ETwould not normally get involved in the work of Pentecostal churches, but this contribution from Reformed Baptist pastor Kent Philpotthighlights the fact that among such churches are some who genuinely seek the truth and serve the Lord.
A few years ago I spoke at a two-day conference for church leaders in Iloilo City, Panay. The meeting place was filled with men and women, with standing room only at the rear. They were mostly young people though a few had reached their forties.
Pastor Joemarie Sulmaca, supervisor of Foursquare (Pentecostal) Churches in the Philippine District of West Visayas, was the conference organiser. He is 48 years old and married, with three grown boys. All are believers and engaged in the Lord’s work, as is his wife Nora.
There is a spiritual vacuum in the Philippines. What was once exclusively a Catholic country has now 68% Catholics, and that number is declining rapidly. Buddhists, Hare Krishnas, and various ‘Christian’ cults are seeking converts. It is a crucial period and these Filipino Christians are preaching the gospel and planting churches.
Pastor Joemarie and his leaders are increasingly scandalized by the strangeness of many Pentecostal churches in their area. I sought to bring them an understanding of the doctrines of grace – doctrines they knew I hold to.
One Foursquare pastor in the Luzon District had been expelled for embracing Reformed theology (unhappily it turned into a ‘hyper’ version), but Joemarie had let it be known to his denominational leaders that he would ‘not be put in a box’.
I returned to my congregation at Miller Avenue -Baptist Church in California and others there felt we should support this work. And so we have. We sent over a number of books, and money to support six church planters. As Brian Ellis pointed out in a recent article in ET, we must be careful to preserve the integrity of mission in the use of money in third world countries.
Recently we revisited the area. This second trip included three conferences for pastors and church leaders on different islands (Panay, Guimaras and Negros), evangelistic meetings, and visits to other churches. During 2004 the number of churches overseen by Pastor Joemarie had grown from 70 to 82.
I was not alone this time. I took two other preachers and two who played music, and all were able to contribute. I talked about the nature of conversion, and especially the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration.
I once pastored a Charismatic/Pentecostal church for ten years during my Arminian days and this was the first time I had experienced charismatic worship since then. However, I could not judge the heart of these precious Christian people. Their worship was clearly God-centred, simple and non-manipulative.
Our small missionary team would periodically ask what we thought we were achieving – especially when three of us came down with a debilitating flu bug! But we felt the expense and effort was justified.
We were able to teach, encourage and support a group of believers aggressively preaching the gospel, amongst a huge population of people who were open to learning about God. We hope, by God’s grace, to go back and do more!