Interview: Ethan Smith

Just a few months ago, I became intrigued with a highly publicized debate between Iglesia ni Cristo’s Bro. Joe Ventilacion, and Dr. James White of Alpha & Omega Ministries.  The debate was oriented around the deity of Jesus Chris, with Dr. White in the affirmative, and Mr. Ventilacion in the negative.  Not only was the event fascinating to witness from my computer screen on the live stream, but the aftermath was equally as provocative and unsettling.

I found myself and other brothers embroiled with attacks from zealous INC supporters as soon as I spoke favorably of Dr. White with a retweet and using a handful of hashtags.  One of those brothers was Ethan White, who is an apologist from Davao City in the Philippines.  I began conversing with him online and soon discovered that the INC, which originates from the Philippines, is a very heavy influence in the spiritual life of his countrymen.  He is actively involved in Trinitarian apologetics and debating Unitarian theologians and ministers.

(You can watch a debate held in March 2016 below, at Together Church UPC, Davao City, Philippines. Moderated by Pastor Philip Majaducon of the United Pentecostal Church International.)

I asked if he would allow me to ask him some questions relating to his experience in preaching the Gospel among such rampant heresy, and he graciously consented.  You can read the transcript below.

ethan smith (INC)How did you come to know Christ?

Although I grew up in a Christian home back in New Zealand, I never really took Christ seriously. I sometimes attended prayer meetings with my parents, read the Bible and even defended Christianity to others (online or to my friends) and there was a point where I thought for sure I would go to heaven if I died. Perhaps my assurance was in my decision to “accept” Jesus as my Lord and Savior when I was a young kid through my Dad. However, for years (especially as a teenager) I knew I was serving sin and living a selfish, wicked life. I worshiped lust and worldliness. I had no fear of God within me and was willing to go to hell for my sin. But I knew it was wrong and I knew God was real, yet part of me wanted to go to heaven with all my favorite sins. I was repenting but it was of the flesh. Sometime after I moved to the Philippines with my family at age 17, we just moved into a home and our furniture was still being shipped over. I was alone in my empty room with a sort of mattress on the floor. It seems I had nothing better to do than to read my Bible. I decided to breeze over the “red letter parts” to focus on the very words of Christ. I believe I started reading through the Sermon on the Mount and noted to myself how amazing the Lord’s teachings were. And I also skimmed over some of Paul’s letters and saw phrases to do with justification by faith not by works of the law, salvation by grace etc. and it really hit me. I believe the Lord saved me for real at or around that moment and granted me repentance according to the Spirit (2 Corinthians 7:10). Soon after everything changed and Christ became the King of my life. I couldn’t help but share Him with others and have regular quiet time in His Word.

Have you always been a Reformed Baptist?

No, but I grew up a Baptist. As a teenager I remember loving my church in New Zealand and my senior pastor. He was cool and funny and my former youth pastor. But looking back now, I’ve come to realize that he never really preached the gospel. And if he did, it was very rare. I embraced the Doctrines of Grace in September 2010 and always wanted to attend a Reformed Baptist church and became a member of one. I became an official Reformed Baptist in April 2014, when I was baptized into Cubao Reformed Baptist Church in Quezon City (in Metro Manila). However after moving back to Davao City (in Mindanao), I’m technically not an active or legitimate Reformed Baptist member anymore although I still consider myself one. I now attend an Evangelical church, where I preach and teach.

Were you born in the Philippines?

No I was born in New Zealand but I am a proud citizen of both countries.

The heretical teachings of the INC have recently been widely publicized in the Reformed Baptist community, with the highly publicized debate between Bro. Joe Ventilacion and Dr. James White.  Can you describe some of the most prominent ways they deviate from biblical orthodoxy (heresies)?

As a quick outline…

  • They deny the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, the preexistence of Christ and also the Deity of the Holy Spirit
  • They affirm a false gospel of salvation through works and service to their church
  • They believe salvation is only found in their church and they’re the only true church in the world
  • They believe a Filipino man named Felix Manalo is the final messenger of God and is a prophet of God who founded their church in 1914
  • I think INC members clearly put their faith and trust in their church membership over and above Christ Himself
  • They seem to have no emphasis or understanding of the Cross or justification
  • They also believe baptism is necessary for salvation and losing one’s salvation

Can you speak to their influence in the Philippines?

They are very influential and well-known in the Philippines. Everyone is familiar with them and they can also be a nuisance to some people with their large “outreaches” in the streets (which I believe is done deliberately to be seen by men). They also have a big political influence especially since the church’s leadership can decide which presidential candidate they’re going to back and it’s required by all INC members to vote for that candidate under threat of disciplinary action. They have about 2.3 million living in the Philippines since 2010 (2.45% of the population) plus many others living around the world. Evangelicals and Protestants outnumber them by quite a lot but some INC people tend to exaggerate their own numbers. Some of my Christian brethren are under the suspicion that the INC leadership knows they’re wrong about Jesus and the gospel, but are in it for the money and power. I believe it’s possible.

How has God positioned you to preach the Gospel to your countrymen?ethan smith (INC)-2

The three primary ways I can think of are 1.) The pulpit 2.) The Gideons 3.) Bible studies. My current pastor saw something in me and I became the regular adult Sunday school teacher at our church where I would give lessons and some expounding too. Eventually he allowed me to start preaching regularly in the pulpit (about once a month). Through this I preach the gospel with clarity and a sense of urgency (I feel burdened since the “urgency” part is sometimes neglected within Calvinist circles). I hope and pray that hearts have been convicted through my sermons and led to salvation. Second, I recently became a member of the Gideons International who have been giving free Bibles out around the world for more than 100 years. Through this ministry I’ve been given unique opportunities to preach the word and (of course) give Bibles away, which I love! Lastly, through my Bible studies. I’ve led Bible studies (usually evangelistic in nature) with my workmates and friends many of which are Roman Catholic. Glory to God that I do believe I’ve seen souls saved!

Do you have any personal encounters that would help us better understand your strategy in speaking truth to followers of INC?

Basically my strategy would be to clearly and consistently show them the essential truths of Scripture in an understandable yet humble and gentle way. There’s no need to fight fire with fire. Some of them can be abusive and hate you for telling them they’re wrong but allow the Spirit to do His work. I’ve found that many INC members are very open and happy to talk about doctrine and the Bible. They’re not shy to discuss but often passionate for what they believe. This provides a great opportunity to share the gospel and the true Jesus to them. We mustn’t lose hope since the Lord’s grace is powerful and amazing. I’ve seen several testimonies from Christians who were in INC for many years! I do strongly encourage the Church to send more missionaries to the Philippines and to witness to INC and Roman Catholics.

What is Trinity Apologetics?

It is my Youtube channel which I have been running since early 2010. Soon after my conversion, theology and apologetics became my passion. It fills me with so much joy to teach and expound the Word of God. I understood the doctrine of the Trinity for the first time through James White’s debate with Oneness Pentecostal Robert Sabin. I was inspired to start defending and proving the Trinity from Scripture through this online ministry. My videos also go into historical evidence, the Deity of Christ, Calvinism and the doctrine of salvation. I post many of my sermons there too. Please check them out!

How can your brothers in America support your work?

By praying for me (regularly) and sending me encouraging emails! It brings me so much joy to receive a happy email from a “fan” of my YouTube channel haha! It is a wonderful and encouraging blessing to see that I’ve helped someone and I’m sure the Lord in His sovereignty has caused a chain reaction somewhere around the world. I also have a Patreon page where you may support me if the Lord wills: 

The Lord knows I need your support! Blessings to you all brethren.
Brother Ethan

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