Unity: How Pleasant It Is!

This morning I had the honor of preaching on the Unity Theme at the joint worship of the Christians from De Castro and the Christians from Pasig-Kapitolyo. This was their third time to worship together, so I was told.

The Pasig-Kapitolyo church began with brother George Esmelia of Bacolod City. This is wonderful! George and I had been at loggerheads before because we could not agree on anything in our religious discussions at the Plaza of Bacolod City in the 1970’s. But while I disagreed with George, I too prayed that he would see the light of the Gospel. And God listened to my prayers. He worked wonders: George Esmelia was taught and baptized, not by me, but by other brethren; not in Bacolod, but in Metro Manila! I rejoiced at the conversion of my former antagonist! Calling him by phone in the 1990’s, we would often laugh out loud at how we had rationalized and justified our positions!

Early this decade, George left the Kapitolyo church in the care of the younger brethren, went to the US, then to Singapore. He was a restless man, but he also was a depressed man– because of the untimely death of his dear wife Marfe. The last news we heard was that he is back in Bacolod City.

The church in Kapitolyo was indeed in good hands, thanks to the Lord and to the few leaders who kept raising the torch of the gospel, fiery and bright and strong, even in the time of raging storms that life had brought them. Twenty years of existence! The Kapitolyo church that began with George  kept on and grew without George, and God be praised for that!

They talked of merger today, the De Castro Christians and the Kapitolyo Christians, and I too was in the meeting. There were seven of us present. They ironed out the kinks that remained. Brethren went another mile, loosened up a bit, and did some sacrifice to make this union a reality.

We owe it to the Lord and to the Father for Their having inspired the leaders of De Castro church (Aldous Echegoyen and Cesar Ola) and those of Kapitolyo church (Jun Cayanan, Bitoy Tagapolot, and one other brother), giving them the light to see the wisdom of the suggestions to pool their resources, their talents and their skills and their influences to promote the growth of the body of Christ in the area. They were now eager to convince the other members of their respective groups to merge as one. The merger is one best thing that has happened to the congregations of Christ in Pasig!

Unity they called it. It is more than that. In the coming Sundays and months and years we will be seeing the effects of this unity-merger-union in the lives and in the work of the two churches that have become one.

The young leaders of the two merging congregations have asked for my help, have solicited my mentoring skills, have desired to drink from the fount of knowledge that grew (they said) from my long experience of preaching the Gospel. In the words of brother Jun Cayanan, “Please reproduce yourself in us, help us to copy the Christianity that grew in you.” Flattered? That was not my feeling. All of a sudden I felt I had become small and needed the guidance from above in order to meet these brethren’s expectations!

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Psalms 133:1).

To see the photos, please click here…

Datu Makunay and Datu Bhutto

Brother Felix Bravo, missionary to Tarlac.

DATU MAKUNAY of Buluan must have been a rebel datu,” said brother Felix Bravo. He and I were both having coffee that afternoon of my arrival in his home at Teresa Homes Subdivision, Tarlac City. Scheduled to preach at his congregation the next day, Sunday, December 12, I spent the afternoon and evening of  Saturday bonding with him and getting him familiarized with his blog site which I put up for him years ago.

“But he’s not the most powerful datu in Buluan at that time,” he added. “The most powerful ruler of Buluan was Datu Bhutto.”

I braced myself up for this additional tidbit of history.

Brother Felix’s comment came about when we saw each other this year (the last time we met was in Sunrise, in 1996!), and this after he had read the 4th installment of the History of the Churches of Christ in Mindanao published in my blog, where a certain Datu Makunay is a character, albeit one who had a flawed personality.

But concerning other things about Makunay, brother Felix did not have much information.

Brother Felix said that the Bravo and the Abubo families had befriended this most powerful Muslim datu back in frontier days. And even to this day, his family and the descendants of this datu are still very close. These descendants have now found their own niches in the present-day political tapestry of Mindanao.

THE FIRST AND EARLIEST government of Cotabato, and in fact of the whole Mindanao, was at the hands of the Sultanate of Maguindanao. From the days when this sultanate flowered up to the days of the Philippine Commonwealth, there were only two towns, Cotabato (which was to become a city later) and Buluan. The American war of expansion that started when Admiral Dewey bombarded Intramuros walls, which resulted to a truce with Spain and the US purchase of the Philippine archipelago for $25 million, and another war to domesticate the insurrectos which culminated in the defeat of the army of the first Philippine Republic under Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo in the 1900s, became also a war to take a foothold over the whole Mindanao. One by one the Muslim datus were defeated, their rule becoming a non-issue, and the whole Mindanao archipelago was absorbed into the Commonwealth.

It was Gen. Paulino Santos, whose name later became a city, who took charge of the Philippine Commonwealth’s program of inviting settlers from Luzon and Visayas to populate Mindanao and exploit its rich natural resources. When goes the migrant, so goes the Commonwealth government. Many came, including them whose names later played a great role in expanding the Restoration Movement in the hinterlands of Mindanao.

Photo from wiki.tell.com

From Pagadian, the Bravos and the Abubos landed in Cotabato town. They did not mean to stay here. They were told that vast lands lay unclaimed in the interior of Cotabato province. So they proceeded to Buluan, aboard the lantsa plying the Rio Grande de Mindanao. The Rio Grande then was Cotabato’s only highway.

The Bravos and the Abubos landed by the bank of Buluan river. Tall-standing trees abounded in the area. They saw no road but they could see footpaths. These they followed. They passed by Muslim settlements.

The surprise of their life, however, was seeing a Muslim or two speaking Tagalog, Ilocano, Cebuano and Ilonggo. Which gave them an idea that they were not the first migrants of the place.

They asked for directions, and they were told to keep going. They asked for the datu and they were told they would soon see him.

Indeed. For they soon heard the sound of bells, and saw a white horse and one who was riding on it. By his manners and the way he dressed, he appeared noble; the people who heard his coming stopped what they were doing, took to the side of the footpath, and bowed their heads upon seeing him.

“Magandang araw sa inyo, mga kapatid!” (“Good day to you, brothers!”). The man spoke fluent Tagalog. “Ano ba ang maipaglilingkod ko sa inyo?” (“What can I do for you?”).

They had just met Datu Bhutto, said to be the most loved ruler of Buluan. This was in 1941.

Datu Bhutto then dispensed his role as a good citizen of the Commonwealth and the de facto ruler of this part of the country. He assigned a plot of land to each of the Abubos and the Bravos, about ten hectares for each family, like he did to other families who migrated to Buluan. That area in Alip where the Bravos and Abubos settled later came to be known as “Malingon.” I heard that in Maguindanao dialect, the word means “peaceful place.”

A year after their arrival in Malingon, the Abubos and the Bravos became Christians. They were taught by the team of evangelists from the Lord’s church (Belo, Alegre, and Villanueva) who had also settled in Alip, which was near Malingon. This was about 1942. It was in Alip that the Belo, Alegre, Villanueva and other Christian families were imprisoned by Makunay.

In Malingon, there were Luzonians and Visayans who had also staked their claims to the land over which Datu Bhutto ruled. In Buluan there was no merging of Christian and Muslim communities, in order to preserve the peace and allow both groups to practice their religions. Each community was protected by virtue of the decree issued by Datu Bhutto: No Muslim could enter into Christian villages without the Datu’s permission; and vice versa. But brother Felix said he and other sons of the Abubos were free to visit the house of Datu Bhutto, and play with his sons.

SONS OF DATU BHUTTO. Brother Felix remembered Datu Bhutto’s son named Pua. He was the fastest running athlete of Maguindanao, and had good promise as a national athlete. Pua later became mayor of Buluan.

But one other son of Datu Bhutto was special to the Abubos and the Bravos, and his name was Pakung. When Pakung was an infant, his mother, one of the wives of Datu Bhutto, died. An Abubo mother, brother Felix’s aunt, suckled the infant until he was strong and healthy enough to eat normal food.

 

 

 

Datu Pax Mangudadatu, congressman of Sultan Kudarat. Photo from people.nfo.ph

 

Pakung later became governor and then congressman of Sultan Kudarat. Brother Felix remembered that when he went to Cotabato for his family affairs, Pakung would send his chauffeur to fetch him at the airport. Pakung, the son of Datu Bhutto, is actually congressman Pax Mangudadatu. Mangudadatu became their surname; the word means “younger datu.”

