Finding the “True Church”: Delighting Grace Interviews Conley of TrueIglesia.org

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There have been lots of apologetics resources concerning the group Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC). But I came across at this webcomic http://www.trueiglesia.org. I find it very helpful for us Christians who wants to share the gospel to our INC friends. I had an e-mail interview with its creator, Conley, and we talk about his ministry and how to reach the INC for Christ:
Delighting Grace: First of all, its a pleasure chatting with you about your ministry that has a heart for INC members. So how did you get interested in reaching out this group?
Conley: Like the comic describes, I studied the INC while in the US and that’s also where I created the website.  There is a significant INC presence in the San Francisco Bay area and I can even walk a couple of miles to get to the nearest one here in Mountain View.  My subsequent trip to the Philippines during July was primarily to strengthen relationships with some churches I would like to partner with in future evangelistic efforts.  I hope to move to the Philippines permanently so that I can study the various sects that have sprung up there and publish resources to respond to their claims.  My trip wasn’t entirely unrelated to the centennial, but I didn’t have a chance to spend much time interacting with INC members over the course of the month.
Delighting Grace: Why a webcomic to reach the member of this church? As I read your webcomic, you made mentioned Comicon and for sure I think you love comicbooks.
Conley: A Filipino I had met on a previous trip suggested that I make a comic to keep the attention of the younger members.  It really did turn out to be a good idea.  Due to the format, I honestly think it’s one of the gentlest responses to the INC that exists on the web.  I do enjoy comic books myself, although I have never actually been to Comic Con.  Regarding the creation of the comic, I wrote the storyboard, my wife made the illustrations, a Pinoy brother at my church in California translated, and several other members of my church edited. It was a church effort, which is a huge blessing.
Delighting Grace: Is their a culture and language barrier as far as communicating to them the gospel and orthodox Christianity? Its pretty obvious that most INC followers are Pinoys. Maybe some non-Pilipino believers may have encountered this group and wants to share God’s love to them?.
Conley: Yes, there are some significant cultural and language barriers inengaging INC members at several levels. First, part of what has given INC doctrine so much success is largely that it relies on English-based equivocation, which easily goes undetected by those who speak English as a second language.  An example: the phrase “ends of the earth” refers to the distant parts of the globe while the phrase “ends of the world” refers to a future time.  The INC says that the words “earth” and “world” are synonyms, so therefore certain verses in the Bible that talk about the “ends of the earth” are referring to a future time — specifically a time when the INC would be founded.  The fact that the INC uses English translations of scripture to make these arguments makes it difficult for ESL people to catch the fallacy.

Another language barrier exists in their rhetorical vocabulary.  They don’t think that they “interpret” things, which is silly since that word simply means to ascribe meaning.  They equate “understanding” with “believing” and say that someone who doesn’t believe doesn’t understand.  I’ve had to learn how to avoid these problems words in order to avoid unnecessary hangups.

Coming from the other side of things, there’s a large cultural barrier in working with evangelical churches in the Philippines to try to share the gospel with the INC.  In the US, it’s perfectly permissible to go outside of a large event (like the centennial) and pass out tracts.  In the Philippines, that wouldn’t be considered as appropriate.  Additionally, few Filipino evangelicals are willing to engage in a polemic and speak out against false faiths.  Part of this is fear of persecution, but a lot of it is simply an eastern form of respect.  There are good sides and bad sides to that aspect of the culture.
Delighting Grace: Do you still have communication with them? How are they now?
Conley: I’ve since managed to speak with a couple of the INC members I met during my studies.  Unfortunately, not much has changed, but we can pray that God will send someone to water the planted seeds.
Delighting Grace: Can you give us tips on how to share the gospel with these friends of ours?
Conley: Here’s some tips on how to share the gospel to an INC member:
Personal preparation:
1. Read and know your Bible.  I can’t stress this enough.  INC members make the error of paying lip service to the Bible while they rarely read it.  It’s easy to think that we are better than them on this account, but ask yourself: how often do you really read and study the Bible?  Do you know it well enough that you could tell me the theme of Galatians or be able to characterize John as compared to the other gospels?  Knowing a few verses isn’t the same as reading and knowing scripture.
2. Pray for INC members.  This is an area where I fall very short.  We must acknowledge that it’s only God who can change the heart and part of acknowledging that is by going to him in prayer.
3. Be bold and have a heavenly perspective.  I know that many Filipinos are intimidated by the INC or even afraid of persecution, but if we believe the promises of Scripture, there is no reason to fear.  (Hebrews 13:5-6; Matthew 5:10)

When evangelizing:
1. Focus on helping the other party understand, not on winning an argument.  Too many times I see Christians present the truth to INC members in a way that is harsh and isn’t really focused on helping them.  We should by no means compromise on the truth, but a gentle response turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1) and causes people to listen.

2. Focus on gospel issues, not on tangential issues.  I see many Christians focus on disproving INC prophecies or criticizing the behavior of certain ministers.  There is certainly a time and a place for this if done appropriately, but I worry that people focus on these things just to tear down the other party and then are left in a situation that isn’t conducive to building a positive case for the gospel.  If instead you focus on their view of Jesus, you can give them a true Jesus.  If you focus on their works righteousness, you can give them Christ’s righteousness.  These things can cut to the heart in a way that talking about the meanings of Hebrew words or newspaper headlines cannot.

3. Focus on scripture, not on human philosophy.  Faith comes through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17), not though some other means.  Make sure your defense is based on the Bible and not own your own way of reasoning to truth.

4. A very practical tip: I personally think that Hebrews 1:10 is one of the best verses you can share with an INC member.
“8 But of the Son he says,
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”
10 And,
“You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning,
and the heavens are the work of your hands;”

In this verse, the Father clearly and directly says that the Son created the universe, something they reject.  The INC tends to get distracted by verse 8, where the Son is called God — they have arguments to say that’s mistranslated, but very few have ever considered Hebrews 1:10.  They will try to go to other passages, but if you can keep them focused on this one, they will have no choice but to face the fact that Jesus is the creator.
Delighting Grace: Thank you, Conley. Please invite them to you website and also your social media accounts.
Conley: You read the comic and learn more about this ministry at trueiglesia.org.  In addition to the comic, the site has nearly 100 published articles that may be helpful for anyone struggling with particular contentions that come up in INC discussions.  We also have a Facebook page with over 50,000 likes (facebook.com/trueiglesia) and a twitter account (twitter.com/trueiglesia).  During the day in the US, I’m available in our chatroom at trueiglesia.org/chat.

Delighting Grace: Any last words for our readers and of course our Iglesia ni Cristo friends?
Conley: To my brothers in Christ: be bold, regardless of how other faiths treat you.  Some people are goats and some people are sheep, but remember that Paul was a sheep even while he persecuted the church. There are many in the INC who are just like he was, a sinner destined for grace.
To my friends in the INC: I hope that as time progresses we can have some healthy dialogue that hasn’t really existed in the past.  As always, I would encourage you to read the Bible.  If you have not read the book of John before, I’d encourage you to start there.  May God bless you.

 

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