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May 1989

| MISSIONS HISTORY OF THE PHILIPPINES | General Religious Background | Catholicism/Protestantism | Churches of Christ | Spiritual Needs/Challenges | General Editor | Resource People | | Sources Cited and Suggested Reading
The Philippines, that beautiful island nation lying just a few hundred miles from the southeast coast of mainland Asia, is known for the beauty of its tropical scenes, its rice and sugar cane plantations, its forested mountains and. especially by its hospitable and friendly people. It is a developing nation in
Philippines Map Condensed.jpg
From Operation World DVD-ROM 2010.
the midst of change, a nation struggling with a rapidly growing population and a desire to find its place in the family of nations.

Comprised of an archipelago of 7,100 islands located ranging roughly from 10 degrees above the Equator and about 600 miles to the southeast of mainland Asia, The Philippines’ two largest islands, Luzon and Mindanao, have a land area of 41,000 and 37,000 square miles respectively. Eleven of the largest of these islands constitute 96 percent of the total land area of 115,000 square miles, which means that the total land area of the Philippines is a little larger than that of the state of Arizona.

There are three natural regions: Luzon to the north, the Visayas in the central part and Mindanao to the south. The Visayas have eight major islands. These are Samar, Leyte, Negros, Panay, Palawan, Cebu, Bohol and Masbate.

General Religious Background

Traditional pre-Spanish animistic beliefs have persisted, and “Christianity” is sometimes an overlay on convictions about the spirits (anitos, the aswang, etc.) A study of the general Philippine world view must always take this reality into consideration.

Islam entered the Philippines earlier than did Catholicism. The first Mohammedan missionary to the Philippines was Mukdum, an Arab teacher from Mecca who landed in Sulu in 1380 A.D. Other Muslim leader included Baginda, who arrived from Sumatra in about 1390. He was followed by Abu Bakr, who in 1450 became the first sultan of Jolo. Today the Muslims live primarily in the western region of Mindanao, the Jolo archipelago and the island of Palawan. Their number is estimated to be about 2.5 million.


The Catholic religion arrived with Magellan in 1521. Early conversion attempts were a failure, but with the arrival of Legazpi 50 years later, evangelistic efforts bore more fruit. The mission-minded Augustinian Order arrived with Legazpi. The Philippine Church Groups.pngFranciscans came in 1577. They were followed by the Jesuits and Dominicans in 1581 and the Recollects in 1606. By the last decade of the 16th century friars had converted about half of those who were coming under Spanish control.

Because the friars were the only Spaniards in some areas of the nation, they became an integral part of the Spanish colonial government. The Spanish priests were very paternalistic toward their “little brown brothers.” As a result of their attitude, restlessness grew and animosities developed.

It is important to note that a spirit of nationalism influenced much of the religious history of the Philippines. When revolution finally erupted against Spain in 1896, it began primarily as a movement against the Spanish priests. An important religious group, the Philippine Independent Catholic Church (Aglipayans) came out of the revolution.

When the United States assumed control of the islands in 1898, a number of American Protestant groups began evangelizing there. A comity agreement was reached allowing particular groups to concentrate without rivals on certain sections of the Philippines. As a result, individual groups are stronger in some areas than in others. For example, the Anglicans are numerous in the mountain provinces of northern Luzon, while the Baptists are more numerous in Negros Occidental.

In 1914 an indigenous religious group, the Iglesia ni Kristo, originated under the leadership of Felix Manalo. This church is very militant, very anti-Catholic and very nationalistic. It denies the deity of Christ and His eternal pre-existence. Mr. Manalo believed that he was the angel from the sunrising in Revelation 7:2.

There is freedom of religion in tPhilippines AGR.jpghe Philippines, and even though some estimates indicate that 85 percent of the population is at least nominally Catholic, great evangelism and church growth are possible. There are some 2,300 missionaries, from 120 agencies, at work in the country. The openness of the people, their congeniality, their curiosity and hospitality, plus the present social, economic and political climate, make many areas of the country quite receptive to evangelism areas of the country quite receptive to evangelism.

Adult membership among the major mainline Evangelical groups is indicated in the chart above. The evangelical groups constitute an estimated 6.4 percent of the population. The chart to the right shows the annual population growing at less than 2 percent, with the Christian population growing at a rate just below that of the general population. Both the Muslim population (3.2 percent) and the Evangelical population (3.1 percent) show healthy growth.

Bible translation work has been emphasized in the Philippines, so the Bible is available in several dialects. Many religious institutions, such as colleges, training schools and seminaries, are scattered around the nation.

Churches of Christ

The history of what we know as churches of Christ in the Philippines must begin realistically in 1928. George Benson went to the island of Mindoro for about six months in that year, baptizing several people. H.G. Cassell was sent in 1928, establishing congregations in Pinamalayan and Paclasan, Mindoro. O.T. Rodman went in the 1930’s. The results of his work are still seen in a number of strong congregations on the island of Negros.