Pua, Felix’s other friend, is the father of Esmail Mangudadatu, whose political ambition to become governor of Maguindanao became the target of the ire of the Ampatuans. His wife, an Ilongga named Genalyn Tiamzon, was one of the fifty-seven victims who perished in the celebrated Maguindanao massacre of November 23, 2009.

 

EFFORT TO REACH OUT TO MUSLIMS. Brother Felix had tried preaching in Cotabato when he had the opportunity. In a past gospel meeting he had conducted in Malingon, one of those who consistently attended was Datu Saipula Guialudin, a relative of Datu Bhutto. But Saipula was never converted, neither were the other Muslims who attended brother Felix’s meetings. When the barrio site of what would be baranggay Malingon expanded on the property of brother Felix, he donated half a hectare of his land for the school site of Malingon Elementary School. His cousin Eligio Abubo also donated another half hectare. Brother Felix sold another hectare of his property in Buluan to both Muslims and Christians who wanted it; both groups of people now live together there. This harmonious relationship was a legacy from the days of Datu Bhutto.

 

Datu Esmail Mangudadatu, newly elected governor of Maguindanao. Photo from 2space.net.

ORIGIN OF THE MANGUDADATUS. Datu Bhutto was said to be a descendant of Shariff Kabungsuan, who first introduced Islamic teaching in mainland Mindanao. Shariff Kabungsuan was a native of Johore, married a native princess and became the first sultan of Maguindanao.

 

 

THE CHURCH OF CHRIST in Malingon is one church close to Muslim settlements that does not seem to be affected by clashes between Christians and Muslims in other parts of Mindanao.  No chapel of other “Christian” sect or denomination, nor a Muslim mosque, has been built in Malingon. There is no need for another church. The Malingon church of Christ is a vibrant testimony to the harmony that prevails in this part of Buluan, Maguindanao.

DEATH OF DATU PUA. Not very recently, brother Felix visited his friend Datu Pua who was dying because of diabetes. He rode a kuliglig passing through Muslim villages beside Buluan Lake. They reminisced together their early years as schoolmates from 1945 till 1951 at Buluan Central School.

FRIENDSHIP THAT LASTS. Brother Felix said he still could count the Mangudadatus, including Pax the incumbent congressman of Sultan Kudarat and Esmail Mangudadatu, the newly elected governor of Maguindanao as friends the Bravos and the Abubos could rely on. Thanks to Datu Bhutto. Thanks to God for this enduring friendship.

Brother Felix now has a growing mission work in Tarlac City.

Cabangan Church: A Congregation of Negritoes in Zambales

The church in Cabangan is the only church of Christ in the Philippines whose membership wholly consists of Aetas, or Negritoes (Spanish for “little black men”). At the time we met them (November 1989), they were led by a matriarchal figure named Rosita. I say “led” because I noticed that all the men listened to her, like her word was law. She was the wife of the most mature man among the group and exercised great influence among them. It was she who scheduled the classes for us.

These Aetas came down from Mount Pinatubo because food was scarce in the mountains. And so in the low lands they made do with what they could gather and hunt— wild animals like lizards and snakes and bananas and wild fruits from the riverside near the settlements of the Ilocanos. They helped in the harvesting of palay, and got paid either with money or with palay.

This was in the last days of 1989. I volunteered to do much of the  teaching, in Tagalog, which they also understood. My brother-in-law Tom would read the passages I cited in class in the Zambal dialect (the dialect of the Negritoes) using the Zambal translation of the Bible. That was how they came to know of the grace of Jesus and of their great need for a Savior. We spent a whole month teaching them. When they were ready, Tom baptized them in a river nearby.

We in a manner of speaking converted a whole village of them in San Juan, Cabangan, Zambales, consisting of 25 men and women not including children. After they became a church, we conducted worship services in the afternoons of Sunday. Tom and his family and I were then based in San Narciso. I was helping him grow the church there too.

This young Aeta named Leonardo is our song leader. Not being educated in a Bible college, he learns the songs by listening to other song leaders.

I left Zambales for Butuan City in February 1990. Tom went on and taught some more Negritoes in the area. His big break came when he baptized Ilocano families who owned farms in Cabangan. It signaled the beginning when the brown brethren (the Ilocanos) were gradually assimilated with the black brethren (the Negritoes) in the spirit of oneness with the God who saved both of them.

