During my time in the Philippines in 2009 my mission team went to several different churches. We never went to the same church twice so each week I never was able to see the consistency of any individual church and how they work, but nonetheless I got a god feel of how church culture is for the nationals. There are certain similarities in the local Filipino churches compared to American churches that I saw as well as some differences.
My first time going to a church in the Philippines was attending what American’s would consider a mega-church. Apparently, the Philippines is also plagued with the mega-church experience which I think is not good. It is understandable since most Filipinos are Catholic and the Catholic Church has built all kinds of large cathedrals all over the country. I personally do not believe that mega-churches, or large churches in general are always bad or wrong. In some cases they are understandable. A pastor might have great teaching that a large area where Christians live is not getting, so they flock over to the one biblically centered church nearest them. In most cases though, a mega-church is usually lacking in truth as well as filled with members that have the wrong attitude for even going to church. Unfortunately, the church in the Philippines was large and had the typical, annoying Rick Warren philosophy as they quoted him in their church bulletin. This church was very seeker friendly, exactly like many American mega-churches in the U.S. They even had a team of dancers dancing for a few minutes to worship music for the purpose of entertaining their members. They had a lot of lights and their power point had graphics and sounds. They even showed clips from a movie about Acts, the same one that “Acts class” at Biola University made me watch. I thought that was funny. This church was very impersonal and too gigantic to connect with anyone in a real way. I was saddened by the influence of modern-liberal-western “Churchianity” in the Philippines.
At the next churches that we attended, we had work which we planned ahead of time to do with the members. These were jobs such as preaching, praise and worship music, giving testimonies and fellowship. We came to the Philippines specifically to link up with these churches and their pastors. I noticed that most of these churches were extremely humble and very poverty stricken; but the people still survived and praised God for the little they had.
The churches were very small and in run down or old buildings. I was so impressed with these people and their pastors and their strict adherence to the Word of God. One church we visited was in the province of Rizal and this church held a youth rally one night. Even though I had never been a fan of “youth groups/youth nights,” it was nice to see the Filipino youth coming to church. Most of them dressed like Americans, but I knew that they lived in really small shacks made with bamboo or cement bricks. I had previously visited some of these young people at their homes. The dress code was relaxed at this event, but for the most part at church, men are supposed to wear long pants, and a nice shirt. Women wear a skirt or dress. It is so hot in thePhilippines, this rule was hard for me to want to follow, but I managed each Sunday to survive the humidity. It is my opion that much of Philippines church culture leans on the legalistic side of clothing. I was not happy about it, but for the sake of their consciences I tried my best to follow their standards at least to the point of protecting my health. I did slide a little bit one time and wear a t-shirt once. It was an “MMA,” Anderson Silva, Tapout shirt I bought at a famous market called Greenhills in Manila. The Fil Am pastor I was with probably was not happy about that, but one of the church members thought it was cool.
The church members at these small churches were extremely kind and hospitable people who greatly appreciated our presence. I felt so blessed by them. This was a great learning experience which gave me the opinion that church works best when it is simple and genuine for God. All a church needs is to stick to the true doctrine of Jesus Christ and have full assurance of faith that causes the Christian to feel joy in the Lord. Church does not need flashing lights, “cool” guitars, video clips, and dance teams to be a church full of the Holy Spirit and alive. I love small, local, Filipino churches in the Philippines! They are completely different than the Filipino American churches I’ve attended in California, and Kentucky.
The worship style and order of church service of the small churches were exactly the same as what I am used to in America. During the time of my 6 week trip I was attending a small, non-denominational, Filipino American church in Chino Hills, California and it was much the same. They have worship songs, a worship band, anouncements, and a pastor preaching. The preaching from the local pastors was in Tagalog in Metro Manila, and in Ilongo when we were in Bacolod. For us while we were there, the preaching was done in the local language as well as English. Most of the time it was English speaking, and even the worship music was in English and only one or two songs in Tagalog. I thought it was interesting how they used so much English. The heart language must not be a necessity when doing praise music in that country. I do not think they were singing in English for us, but it is something they always do. When my pastor preached he spoke in “Taglish,” (Filipino and English put together) and in Bacolod he spoke in English since he does not speak Ilongo. Almost every Filipino has decent, communicable English skills.
We had the opportunity to visit Bacolod, which is an island province and very rural. The churches there are really poor, but humble and are extremely full of the joy of the Lord. I loved the way these churches worked, as the people met in houses outside with a cover to block the sun. They would turn on fans for cool air, but we had a blackout (brownoutin Filipino) and no electricity worked so we had to suffer the extreme heat. Later we went to another house church in the same day and ate food there. In the evening we visited a church out in the farmland that had an actual church building. It was open air as the windows had no glass. It was an old church built by Fundamental Baptists back in the day. This experience was interesting as many lizards crawled across the walls and ceilings and even a very large intimidating spider which made me nervous. It was at least 2 inches wide, yet the locals said it was harmless and a lady touched it and made it jump which freaked me out.
Overall, the majority of biblical, Christian churches are very small and meet in very humble communities. The few rich people help out the poor members. Despite the few things I had issues with, like the way they believed you should dress, these churches are very biblically centered and understand the struggle of life and the focus on eternity. They are a light in dark places surrounded by cult churches and a few liberal mega-churches as well as the majority Catholic churches. Every cult of Christianity that America has is in the Philippines. The Philippines especially has their own indiginious cults that plague the nation as well. These small, humble Christian churches (known as “born again” churches), stand in the face of outside persecution and an antichrist presence. These Christians are strong and know what it means to persevere in the Faith. Most members are poor and live in substandard houses when compared to American church people. It was inspiring to spend time with Filipino brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ! I hope one day to go back.
Video from some of the churches: