPPLER: Why did you act swiftly on the expulsions?

ZABALA: It is not swift in the sense that people might think we didn't think about it. It went through a process. It required strong evidence. If there is strong evidence, the leadership of the Church will act on it. The word "swift" might be relative based on what people see. But it went through a process.

If I may return to your question, the person who asked the question might have an impression that is not applicable to the Church of Christ as a whole. We remain. If someone was expelled, members of the Church of Christ understand that, that person is no longer a member of the Church. And because he or she is no longer a member of the Church, the Church of Christ is no longer involved, or we cannot say that the Church was divided because someone was expelled.

The person, after all, was already expelled from the Church of Christ. Those who have stayed, remain united.

RAPPLER: What do you want to tell your members as the Church faces this situation, now that it's your 101st anniversary?

ZABALA: First of all, I want to thank you because you're giving us this opportunity. 

Second, it's nothing new for members of the Church of Christ to undergo trials, to undergo tests. It is nothing new for the Church of Christ that there are times when we are sad, in the same way it is nothing new for us that there are times when we are happy. But a member of the Church of Christ always holds on to the Word of God. That is the joy of a member of the Church of Christ – to follow and pray to the Lord our God.

The members of the Church of Christ talk with their ministers no less than twice a week. When we have a worship service, the members are taught the Word of God. I am mentioning this to remind members of the Church of Christ, that if we are undergoing trials these days, we know whom we can run to.

RAPPLER: For those among them who are beginning to doubt, what can you say? Of course there are some who are beginning to doubt, lose heart, or think twice.

ZABALA: Members of the Church of Christ can see what's happening in the Church. No worship service is missed. The building of chapels of the Church of Christ continues. The movements to spread the Gospel also continue.

If there are people losing heart, I invite them to look at what is really happening. Not what people say, but what is actually happening that is really seen by a member of the Church of Christ. A member of the Church of Christ would not turn a blind eye to the truth that the leaders of the Church of Christ have not broken down to continue the tasks that they need to fulfill because the Church of Christ is a religion. 

In other words, if there is a member who seems disturbed, I invite him or her to take a look at the tasks of the Church of Christ that continue to this day. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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 pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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