In the middle of 1990’s the late brother Lee Smeltzer donated some money to acquire the 1.5 hectare property above the Negrito settlement, now located in the village of Dolores, Cabangan. A year or so later, a chapel was built for this church with the funds donated by other US brethren.

There were fifty or more Negrito brethren in attendance when I preached there last Sunday, November 7, not including children. Tom told me that this Negrito church consists of 300 or more members. Many did not come; one reason was that the majority had moved to other places in Zambales, to Manila, and to Mindanao in search of jobs and opportunities to make a living.

Last Sunday I spoke on the subject so dear to my heart, using Hebrews 12:1-3 as text. I think I spoke for an hour, but nobody even noticed it! The Aeta brethren were reacting to my sermon, smiling as I spoke, making some favorable comments on my illustrations, nodding their heads in agreement!

That Sunday morning they had a meeting, and made a decision to support the coming Lectureship event this November 20. Each family will contribute a hundred pesos for the food. They already had collected over a thousand pesos for this purpose. Marcial the preacher says he will donate a sack of rice. They expect an attendance of over a hundred on that day.  Five speakers, including Tomas Lizardo and me and others from Kalaklan church will be speaking on this lectureship.

A Negrito hut near the church building. Brethren have agreed to my suggestion that this hut be moved down the hill so the church building can be expanded.

There is a plan to establish here a Bible school that will serve the Negrito and Ilocano brethren in the area. Two teachers have volunteered to teach. You will hear more about this work in the days ahead.

Lectureship in Upper Kalaklan

 

November 1, 2010 was All Saints Day for those who observe this Catholic feast, a time they say should better be spent wishing the dead had been well. We however spent this day communing with the saints at Upper Kalaklan, at the meeting place of Olongapo church. It was a one-day lectureship attended by brethren from Central Luzon, specifically Zambales, Bataan and Pampanga. It was one lectureship I did not expect I would find myself in, since I never had any invitation.

 

Ed Maquiling and Tommy Lizardo Sr.

I came with my brother-in-law Tomas Lizardo and nephew Tom Lizardo Jr. But the brethren who recognized me made me feel welcome! Recognized is a better word. Brother Fred Angangan, for example, knew my face even if my name is still a stranger to him!

 

 

Rudy Gonzales, Fred Angangan and Ed Maquiling.

And oh, was I glad to see my old friend Higato Tulan Sr! He is now directing the PIBI-Angeles. He was the first speaker. He spoke on the subject that he considered he was well-prepared to tackle on: The use of instrumental music in worship. It was a good lecture.

 

The panelists answering the questions from the audience.

Fred Angangan spoke on death and life beyond the dead. It should benefit those who have doubts on whether or not the dead cease to exist after this life, on whether or not Hades is a fact.

 

 

Brethren have begun to arrive for the lectures.

Another timely lecture was the one discussed by brother Daniel Elamparo on the subject of the family. A very much needed teaching that the young and the not so young could benefit from.

 

Audience consists of both the younger and the older Christians from three provinces of Central Luzon.

Tom Lizardo Sr. spoke on the subject of local autonomy. And I was called on to be one of his two panelists. Our job was to answer questions. Difficult questions, like those one tackles in a Bible college situation.

 

 

Brothers Fred Angangan Jr. and Ruel Vitug.

I met Ruel Vitug, a brother who also aspires to be one of the elders of the church of Kalaklan someday, and I encouraged him to keep on with this goal. This man is one to whom they have entrusted the life and the future of PIBI-Kalaklan, and they have found no better man!

 

Brother Abelardo Mayor Sr.

And I met Rudy Gonzales! And this after twenty years! Fresh in my memory is that day when he offered us a shelter for the night when I knocked at his door with my daughter Abigail in tow. He never knew me then, but he knew my sister Diane and my brother-in-law Tommy, and that was enough for us.

 

Our afternoon audience.

What I wanted to see was sister Flor Poblete, but she was not around at the time. Maybe she was busy. But I had been told that sister Poblete had been the brain behind this lectureship and that she spent her own money for the food and other expenses for this event.


The Lord’s Church in Dasmariñas, Cavite

Sister Gloria Javier-Sico, with her daughter Simona Sico-Navales, during her visit in New York City.

