6/2/13 Linus 28
Taking the conversational approach to witnessing gives me the chance to find out what people really believe rather than simply assuming or reading about the general beliefs of their religion. Today I had the privilege of a two-hour chat with Linus, a Benedictine monk from Germany whom I found at a coffee shop reading a German translation of “Star Wars”. He was dressed casually and, except maybe for his very thin features, I would never have guessed he was part of an extremely strict monastic order. He preferred to keep a low profile and it was only by my direct questions that I found out about his five year probationary period before taking the Benedictine vows, his disciplined lifestyle of prolonged daily prayers and night watches, Gregorian chants and praying through all 150 Psalms every week. He had been baptized Lutheran, grew up atheist, and at the age of 15 said he had come to faith in Christ through a German evangelical church similar to Willow Creek. However, he soon found the evangelical practice of religion to be shallow and found deeper meaning in the liturgy and rituals of Catholicism. He said his purpose in his lifelong vow to the Benedictine Order was to pursue God, which I found both admirable and troubling. How, I wondered, can one be committed to pursuing God without being committed to pursuing people – to being a “Fisher of men” as Jesus put it? I do understand we all have individual gifts and callings in life, but that doesn’t mean I could understand his. What I found most troubling, though, was his insistence in the Catholic belief of purgatory. The belief that believers in Christ will have to undergo varying degrees of “purging” before going to heaven may seem by some to be a minor difference of opinion, but it has huge theological implications. What it implies is that our sins against an infinitely holy God can be paid for with a finite punishment (i.e. 10 years in purgatory might be required but 11 years would be too much); it also implies that Jesus’ substitutionary death on our behalf wasn’t enough to cover our sins. In effect, even though Linus believes in Jesus and the cross, the addition of purgatory makes his a works-based faith. Linus criticized the belief in faith alone as being too easy – what’s to keep a believer from further sins other than the possibility of purgatory? The answer, to me, is obvious – the Holy Spirit, given to those who are truly born again, gives us a new heart and new desires to live for Christ. Despite all his devotion, I’m not so sure Linus has experienced that yet.