History

by Joseph Suico, PhD, © 2003 (for academic reference e-mail author at gensuic@gmail.com)

________________________________________________________________________________________________

It was in September of 1926 when the first Assemblies of God (U.S.A.) missionary Benjamin H. Caudle arrived in the Philippines (Esperanza, 1965:17). Shortly thereafter, he and his wife established home bible studies, university bible classes, evangelistic meetings, and Christian literature distribution centres. However, due to Mrs Caudle’s illness, their developing ministry was cut short when they returned to the U.S. For a period, the Assemblies of God work in the Philippines was suspended; however, as Esperanza recalled, “events worked out” in realizing plans for establishing Assemblies of God churches. The wave of Filipino labourers coming to the U.S.A. in the early 1920s paved the way for them to be exposed to Pentecostalism.[1] Eventually many of them became missionaries to their own people and pursued the vision of developing Assemblies of God churches in the Philippines (ibid:19). The first who was involved in this endeavour was Cris Garsulao. He became a Pentecostal while studying in a university in the U.S.A. His conversion led him to commit himself to full time church ministry. After finishing his training at Glad Tidings Bible Institute, an Assemblies of God school in California, Garsulao went back to his hometown in the Philippines. Later, several other Filipinos with similar experience were also instrumental in bringing the Pentecostal gospel to various parts of the country.[2] These and other pioneering works established Pentecostalism in the Philippines.

The coming of Leland E. Johnson and his family in December 1939 marked the beginning of the arrival of more Assemblies of God missionaries from the United States to the Philippines. The 1941 invasion of the country by the Japanese forces hindered the growing work but did not stop the preaching of the gospel. Despite the difficulties, several American missionaries remained in the country, and as a result, inspired the local converts to carry on with their newfound faith. After the war, the work of establishing new churches throughout the country continued with much better results. Meanwhile in the U.S.A., a group of Filipino Assemblies of God preachers combined their efforts in organizing the Philippine Assemblies of God. Their initial action was to request a U.S. Assemblies of God appointed missionary to the Philippines to help them achieve this goal. Esperanza (1965:30) explained the basis for this move:

Their reason for this action was that the Philippines at that time was still under the United States protectorate with a Counsel General as the final seat of authority. A requirement for permitting any outside church denomination to operate in the Philippines was that it must seek registration with the United States Counsel General and have a duly appointed missionary or church leader from the home body in the United States.

When Johnson arrived in 1939, he sought approval from the Counsel General to register an organisation known as “The Philippines District Council of the Assemblies of God Incorporated” (ibid:30). For fourteen years, the work of the Assemblies of God in the Philippines was under the U.S. General Council. In 1953, the Philippines General Council of the Assemblies of God was formed with Rev. Rodrigo C. Esperanza as the first superintendent.[3] According to Seleky’s account, Esperanza was mainly responsible for gathering Filipino Pentecostal preachers, which eventually led to the founding of the Philippines General Council (Seleky, 2001:129). The increasing number of local churches called for the need to train more church workers. Bible schools were then established in various places; these initially had foreign counterparts as administrators.[4]

In the early stages of the development of the Assemblies of God in the Philippines, its distinctive theology created a sense of ideological separation that helped to solidify the group experience. This was because the locals merely adopted the theology of their sponsors. Despite strong persecution in the predominantly Roman Catholic country, the movement continued to grow rapidly. Arthur Tuggy (1971:152) in The Philippine Church: Growth in a Changing Society, wrote:

By 1949, 1822 members were reported. In 1952 there were 2,193. Then the Assemblies of God entered a new phase of rapid growth as the large Bethel Temple in Manila was begun under the ministry of Lester Sumrall. This church, which became the largest Protestant church in Manila, had its beginnings in 1952 and 1953. . . By 1958, the Assemblies of God reported a membership of 12,022 – an increase of almost 500 percent in five years

