At six billion copies sold worldwide, the Bible remains the best-selling book of all time; taking only the second place is the Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong at 900 million copies sold. However, the Bible is also the most misunderstood book. Diverse religions claiming to preach based on the Bible are now scattered almost everywhere, each having a different name, a different set of doctrines, beliefs and practices, which is an obvious anomaly.
Apparently, interpreting the Holy Scriptures produces contradicting outcomes in different people. One may interpret a biblical verse this way; the other, that way. Notwithstanding the fact that there is an interpretation that stands to logic, the apparent inconsistency may be better understood through parallel circumstances. Take for example the effects of sunlight on earth.
Without sunlight, life on earth as we know it will not be possible. It is a key component in photosynthesis, a chemical process vital to maintaining life. The sun itself has direct influence on the possibility of life. All over the planet, the sun dictates the climates as well as the changes they undergo. We have winter, spring, summer and fall; we have continents of ice and rocks; we have desserts, rainforests, oceans and seas; all because of the relative position of the earth to the sun. If the sun is a bit too close to earth, our planet will be scorched. Water in liquid form cannot exist, and therefore life, which is dependent on water, can neither exist.
Even how beneficial the sun to earth is, however, it can also bring hazardous effects. Without the atmosphere blocking 98.7 percent of the ultraviolet radiation coming from the sun, sunlight will damage nearly all biological life. Even with the current protection provided by the ozone layer, too much exposure to UV radiation can still cause skin cancer. On the contrary, too less exposure to sunlight will lead to vitamin D deficiency, which leads to many kinds of sicknesses such as osteoporosis, prostate cancer and breast cancer. Our skin benefits from sunlight by helping it produce vitamin D, which is crucial in calcium absorption for developing bones.
In the medical world, there are also positive and negative effects. It doesn’t always follow that if a medicine can cure, anyone who takes in that medicine will automatically be cured. There are kinds of medicine which are very useful to many people, but deadly to others. Take penicillin for example.
In history, penicillin is accounted for saving many lives. It is effective as an antibiotic. Nevertheless, there are people who experience difficulty in breathing and suffer cardiac arrest when given penicillin. These people may have extreme allergic reactions to this medication. To other people, adverse effects of penicillin include vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, hypersensitivity, fever, seizures and many others. So one cannot immediately conclude that if the effect of a certain drug is good to some people, it is the same to all.
These positive and negative effects of medication to human health and of sunlight to life on earth are parallels to the contradicting outcomes of using and interpreting the Scriptures. No matter how good the Scriptures is, it would produce negative effects to a person or group of people without understanding. Take for example the Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ) of Manalo.
Iglesia ni Cristo or INC, a politically-influential organization based in the Philippines, has a unique interpretation of Romans 16:16. The verse says –
Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.
When they read this verse, INC ministers would immediately ask, “What is the name used to greet?” They would then conclude that: “The name “Iglesia ni Cristo” is the official name, because it is the name that was commanded to greet all with.” This explanation was published in Iglesia ni Cristo’s official magazine Pasugo, September 1976 issue, on page 26.
Upon closer look at the verse, however, you will see that there is no name mentioned in Romans 16:16. The commandment was to salute one another. With what? A name? The verse says, “Salute one another WITH AN HOLY KISS.” There is no name mentioned in the verse; much less an official name. What the churches used to salute one another was the holy kiss, not a name.
Another doctrine of the Iglesia ni Cristo of Manalo that has negative consequences considering its moral and spiritual impact to society is their interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-10. The verses say –
In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.
The verses clearly state that women should adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety, and not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array. This is according to Apostle Paul. Its clarity notwithstanding, ministers of Iglesia ni Cristo say that this was in time past when people were still conservative. Since we are now modern, they say that we have to adapt to the modern ways. They even profess that they now allow what they once prohibited—the wearing of jewelries—because “the level of Christianity must progress.” The document below is the outline of this INC doctrine.
WHY WAS THE USE OF JEWELRY PROHIBITED IN THE IGLESIA NI CRISTO BEFORE – this is the topic discussed in the outline. So using jewelry was really prohibited in the Iglesia ni Cristo of Manalo before. But time came when they removed the prohibition. Why? Why was the prohibition on using jewelries removed in the Iglesia ni Cristo later on? According to them, as outlined in the document, “When one is already of full age, he may eat strong meat; that is why the prohibition is being removed.” They further teach that the prohibition must be removed for them to be perfect. This doctrine, as illogical as it sounds, cannot be considered positive. Contradicting Apostle Paul’s commandment in the process, their going unto perfection is backwards.
Besides, if indeed those who are already of full age who may eat strong meat are the ones who are not prohibited to use jewelry, then why do they not according to their doctrine prohibit their newly-baptized brethren in using jewelry? Are the newly-baptized of full age in faith? Shouldn’t it be that while the member is still new, he or she should be prohibited to wear jewelry? and when she gets older in the church, only then will she be able to wear? But that’s not the case in the Iglesia ni Cristo of Manalo. Their doctrines—inconsistent with each other, retrogressive and contrary to biblical—are apparent negative outcomes of misinterpreting the Scriptures.
