Iglesia ni Cristo was founded by Felix Manalo in 1914 in the Philippines. The phrase “Iglesia ni Cristo” is Tagalog (the language of the Philippines) for “Church of Christ.” Sadly, while claiming to be a church, Iglesia ni Cristo has all of the basic elements of a cult. The first and foremost is a single charismatic leader who claims to have a special revelation from God. Felix Manalo was a former Catholic who abandoned Catholicism in his teens. He experimented with several Protestant denominations and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Manalo finally started his own church, the Iglesia ni Cristo, in 1914. When a schism in the church appeared in 1922, he began claiming to be God’s prophet in an effort to accumulate power and re-assert his leadership over the church.
Some of his claims are that the Iglesia ni Cristo was prophesied in the Bible. The specific prophecy quoted is Isaiah 43:5–6, “Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth.” Iglesia ni Cristo interprets the word east as “Far East” (based on a faulty translation) and claims that it points to the Iglesia ni Cristo being created in the Philippines.
The Iglesia ni Cristo claims to be the one, true Church of Christ because they are called “the Church of Christ” and they can point to some verses in the Bible which use the phrase “church of Christ.” Most notably, they point to Romans 16:16, which says, “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.” However, in this verse, the “churches of Christ” isn’t referring to the name of a particular church, but to all the churches that Paul visited that followed Jesus Christ. They also read from a mistranslation of Acts 20:28 that reads “church of Christ,” but the actual Greek reads “church of God.” Whether or not a church is named the “Church of Christ” is irrelevant. There are many churches that have “Church of Christ” in their name; that doesn’t make them the one true church.
Another example of defective doctrine in the Iglesia ni Cristo is their Christology. They deny the divinity of Jesus Christ (as do all cults and false religions) and assert that Jesus was created by God and enabled to do miraculous works by God. They deny the doctrine of the Trinity. They claim that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force. They also claim that the Christian church in its current form has apostatized, and that the Iglesia ni Cristo is the reinstatement of the true church that was lost in the first century; and this by means of God’s last messenger, Felix Manalo—the founder of Iglesia ni Cristo.
Another example of the cultic nature of Iglesia ni Cristo is its claim to be the sole source of truth and salvation. This may seem odd since Christianity, as a whole, makes these claims of exclusivity, too. The difference is that, while Christianity does make exclusive claims, individual churches/denominations do not (or at least should not) claim to be the sole source of that exclusivity. True churches recognize that there are other Christian churches outside of their own denomination that are rightfully Christian and that we can all believe different things on secondary doctrines, yet still all be saved. Jesus Christ Himself said that salvation is found in Him, that He is the only way to the Father (John 14:6), not membership in a specific church.
Here are some of the other unbiblical or extra-biblical doctrines that Iglesia ni Cristo teaches:
• They believe that one must hear the gospel from authorized Iglesia ni Cristo messengers and ministers.
• They believe the official name of the church is “Iglesia ni Cristo.” Other names are not the true name of the church and, therefore, false churches.
• They believe a person must be a member of an Iglesia ni Cristo church and be water baptized to be saved.
• They believe people must avoid eating dinuguan, which is pork blood stew, a Filipino delicacy.
• Their members must avoid joining trade unions.
• Their members must avoid court sessions.
• They must vote in blocs.
• They are under compulsory church attendance.
• They must give tithes to the church.
According to Iglesia ni Cristo, all of the above rules and regulations are mandatory in order for a person to be saved. The Bible, of course, teaches that salvation is “the gift of God, not of works, lest any man boast” (Ephesians 2:9).
As is abundantly clear, the Iglesia ni Cristo is a cult. They deny essential historic Christian doctrine—namely, the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus Christ. They hold an almost unbreakable grip on their members, and they impose a man-made path to salvation through service and works. Our Lord predicted that in the last days there would come many who claim to be Christ and lead people astray (Matthew 24:5). Thankfully, He also said that the true believers would not be turned away (John 6:37).
As Christians, we must be wary of the teachings of false messiahs and cultic offshoots of Christianity, such as the Iglesia ni Cristo. We must be well grounded in the word of God so that we can spot these purveyors of falsehood. We must also realize that the people who are trapped in these cults need the salvation that can be found in Jesus Christ—the only Son of God—just as much as we did when we were lost in our sin.