How open is your church to dissent? Especially open dissent. One that is done for all members to see, hear and examine? I am asking this because, frankly, I think there is no other religious organization that practices this aside from our church. You see, in our congregation, Brother Eli Soriano not only tolerates or entertains dissent. He encourages it. God gave men free will so why deny open dissent?

Non-members know that Brother Eli openly entertains all kinds of questions concerning faith and matters biblical. The public is also familiar with his open challenge to priests, pastors and ministers of other Christian denominations to a debate. What non-members know, however, is that Brother Soriano is also open to dissent among church members. Be it dissent as regards biblical issues or church policy, he is game so long as the dissent concerns issues or principles and that the dissenters come out in the open.

Yesterday, the brethren witnessed such a sensitive dispute openly discussed and resolved through biblical inspiration. And I thank God that I witnessed such a beautiful day, for it strengthened my faith all the more that ours is not a church of men but a true and living Church of God.
It all really started last Saturday (August 4), when Bro. Willy Santiago (a respected worker in the church and a long time panelist and bible reader in Bro. Eli's TV shows in the Philippines) openly told the congregation that he will follow Bro. Daniel Razon as Church Presiding Minister if and when the day comes that he should carry that burden. This, however, he said is on the condition that he would see with his own eyes God’s imprimatur on Bro. Daniel’s leadership when he actually takes over as presiding Minister.

Bro. Willy made it clear that his loyalty is with Brother Eli, and as such he is ready and willing to be reprimanded. Brother Eli, however, just tolerated him that day and did not correct him at once. (Bro. Eli would later explain that he would rather let Bro. Willy see the light on his own through the biblical topics he would discuss instead of directly reprimanding him.)

I really feel very sad to hear that Brother Willy feels that way about Brother Daniel. Its nice to know, however, that he has at least the basic decency to speak his mind openly. At any rate, I understand him because I have similar reservations about Bro. Daniel when I was just a few months old as a church member. I never doubted Brother Daniel’s sincerity or sense of commitment and perseverance or even his leadership skills. I was not sure, however, if he has the spiritual stamina and wisdom to preach the bible and lead the church, especially as it is now in the midst of a discreet persecution by its enemies.

Through the years, however, I am glad to have witnessed Bro. Daniel’s inspired and humble leadership. It was a sigh of relief to realize I was wrong in ever doubting him. Slowly it dawned on me why Bro. Eli trusted him so much. He saw something in him that no one else has seen.

It’s true, Brother Daniel is no clone of Bro. Eli in terms of preaching the word but no one in the church can claim that unique status, anyway. I have no trouble believing, however, that God, in due time, would grant wisdom to any rightful successor to Bro. Eli. Brother Daniel Razon is that rightful successor since Bro. Eli elected him in 1991. I have always suspected, however, that Bro. Daniel was a reluctant leader. Perhaps it was this reluctance that I picked up on that made me doubt him. It was only much, much later, however, that I learned that such reluctance is classic. No less than the prophets of old like Moses, Jonah and Elijah did try to resist God’s leadership plans for them. The work of God, after all, is grand and holy. It is only human to feel unworthy in the face of such a responsibility. To feel humbled in the face of so great a task.

I believe too that it was this reluctance that made Bro. Daniel came off as a less than effective leader in the eyes of some brethren in the last few years. When he came back to the Philippines recently after accompanying Brother Eli in his international ministering, I believe many in the church sense a change in him. There was something different about him. It's like he has gained greater conviction, I don't know. He was a different man. Indeed he declared to the congregation that he no longer fears physical death should it come suddenly upon him. But that's just the surface of it. His later actions would prove the real extent of his reinvigorated dedication. Slowly the last shred of my doubts disappeared.

Yesterday, he confirmed his reluctance at the Thanksgiving Service.

In the morning session, a teary eyed Bro. Daniel admitted in front of the brethren that, in the span of a few years, he twice attempted to persuade Brother Eli to get another successor in his stead but he never got around to talk to him one on one. Somehow, situations prevented him from confiding his plans.

The Lord has so prospered Bro. Daniel’s many projects and initiatives within the church. If these were not direct signs from heaven, I don’t know what is. By this I also became personally convinced that Bro Daniel is the fulfillment of a prophecy described in the Book of Jeremiah…

Instead of proceeding with the actual thanksgiving day topic yesterday, Sister Luz Cruz pressed Brother Eli to directly express his position regarding Brother Willy's concern, at least in this instance. From then on the discussion proceeded to a candid 
yet beautifully enlightening exchange. Brother Willy gave his biblical basis for dissenting and Brother Eli explained his side with full scriptural support. By the day’s end Bro. Willy is thankful to God for erasing his doubts and for understanding the bible more fully. He again apologized for any inconvenience he may have caused Brother Eli and Brother Daniel.

I can never narrate here the fullness of the rich biblical discourse Brother Eli gave that Saturday afternoon so I will not try. Suffice it to say that it was beautiful! Oh it was more than beautiful. It was fantastic!

Now, if these were not a scene in your Sunday service, I believe you are attending the wrong church. Just my opinion though.

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About the Author BAGWIS VIZCARRA Google+

Joe Vizcarra is a Manila-based independent writer. With an A.B. degree in Communication Arts, his professional background includes writing for local TV news channels, a PR & marketing agency, and a national government agency.


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