Previous article in this series: February 1, 2022, p. 213.
A third example of the PRCA commitment to the threeself formula in foreign missions is the PRCA work in the Philippines.
After five years of developing individual contacts and groups by delegation visits, the PRCA Synod in 2001 declared the Philippines a PRCA mission field and approved the calling of a missionary to serve there. Synod appointed Doon PRC (IA) the calling church. In 2002 Doon called and sent Rev. Audred Spriensma, with his family, to begin mission labors in Manila, centering on the Berean Church of God (Reformed-BCGR) in Manila, but also to visit contacts in three other locations throughout the Philippines as time and opportunity permitted. Rev. Spriensma labored there from 2002 to 2007. Many of the contacts were former members of the Roman Catholic Church and raised in the “folk Catholicism” that characterizes the RCC in the Philippines. Others came under the labors of the missionary from the RCC by way of Baptist, Pentecostal, or evangelical churches. Within several years under the preaching and instruction of Rev. Spriensma, the BCGR was instituted as the Berean Protestant Reformed Church in November 2006. Eight years later the Berean PRC federated with the First Protestant Reformed Church in Bulacan (Pastor John Flores) to form the Protestant Reformed Churches in the Philippines (PRCP) in April 2014. Later, two more congregations were added by the Lord: the Maranatha Protestant Reformed Church in Valenzuela (Pastor Leovino Trinidad) in 2016 and the Provident Protestant Reformed Church in Marikina in 2019.
At the time that synod approved the initial involvement of the denomination in mission work by missionaries in the Philippines, the grounds for the calling of a missionary and his initial location of labor mentioned elements of the three-self formula. Consideration of the aspect of self-government is evident from references to the “leaders” in the grounds and a concern for their further instruction as officebearers and pastors in their reforming churches or future churches.
Regarding self-support, the grounds regarding the decision to locate the missionary in Manila initially stated that “it is the judgment of the FMC that the labors of a missionary in Manila may more quickly result in a self-supporting church.”1 According to this ground, it appears that the goal of the mission work was that the new mission churches be self-supporting either at the very outset of their proper institution or as soon as possible thereafter.
Regarding self-propagation, the grounds also indicate a desire for the self-propagation of new churches in the work. Reference is made in the grounds to the instruction of existing pastors or leaders in groups that had the gifts and to the inner spiritual desire to serve as properly ordained pastors in a properly instituted church.
The concern that new churches, or the reforming churches with whom the FMC had contact, be characterized by the three-self formula was clearly on the mind of the FMC in its recommendation to the synod that denominational mission work begin in the Philippines. In its report to Synod 2001 about its work in the Philippines and in the section of its evaluation of the four areas of potential labor in the Philippines, the FMC gave its assessment of the potential of each area with specific reference to the elements of the three-self formula: self-government, self-support, and self-propagation.
This was not only on the minds of the FMC but also on the minds of one of the congregations that requested the PRCA to come over and help them. The Berean Church of God (Reformed), as it was called at the time, requested that the PRCA send a missionary in order to assist them in “establishing our own local church.” According to that statement, it is clear that from the outset of our missionary help, with what is now the Berean PRC, the brethren desired to be developed into a self-governing, self-propagating, and self-supporting church.2 The BCGR in a second letter to the 2001 Synod expressed the same desire for help in becoming officially organized and for guidance in proper church government. In addition to that, the congregation also desired help to be established in its work of proclaiming the Word of God. From the start of the work there in 2001, the congregation was also involved in the self-support of their operations with the giving of their resources to the weekly worship services, Bible study, other congregational activities, and the hosting of visiting FMC delegations around that time.
The first missionary was also committed to the threeself formula in his mission labors. This is evident from his missionary reports, in which it is clearly stated that he did not desire to function as the “boss” or a pope in the mission group but, rather, that he patiently guide the leaders of the mission group in their development of becoming self-governing. His commitment to that approach of the three-self formula became evident in a specific statement in a report to Synod 2006. The statement appeared in a section that discussed whether a second missionary should be sent to the Philippines to start more work there beyond what had already been started initially by the PRCA on the island of Negros. The missionary wrote that
…at this time there is no definite work planned, and we would be better served to let the Berean Protestant Reformed Church, after they are organized, explore various areas, and if they need and request assistance, to evaluate the request. Perhaps this will be the opening for another of our ministers to come over to do mission work. This places the work squarely in the lap of the indigenous church.
That reference to “the indigenous church” was pertinent. Once the Berean PRC was instituted, any new mission work on the island of Luzon, or maybe somewhere else in the Philippines, besides what had been developed by the PRCA on the island of Negros already at that time, was to be considered their work according to the principle of the three-self formula. If help were needed in fulfilling their work, then the PRCA was encouraged to assist where possible.
A clear understanding of the three-self formula was evident in the grounds that synod adopted for its concurrence with the Doon PRC Council approval that the missionary proceed with organization of the BCGR as a PRC congregation in 2006. The pertinent grounds were:
a. The BCGR has grown to sufficient size to exist as a viable congregation (thirteen families and two individuals).
b. The FMC is convinced that there is a deepening understanding of Reformed doctrine and practice and a conviction on the part of the members concerning the particular doctrines and practices of the PRCA.
c. There is the presence of qualified men to serve in the offices of elder and deacon. This includes enough men for the rotation of officebearers.
d. The BCGR has determined to be organized on the basis of Scripture, the Three Forms of Unity, the Reformed Liturgical Forms, and the Church Order of Dordrecht; and it has expressed agreement with the Declaration of Principles of the PRCA.
e. They are blessed with the ability and willingness to finance the local work of the church, although they are unable at this time to pay the salary and living cost of their own pastor.3
In that decision, one can see that all of the elements of the three-self formula are covered: self-propagation (a and b), self-government (c and d), and self-support (e).
It should also be noted that these grounds were not imposed on the mission church by the missionary. Rather, the Steering Committee of the BCGR was blessed with a similar commitment to the three-self formula and testified of that commitment through its correspondence to Synod 2006. The BCGR wrote that it wished to be organized by the missionary as a local, autonomous church of Jesus Christ.
Their actions supported that testimony. This is particularly true in regards to being self-propagating. The church was engaged from the outset of her institution in a mission work of its own in Gabaldon, Nueva Ecija, through the work of Pastor Vernon Ibe, who, after training in the PRCA Seminary, was ordained and installed as pastor of the Berean PRC in November 2012. The PRCP federation has continued in that commitment with mission work in Albuera, Leyte, and in 2019 with its own seminary for the training of PRCP pastors.
This work of the PRCA in the Philippines is another example of the goal of foreign missions: a local, autonomous, Christian church or federation of Christian churches, subscribing to the Reformed confessions. Such an institute is faithful in the exercise of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, in the maintenance of the marks of a true church, and in its self-government, self-propagation, and self-support.
How the PRCA in its foreign missions has implemented each of the three aspects of the three-self formula in its denominational mission in the past 60 years could be examined further with profit. However, for the purpose of this series of articles, it has been shown sufficiently from various sources that at present our PRCA has embraced the three-self formula: submitting goals, approaches, strategies, and methods of foreign mission work to what should be respected as a fundamental principle of foreign missions.
Having completed our look at the three-self formula through the lens of various historical examples, the next article will provide a description of the three-self formula.
1 PRCA Acts of Synod 2001, Art. 47, B, 4, ground d (p. 41).
2 “Letter from BCGR,” PRCA Acts of Synod 2001, Supplement 12 (p. 232).
3 PRCA Acts of Synod 2006, Art. 28, B, 5 (p. 27).