Monday 6 November 2006

An African creed

On his excellent blog Missions and Theology, our friend Joey discusses theological education in Africa. This made me think of one of my favourite modern creeds – the Masai version of the Nicene Creed [correction: it’s a version of the Apostle’s Creed], which was developed in 1978 by missionaries in Africa. This cultural “translation” of the Nicene Creed strikes me as a perfect illustration of the whole theological task.

I can’t imagine anything more profound or more beautiful – or more true – than the statement that Jesus was “born poor in a little village,” or that he was “always on safari doing good,” or that “the hyenas did not touch him.” Here’s the full text, quoted from Beliefnet:

We believe in the one High God, who out of love created the beautiful world and everything good in it. He created man and wanted man to be happy in the world. God loves the world and every nation and tribe on the earth. We have known this High God in darkness, and now we know him in the light. God promised in the book of his word, the bible, that he would save the world and all the nations and tribes.

We believe that God made good his promise by sending his son, Jesus Christ, a man in the flesh, a Jew by tribe, born poor in a little village, who left his home and was always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and man, showing the meaning of religion is love. He was rejected by his people, tortured and nailed hands and feet to a cross, and died. He lay buried in the grave, but the hyenas did not touch him, and on the third day, he rose from the grave. He ascended to the skies. He is the Lord.

We believe that all our sins are forgiven through him. All who have faith in him must be sorry for their sins, be baptized in the Holy Spirit of God, live the rules of love and share the bread together in love, to announce the good news to others until Jesus comes again. We are waiting for him. He is alive. He lives. This we believe. Amen.


byron smith said...

Very nice. I realise translation is always a tricky business, here to my mind are major differences from the historic creeds (though I also really like the bits you highlighted):
• What do you think they intended to say by We have known this High God in darkness, and now we know him in the light?
• Jesus is 'God's son' and 'Lord', but not mentioned in creation or as himself divine.
• There is no mention of saving intention in his death ('for us and for our salvation... for our sake') - or rather the intention (God's promise to save the world) is a long way from the death, in a new sentence which might be construed as no longer continuing the fulfilment of God's promise, but standing in opposition to it.
• No judgement?
• Inclusion of the bible as part of the creed.
• Holy Spirit is mentioned indirectly, rather than as an object of faith.
• No mention of future resurrection of believers like Jesus'.
• Overall, it seems closer to Apostles' Creed than the Nicene, though it would be interesting to know which missionaries translated and whether the things they left out were parts of the creed(s) with which they were uncomfortable.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ben,

I was surely delighted to recieve email from you but I am doubly delighted when you linked my post in your blog. Thanks for the appreciation and the link.

I believe that missionaries who are going out of the field should have enought theological knowledge so as to help the locals to develop their own contextualize theology. The Masai version of the Nicene Creed is an excellent example.

My prayer is that I could do something like that here. But there are still a lot of things to learn.

My only regret is that here in Southeast Asia is that most of the missionaries are skilled in some other areas like business, agriculture among others that really don't have theological education to assist the locals to contextualize theology and aid them in developing their own theology.

Thanks again for the help.

PamBG said...

It's a beautiful and very moving creed.

For nine months, I worshipped in a church in London comprised mainly of Africans from many different African countries.

Almost every Sunday, someone said the words that God loves people of every tribe and nation. Almost every Sunday worship began with the words: "This is the Lord's house. No matter who you are or where you come from you are welcome here".

There was a real sense of God being a God who "is no respector of persons" - i.e. who does not care about one's origin or social status. I have never heard that message in anywhere near that sort of clarity in a "white" church.

Anonymous said...

I know the answers to a few of your questions.
1. by the we knew in darkness, now we know in light is a way of affirming their previous religious background. make sure you don't tell barth about that.
2. the creed is meant to mirror the apostle's creed, not the nicene and hence lacks a lot of the things that you are interested in (as does the apostle's creed)
3. it was NOT written by the massai, but by a missionary in conversation with the massai. sorry to burst anyone's bubble on that.
4. you can read more about this in Jaroslav Pelikan's book Credo and in Lamin Sanneh's work

byron smith said...

Thanks Joshua.
1. I suspected this was the intention. Seems odd to build it into a creed.
2. Again, I suspected so. Still, some of my points stand. These are not necessarily criticisms, just noting differences - as with every translation it is good to ask what is lost as well as what is gained.
3. Yes, Ben mentioned this.
4. Thanks for the reference.

Anonymous said...

I love the contextualization of the creed. I wish we would do more of it and not just in Africa, but here in the states as well. We live in the fear that the gospel is not contextual, but it is and it always will be. This does not take away its validity, it is still good news for every tribe to apart of.

Anonymous said...

It certainly is worth asking what is lost and what is gained as Byron points out, but coming from a confessing church tradition - confessions are multiple and diverse and are necessarily going to emphasize or include different elements from one culture to another. The PCUSA confession of 1967 angers many conservative presbyterians for the same reasons that this creed might be viewed as deficient by some. Overall, however, I think it is a beautiful and true confession and should be judged more for what it says (and to whom) than for what it does not say.

Anonymous said...

"And the hyenas did not touch him" - I'd love to write a book with that title.

Byron: Jesus is 'God's son' and 'Lord', but not mentioned in creation or as himself divine

That's an interesting point - because it doesn't appear in the words of the Apostles' Creed, but does come out in its structure: three paragraphs each starting with "I believe..."

This creed is not particularly trinitarian.

[it] should be judged more for what it says (and to whom) than for what it does not say.

The Miner: Depends on what it's actually for. If it's actually a Creed, then we should certainly judge it on what it leaves out. But I don't think this is intended to be a creed at all - it's meant to be a poetic statement of faith.

Steve Hayes said...

The thing that stands out for me is that you say it was developed by "missionaries in Africa", rather than African missionaries. Who were these missionaries, and where did they come from? I don't know if it represents the enacted theology of many African Christians, and it is worth remembering that the Symbol of Faith (sometimes miscalled the "Nicene Creed") was developed in reponse to a theological dispute that arose in Africa, and Europeans have sometimes found it difficult to understand what all the fuss was about.

John W. McNeill said...

I realize that I'm getting into this conversation very late. I would encourage folks to read Vincent Donovan's book. If I read him correctly, he would encourage us not to be so attached to creeds or any other particular statements, all of which emerge from particular nations and cultural contexts. At some level, he really changed my thinking about these things for the better.

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