Felix Ysagun Manalo (10th of May 1886 – 12th of April 1963)
Do you see that little dash in between the dates? This is not my original idea but I read it somewhere and it struck me as so meaningful. Those two dates simply indicate the birth and death of a person. But that dash – that dash in the middle, is significant because there lies the lifetime of the person. In-between those two dates are all the travails and success of Brother Felix Y. Manalo. For almost 50 years he guided the Iglesia Ni Cristo; from one man to one huge and powerful organisation.
I never got to meet Brother Felix but his legacy is in us. I am old enough to have met many old ministers who told wonderful stories of the Messenger and their experiences with him. If we admired his son, Brother Erdy for having such force in leading the Church to its global stature, imagine having nothing to start with. That’s what Brother Felix had, nothing but the trust and faith in God.
What always appealed to me about the Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ) is how it has been so obsessively strict and careful with the offerings of the brethren. Imagine starting out with nothing. There were no large congregations to help Brother Felix in his campaign to preach the gospel. He had zero. And to go from there to hundreds of chapels built during his time is miraculous.
One of FYM’s characteristics which helped the church to have so many chapels is that concern for the offerings of the brethren. Perhaps some of you have seen pictures of him wearing a khaki shirt. Old ministers told of those times that that shirt had permanent sweat stains on his back but he never got rid of it. Money was always tight and he held on to it even tighter. There were stories told by Ministers of how frugal he was. If he traveled to different cities, he counted every single centavo – nothing went to waste. Food was carefully eaten and not a grain of rice should be wasted because it was a blessing from God. If he gave money to you to use, he expected the change back, even if it was one centavo.
And this care for the money is what the Church inherited. The finance officers know this very well and we are even proud to say it. If we made mistakes in the Finance forms and we were off by a penny, we would get a “call-up” from the Central office asking to explain the error, send the explanation, to correct it, and refund that amount. To outsiders, it would be ridiculous because it cost more to send the call ups, write the replies and make the corrections. But to us, it was solicitous care of our offerings, not one penny was left unaccounted for. That very same spirit was carried on by the late Executive Minister as well. Brother Erano Manalo kept that same frugal way all the way to his death, always mindful of the expenses of the Church.
That point brings me to sadness now. For what FYM instilled in the church, that care for the offerings of the brethren, seems to have vanished. Because the Church has grown now, obviously, the offerings also have grown many times over; the concern over the offerings has diminished. How careful was the Messenger with regards to the offerings? He was the one who set up the system of caring for the offerings. He taught his own family and the ministers about being careful of what the offerings are used for, which is why we have chapels. He said, “If I was not careful with the offerings, where would we worship?”.
I say that care has diminished because all you have to do is look around you. Yes there are chapels purchased all over the world. But what can you also see? Careless spending. Let’s start with the largest one of them all. A record breaking one. The Philippine Arena. Our offerings, as we mention in prayers, is to build beautiful houses of worship. It was made clear to us that the Arena IS NOT A HOUSE OF WORSHIP. So why use millions of dollars to build something that Katy Perry can prance around in? Oh, and it is “occasionally” used by the Church. “Would Brother FYM have approved and built such a structure?” Would he have purchased 2 high end helicopters?
In the U.S. Pastoral Visits of the current Executive Minister, don’t you notice there are always the 3 Cadillac Escalades and the Mercedes Benz Striker? The 2016 Pastoral Visits that lasted from February to April with the immense entourage, going from the west coast of America, to the East, up to Canada, crossing Europe and into Israel. Then to Asia. I am not saying they should not visit, they should, but how many members of the Council, their family members, security, technical crew, video and photography people are truly needed? Would Brother FYM have approved of those? Is that the same spirit of frugality of the Messenger?
Put this in this perspective: Brother Felix often preached with a single microphone in open air venues and he was heard. The current Executive Minister, brings his own sound system and sound technicians to be used in closed chapels. Would Brother FYM have done the same thing? The answer is already there.
Let’s take two specific examples: When Bakersfield California chapel was dedicated in February. Where do you think the entire entourage stayed? Bakersfield? When the Jersey City chapel was dedicated in March, where do you think the entourage stayed? In New Jersey? For those who are not too geographically oriented of these places, the answers would be the grand hotels in Los Angeles and New York. I’m sure those sound more familiar don’t they? I ask once more, do you think Brother FYM would have done the same thing? Yes, there came a time FYM rode in cars but never abused a cent of brethren’s offering. Now, District Ministers have also learned to just spend thousands of dollars on banners to say we love EVM, renting out venues just to create human monograms and EVM images – to the point the Districts and locales are penniless? Is this what we have become?
“How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You sail the seas and cross whole countries to win one convert; and when you succeed, you make him twice as deserving of going to hell as you yourselves are!” Matthew 23:15
So to look back at the legacy of Brother Felix Manalo, I honestly cannot say that I still see much of it. His very legacy and spirit is being trodden upon by the abuse of the leaders. The quick answer that will be, once again thrown at this, is “you are like Judas Iscariot when he questioned the vial of oil Jesus used”. My answer to that, is the vial of oil, is much cheaper than that travel expenses of the Council and the entire entourage. Even Jesus Christ would bristle at these expenditures.
The point I just want to make is simple – Brother FYM was always concerned with the offerings of brethren – to never take advantage of what they offered. Majority of the brethren are in the Philippines, where the average wages would be $5 a day. That’s on the high end of the spectrum. Many are poor. Many barely have enough to feed their families. But because of the faith of the brethren, they will still set aside from their meager earnings and offer. But it does not mean those offerings can be abused. Those offerings come from the blood, sweat and tears of every brother and sister in the faith. It should never be used just for one’s comfort, lifestyle, fashion or appetite. It was meant as a sacrifice to God and should never be blemished.
What Brother Felix Manalo always taught, was not to believe in him – for he was just a man – but to always believe in God’s words. So would he approve of all this “I am one with EVM” rubbish? Here is a clip of Brother FYM himself, that if people said, “We don’t believe you Manalo. That’s what I want. Don’t believe in me” Isn’t that the opposite now?
To the brothers and sisters around the world, please remember Brother Felix Manalo on this day. His life and legacy must never be diminished. Don’t forget what he taught us. He taught us by example. He taught us to believe in God and not in man.
“Remember your former leaders, who spoke God’s message to you. Think back on how they lived and died, and imitate their faith.” Hebrews 13:7