Is the Iglesia Ni Cristo the Church of Christ?
|by||Kyle Butt, M.Div.|
In 1914, Felix Manalo registered the name Iglesia Ni Cristo as a religious group in the Philippines. Since that time, this religious group has spread extremely rapidly. Currently, the group has millions of adherents all over the world. They are a zealously evangelistic group with an estimated number of 3 to 10 million adherents worldwide (though actual membership numbers are difficult to find). The group’s official Web site is http://iglesianicristo.net/#1, and its companion media site that has many videos promoting the religion is http://iglesianicristo.net/incmedia.php. Iglesi Ni Cristo produces a monthly magazine titled Pasugo.
The Iglesia Ni Cristo claims to be the only true Church of Christ.1It argues against both the Catholic Church’s claim to be Jesus’ true church and the Protestant idea of denominationalism. According to this group, if you are not a member of the Iglesia Ni Christo, as organized by Felix Manalo starting in the Philippines in 1914, you cannot go to heaven. Unfortunately, even though some of the practices of this group are biblical, there are several things about the group and its teachings that contradict the Bible’s teachings. This brief article will explore some of those errors.
The most obvious and most egregious error taught by the Iglesia Ni Cristo is that Jesus is not God. This is concisely worded in the “Beliefs and Practices” article in this way, “We do not believe that Jesus is God.” Even though the group teaches that Jesus should be worshiped, it does not recognize Him as divine. This erroneous belief alone is enough to show that the group cannot be the one true church of Christ. Jesus is divine.2 To deny that He is God is to deny one of Jesus’ primary teachings about Himself. The faith that led Thomas to declare to Jesus, “My Lord and My God!”3 is the same faith that is demanded of Jesus’ followers today. John understood this when he wrote, “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.”4To deny that Jesus is God is the same as denying that the Father is God.
In addition, the position of the Iglesia Ni Cristo concerning Jesus is further plagued by inconsistency. According to the group, Jesus is a man, but is worshiped.5 When we go to the Bible, those two ideas cannot be consistently maintained. The Bible reveals time and again that God alone is to be worshiped.6 The Bible also reveals that men must refrain from worshiping angels. When the apostle John fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who had revealed to him the message in the book of Revelation, the angel responded, saying, “See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.”7 Angels, idols, and humans are all unworthy of the reverent worship that is due only to God. As Jesus reminded Satan: “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’”8
Unlike good men and good angels who have always rejected worship from humanity, Jesus accepted worship. If worship is to be reserved only for God, and Jesus, the One “who knew no sin,”9 accepted worship, then the only logical conclusion is that Jesus believed that He was Deity. Numerous times the Bible mentions that Jesus accepted worship from mankind. Matthew 14:33 indicates that those who saw Jesus walk on water “worshiped Him.” John 9:38 reveals that the blind man, whom Jesus had healed, later confessed his belief in Jesus as the Son of God and “worshiped him.” After Mary Magdalene and the other women visited the empty tomb of Jesus, and the risen Christ appeared to them, “they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him.”10 Jesus once stated during His earthly ministry, “[A]ll should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.”11 While on Earth, Jesus was honored on several occasions. His followers worshiped Him. They even worshiped Him after His ascension into heaven.12 Unlike good men and angels in Bible times who rejected worship, Jesus unhesitatingly received glory, honor, and praise from His creation. Truly, such worship is one of the powerful proofs of Jesus’ deity.13
It is often the case that false religions such as the Iglesia Ni Cristo claim one thing, but in practice, do and teach another thing entirely. This is the case with the group’s teaching about the Bible. Throughout their literature, there are numerous statements that the Bible is the sole source of authority, and that there are no other creeds the Inglesia Ni Cristo follows except the Bible. On closer inspection, however, there actually is something more involved. The group states: “We believe that the Bible is the word of God, however, the Bible is not an ‘open book.’”14 What do they mean by the idea that the Bible is not “an open book”? They explain “those who strive to understand the Scriptures through their own worldly knowledge will never be able to come to the knowledge of the truth….” What can be done so that a person can understand the message? The person must go to “those who are sent by God.” And who would that be? Conveniently, it is the man who started their religion: “We believe that the late Brother Felix Y. Manalo is God’s last messenger.”15 Thus, while the group claims that the Bible is sufficient, in reality, it demands that the message of the Bible be coupled with the teachings of Felix Manalo.
The idea that Felix Manalo is God’s last messenger who must explain the meaning of the Bible in order for people to understand it properly is false. First, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 states, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Notice that this passage is describing the Old and New Testaments that were written at least 1,900 years before Felix Y. Manalo. Could the Christians in the 2nd century A.D. be completely equipped for every good work before Manalo offered his opinion on Scripture? What about in 3rd century? The 4thcentury? Thinking through this situation, if the Scripture’s completely equipped Christians from the 1stcentury onward, then the idea that Manalo’s instruction is essential to understand the Scriptures cannot be correct. Either Manalo is offering more and different Scriptures (which he is not and the Iglesia Ni Christo does not even claim he is), or his teachings are unnecessary to a proper understanding of Scripture. Indeed, Paul stated it well when he explained to the Christians in Ephesus that when they read the Scripture they could “understand” Paul’s knowledge of the mystery of Christ (Ephesians 3:5). The Bible does not teach that Christians need special messengers to understand the Bible correctly. If the Scriptures completely equip a person for all good works, then it cannot logically be argued that a person needs the Scriptures and the instruction of Felix Manalo.
There are many other practices and teachings of the Iglesia Ni Christo that are specific to certain areas of the world where the group evangelizes. They often host large dinner parties and sign up many families through these meals. Depending on who you ask and where the group is working, there can be a process of some six months before a “believer” is permitted to be baptized. Many of the church’s practices are strictly enforced in ways that would be cultic in their administration.
The Iglesia Ni Christo is a fast-growing religious organization that claims to be the one true Church of Christ. They have beautiful buildings and a zealous spirit of evangelism. Unfortunately, this group has veered from Christ’s teachings and it is not the Lord’s church. The group does not believe or teach that Jesus is God, contrary to Scriptures. The group maintains that in order to fully understand the Bible, a person must have more than the Bible—the teachings of the Iglesia Ni Christo’s “special messengers.” This teaching, if true, would nullify the Bible’s clear statement that the Scriptures are the only necessary source to completely equip saints for every good work. While many of the group’s teachings are accurate concerning baptism by immersion and the fact that Jesus established one true church, the group’s errant teachings prove that it cannot be Jesus’ one true church.
1 “Beliefs and Practices,” Iglesia Ni Christo Unofficial, http://iglesianicristowebsite.blogspot.com/p/beliefs.html#.VrN1vBgrJC1.
2 Lyons, Eric and Kyle Butt (2015), “Reasons to Believe in Jesus,” https://www.apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=10&article=5192&topic=293.
6Exodus 20:3-5; 2 Kings 17:34-36; Acts 14:8-18.
7Revelation 22:9; Revelation 19:10.
92 Corinthians 5:21.
11John 5:23; 5:18; 10:19-39.
13Read Revelation 5. Also see Lyons, Eric “Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Worship of Jesus, https://www.apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=10&article=1481&topic=79
14“What We Believe and Why,” http://theiglesianicristo.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-iglesia-ni-cristo-doctrines.html.