Please click here to read the sermon I delivered Sunday morning, January 3, 2010 at Dasma Church of Christ, titled “What the Cross Means for You and Me”

A  hodgepodge of factors came into play in God’s purpose to establish a congregation of His people  in Dasmariñas, in the province of Cavite. Call it divine providence with God controlling events to achieve His design. Call it serendipity for the excitement it offers to its beholders.

Many factors. Mention for example the literature sent by the president of a Bible college in Baguio, which sparked religious curiosity. Mention a young OFW named Geminiano Mendoza whose contact with a restoration church in Guam and some A. G. Hobbs tracts he had brought home motivated the desire of the Javier-Sico clan, consisting of sister Resurreccion Javier-Hembrador, sister Gloria Javier-Sico and her husband Jacinto Sico, and the Silvas, the Guevaras, the De Mesas, the Mangubats and the Mendozas to find the ancient roots of the true faith, and their decision to break away from the Disciples of Christ, a faith which they for a while had held so dear, then their insistence for a thus-saith-the Lord as a reason for every doctrine and practice when their new found faith was questioned and challenged.   That’s providence of God that offered man the joys of discovering what’s true and what’s approved. But we are getting ahead of the story.

The story of the founding of the Lord’s church in Dasmariñas must begin with Corporal Luis Javier, ancestor of the Javier-Sico clan whose number predominates the membership of this congregation, one of whose descendants, Nepthalie Javier Sico, is now the minister of this church. For it was on his plot of  land in the village of San Jose, close to the city of Dasmariñas, that the present chapel of Dasmariñas church of Christ now stands.

Sister Resurreccion Javier-Hembrador and sister Gloria Javier-Sico, two of Luis Javier's children who became first members of Dasma church.

The Tagalog province of Cavite was the heartland of later Philippine revolution. Concerning that revolution, recall that Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo was its leader, and was also the first president of the short-lived republic that came after it. Recall that not too far away from Dasma is Kawit, the seat of this republic. In this forsaken land of a people who rebelled against mother Spain, God the Father of all mankind carved out a congregation of men and women who obeyed His will, the first church of Christ in all of Southern Tagalog region.

Luis Javier, whose corporal rank he got as a Katipunero while engaged in the 1898 Revolution, found employment as a blacksmith in the American Naval Base in Sangley Point,  a thankless job where he often clashed with his Yankee boss. But he embraced the Presbyterian faith the Americans brought to our shores.

That Presbyterian faith was not to remain forever. In those days, his fluency in Spanish and his flair for oratory made him a stage figure, haranguing the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act, introducing political candidates on stage, campaigning and crusading for a cause, speaking in Presbyterian meetings, but more especially defending the Presbyterian faith in debates. In one of his discussions he lost to a Disciples of  Christ debater. Debates in those days were much like wars of conquests: The defeated became the spoils of war. So Corporal Luis Javier left the Presbyterians and became a Disciples member; more so, he became a Disciples debater and proclaimer of their gospel. He loved his new found faith he supported it, defended it, and walked kilometers of distances from the barrio of Dasmariñas where he lived to surrounding villages of Malagasang and San Francisco de Malabon (now Gen. Trias) to plead its cause.  He was the principal mover and one of those who started the Malagasang Disciples church. In those days, Malagasang, like Dasma, was a barrio of Imus.

All three of Corporal Luis Javier’s children—Juan, Resurreccion and Gloria—became Disciples. Brother Nephtalie Sico, the present minister of Dasma church, remembers attending with his siblings the Sunday school taught by Malagasang Disciples lady teachers.

Juan, the only son of Corporal Luis Javier, migrated to Olongapo, started a family, and raised his sons and daughters as Disciples. In one instance, he attended a religious meeting in Bajac-Bajac and got into contact with a Church of Christ missionary. The missionary promised to send him a tract that perhaps was to change his life and his religion, if he provided them his address; instead he gave them the address of his sister Gloria Javier-Sico, now married to Jacinto Sico, who lived with another sister, Resurreccion, in Dasma. Months later, sister Gloria Javier-Sico received a New Testament Christianity magazine from Ralph Brashears, director of Philippine Bible College-Baguio City. That tract was to arouse their curiosity in religion.

