The following article has been republished with permission from Larry Dinkins and the International Journal of Frontier Missiology.
One of the first things our supervisor instructed us to do as church planters in Central Thailand was to glue a card with the Apostles’ Creed into the cover of every hymnal. Every Sunday we would have our small congregation of mainly leprosy believers memorize the creed and recite it in unison. Our congregation had no real appreciation of the historic development and impact of this creed, but as preferred oral learners in a group culture, they enjoyed saying the creed out loud together and in the process gained a major dose of scriptural truth. Ancient statements of faith, like the Apostles’ Creed, have been translated and used for centuries in a variety of cultures. Much ink has been spilt analyzing the contribution and content of the historic creeds, but less has been said about how to contextualize them for non-western contexts. To contextualize a creed, one must be aware of the nature of creeds historically as well as the benefits and potential pitfalls inherent in the development process.
The Value and Dangers of Creeds
Philip Schaff in his massive three-volume work on Creeds states, “Confessions, in due subordination to the bible, are of great value and use. They are summaries of the doctrines of the Bible, aids to its sound understanding, bonds of union among their professors, public standards and guards against false doctrine and practice.”[i] G. W. Bromiley notes the benefits, but also highlights the dangers of creedal statements:
The dangers of creed making are obvious. Creeds can become formal, complex, and abstract. They can be almost illimitably expanded. They can be superimposed on Scripture. Properly handled, however, they facilitate public confession, form a succinct basis for teaching, safeguard pure doctrine, and constitute an appropriate focus for the church’s fellowship in faith.[ii]