Reflecting on the Massai Creed

The Massai Creed is a great example of why the western Church needs to listen to the churches of the global south. As Pentecostals especially we tend to aspire to “creedless Christianity,” as is evident in the AG’s Statement of Fundamental Truths. But, as the AG would learn shortly after its founding, doctrinal, creedal statements serve a vital function in the Church, especially when it comes to heterodox teachings.

Beyond that though, our creedal statements also have a lot to say about our cultural setting. All theology is a matter of interpreting the content of Christianity within a cultural framework. The Massai Creed is a great way to understand this. After recently stumbling across the Massai Creed in Jaraslov Pelikan’s excellent Credo, I find myself fascinated by the differences in this creed and most doctrinal statements produced in the west. I’ve put in bold lettering those parts that I think are particularly interesting and telling regarding how other cultures see the content of Christianity. The Massai, more than the churches of the west, emphasize God’s love, the importance of community, the poverty of Christ, and the missionary nature of Christ’s redemptive work.

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 baptised 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.

What else do you see in this creed that seems especially non-western?

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10 thoughts on “Reflecting on the Massai Creed

  1. It more readily acknowledges Jesus is humanity – ethnicity, socio-economic status, living situation. This statement Jesus’ Jewishness contrasts with historic antisemeticism. Also “hyenas.”

  2. Thanks for the comment Aaron. I too am fascinated by the mention of “hyenas.” I know that in many African cultures some animals, especially owls and hyenas, are inherently ominous. It would be really interesting to search this out within the cultural context of the Massai and find out all of the connotations attached to “hyenas.”

  3. the Maasai despise the Hyena and to prevent it ravaging the bodies of their dead, they traditionally put the corpse in a tree where the cheetah and the lion, respected animals might feed and in so doing honor their dead. Many modern Maasai have adopted a form of Christian “burial” but as the men dig the grave, the women and children gather stones to protect the corpse from the foulest of the beasts. The wrapped body or coffin is placed in the grave and then the stones are packed around to create in impenetrable tomb. My trailer hauled a lot of stones over the years that we lived among them. Interestingly, we never encountered this creed and I am curious about its origins. Tell me more!!

  4. Thanks for the note Bob! I was hoping one of you EA vets would chime in on the hyena thing. Jaraslov Pelikan mentions the creed several times in his book Credo, as an example of the cultural influence of creedal statements. There is a brief wikopedia entry (I know, I know–I’m on the road and don’t have the Pelikan text with me), that says the following:

    “The Maasai Creed is a creed composed in 1960 by the Maasai people of East Africa in collaboration with missionaries from the Congregation of the Holy Ghost. The creed attempts to express the essentials of the Christian faith within the Maasai culture. Jaroslav Pelikan, a modern scholars of creeds and their history, considers the Maasai Creed to be an example of the bringing together of universal faith and local experience (http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/pelikan/index.shtml)

    Anyway, Pelikan is rather known for his work on Creeds, with a major three volume work on the topic besides Credo.

  5. A great read! On the AG 1916 turn to creeds, it also shows the negative use of creeds as tools to expel groups and ideas. AG labelled, incorrectly, the Oneness or New Issue as ‘Sabellian.’ That label still sticks, even though there has been no effort to understand the differences between a 4th century ‘heresy’ and a 20th century Pentecostal movement. I am not disputing the many valid issues that stem from 1916, but only to highlight the fact that creeds can cut both ways.

  6. Yes, credal statements tend to say (at least implicitly) who’s in and and who’s out. Someone once said, “we owe the heretics of the church a great debt, for they are responsible for almost all of our doctrinal statements and clarifications!” (my paraphrase). Also, in Initial Evidence, ed. Gary B. McGee, there is an essay on how Oneness P’s view the issue, and so there is at least ‘some’ attempt at understanding. Good points, and thanks for your comment David.

  7. “Always on a Safari doing good”. I love this. This tells me that Jesus had no place to lay his head but he always roamed around wherever the Wind would send him doing whatever his Father wanted him to do. Very simple words with plenty of meaning behind them. I expect us westerners would rephrase it to say something like “unceasing holistic ministerial abandonment to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit while operating under a sovereign authoritative demand for social justice”. I like simple but that’s just me. I wander if the Massai would let me in???

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