It is the third largest religious group in the Philippines, after Roman Catholicism and Islam. It is known for its impressive church architecture, with ornate decoration and soaring spires. It is a growing church, and now has congregations in Southeast Asia, Central Asia, China, Latin America, Africa, England, Italy and the U.S. It is called the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), which in the Tagalog language means Church of Christ.
Iglesia ni Cristo was begun in 1914 by Felix Manalo. Manalo was raised in the Roman Catholic Church. However, as a young man he became dissatisfied with Catholic doctrine and left the church. He tried a succession of churches—Methodist Episcopal, Presbyterian and Seventh-day Adventist. For a while he pastored he pastored in the Methodist church. However, he was never satisfied with any of their teachings. In 1913 he decided to spend time praying and studying and decide for himself what he believed. After three days he emerged with his own doctrine and plan for a church.
The Iglesia ni Cristo believes that Jesus established the true church in the first century, but it disappeared from the earth after that. God raised up Felix Manalo as a latter-day prophet to restore the true church to the earth. They believe that this restoration is a fulfillment of Isaiah 43:5 and the “east” in this verse refers to the Philippines. The Iglesia ni Cristo therefore is the only true church, and one must be a member of this church to be saved. Manalo is believed to be the sugo, or last messenger sent by God to the earth. Manalo himself claimed to be the “fifth angel” of Revelation 7:2.
The INC claims that its teachings are based solely on the Bible. However, the Bible is viewed through the lens of Manalo’s interpretation. They are unitarians, denying the Trinity. They believe that only the Father is God—denying the deity of both the Son and the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the first creation of God, and was declared by the Father to be the Son of God, Lord and Mediator. The Holy Spirit is not a person at all, but is the power of God at work.
According to the INC salvation was accomplished by the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ. Believers are saved by faith in Christ’s death, and by faith alone. However, to be a disciple of Christ it is required that you be baptized in water by immersion. The Church teaches that when a person dies that both body and soul go into the grave. There they remain until the resurrection. At the Second Coming of Christ all true followers of God through the ages will be resurrected, along with living INC members who will be transformed into glorified beings. There will follow a 1000 year reign of Christ. After the millennium, everyone else—including all non-INC “Christians”—will be resurrected. The “unbelivers” will be cast into the Lake of Fire.
Felix Manalo died in 1963. His son Eraño took over the reins of leadership, until his death in 2009. Eraño’s son, Eduardo, now leads the church. The INC continues to grow in the Philippines and elsewhere. According to the INC official website the church maintains 104 ecclesiastical districts in 101 countries. The membership of the church is comprised of at least 110 different nationalities. The actual membership is uncertain, but estimates range between three million and ten million worldwide. The message of the Church is disseminated through various broadcast media, as well as their official periodical Pasugo (The Message).
Summary of Beliefs
God: There is one God, the Father. The Trinity is a satanic doctrine.
Jesus: They believe that Jesus is a creation of the Father. Since God cannot die, Jesus could not have been anything more a man.
Salvation: They claim to believe in salvation by faith; however, you must be a baptized member of the INC to be saved.
Human nature: Human nature consists of soul, spirit and body.
Sin: It is uncertain whether they believe in original sin.
Afterlife: They believe in “soul sleep.” At the resurrection, the soul is reformed by God.
Scripture: The Bible is authoritative, but only as interpreted by Felix Manalo.
Truth: Absolute and Bible-based, but as interpreted by the church.