Reformation500: The Comity Agreement between Protestant Churches in 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:

The picture shows an outdoor Protestant service outside a Roman Catholic sanctuary in the early 1900s. As the Philippines was ceded by Spain to the United States of America, American missionaries also took the opportunity to share their faith on the islands after more than 300 years of isolation.

Together with this, the prevailing anti-Spanish attitude of the people, who they associate with Roman Catholicism, paved the way for Protestantism to take root in the hearts of the people. Because of this, Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist leaders met in New York in 1898 resulting in a comity agreement that divided the places of ministry to avoid conflicts among missionaries and converts. This means that only one ministry would be allowed in a specific area. The said missionaries also met in 1901 in Manila to form the Evangelical Union that aimed to “delineate the geographical work allotments for each church.”

From 1898 to 1930, the following comprised the agreement: Methodists (1898, most of lowland Luzon and north of Manila); Presbyterians (1899, Bicol, Southern Tagalog area and some parts of Central and Western Visayas); Baptists (1900, Western Visayas); United Brethren (1901, Mountain Province and La Union); Disciples of Christ (1901, Ilocos, Abra, and Tagalog towns); Congregationalists (1902, Mindanao except for the western end); and Christian and Missionary Alliance (1902, Western Mindanao and Sulu Archipelago). Manila was opened to all denominations and mission agencies. This explains why said denominations still have a presence in their respective areas up to this day.

However, this agreement proved to be complicated and was shattered due to some conflicts in individual doctrines and practices. During the Japanese occupation, the thirteen major denominations (listed above plus the Seventh-day Adventists, the Episcopal Church, Iglesia Evangelica Metodista en las Islas Filipinas, Iglesia Evangelica Unida de Cristo, and American Protestant Missions) were again unified by the Japanese into the Evangelical Church of the Philippines to distinguish the evangelicals and control their affairs. After the independence at the end of World War II, the churches again split and regained autonomy.

But Christ’s plan is still for unity among His believers. Currently, several efforts for ecumenism and church unity are happening inter-denominationally in the country and around the world, serving God’s purpose for the universal Church.

The Christian Reformed Churches in North America sent a mission to the Philippines during the 1970s which planted many congregations in the country. A small fellowship was eventually started in the 1980s in Iloilo City. This group eventually became the present-day members of the Re:New Christian Church, rooted in the Christian faith and the values of the Reformed tradition.

Though currently a non-denominational church a sense of inclusivity and love for all, we owe all of this to the Reformation that started 500 years ago, as we remain in God’s love and serving His purpose for us.

As Paul said in Philippians 3:12–14 (NIV), “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal,l but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *