When I was a teenager working at an interdenominational camp for boys I overheard a conversation that impacted my thinking on theology ever since.
A volunteer who was very anti-Pentecostal, I remember him as Baptist, came up asking loudly, “How can you even let those Pentecostals, with their terrible theology, in here, let alone allow them to work here? After all I know you are NOT Pentecostal.”
The reason this conversation had such an impact was not in the complaint but in the reply. It went something like this, “You are right, I am not Pentecostal and I agree with you that parts of their theology have real problems. However, I also recognize that my theology likely has some blind spots just like theirs does. Because they are coming from a very different viewpoint they might just have parts of truth about God that I might have missed. They are here on the same mission we are, plus they might just have something important we can learn from them. For those reasons and more they are welcome here just as you are.”
That reply was given by my Dad, but it deeply impressed me not because my Dad said it rather because of its attitude and truth.
The attitude is one of deep humility. I was well aware of a few things about my Dad. I knew how devoutly he holds his beliefs, how conservative they tend to be, how deeply he has studied them, how strongly he feels they are Truth, and in this case that he is not Pentecostal. Just for accuracy those are still true. While those factors often bring out harshness and arrogance in people in this case what shines through is humility. It takes a measure of humility to admit that a belief you disagree with contains truth, could teach you something, and even reveal truth you are blind to. It takes a bigger measure of humility to admit that you could even be wrong about something and that is implied here as well. This humility impressed me then, it still impresses me today.
Looking back on that comment I can see how true it is. For example think about the changes in worship style over the years. Pentecostal / Charismatic worship has always been exuberant and quite emotional. Evangelical / Baptist worship by comparison was and often still is quite staid and unemotional. Over the years an interesting shift has taken place. Evangelical worship is featuring more “Praise and Worship” music, with many churches hosting bands accompanying the worship. They also are taking on more emotion. It is as if many looked at the Pentecostal / Charismatic worship, went past what they saw as its excesses and realized it contained something they had missed. This is just the kind of thing the reply referred to.
Over the years this has challenged me to look beyond my assumptions that someone else’s beliefs are just plain wrong. In doing that there were times my own beliefs were stretched and strengthened. There were other times when I saw things I had been blind too. It also opened me up to the realization that sometimes the difference was not a matter of right vs. wrong, but just a matter of a different style or point of view. All three of these results blessed and enriched my life. I hope this lesson can be a blessing to you too.