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In compliance to the 2006 General Assembly mandate calling for a consultation and study of the phenomenon of New Religious Movements (NRMs), the UCCP Faith and Order Commission (FOC) and the Commission on Church Unity and Union (CCUU) together with the General Secretary and the incumbent bishops held a series of consultations on the issue.
1. On 7-10 January 2013 at the UCCP Shalom Center on New Religious Movements and the impact on the life and ministry of the UCCP involving the Bishops and elected officers, representatives from the different commissions, selected Conference Ministers and Local Church pastors and resource persons.
2. On 22-24 July 2013 at the National City United Church involving the Bishops and Conference Ministers in an All Leaders Consultation on NRMs.
3. On 7-9 January 2014 at Happy Nest, Merryland Village in Mandaluyong City in the Joint Meeting of the Commissions. The incumbent Bishops and elected officers along with the members of the National Secretariate participated in the meeting.
There were other processes that took place at the Conference level during the quadrennium. In all consultations, resource persons in the national level consultations gave inputs.
This document is a consolidation of the findings from the consultations.
II. Initial Observations
The consultation participants noted the rapid growth of NRMs, which have made substantial inroads in the local churches of the UCCP. This movements focus well on attracting adherents and followers right from within the established churches of the UCCP by presenting a message and program of evangelism that proclaims an image of a mystical, supra-historical Jesus that invites everyone to make an individual, personal faith commitment without due regard to the historical dimension and implication of the gospel that Jesus himself taught to his followers and to all those who decide to follow him (cf. Mark 8:34).
This one dimensional presentation and proclamation of the gospel and of an ahistorical Jesus is carried out and achieved through a systematic and aggressive program of recruitment and training using sophisticated tools and modern technology. its adherents are also adopting the networking style of reaching out to new contacts and developing and organizing cells in a pattern that resembles the “pyramiding” scheme of marketing new products. This approach is accompanied by the use of youth-oriented gospel music together with the introduction of bands as part of the worship experience in the church.
The music that is introduced, with very simple, highly repetitive lyrics expressive of this simplistic, one dimensional faith reinforces the basic teaching and theology of these movements, focusing on the need for a highly personal, individualized faith relationship with a highly mystical Jesus who has nothing to do with the social and historical context of his time and who has nothing to say and would not summon anyone to involve on any critical contemporary issue and concern of the hour.
III. Theological Implication
Even in the face of seemingly impressive numerical growth in the membership of some churches owing to the efforts of this movement, one alarming effect was the de-emphasis or setting aside of the prophetic dimension of the mission and ministry of the UCCP. The removal of Jesus from his own social and historical context as recorded in the gospels and his being frozen in an image of the divine that is above and beyond time and history resulted in the removal also of the historical and social dimension in the over-all mission, witness and service program of the UCCP.
Here is one unique feature of the life and work and witness of the UCCP, borne out of its historical struggle to be faithful to the gospel and relevant to its own context, which now appears to be in danger of being wiped out by the aggressive inroads of the NRMs in its local churches. The UCCP’s unique witness to the whole gospel proclaimed and witnessed to and sacrificed for by Jesus is now threatened with being watered down by an alternative but incomplete gospel proclaimed by the adherents of the NRMs.
IV. Practical, Organizational Implication
A number of concerned members have expressed their alarm over the rather different theological thrust and direction this movement has taken and prescribed for its adherents. Some of those who have been converted to its teachings have begun to express indifference over the recognized programs and thrusts of the UCCP. Some even became openly critical of the UCCP’s strong prophetic stance and social witness. This has even led to some serious divisions and split in the churches and conferences of the UCCP.
V. The NRMs from a Worldwide Perspective
The rapid growth and expansion of the NRMs, either as an independently organized evangelical organization, or as a result of a split from the mainline churches, has been duly noted by the consultation. As a worldwide trend, it has even outstripped the growth rate and actual membership of the traditional mainline churches in both Europe and the US most of which have actually suffered substantial declines in their membership.(1) Indeed, this is a critical historical and sociological phenomenon which needs to be considered seriously by our church leaders.
This development is also taking place in the context of intensifying commercialization, unchecked materialism, unresolved economic crisis, continuing massive unemployment, unfettered greed and corporate take overs and shut downs and rapid globalization in commerce, communication and transportation. This is accompanied by the rise of migration and the phenomenon of overseas workers, resulting mostly in broken homes, or those traumatized by unending wars and violence in different parts of the world, along with the spate of crimes taking place all over. All these leave the individual with feelings of alienation, insecurity, marginalization, fear of the future and loss of spiritual, psychological and cultural moorings.
It may be conceded that the NRMs may have responded effectively and aggressively to these modern age longings of the individual person and may have opened up rich opportunities for evangelistic campaigns and church expansion in the process. But the UCCP need not be left behind.
VI. The Challenge to the UCCP: Recovery of its Rich Faith Traditions
The UCCP stands on a rich and solid foundation of faithful preaching and witnessing to the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness and holistic dimension and with its significance and implication to the life and faith of the Filipino Christian of today. There has always been that element of robustness, active dynamism and prophetic boldness in the carrying out of this unique tradition of its faith and witness. It has a long and historic tradition of preaching the good news proclaimed by Jesus, which brings hope to the poor and the oppressed based on a solid grounding on the Scriptures. This is a dimension of the faith of the UCCP which it need not apologize for nor be defensive about.
As a way of reinforcing this faith posture and its preaching and teaching tradition, some proposals came up which may need the serious consideration of every concerned church member at this point.
