In Harmless’ Augustine: In His Own Words chapter 3, of particular interest to me is an excerpt from St. Augustine’s Sermon 279. This excerpt deals with what Harmless calls ‘suspicious conversions,’ and specifically with the conversion of a man named Faustinus. According to Harmless Christianity had become the major religion in North Africa in the late fourth-century, and great pressure was placed on pagans to convert. Faustinus was a local banker in Carthage who people suspected had claimed a conversion to Christianity in order to secure the position of mayor. St. Augustine was invited by Bishop Aurelius to speak in defense of Faustinus’ conversion, and Augustine proceeded to give Faustinus’ ‘less-than-sincere conversion’ the benefit of the doubt.
St. Augustine’s sermon is very relevant today in the midst of so-called American pop Christianity, where the largest churches are wrought with the prosperity gospel and celebrity pastors, along with the growing compromise of mainline denominations on such issues as homosexuality. Many in the more conservative and orthodox evangelical churches are quick to pass judgment on those who attend and/or participate in propagating the message of those aforementioned churches. While we are called to point out heresy, error, and false teaching, as Augustine points out in his sermon, it is not our place to judge the authenticity of a person’s conversion. St. Augustine quotes scripture saying:
 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (1 Corinthians 4:5 ESV)
Augustine makes the point that we cannot peer into the hearts of men, and cannot truly know what has or has not taken place within them. He implores the people to “stay with what’s been conceded to us, to what we as human beings can do, and not lay claim to what’s beyond us.” At times it seems that Christians want to step in for God and condemn people based on their own personal thoughts about a persons motives and actions. St. Augustine appeals to scripture in order to show the wrongness of this way of thinking; he uses Romans 14:1 saying that we are to “Welcome the one weak in faith, not in judgments on thoughts.” Augustine instructs the church in Carthage in the manner of behavior they should show toward Faustinus, and we would all do well to heed his instruction, Augustine says:
“We commend him to your prayers, and to your love… to holding him up when he’s less-than-firm. As you move along, teach him the good pathway. Let him find that good pathway in you… The future will tell whether his life and his zeal for the faith of Christ prove worthy…”
This is, I believe, how we as Christians should deal with those people who come from denominations, or from under teaching that misses the mark. If they confess Christ then we should give them the benefit of the doubt, and as Augustine commands, we should teach truth and live it out. Scripture says that those who are of us, that is, the true faith, will continue with us, and those who are not of us will fall away. In the meantime we are to preach the word and live as Christ.
 All quotes and biographical information unless noted are from: Harmless, William, ed., Augustine: In His Own Words (Washington D.C.: Catholic University Press, 2010), 90-92
 1 John 2:18-20