Reformation500: How Reformed Christianity Reached the Philippines

Aside from being a full-time medical student, I also serve our local church as a worship leader and head of publications in print and online. This year, Christendom will be celebrating the 500th year of the Reformation which was led by Martin Luther, giving way to reforms in the whole Christian church. Every week, I post some reflections on the events of the Reformation, writing about some points on it. This is our post for this Sunday:

Spain started its colonization of the Philippine islands in March 1521, just six years after Martin Luther declared his faith on the doors of Wittenberg Church. While the Reformation was enjoying its early success in Europe, the inhabitants of these islands are yet to encounter the Christian faith.

The goal of Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition was to jumpstart the Kingdom of Spain’s quest for God, Gold, and Glory; where God signifies the Christianization of lands that they will colonize. In this painting by Fernando Amorsolo, we see the first mass on the islands and the conversion of the locals into Christianity through the Roman Catholic Church.

Prior to this arrival, Spain was one of the prospect states for the Reformation ideology to penetrate. However, the Spanish Inquisition, a special tribunal to identify those who were deemed heretics by the kingdom and the church established in 1478, was a strong opposing force. This deadly tribunal led to countless deaths of Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and other non-Catholics, or their exile, whichever comes first. The Inquisition was only disbanded in 1834.

Understandably, this also prevented the spread of the Reformation to the Philippine Islands throughout the 333 years of Spanish rule. However, the Reformation, through its influence on the Enlightenment, may have spread some ideologies through literature. Several local uprisings from local church leaders were also noted, notably, the separation of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente from the Roman Catholic Church led by Gregorio Aglipay, often hailed by the church’s members as the “Martin Luther of the Philippines.”

The Reformed church formally stepped on the waters of the country after the Treaty of Paris in 1898, which ended the Spanish-American War, was signed, where the Philippines was ceded to the United States of America. Because of this, American Protestant Missionaries were able to spread the Gospel among the people. Prior to this, Catholicism was the state religion and other denominations are not permitted to practice their faiths.

The first Protestant service held in the Philippines was on Sunday, August 28, 1898 led by Chaplain George Stull of The Methodist Episcopal Church, After the service, he said, “That the power of God will use this day to make a good Catholic better, any weak American stronger, any backslider ashamed, and the gloomy old dungeon the beginning of wonderful things in these Islands, is my prayer.”

Re:New Christian Church lives up to this legacy on how the Reformation shaped the world and how the Gospel of God was shared up to this generation of Filipinos. We continue to meet and discover this wonderful story that God has laid before us, speaking of His greatness and of His love through His Son Jesus Christ.

Further back, this is our answer to Jesus’ Great Commission, and we dream of fulfilling this commandment, spreading His word up to the ends of the world.

Martin Luther said, “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”

“Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.'” Revelation 14:6–7 (NIV)

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