The remarkable growth of the Assemblies of God in the 1950s and 1960s was hampered by leadership conflict within the organisation during the 1970s. Other contributing factors to the lower growth in the seventies could be attributed to the nascent independent Pentecostal and Charismatic groups (mainly Roman Catholic). However, twenty years later, a significant recovery of growth was reported in the Missions World Edition of the Pentecostal Evangel Magazine, a U.S. Assemblies of God publication. In that account, the Assemblies of God in the Philippines grew from “1,230 churches with 198,000 members and adherents to 2,600 churches attended by 420,830 people making it the largest evangelical body in the country” (Kennedy, 2000:5).[5] A more conservative estimate however, is given in the World Churches Handbook edited by Peter Brierley (1997), which only showed 94,000 total membership. Present statistical data of membership can be difficult to ascertain; the office of the Philippines General Council of the Assemblies of God itself does not have an updated record.[6] Despite the lack of proper record keeping, there is little doubt that the Assemblies of God in the Philippines has experienced remarkable growth through the years in both adherents and number of churches planted.


[1] Bruno Lasker (1931:221) estimated the total net increase of immigration to the U.S. and Hawaii from January 1920 to December 1929 was 81,149.
[2] See Trinidad Esperanza-Seleky (2001:119-129) and Warren B. Denton (1955).
[3]See also “Presenting Rudy C. Esperanza, General Superintendent, “The Pentecostal Voice (September 1956). Seleky in “Six Filipinos” noted Rodrigo Esperanza heard the Spirit of the Lord spoke to him and said, “If you will be faithful to Me, someday I will make you a delegate to an international convention of the Assemblies of God.” This incident was taken by Esperanza as confirmation from God for him to join the Assemblies of God.
[4]At present (2001), there are only a few schools and church-related institutions that are still under the direction of U.S. missionaries.
[5]Kennedy however did not indicate in his article how he obtained these figures. His usage of “members and adherents” and “attendees” is ambiguous. It is not clear how many of 420, 830 attendees are actual members.
[6]As of 28 June 2001. Many of the smaller congregations in the Philippine Assemblies of God do not usually keep an updated record.

12 comments on “History

  1. Praise the Lord,

    I am from India who will be travelling to Philippines for official trip. I will be there for the next 1 year. I need to find a good Church to worship. Pls guide me and my family.

    I am sure that the Lord is sending us to Philippines for a great purpose.

    God Bless.

  2. Dear Vinod Kurian,

    Thanks to your inquiry. Would you send me your e-mail address so I can help you with possible churches you might want to consider when you come over next year? Alternatively, e-mail me at: gensuic@gmail.com

    Blessings!

  3. I think every minister of the PGCAG needs to have a copy of this informative history. Not all knows our heritage. Pastor J, if you can send memo to all districts telling them to access this info. Trust and pray that all will cherish and treasure this important event in our movement. God Bless po!

  4. Do we have current data on nationwide membership? Is it possible to gather data from every district? The statistics picked-up from the ordination renewal form submitted by every minister may not represent the true picture considering some churches are not yet affiliated and some Pastors are credentialed on the district level. God bless.

  5. I’m glad for your work writing our history. It traces our root of pentecostalism. I think you’re missing a name, Rosendo Alcantara, who is also a pioneer of our faith.

  6. A Great history of Great leaders in a Great mission. A legacy of great faith by our forefathers in the ministry of the Assemblies of God is also the legacy we do and pass to our children. LETS MAKE GREAT HISTORY OF FAITH, delightful to God, as our forefathers did in the ministry. PRAISE GOD!

  7. Greetings to all,

    I’m glad to find your website and would like to hear more. may you all find favor and blessings in your endeavor, and by the way I am an AG member in Sugar Land Tx

    God Bless

  8. Dear Sergio,

    Welcome to our website! Thanks for dropping by. Please pray with us as we continue to face many challenges in our work in the Phils.

    God bless you too.

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