History of the Church of Christ (Iglesia Ni Cristo)
The humble beginning of the Church of Christ in the Philippines in 1914 may be traced to the fulfillment of God's prophecy in Isaiah 41:9-10. The prophecy refers to Brother Felix Y. Manalo, chosen by God as His Last Messenger:
"Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief man thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away. Fear thou not; for I am with thee; be not dismayed; for I am thy God; I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness." (King James Version)
Brother Manalo was the man elected to shepherd the last group of God's chosen people. The Bible prophetically attests to his election (Rev. 7:2-3; Jn. 10:16). Thus the Bible is the sole authority on which the reestablishment of the Church of Christ, its beliefs, and its success are based. Another prophecy upon which Brother Manalo's commission to administer the true Church is written in Isaiah 46:11-13:
"Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country; yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it. Hearken unto me, ye stouthearted that are far from righteousness; it shall not be far off, and my salvation shall not tarry; and I will place salvation in Zion for Israel my glory."(Ibid.)
Brother Manalo was 28 years of age when he started fulfilling his calling as the last messenger of God. This was after God allowed him to undergo a three-day and three-night study and meditation which marked the turning point of his life. The historic year was 1914, the year of the First World War. The historic place was Punta, Sta. Ana, Manila, where the first congregation of the Iglesia ni Cristo was established.
For some 49 years, Brother Manalo was God's instrument in guiding the Church through oppressions and persecutions. His death in 1963 at the age of 77 ended his work as leader of Christ's "other sheep" (Jn. 10:16) and the leadership of the Church was passed on to Brother Eraño G. Manalo.
Circa 1914: A Glimpse From the start of his mission, Brother Manalo met all imaginable oppressions and persecutions. Most Filipinos viewed his efforts to propagate the Iglesia ni Cristo as a grand exercise in futility. Indeed, The Philippine society to which he preached the true Gospel was hostile. The traditional Catholic values prevailing then, as well as the new Protestant religion brought in by the Americans, were partly responsible for this attitude toward the Iglesia ni Cristo.
On the nonreligious front, 1914 was a year of international significance. On July 27 of that year, the First World War erupted after Austria sent her startling ultimatum to Serbia. The nations at war comprised the entire world, and the time was marked by global shortage of food, clothing and coal.
That the Iglesia ni Cristo would rise in such an unlikely setting is part of God's grand design for the salvation of mankind in these last days. His prophecy on the reemergence of the true Church that states His promise that He would keep his people until the Second Coming of His Son Jesus are recorded in the Holy Bible. Isaiah 43:5-6 give the specific point of the world where the chosen people would come hundreds of years after God's prophecy. His Son Jesus was confronted with the question of his disciples who asked, "...Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" (Mt. 24:3, Ibid.)
Christ's answer and the signs he gave were clear and could not be misconstrued by the individual who enjoys God's grace of understanding. Christ says, "And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows."(Mt. 24:6-8, Ibid.)
In this setting of deprivation, hardships, and worldwide tribulation, in fulfillment of God's prophecy for the salvation of his chosen people, the Church of Christ was reestablished through the last messenger, Brother Felix Y. Manalo.
Brother Manalo's personal life was a constant search for the truth and the reason for his existence. But God had called him to be the leader of his people. His commissioning as the last messenger actually ended his search because to him God entrusted His words and the "sealing function."(Rev. 7:2-3; Eph. 1:13-14)
Even before its official registration with the government on July 27, 1914, the Iglesia ni Cristo had commenced evangelization as Brother Manalo preached the true Gospel among the workmen of Atlantic Gulf and Pacific (A.G.& P.) at Punta, Sta. Ana, Manila. With four or five listeners to preach the words of God, he began as an evangelist. His first listeners were taught the teachings of God in a small room at the A.G.&P. workers' quarters. The sympathizers grew in number and necessitated the transfer of the religious meetings to the open. Twelve converts were baptized in early 1914 in Pasig river at Sta. Ana. After a time, Brother Manalo found that he would have to leave the small congregation to the care of the Church's first ordained minister and the first head deacon and secretary of the Church to assist in the first locale at Punta, Sta. Ana, Manila. This partnership in spiritual administration of a minister and a head deacon became the pattern of future administration. Brother Manalo with his wife Honorata and infant daughter Pilar headed for Tipas in Rizal, to continue his preaching task.
His arrival at Tipas, Taguig, Rizal was like that of a returning native. Tipas was his birthplace, the barrio where his beginnings were most known and most open to scrutiny of people. Here, he met fierce persecution partly based on the Church's unofficial status. It is the tendency of most Filipinos to measure the legality of any organization against the yardstick of registration papers. A town mate counsel helped the young preacher to draft the articles of incorporation. The pertinent documents were filed with the Office of the Division of Archives, Patented Properties of Literature and Executive Office of Industrial Trade Works. On July 27, 1914, the day the First World War began, the Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ) became officially registered.
During the first year, and until the Messenger had found a few aides, Brother Manalo had to pioneer locales almost single-handedly. It was a marked distinction of his devotion and conviction that in every place he went to preach, he was able to establish a new locale. For the materially poor evangelist, privation was particularly trying. His nightly open forums and the daily propagation works gradually began to take their toll. The odds of sacrifices and sickness were always hunting him. But the mission God appointed him to accomplish was before him. With absolute faith and grim determination, the evangelist nursed himself back to health.
The Early Years
In the summer of 1915, he resumed his work in the ministry. At first, his evangelization was concentrated in the adjacent towns of Rizal around Manila. As a result of this, Pateros and Buting became the earliest locales after Punta, Sta. Ana and Tipas. Before 1915 ended, Brother Manalo changed course and began his daily visits north of Manila such as the populous district of Tondo. He chose those sites where the majority of people spent the better part of their day. Tondo even during those days was associated with the urban working class. Here, Brother Manalo chose the makeshift market between Aguila and Ricafort Streets for his modest rallies. At sundown, the rallies began at the market amidst the strong smell of decaying left-over foodstuffs from the day's haggling. The young evangelist would take out his little notebook every night after the rallies and listed the names of prospective converts.
During those early days of propagation, a vendor in the marketplace aided Brother Manalo in setting up a religious meeting by extending an electric bulb out of the window of his hut and putting out a table, a chair and a long bench for listeners. The sympathy and interest shown became the recurrent pattern in the succeeding years. Most of the locales began in this manner. Later, they branched out in congregations literally bursting at the seams, thus necessitating partition into two or three locales. In this manner, too, the Church gradually developed a centralized structural organization whereby a cluster of locales comprised a "division". The larger unit of structure is roughly equal to a province. The central administration supervised on top of all the divisions and locales. For better supervision, Brother Manalo set up the first central office in Tondo, Manila.
During the pioneering period, between 1914 and 1939, the church was able to establish 15 "divisions". The first division was Pampanga. For nine years since the Church's reestablishment, all locales were directly administered by Brother Manalo. The Messenger had ready knowledge of the state of all the locales and supervised all of their activities. All administrative and spiritual problems were his concern. Even the construction of the makeshift chapels were under his direction.
In Gabriela, Tondo, the nightly propagation work resulted in the baptism of converts. A chapel was built in 1918, from easily available materials like palm fronds and woven bamboo. This quaint house of worship had brethren sit on long benches to listen the homily. Brethren from Pateros and Tondo through self-help cooperative effort (bayanihan) built this chapel. Here, the brethren of Tondo held regular worship services on Sundays and meetings on Thursdays. Later, the Thursday prayer meetings were transformed into regular services.
The Church locales increased.
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