1. The UCCP needs to review or redefine its understanding of “Faith in Jesus”. Faith does not imply a simple assent or to agree to a set of teachings coming from Jesus or even to accept the idea that Jesus is one’s personal Lord and Savior. Faith in its original covenantal context would mean “loyalty” to the demands of a covenant relationship. Faith in Jesus would then mean being a loyal follower of Jesus, living by his teachings, upholding his claims, adhering to the values he had proclaimed, accepting his demands for a life of discipleship which even requires sacrifice and selfless service especially to the kind and class of people whom Jesus first called and ministered to.
It is living by the vision of Jesus for a new and alternative world, one that is governed and shaped by the values and ideals of the kingdom of God, where the last are to be made first, and the first to be made last, where the slaves and the oppressed are to be set free, where the powerless are to be empowered. It is living by this ideal which may even be deemed foolishness in the eyes of this world. “For God has chosen what is foolish in this world to shame the wise and God chose the weak of this world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God” (1 Cor. 1:27-29).
It is therefore a faith that cannot be cozy and comfortable with the status quo of this world. Rather, it is a faith that looks forward to the future when Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God finally becomes fulfilled. This is why it is a faith that will always speak and witness to the message of Jesus in a prophetic and rather disturbing manner no matter what sacrifice it may entail. This understanding of faith is what gives the UCCP its unique prophetic edge inspired by an eschatological hope which it should never give up.
2. The UCCP also needs to redefine its understanding of “Evangelism”. Evangelism is not solely about increasing one’s membership in the church although this is an important dimension of it also. Evangelism is first and foremost about sharing the gospel and witnessing to its liberating truth and power so that others may have the life meant for them by God. It is an essential component of the mission of the church which is simply the continuation of the mission of Jesus which is “to preach the good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
To think and carry out evangelism as if it is only meant to win out souls who would need to accept the Lord Jesus as their Lord and savior for their own exclusively personal salvation is to offer to the people a distorted, incomplete and truncated gospel. The church must preach to people not the mystical, ahistorical, social unconcerned Jesus, but the Jesus of Nazareth, who walked on this earth with ordinary people, who healed the sick, fed the hungry, forgave the sinners, accepted the unclean and the marginalized, and denounced the hypocrisies and abuses of those in power. This is the Jesus the UCCP has to consistently preach and witness to if it is to remain faithful to its’ calling and uphold its rich historic faith tradition.
3. The UCCP also has to understand the meaning of spirituality since this is one area which some sectors have accused the UCCP of sorely wanting in or lacking. Spirituality goes beyond having the trappings of pious, prayerful and churchy religiosity although this may be one expression of such. Jesus himself denounced the practice of such kind of pious spirituality by the scribes and Pharisees calling them as outwardly appearing righteous yet are full of hypocrisy and iniquity within (Matt.23:27). To be a disciple and follower of Jesus would first of all mean to be imbued with the spirituality of Jesus. This is simply being imbued with that spirit of the Lord that has come upon Jesus that empowered him to preach the good news to the poor… (Luke 8:18). It is that spirit that enables the person to obey God’s calling for mission to the most ignored and insignificant members of the society.
To be spiritual is to be gifted with the various gifts of the spirit that can be used for the mission and ministry of the church as the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12). Yet we are also mindful of the fact that even in the midst of the many gifts of the spirit that one may have received, still what is considered as the greatest gift of the spirit is the spirit of love (I Cor. 13). It is the gift of love for the people and compassion for the suffering, standing in solidarity with the victims of injustice. It is the greatest spiritual gift that one can receive from God. The one who manifests such love for the people, with that spirit of selfless service and compassion therefore is one who can be described as an authentically spiritual person.
VII. Some Recommendations
The continuing presence and influence of the NRMs in the life and work of the UCCP will need to be fully appraised and responded to by the church through programmatic actions and official policies meant to preserve and protect the distinct faith traditions of the UCCP.
The following recommendations were drawn from the series of consultations that took place.
1. All programs of the church that were initiated by NRMs and not by the UCCP must be strictly regulated, supervised and carefully monitored by the church pastor seeking guidance from the conference and jurisdiction officials.
2. The teaching content of such programs must be scrutinized and examined closely by the pastor in consultation with conference and jurisdiction officials for any divergence or teaching that is contrary to established UCCP teaching and doctrines as promulgated in the UCCP Statement of Faith and other official statements made by the church before.
3. The teaching content and materials to be used should also include UCCP teachings on the basic Christian doctrines as promulgated in the Statement of Faith and other officially issued statements of the church.
4. The local churches may adopt with care the methods and tools being prescribed for church growth and development, keeping in mind our own understanding of evangelism and church growth and development.
5. The use of bands for the youth may be allowed at specific times of worship and should use the hymns and songs in the UCCP, NCCP hymnals and other ecumenical sources of church hymns and songs.
6. Regular evaluation of the NRM initiated programs in the church should be conducted in coordination with the conference and jurisdiction officials, so as to determine their strengths and weaknesses and their degree of effectiveness and to determine also the ways and means of adopting into the programs of the church such elements and aspects that may be deemed positive and supportive of the goals and mission of the church.
7. Local church workers are enjoined to keep themselves theologically equipped and prepared to handle the challenge of NRM teachings and inroads in church life and mission. At the same time they are also reminded to live out a lifestyle and uphold a set of values that will serve as a modeling and source of inspiration for the members and especially for the youth to emulate and live by as shepherds who really care for their flock.
In the end, the UCCP may yet emerge stronger and better prepared for mission work as it engages the NRMs right within its own backyard. The church may actually experience a period of renewal and reformation as it emerges from this critical and challenging period of its existence.
(1) From actual figures and statistics from official resources shared by Bp. Reuel Norman O. Marigza.
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