Human beings seem to have a natural suspicion of anything unfamiliar. In most cases this probably serves us well. We are told from a young age not to talk to strangers. We avoid situations which may put us out of our depth. But what about when we’re dealing with brothers or sisters in the Lord? Should we have Charity Toward the Unfamiliar?
Charity over Suspicion
Christians are called to be discerning and warned that false teachers will appear and attempt to lead Christians astray (2 Peter 2:1). We should be on our guard against false teaching. But we can misidentify something as dangerous when it is simply unfamiliar. We assume that our own experience of faithful Christianity is what is normal for all Christians in all places, because it is all we have known. Acknowledging the legitimacy of a different expression is not a threat to our own. It simply acknowledges that God and His work is bigger than our limited experience.
If we’re honest, many white Christians have, at times, treated the Black church with theological suspicion. We can assume any number of errors―prosperity gospel or theological liberalism being two common ones―as inherent to the Black church. We might even go so far as to excuse such errors, lamenting that if theological education had been more available in years gone past, the state of the Black church might be healthier.
But those assumptions, while they may not arise from ethnic disdain, are unfair, unhelpful, even condescending. I say that as someone who has been guilty of them at times. Neither theological liberalism nor prosperity gospel originated in the Black church, nor should they be thought of as defining characteristics. If our default is suspicion, we will treat every difference as evidence of theological compromise.
Love Shows us a Better Way
Scripture tells us that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). When relating to believers outside our tribe, is our first instinct to provide correction or enjoy fellowship? Scripture frees us to believe the best of those who claim the name of Christ. This is not to say that we should ignore error when it comes up, but let’s not be so sure error is present that we find it no matter what.
The disciples of Jesus once encountered a group of people performing miracles in Jesus’ name (Mark 9:38–41). They attempted to stop the strangers because they were unfamiliar. Jesus sharply rebuked the disciples when they recounted the story to him.
When we encounter Christians worshipping God, even if the expression is unfamiliar to us, we should join them in their rejoicing. If we appreciate the work of God in them and trust that He is at work in them as He is in ourselves, we will have a more humble attitude. We may even learn something if we are not convinced we have a monopoly on truth.
Overcoming suspicion of the unfamiliar is hard, but within the body of Christ, it is not optional. May He give us a spirit of charity and love toward all our brothers and sisters.
- Thank God that His work is not limited to our little tribes.
- Praise Him for His power which overcomes every barrier we try to set up.
- Pray that when we encounter Christians who are different from us that we would exhibit more fruit of the spirit rather than works of the flesh.