Monday, August 21, 2006

Adoniram Judson's Burman Creed

Adoniram Judson (1788-1850) was one of the first overseas missionaries from the United States. On February 19, 1812, he set sail with his wife of two weeks, Ann, in hopes of serving as a missionary in India. He left the shores of the USA as a convinced paedobaptist Congregationalist. But by the time the ship arrived in India, he was a convinced Baptist, thus giving American Baptists their first missionary even before there was any established board or agency to service their support. After being baptized by William Carey, he sailed a year later to Burma (today's Myanmar) where he spent his life serving the Burmese people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

It has been my privilege to pastor Burmese decendents of some of the first converts that he saw in that land. The very first conversion did not take place until his seventh year of missionary labor. Following is taken from a "Burman Liturgy" that Judson drew up in 1829 to assist missionaries and their assistants as they led new churches in congregational worship. A regular part of their worship was to hear a summary of the faith--a creed--read aloud. This English translation is found in volume 2 of Francis Wayland's Memoir of Judson.

Judson's expectation and understanding of what new believers and churches need stands in stark contrast to much modern missiological thinking on that question. His concerns are instructive for us today.

A Creed, in Twelve Articles; or, A Summary of the Doctrine of the Lord
Jesus Christ.
  1. ART. I. There is one only permanent God, possessed of all incomprehensible perfections, eternal, almighty, omniscient, the Creator of all worlds and all things.
  2. ART. II. There are two volumes of the Scriptures of truth,--the Scriptures of the old dispensation, in thirty-nine books, and the Scriptures of the new dispensation, in twenty-seven books,--written under the inspiration of God, by prophets and apostles, the recipients of divine communications.
  3. ART. III. According to the Scriptures, man, at the beginning, was made upright and holy; but listening to the devil, he transgressed the divine commands, and fell from his good estate; in consequence of which, the original pair, with all their posterity, contracted a depraved, sinful nature, and became deserving of hell.
  4. ART. IV. God, originally knowing that mankind would fall and be ruined, did, of his mercy, select some of the race and give them to his Son, to save from sin and hell.
  5. ART. V. The Son of God, according to his engagement to save the elect, was in the fulness of time, conceived by power of God, in the womb of the virgin Mary, in the country of Judea and land of Israel, and thus uniting the divine and human natures, he was born as man; and being the Saviour Messiah, (Jesus Christ,) he perfectly obeyed the law of God, and then laid down his life for man, in the severest agonies of crucifixion, by which he made an atonement for all who are willing to believe.
  6. ART. VI. The Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day, and having continued on earth forty days, he ascended to heaven, bodily and visibly, before his disciples and there he remains in the presence of God the Father.
  7. ART. VII. In order to obtain salvation, we must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and become his disciples, receiving a change of nature, through regeneration, by the power of the Spirit.
  8. ART. VIII. Those who become disciples obtain the pardon of their sins through the cross of Christ; and being united to him by faith, his righteousness is imputed to them, and they become entitled to the eternal happiness of heaven.
  9. ART. IX. Disciples, therefore, though they may not in this world be perfectly free from the old nature, do not completely fall away; but through the sustaining grace of the Spirit, they persevere until death in spiritual advancement, and in endeavors to keep the divine commands.
  10. ART. X. At death, the souls of disciples go to the Lord Jesus Christ, and remain happy till the end of this world, at which period he will descend bodily from heaven, all the dead will be raised by his power, and assembled before him to receive his judgment.
  11. ART. XI. At the day of judgment, he will publicly pronounce the pardon and justification of his disciples; and they will then be invested with perpetual life in the presence of God, and enter on the enjoyment of the interminable happiness of heaven.
  12. ART. XII. As to those who are not disciples, since they believe not in the Lord who saves from sin, they will not, on that day, find any refuge, but, according to their deserts, be cast, body and soul, into hell, and come to perpetual destruction.
[After the Creed, or instead of it, an exhortation, or sermon or portion of Scripture, read and commented on, followed by an extempore prayer, closing, perhaps, with the Lord’s Prayer; the benediction in the words of 2 Cor. xii. 16.]


Eric Thomas said...

Tom, I was reading David Brainerd's "detached papers" in the collected works of Jonathan Edwards last night. Brainerd offers the following as the marks of a "true Christian." I believe these marks also give insight into missiological and ecclesiological practices as well. This is the direct quote:

"1. He has a true knowledge of the glory and excellency of God, that [H]e is most worthy to be loved and praised for [H]is own divine perfections. Psal. cxlv. 3.

"2. God is his portion, Psal. lxxiii. 25. And God's glory his great concern, Matt. vi. 22.

"3. Holiness is his delight; nothing he so much longs for, as to be holy as God is holy. Phil. iii. 9-12.

"4. Sin is his greatest enemy. This he hates, for its own nature, for what it is in itself, being contrary to a holy God, Jer. ii. 1. And consequently he hates all sin, Rom. vii. 24. 1 John iii. 9.

"5. The laws of God also are his delight, Psal. cxix. 97. Rom. vii. 22. These he observe not out of constraint, from a servile fear of hell; but they are his choice, Psal. cxix. 30. The strict observance of them is not his bondage, but his greatest liberty, ver. 45."

May these be the marks of the membership in our church!!!


SavedandSure said...


Christopher Redman said...

Thank the Lord for these past heroes of the faith. Their message is still needed, fresh, pertinent, and powerful. Why? Because their message was the same gospel of grace proclaimed by Jesus, Paul, and all the Apostles.

Perhaps our current mission leadership will heed the faithful message of the past giants of the faith.

Kevin Rhyne said...

What a stark contrast to the "less creeds more deeds" philosophy of our age. In reviewing the fruit of Judson's life, we are again reminded that it is the uncompromised gospel of God's sovereign grace in the substitutionary death of Christ that changes lives and not the mere meeting of felt needs. Thank you for the post.

Forest A said...

What a truly excellent Creed. Words like these that blossom from a heart that holds the gospel dear are always refreshing. I wonder, Tom, what was Judson's motivation in penning these words? Was there some form of heresy brewing that he was making sure it never become a major stumbling block? or was it more from the motivation of clarifying the gospel to the new converts?

Tom said...


Great list from Brainerd. Thanks for posting it here. We have much to learn from those who have gone before us.


The early part of the liturgy that Judson drew up contains statements that were to be used for a call to worship. Each one highlights some aspect of God's character or nature that would have been important to emphasize in the context of eastern religions. Judson, like most other churchmen of his day and in contrast to most of our day, knew the importance of right doctrine. He emphasized it. The whole liturgy was drawn up primarily to help newer missionaries who had not yet mastered the native language, so that they would have a simple form to follow in leading worship.

Rebecca said...

Thank you so much for posting these. In researching the work of God among the people of Burma, I was searching high and low for this very set of doctrines--the "little booklet" that George Boardman sent out to the Karens comprised these very statements. Sent shock waves through the tribal villages and resulted in thousands of Christians.