The case of Toufik Benedictus “Benny” Hinn, founder and leader of the Benny Hinn Ministries, is another example of the negative outcome of misusing the Scriptures. Hinn, a televangelist and considered by some as a Bible teacher, claims that he has been anointed by God with healing power, and that he has healed people with AIDS, cancer, blindness and extreme physical injuries. He attracts people through his so-called “Miracle Crusades” which showcases revival meetings and faith healing held in large stadiums throughout the world, where about 50-60 thousand people are in attendance. Parts of the program are being aired in his daily talk show This Is Your Day, broadcasted on several television stations, including The God Channel, Revelation TV, Daystar Television Network, Vision TV, Grace TV, Trinity Broadcasting Network, and INSP Networks. Some of his “miraculous healing” sessions, which look more like hysteria and mass hypnosis, can be viewed on YouTube.
On December 27, 2002, Dateline NBC, an investigative news program, aired its expose on what happens behind the camera during Benny Hinn’s miracle crusades. For two years beginning in 2000, they followed Hinn in different cities. And in each crusade they have attended they have observed that the main act of the show points to that moment when Hinn would tell the audience “that God was speaking to him, revealing a multitude of miracles then taking place throughout the arena.” Hinn would even specifically name those who are allegedly being healed by God.
Before some of the audience were allowed onstage to announce their healing, Dateline discovered through their hidden cameras the “screeners”, some of whom are doctors, who choose from the audience good candidates for revealing their healing; while on the other side of the stadium is the wheelchair section, where people hoping to be cured by Hinn are being kept away from the stage. These people go home still stuck on their wheelchairs, sick and desperate.
According to Nathan Daniel, a documentary producer interviewed by Dateline, he had worked closely with Benny Hinn Ministries Miracle Follow-up Department. As part of his research work, Daniel had set criteria for verification of a miracle healing: 1) Proof of the illness or disease prior to healing; 2) Evidence that there was a miraculous change; and 3) Documentation that the healing had continued. Out of the hundreds of cases BHM said they had documented and verified, Daniel found out that “there was never one complete record that would suit the criteria for a documented miracle healing.”
With millions of followers donating millions of dollars to the Benny Hinn Ministries tax free and without public accounting, Hinn has nothing to worry about financially. CBC Television show The fifth estate, which also attempted to expose Benny Hinn Ministries’ mishandling of funds, estimates that Benny Hinn acquires $200 million yearly. Just like the case of the Iglesia ni Cristo Executive Minister, Eraño Manalo, whom Say Magazine called “The Billionaire Preacher” in its June 6, 1989 issue, Benny Hinn has obviously misinterpreted the Bible as a source of income.
Despite having these negative consequences of interpreting the Bible, positive effects can still be observed. One group in particular that strictly abides by the Holy Scriptures is the Members Church of God International, a religious organization with headquarters in the Philippines.
Members Church of God International is an active Christian church in public and spiritual service. Its Presiding Minister, Bro. Eliseo Soriano, a Bible scholar acclaimed as “The Only Sensible Preacher of Our Time” relentlessly holds Bible Expositions worldwide where he answers all kinds of spiritual queries, even giving advices and scriptural opinion on medical concerns, matters of politics and governance, economy and the sciences. After each Bible exposition, not one truth seeker goes home without his most crucial questions answered straight from the Bible.
Effectively using technology as means to spread the gospel, Bro. Eli Soriano’s program The Old Path (Ang Dating Daan) airs 24/7 on the Internet, television and cable stations, where the question and answer portion of his Bible Expositions is being shown. His program can also be heard on several local radio stations. His Truth Blog (esoriano.wordpress.com), which discusses the most vital issues of faith, was recently awarded People’s Choice and The Most Popular Website of the Year in the Philippines. He also answers spiritual queries through the most popular video-sharing website, YouTube (youtube.com/broelisoriano), where inquirers can post their questions through video.
In terms of public service, Members Church of God International has established at least 12 orphanages throughout the country, accommodating even non-members. The church recently opened two colleges where everything is provided for free to deserving students from all over the country, from tuition fee, miscellaneous fees, to uniforms, dormitory and medical check-ups.
MCGI, through its Co-Worker (Kamanggagawa) Foundation, also maintains two Transient Homes as temporary shelters for people who may not have a place to sleep at night. Aside from cozy beds, it provides free dinner and breakfast. MCGI also maintains regular medical missions, feeding programs, and even free bus ride.
What’s even more striking about this church is that it holds Thanksgiving to the God of Israel weekly, where some 50-70 thousand members and visitors gather in one of the biggest convention centers in Asia, the ADD Convention Center in Apalit, Pampanga, north of Manila. Inside the convention center, one can’t help but notice beside the two large monitors placed above the stage, where brethren in international chapters are shown giving thanks to God, two equally large billboards were placed containing a strict warning that says: WE DO NOT ACCEPT FINANCIAL CONTRIBUTIONS FROM NON-MEMBERS. According to them, this is in accordance to III John 7, which says –
Because that for his name’s sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles.
In terms of uniqueness, this church is the only registered church in the Philippines that pays tax to the government. It is in adherence to Romans 13:7 –
Therefore give to all their dues; to the one due tax, the tax; tribute to whom tribute is due, fear to whom fear is due, and honor to whom honor is due. (MKJV)
With a preacher whose biblical knowledge is available for testing; goodwill to fellowmen without asking donations in return; organizational uniqueness backed-up by no less than the best-selling book of all time itself; such an effect in morality and spirituality stands to reason and cannot be considered negative. Apparently, the leader of this church, the Members Church of God International, pays attention to what the Scriptures really teach.