Corporal Luis Javier remained a Disciples of Christ member until he died, and never saw the changes that were to happen in the Philippines religious landscape. The Malagasang Disciples church ceased to be because it was absorbed in the religious umbrella called the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. Juan Javier never left the Disciples.

A young Disciple named Geminiano Mendoza was to bring to fruition the seed that had been planted. Working in Guam, he gravitated to the Church of Christ group, became interested in their teachings and brought home some tracts of brother A. G. Hobbs. Two of those tracts, titled “The Origin of Denominations” and “Safe or Sorry,” helped to turn the Dasma Disciples, consisting of the Sicos, the Silvas, the Mangubats, the Mendozas, the De Mesas and the Guevaras around.  Joined by Isabelo Hayuhay and another Disciple minister, they cast their lot with the Church of Christ.

An interesting twist of history happened in the course of their journey. Isabelo Hayuhay later associated with the anti-Bible College, anti-benevolence segment of the Restoration Movement. The Dasmariñas disciples, now consisting of believers whom Jimmy Mendoza had helped to usher into the kingdom, came to be nurtured by the workers from the Pi y Margal branch of Philippine Bible College, most especially by brother Paulino Garlitos. American missionaries—Bob Buchanan, Ken Wilkey, Charles Smith, Ray Bryan, Douglas LeCroy, Bill Cunningham— came and helped edify the new church.

Neph J. Sico, grandson of Luis Javier, finished his degree at PBC-Baguio in 1974 and became the minister of Dasma church.  Other youths from Dasma followed him—Loida Sico, Willie Mendoza, Joel Sico, Olly Silva, Raquel Sico, Jeffrey Sico, and Ramir De Mesa.

Sister Gloria and the ladies.

Dasma church has now become the home of the Church Planting Institute (CPI). A new building of CPI, donated by brother Rolly Abaga, has risen beside the Dasma meeting hall. CPI has 9 students. Its teachers include Neph Sico, Jun Patricio, Rolly Abaga, Jonathan Pagarao, Jun Michael Pague, Gerry Superiano and Moises Gonzales.

Meeting place of the Dasma church with the Church Planting Institute building beside it.


Renato Austria

Renato AustriaI only knew Renato Austria as a face and a name on Facebook when brother Sonny Catalan introduced him to us. That was more than a week ago. Chito Cusi wrote about him. Gigie Carranza wrote about him. But I never knew him much. These last few days, however, tidbits and short notes kept adding to the scarce and limited information that I have of him, giving me in a way an almost complete profile of the man.

Atong (as he was fondly called by close friends and fellow disciples) was an active member of Midtown church in Baguio, a teammate in the church action group called MARCH for Christ, and had for many years been involved in the work of the Lord in many lands of Asia. At one time I and some brethren in Cebu did some follow-up of the mission MARCH had begun in Kalibo City, Aklan, but our paths –Atong’s and mine—never crossed.

But Atong, like the rest of those MARCH people, had done a great job in places perhaps too many to mention. If the church had wings to fly and feet to walk, Atong and the rest of them were those wings and those feet, flying to the heartlands of the heathens, walking on paths rough and muddy, on raging rivers, under heavy rains, from daybreak to daybreak, in a bid to turn these heathen hearts into heartlands of God. If the church had hands and lips, Atong was one of those, reaching out their hands to these men without God, with offers of food for the body, and proclaiming with their lips the food that could nourish the soul.

While Atong and the rest had been waging a war to win the hearts of men and women for Christ, he had also been waging a silent war in his own body. It is a terrible war. For the war in the cancer wards is a war we could lose, since science has not yet found a potent cure for it, like it did for TB. Cancer is our modern blight and our only way out of it is an early prognosis that can be done in labs by doctors skilled in the job. For brother Atong, it was too late to know he had caught it.

Death and cancer however must be understood in the light of God’s plan for man in general. For man, the creature whom God had molded from the dust of the ground and breathed into with the breath of life, is not meant to dwell in this domain of dusts forever, in this habitation corrupted and defiled by so much sins, by so many wrongs man did against his fellow man. Atong knew so well the face of unbrotherliness because he too had gone to Myanmar and China. This world has gone a long way since the day God created an Eden in the heart of it. We have forgotten that we all came from one womb, and that every man is in fact a brother to everyone. Eden, the former home of the first human family is too close to the Arab and Jewish lands where the hateful war of brother against brother has been waged since time immemorial.  Atong with the rest of our brethren had tried to change what outlook everyone had had with others of their kind, by taking to them just that message of brotherliness that God has wanted them to see.