Congregations established by Filipino Christians such as Antonio Villanueve, Laureano Belo and Cornelio Alegre, existed during the Japanese occupation of World War II. In 1945, at the end of the war, there were eight congregations, with about 234 members, in Cotabato on Mindanao.

American military personnel had an important role in establishing congregations in the Philippines. In 1945 an army chaplain, Frank Traylor, had an influential part in establishing a strong work in Zamboanga City. The workers who followed him established Zamboanga Bible School, which trained a number of men and women. In 1948 Ralph Brashears, another former military man on Luzon, established a “Bible chair” at Luna Colleges in Tayug, Pangasinan. In 1952 this training school was transferred to Baguio City and became Philippine Bible College, which still operates. This school has prepared hundreds of men and women for the work throughout that nation.

Most of the missionary outreach of churches of Christ has been done since World War II. Much of this later work, however, has been built on the foundation laid in earlier years. Primarily since 1960, a number of missionary families have served in different parts of the nation, either in small teams or individually.

Congregations are the most numerous in the Cotabato area of Mindanao and among the Ilokanos of central and northern Luzon. In the past few years, however, a greater amount of evangelism in the Metro Manila area and the Visayan Islands has brought good results. There are now approximately 18 congregations, most of them small, in the Manila area.
Churches of Christ number about 300 congregations, with approximately 8,000 to 10,000 members.

Spiritual Needs/Challenges

The Philippines include some areas and people which are very receptive to the message of Christ. Missionaries in the past have been responsible for considerable evangelism and leadership training. Today, much of the growth and establishing of new congregations have come from the work of national Christians. At times, new congregations are initiated and grow without the knowledge of American missionaries.

Even with all of this, however, there are urgent spiritual needs in the Philippines:

  • New mission teams are needed for areas of Metro Manila. The capital is a huge metropolis with a rapidly increasing population from the provinces, many of these arrives being quite open to religious change. New residential communities are constantly being constructed on the fringes of the city. Whole sections of Manila are in a state of flux and so are prime targets for teams of evangelists.

  • There are several large, thriving cities with an immediate need for workers. These include Cagayan de Oro City on northern Mindanao, Iligan City near Cagayan de Oro, Dumaguete City, an educational center on Negros, Batangas City and Legazpi, among the Tagalogs, Laoag City in the Ilocos area, and others. Additional workers are also needed in the two largest cities outside of Manila, Cebu City and Davao City.
  • Teams are needed for rural districts of Luzon. Central Luzon, with its high population density, and the Cagayan Valley, and especially the town of Tuguegarao, are ripe for evangelism. Also, towns in the Central Pain of Luzon are open for evangelism now!

  • Some of the tribes among the cultural minorities are still untouched and are still deeply infected by traditional animistic beliefs.

  • Specialized teams are needed to penetrate the Muslim population of the South, plus the large Chinese population scattered around the nation.

Cold formalism within inherited religion has caused many Filipinos to seek a closer relationship with God. Most Filipinos believe in God and Christ. However, the Filipino Christ is the Spanish Christ, who is either symbolized as an innocent child, the Santo Niño, or as a dead man on a cross, not as the living Lord of the Bible.

Yes, the Philippines are in the midst of struggle! There has been recent political unrest. The nation suffers from a massive debt. The economy is in a shambles. Communist insurgents are troubling certain areas. These problems may linger on for years to come. Yet, is it not true that it is within such circumstances as these that the Gospel may find truly fertile soil? Doors are open right now in the Philippines! Many souls can be taught and brought into fellowship with Christ. There is a Macedonian Call ringing out from the rapidly growing, rapidly changing Philippines. Who will answer this call?

General Editor

Dr. Bob Waldron, Missions Consultant and Researcher

Resource People

  • Salvador Cariaga
  • Bob Buchanan
  • Ken Wilkey
  • Congregations greatly involved in mission work in the Philippines include the A and M Church of Christ, 1001 West Loop South, College Station, Texas 77840, and the Broadway and Orman Church of Christ, 611 Broadway, Pueblo, Colorado 81004.

Sources Cited and Suggested Reading

Anderson, Gerald H., ed. 1969. Studies in Philippine Church History. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Deats, Richard L. 1967. Nationalism and Christianity in the Philippines. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press.

Gagelonia, Pedro A. 1970. Concise Philippine History. Manila: Far Eastern University

Montgomery, Jim and Donald McGavran. 1980. The Discipling of a Nation: Church Growth Strategies in the Philippines. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library.

Operation World. 2010. Operation World: The Definitive Prayer Guide to Every Nation. 7th Ed. Edited by Jason Mandryk. Colorado Springs, CO: Global Mapping International. Professional Version. DVD-ROM.

Shipp, Glover and Bob Waldron. 1989. Philippine Nationscan. Abilene, TX: McCaleb Institute for Missions Education (May).

Wilkey, Ken. n.d. History of the Churches of Christ in the Philippines. Unpublished directory list.