Will The Philippines Turn Protestant

In 1521 the great Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan discovered a group of some 3,141 islands. The islands, now known as "the Philippines," became a Spanish colony. Under Spanish rule, a program of evangelization was undertaken by various religious orders, especially the Franciscans and Dominicans. The islands were annexed by the United States in 1898. The Philippines are unusual in that they constitute the only predominantly Christian country in Southeast Asia. Although Catholicism is the dominant form of Christianity in the Philippines at present, many Protestant missionary societies established a presence there following the end of Spanish rule. While various forms of Protestantism are now firmly rooted in the region, they constitute a minority. A 1970 survey suggested that, even after seventy-five years of American missionary presence, fewer than 1 percent of the population had turned Protestant.

In part, this must be regarded as the outcome of a series of lost opportunities, including a curious failure on the part of Protestant missionaries to appreciate the strategic importance of the emergence of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente at the beginning of the twentieth cen-tury.23 Furthermore, most American missionaries adopted a woodenly hostile approach to Catholicism, reflecting the defining Protestant ideology of the age—namely, that Catholicism was "the other." In the end, this approach merely resulted in open confrontation with Catholicism, which achieved little in the way of results.

To add to the catalog of failures, the American missionaries of the early twentieth century took a radically individualist approach to matters of faith, a strategy that totally failed to connect with the strongly communal outlook of the Philippines, where the family plays an especially important practical and symbolic role. The predominance of a modernist worldview within the missionary community led to a somewhat rationalist and cerebral understanding of faith that failed to appreciate the imaginative, emotional, and communitarian aspects of Christian faith—aspects already well developed within Filipino Catholicism.24 In the end, American missionaries managed to export the old controversies of the Reformation and the newer battles of the fundamentalist-modernist debate more effectively than they did the gospel itself.

Protestant churches in Manila were in open competition with each other from the first decade of the twentieth century and spent more time and effort wooing members from each other than reaching out to the culture at large.25 Altogether, the missionary experience in the Philippines represents a textbook case of the imposition of Westernized forms of Protestantism in a culturally inappropriate and insensitive manner. Protestant churches in Manila and elsewhere have certainly grown since the end of the Second World War, yet this growth is primarily to be attributed to biological reproduction, not conversion or outreach.26

With such an unimpressive track record, it might seem unwise, even unrealistic, to speak of the Philippines as being poised to become a significant player in global Protestantism. Yet there are powerful points of comparison to be made to the situation in Latin America. Both regions were Hispanic colonies in which Catholicism enjoyed a virtual religious monopoly until about 1900.27

The real issue here is that certain critical changes that have taken place suggest that this is a genuine possibility. The most important of these is that Pentecostalism—the engine of Protestant growth in Latin America—is now a growing presence within the nation, especially in metropolitan Manila. Historical analysis indicates a multiplicity of historical originations of Pentecostalism in the Philippines, including through Filipino laborers and students returning home after working in the United States and encountering Pentecostalism during their stay.28 Although the forms of Pentecostalism introduced to the Philippines from the late 1920s onward were American in provenance, many adapted to the local culture, especially its ready acceptance of a "spirit world."

The classic Pentecostalist denominations—such as the Assemblies of God and the Foursquare Church—were well established in Manila by the 1950s. These were supplemented by a number of groups that are best described as "independent" churches—such as the "Jesus Is Lord" church, founded in 1978, the Bread of Life movement (1982), the Christ's Commission Fellowship (1982), and the Victory Christian Fellowship (1984). These movements have grown rapidly, in a manner similar to their Latin American counterparts. One of the factors that undergirds this growth is the use of cells as a means of pastoral care and outreach. The "cell" model of the church, which originated in East Asia, builds on the strong sense of group identity associated with the family in this region of the world. This way of conceiving the identity and function of the church sits uneasily with traditional Protestant models and represents yet another area in which Protestantism is being forced to reexamine existing paradigms and practices in the light of developments in the global South.

As developed by Lawrence Khong in Singapore or the Christ's Commission Fellowship in Manila, the church is understood to be a "church of cells."29 The basic idea behind the movement can be found in the patterns of church life described in the New Testament, especially in the Acts of the Apostles (for example, Acts 2:42-46). Like the early church, the movement forms small cells, sometimes called "basic Christian communities," which are typically based in members' houses. The life of the church lies in the cells, which are seen as primary; the gathered congregation on Sundays is secondary. The phrase "church of cells" is preferred, as it emphasizes the primacy of the cell; the alternative "church with cells" implies that the cells are secondary.

In what follows, we describe the cell church model found in the Christ's Commission Fellowship, which is based on the "Discipling of Twelve" (D-12) model of church growth.30 The cells generally start off with six to eight people and then grow over a period of weeks or months to twelve. At this point, each cell splits into two smaller groups and grows again, before dividing again. New members are drawn into the group through personal friendship, witness, or evangelism and are cared for within the group. The primary purpose of the cell is often described as edification and multiplication—that is, to build up believers and to enable them to reach out into their communities and bring new converts into the church.

"Cell multiplication" is the watchword of this community-based approach to evangelism. The cells gather together for "celebration" on Sundays, but the real pastoral work and outreach takes place within the cells themselves. The church leaders emphasize the proper training of cell group leaders, which they see as critically important to support and outreach. Sundays are viewed as an opportunity to offer "seeker-friendly"

services; additional services are held on Wednesday or Thursday evenings for the committed. (The influence of the Willow Creek approach is evident here.)

The significance of this development for the traditional Western notion of the "Protestant denomination" is clear. The cell church movement avoids the costly bureaucracies and committee-ridden structures of traditional denominations. Instead, this movement empowers the leadership of individual cells, while relieving the church leadership team of the administrative burdens normally associated with churches of this size. This new way of conceiving the church not only creates new possibilities for pastoral care and outreach but also creates a significant leadership role for the laity within the cells.

So what of the future? Neither the Catholic church, which is used to operating within a monopoly of religious influence, nor traditional Protestantism appears to have been able to match the growth rates in the newer forms of Protestantism that began to emerge in the Philippines in the late 1970s. As in Latin America, Protestant growth has primarily taken place within Pentecostal groups, both those with historic roots in America (such as the Assemblies of God) and the local movements that have emerged in the Filipino context. Although charismatic elements have emerged within the Filipino Catholic church, these tend to be initiated and led by laity; located outside the church's hierarchy, charismat-ics are thus isolated from power and influence in the church.31 It is uncertain where these trends will lead. Present growth patterns, however, point to the significant theoretical possibility that a large portion of the Filipino population will be Pentecostal in the future.

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