The only cure for death and the blight of death is hope in Jesus. In His great mercy, God allows us to weep and view the death of a loved one as a loss for us. But God also wants us to understand that death is a gain. Death is the closing of one door and the opening of another–the door to glory. Atong had served God well and enough already. God wanted him to come to his glorious home, with a life there that is a lot better than the life here.

Our prayers are for those whom this dear brother has left behind—his dear wife and two kids. God always loves His own. And so while we remain in this land of tears and sorrows, we still feel secure and well. Why? Hear God speak:

“Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained strangers unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them; and those who are ill-treated since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for God will judge the immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, ‘I will never fail you nor forsake you.’ Hence we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid; what can man do to me?”’ (Hebrews 13:1-6).

Reformers, Restorers, or Renewers?

IMG_0570There is a question that sometimes may jolt you from your senses, urging you to investigate and satisfy your need to give a better “answer to the one who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.”   Questions that demand you be consistent with what you stand for. Questions like, What are we? Restorers, reformers, or renewers? (This last word I have to invent; it’s not in the dictionary).

The churches of Christ are not the only religious group who claims to be the restored church; the Mormons and the INC-1914 do too.

Alexander Campbell, as far as my studies are concerned, called himself and his fellow disciples “reformers,” not restorers. Their movement began at the close of the 17th century. In fact, brother Bill Humble goes on record as saying that the “Restoration Movement began in America in 1800” (The Story of the Restoration, p. 1). It was a “Restoration Movement” fathered by one who never called himself a “restorer.”

Greville Ewing, the Haldane brothers, Robert Sandeman and his father in law John Glass never thought of themselves as “restorers,” but “reformers,” like Campbell. Their “Reformation movement” had antedated the “Restoration Movement” in America by some 200 years. So a “Reformation Movement” in the British soil had fathered a “Reformation movement” in America that later called itself “Restoration Movement.”

But the Anabaptist Movement in Europe had preceded the British movement by another 200 years also. They never called themselves “restorers” but reformers.

As far as I know, it was J. W. Shepherd who made the distinction between “restoration” and “reformation.” Why this distinction? We owe it to the progress of our cause, which called for the crystallization of the things we taught. We owe it to our leaders who decided we should also make a name.

If one looks for the pattern of things, then, you have the Anabaptists, the British, then the Americans. We Filipinos are just the daughters of the movement sired by the Campbells, Barton W. Stone, Elias Smith, and Abner Jones in the soil of America.

If we call ourselves “restorers,” what are we restoring? You cannot call yourself by something that you are not. Are we restoring the church?

Come closer and lend me your ears, please. If we claim to be “restorers” then we are admitting to the world that the INC had been right all along– the church of Christ had been lost, and from the time of its departure, there had been no saved people until Felix Manalo came on the scene! Are you ready to believe that?

That is your first predicament–to be identified with the group that calls itself too as the “restored church,” which actually was a church that started from us (Gentlemen, hear ye, hear ye, Felix Manalo, the founder of the INC-1914 actually came from our Movement. He was introduced to the church of Christ by an American named Frederick Kershner, a missionary of the instrumental wing of the Church of Christ).

Your other predicament is that you have to skew these passages in Matthew 16:18, Daniel 2:44 and Hebrews 12:28 that speak about the eternal nature of the church in order to fit your doctrine– “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it”; “in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed”; “therefore we receiving a kingdom that cannot be moved.”

I may be a son of the restorationists who came to these islands of 7,100 after Spain had ravaged it for 500 years and sold me into Magellan’s religion. And it’s one of those many events that God in His wondrous mercy had allowed to happen. I am thankful for Admiral George Dewey who came to my shores with his fleet of warships in preparation for a showdown with the Castillians and pointed his big guns toward Intramuros, giving his gunner this signal: “Be ready to fire when I tell you, Ridley.” He ended Spain’s rule over my islands. Then we welcomed the Thomasites, then the Protestants, then the “restorers” from America. The rest is history.

