3 Reasons Historic Creeds & Confessions Should Be Translated for the Global Church

In the world of missions, anything that is “Western” or “traditional” is bad, while whatever is “contextualized” and “innovative” is good.  So when it comes to old creeds and confessions of the Christian faith, it is a no-brainer for many missionaries.  Don’t translate them. Don’t teach them.  It is a paternalistic waste of time that smacks of cultural and theological imperialism.  How could some antiquated Western document about Christian doctrine be appropriate for reaching Buddhists, Muslims, or animists in today’s world?  The old language and sentence structure in these documents are difficult enough for Westerners, so how could they be understandable and useful for those with little to no background in Christianity, or Western culture and languages?

The rhetorical answer to those questions is obvious but I am convinced that there are positive reasons to translate the best and most enduring documents of the church of the past into the languages of the global church of today.  The packaging may be old, but the content is good.  As a missionary and a church history teacher, I am always thinking about how we can take the good stuff from the past and from other places in the world and make it beneficial for the global church.  In my case, I am particularly thinking about the churches in Thailand, but the following reasons should be relevant for many contexts in the world today.  I want to suggest three ways that translations of the older creeds, confessions, and catechisms of the faith (as well as other writings) can benefit the global church.

New eBook: What Manifold Misery I Beheld! The Origin of Luther's Catechisms

Every generation of Christian believers wants to hand down to the next generation “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 1:3)  But how do you do that?  In previous generations, a large section of the church has answered, “with catechisms.”  But the study of catechisms, creeds, and confessions of faith has fallen out of favor in modern evangelical Christianity.  The whole idea of a bound set of doctrinal truths to be committed to memory seems constrictive to many, or at the very least boring or difficult.  

For many years, I too didn’t give much thought to catechisms except as something that I needed to know for a test on my way to ordination in a denomination that didn’t really care much about catechisms and confessions of faith.  However, as if became clear that I could not in good conscience stay in that denomination, I moved over to a more conservative Presbyterian denomination and had to spend a LOT of time with the Westminster Shorter Catechism as I began the ordination track all over again.  And do you know what I found?  This brief series of questions and answers was actually a great little summary of the Christian faith.  The language was a bit old, but it really cut to the chase, and gave me the language and vocabulary to express the faith in a compact package.  Who knew that a catechism could actually be interesting and useful?

As I came to learn, generations of Christians have thought catechisms to be a great tool for passing on the faith.   I thought to myself that I should really study some of the other catechisms out there so see what I can glean from them, but time was short.  As I finished my ordination exams and moved with my family to the mission field, I didn’t have a lot of time to dig deep into other catechisms outside of Westminster.  

But on our first home assignment in 2011, I took a class on Martin Luther’s theology as part of my Master of Theology (Th.M) studies and decided to do some research on Luther’s catechisms.  Why did he write them?  What did he include?  Why did he include it?  Who was his intended audience?  Was he building off of someone else’s work or did he start fresh?  It was fascinating to dig into both Luther’s writings and the articles of other scholars who provided insight on the setting, background, and use of the catechisms.  I want to learn something that I could use on the mission field.  What could Luther teach me about passing on the faith today?

Is Orality the Enemy of Expositional Preaching?

This article originally appeared on the Southeast Asia Network for the Gospel blog on November 3, 2014. Scroll to the bottom of this post to download audio for the accompanying workshop.

In recent years, the concept of orality has gotten a lot of attention in mission circles… and not all of it has been good. Proponents of orality hail it as a key insight into the way in which some people learn orally, and not by the written word. Thus, we should focus our evangelism and discipleship around the oral communication of Bible stories when working with people who can’t (or won’t) read. Critics view orality as a dumbing down of biblical teaching, which underestimates people’s ability to understand doctrinal truth, and thus substitutes stories for meaty teaching from the Word of God. So who is right? Is orality a friend or foe in the battle against biblical illiteracy? Can this practice further the cause of discipling the nations?

