Iglesia ni Cristo

A non-trinitarian Christian church that claims exclusive restoration of the original Church of Christ.

Religion: Christianity
Denomination: Restorationism
Founder: Felix Y. Manalo
Founded: 1914
Location: Philippines
Size: Over 5 million members
Other Names: Church of Christ, INC
Website: incmedia.org

Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), translated as Church of Christ, was founded by Felix Y. Manalo in 1914 in the Philippines as an independent non-trinitarian Christian denomination. It is noteworthy for its claim to be the restoration of the original church founded by Jesus, asserting that all other Christian churches have apostatized. The church sees itself as fulfilling biblical prophecy by emerging in the Far East during the time signified by the seventh seal in the Book of Revelation, which they interpret as the end of days.

Manalo’s journey to founding the INC involved a departure from Catholicism during his teenage years, followed by periods with the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Christian Mission, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In 1913, after a period of solitary Bible study, Manalo began his religious mission, which formally led to the establishment of INC in 1914, where he is revered as the last messenger of God.

Under the leadership of Manalo and his successors, the INC experienced significant growth. By the time of Manalo’s death in 1963, the church had expanded across the Philippines, and under his son, Eraño G. Manalo, it began an international mission that further increased its reach. The church’s expansion continued under Eduardo V. Manalo, with the 2020 Philippine census reporting 2.8 million adherents. The INC has a notable influence in Philippine society, not only due to its religious teachings but also through its political engagement, with the church advocating for bloc voting among its members.

The doctrine of the Iglesia ni Cristo emphasizes the unity of God and rejects the trinity, viewing Jesus Christ as a created being and not God incarnate. This belief diverges from mainstream Christian doctrine, particularly the concept of the Trinity, which is a fundamental element in most Christian denominations. The church also holds that Felix Y. Manalo’s establishment of INC was prophesied in the Bible, specifically interpreting Isaiah 43:5–6 and other scriptures as references to its emergence in the Philippines, which they refer to as the “Far East.”

Critics of the INC, however, categorize it as having cult-like elements, primarily due to its highly centralized authority structure, the unique claims made by its founder, and its exclusivist view of salvation. Among the criticisms are assertions that the INC imposes a works-based path to salvation, necessitating adherence to specific church rules and regulations, including attending church services regularly, participating in block voting, and following dietary restrictions.

A particularly tumultuous period for the INC began in July 2015, marked by internal disputes involving expelled members, including high-profile figures within the Manalo family itself. These internal conflicts spilled into public view, featuring large rallies, social media exchanges involving both supporters and critics, and even legal battles. This period underscored deep divisions and prompted allegations of corruption within the church’s leadership​​.

One of the most notable controversies involved Lowell Menorca, a former INC minister, who sought refugee status in Canada following accusations of kidnapping and interrogation by church members. Menorca accused the church leadership of adopting an extravagant lifestyle funded by member donations, a stark contrast to the church’s teachings. His story also sheds light on the mysterious disappearance of several ministers, deepening concerns over the church’s internal governance and its handling of dissent​​.

The 2015 leadership controversy, further detailed by allegations of house arrest and the forceful prevention of media access to the Manalo family compound, exemplifies the internal power struggles. Angel Manalo, a member of the founding family, voiced concerns over the Sanggunian (the church’s highest governing body) and criticized the church’s decision to prioritize investments like the Philippine Arena over more houses of worship. This internal strife has led to legal actions, including an ejectment case against family members residing at the contentious Tandang Sora compound and allegations of corruption and mismanagement within the church’s leadership​​.

These events have not only affected the church’s members and their perception of INC leadership but have also caught the attention of international bodies and foreign governments. For instance, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada described the INC as “cult-like,” citing the experiences of claimants who fled the Philippines due to fears of persecution and retribution from the church​​.

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