If you call me a “restorationist,” I have a problem wearing that scapular for the rest of my life. I am always thankful to my American mentors (Kenneth J. Wilkey, Bob Buchanan, Douglas LeCroy, Dale Chilton, and Douglas Gunselman) for teaching me Bible, and to Jeff Shelton for making me learn Greek. I have had Filipino teachers too–Brothers Seb Tanicala, Adrian Limbawan (deceased), Teofilo Alcayde, Felix Bravo, Cesar Lobino (deceased), Daniel Oliva, Roman Cariaga, Felipe Cariaga, Conrado Mapalo, Cesar Tajores, and the late Flor Tanicala. Thankful too for the late Eduardo Montoyo Sr. and for his son Eduardo Jr for guiding me into the right group, and for Charlie Garner for preaching that message one night in Baliwasan church hall, the message whose thunders echoed in my ears and made me tremble at the thought of not finding myself with the redeemed someday. God bless them.  Perhaps I differ from some of my teachers on the idea of the “restoration.” I am not a restorer of a church, because I wouldn’t be true to the purpose, intent and nature of that blessed institution for which my Lord died. I cannot restore a church that never vanished from the face of the earth in the first place! There was no general departure of the church and I trust the Holy Spirit who said to Paul that only “some shall depart from the faith” (1 Timothy 4:1).

I too have a problem calling myself a “reformer.” What do I reform? the doctrines of the church? The church itself? The true teachings of the Bible do not need any reforming at all. I am in the Lord’s church. In a sense I can be a reformer in the Lord’s church. But those other churches which are not Christ’s do not need any reforming; they need to be taught about the basics of truth.

So what am I? I am just a Christian preacher, calling the people who have departed from God to go back to Him again. I am calling for a renewal of relationships.

These thoughts are just for you to consider. This is not to fault anyone of you for teaching something different from mine. Tell you what, I have arrived at these thoughts after many prayerful studies of the Word, and after many debates with the sects. You may say that my ideas have undergone some kind of crystallization also. Consider it. It is not a dogma of a pope. It is not the kind of teaching that demands I split the church because some of you guys don’t agree with me. I am not going to die for that opinion, never.

What then are you saying, brother Ed? you may ask. Tell you what: One of those things that I like about the Campbells and other “restorers” is their motto that became the “restoration” movement’s guiding light: “In matters of faith, unity; in matters of opinion, liberty; in all things, charity.” Difference of opinion is what it is. I don’t chop other people for teaching that they cannot address the Father as Lord in their prayers because they believe that Jesus is the only Lord. I still love my brothers even though some of them may be up in arms because I disagree with them on the matter of the Spirit’s indwelling. I just love to learn, and I also love knowing they learn their own truths some other way. Differences such as ours is not a heaven-or-hell issue. I believe that we can still go to heaven even if we differ in our opinions– opinions that are not intended to fractionalize the body, but to become the springboard for discussions in order to for us to come up with a message that is consistent with the Word.

If this is the attitude we have, then we should not have divided over the issues of orphan homes, Bible schools, plural cups, located preacher, benevolence for the non-Christians. If Daniel Sommer and Roy Cogdill had not been too pushy of their principles, then the movement that my beloved American brothers had brought to many shores would not have been too fractious. As it is I am a loss to explain why we plead for unity of all believers and then divide the churches over minor issues. God help these fractious men! is all I can say in moments of frustrations.

Gentlemen, I love this church. There is nothing like it in the whole world, in spite of what our detractors say. Whether we agree or disagree on minor points, let us rather push for the evangelization of the whole world. That is the most important. If a brother lacks the sense that others have, the church, consisting of different talents and mental resources could amply supply that lack. But the church must also be tolerant over small matters. I am of the opinion that no one goes to hell just because he believes that when the Lord comes again, he shall restore the kingdom to Israel (cf. Acts 1:6). If even Christ had been tolerant of this small fault in the apostolic band, why couldn’t us? Why couldn’t you?

Oh, you can keep calling yourselves “restorers,” or “reformers,” and I don’t really mind. Some messages sometimes don’t sink that deep; sometimes they bounce back.

Now, it’s your turn to bounce to me your opinions. I will listen.

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