Others say that the word “iglesia” means church and not religion. Thus, they believe that the Iglesia Ni Cristo or Church Of Christ is not a “religion.” Furthermore, they say that in the Bible, the term “iglesia” is used in a general sense to mean those who believe in Christ. That is why they believe that anyone can be called a member of the Iglesia Ni Cristo as long as he professes faith in Christ.
Let us first define the terms “church” and “religion” to arrive at a proper understanding of the issue. How did the apostles define the term “church”? Apostle Paul defined “church” as Christ’s body (Col. 1:18). The lexicon, on the other hand, gives many definitions for the word “church.” For the purpose of our discussion, let us use this definition:
“A particular body of Christians united under one form of ecclesiastical government, in one creed, and using the same ritual and ceremonies.” (Webster’s New Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd ed., 1983, s.v. church)
Religion, etymologically, comes from the Latin word “religare” which means to tie or bind back. One of its definitions states that it is “a belief in a divine or superhuman power or powers to be obeyed and worshipped as the creator(s) and ruler(s) of the universe.” (Ibid.)
Granting these definitions, the Iglesia Ni Cristo is both a church and a religion. The proof that the Iglesia Ni Cristo is a church is the fact that its members belong to one body (Rom. 12:4-5), have one creed or faith (Eph. 4:4-6), are united under one leadership, i.e., under a minister whose authority comes from God (Col. 1:25), and follow the same rites during worship services—wherever they may be (I Cor. 14:26).
Iglesia Ni Cristo is a religion because it worships the one true God, the Father, as introduced by our Lord Jesus Christ (John 17:1, 3), Who is Almighty (Gen. 17:1) and Who made all things (Isa. 44:24). Furthermore, the Iglesia Ni Cristo is a religion in the truest sense of the word because it is an instrument of God for bringing man back to Him. The prophet Malachi records God’s words, thus:
“You, like your ancestors before you, have turned away from my laws and have not kept them. Turn back to me, and I will turn to you ...” (Mal. 3:7 Today’s English Version)
Hence, the real essence of religion is obedience to God’s will. Man can only return to God by obeying His will. Regarding God’s will, in his letter to the Ephesians, Apostle Paul states, thus:
“And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ to be put into effect when times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” (Eph. 1:9-10 New International Version)
All men, then, should be gathered in Christ to fulfill God’s will which would usher their return to God. How can they do this? By becoming members of Christ’s body or His Church:
“For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” (Rom. 12:4-5 New King James Version)
“And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.” (Col. 1:18 New King James Version)
The Church of which Christ is the head is none other than the Church which He established, the Church Of Christ (Matt. 16:18; Acts 20:28 Lamsa Translation). Thus, the Iglesia Ni Cristo being a religion is the means by which man can return to God to fulfill His will that all men be under Christ.
An individual cannot be called a member of the Iglesia Ni Cristo simply because he knows or professes faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Man should obey Christ’s command. John 10:9 of the Revised English Bible states, thus:
“I am the door; anyone who comes into the fold through me shall be safe.”
The fold or flock that is referred to in the verse is the Church Of Christ:
“Take heed therefore to yourselves and to all the flock over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you overseers, to feed the church of Christ which he has purchased with his blood.” (Acts 20:28 Lamsa Translation)
As commanded by Christ, coming into the fold or entering the Church is not only through having faith in Christ but one should be taught with God’s words, have faith in them, and be baptized into the Church headed by Christ:
“And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15-16 New King James Version)
“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” (I Cor. 12:13 New King James Version)