As with many things, the answers are somewhere in-between. Those who praise orality and fly under its banner are not a monolithic group any more than traditional expositional preachers are. While there are some people who turn expositional preaching into little more than academic lectures, there are also some people who (in the name of orality) allow Bible story-telling to degenerate into irresponsible eisegesis. For this reason, those who have a high regard for the Word of God and value the importance of expositional preaching sometimes brush aside orality as irrelevant at best, and heretical at worst. But for those who find themselves among the skeptics, there are two important points to understand about orality:  

In Praise of Mission Support Workers

When talking with people about our financial support, one the questions that I like least is, “How much goes to admin?”  It is a valid question, but I don’t like to answer it because there is often an unspoken assumption that paying admin costs is little more than flushing money down the toilet.  Everyone knows that some amount needs to go to admin because donations need to be processed and receipted (at the very least).  But admin money isn’t “really” used for ministry, but just for someone to push paper (or pixels) in an office somewhere.

For many people, admin fees are an unpleasant reality. They are part and parcel of working with a missionary organization, in the same way that paying taxes are an accepted part of being a citizen of a country (or should be).  They need to be paid but there is a suspicion that they are probably not spent well and would largely be better used elsewhere.  Therefore, if someone asks me, “How much goes to admin?” I feel like the lower the number that I give them, the happier they will be with my answer.  I am not going to doctor the numbers, of course, but I am never sure how my answer will affect the attitude and willingness to give of the person asking.

But the longer that I serve with a missionary organization that assesses so-called admin costs, the more grateful I am for all the people behind those admin fees.  All that money that goes to behind-the-scenes admin enables other people to do things that I would otherwise need to take time and money to do myself.  And in many cases, those support workers who are in the home office or field office or in cyberspace somewhere are doing jobs that that I am not equipped to do.

When New Missionaries Hit the One Year Wall

For many missionaries, the road to the mission field is a long one.  From the time that they first decide to go, to the time that they actually go, it can be many years.  There have been applications, candidate courses, church visits, theological studies, support raising, and a thousand other things to be done before they can finally leave.

But that day does come.  And it is fantastic.  You are finally there!  After so much preparation and waiting, it is time to begin the ministry that you’ve been dreaming of.


First comes language study.  After all the hurdles that it has taken to get to the mission field, it feels like once you get there, it is time to begin what you’ve always wanted to do.  But you can’t.  Alas, there is more waiting to do before you get good enough in the local language to say the things that you’ve so desperately wanted to say to the people that you’ve come to serve.  But for the moment, you are in no condition to serve anyone because you don’t even know where to pay your electric bill or ask for simple items at the store.  But that’s okay, because as you buckle down into language study, your ability to fend for yourself grows by leaps and bounds each day.  Everything you are learning is immediately applicable to daily life.  Numbers. Colors. Weather. Food. Directions. Months of the year.  Past, present, and future tense.  You are barely a few months into language study and you can do so much already.  Okay, so you can’t share the Gospel yet but, you just wait!  At this rate, I’ll be preaching in the streets a year from now.

But a funny thing happened on the way to fluency.

Why Missionaries Can Never Go Home Again

When a new missionary first gets to the mission field, it is obvious where home is.  It is that place where you just left.  It is the place where you grew up, went to school, got an education, discovered a church family, and formed your most important relationships.  

But when you live overseas long enough, a strange transition takes place.

Your “home” country doesn’t quite feel like home anymore.  When you “go home”, some of the same people and places are there, but life has moved on in your absence.  When you show up for the so-called “home assignment” or “furlough,” you can not just pick up where you left off.  You are a visitor.  An outsider.  A guest without a permanent role.  Your close friends have made new close friends.  Half the people in your home church only know you as a line item on a list of prayer requests.   Some new technology, slang, or cultural trend has become common place… expect for you because you missed it when it first came out.

Donation Address

OMF International
10 W. Dry Creek Circle
Littleton, CO 80120

With your check, please include a note indicating support for "Karl & Sun Dahlfred"
You may also give online.