So writes Cuthbert Dzingirai, a former Roman Catholic priest from Zimbabwe. Dzingirai wasn’t an average priest. In fact, at one point he joined one of the strictest orders of priests called the “Order of Friars Minor.” While in this order, he made three vows: poverty, chastity, and obedience to the Church counsels. Dzingirai said,
“The three vows I had made to my superiors and the Church were always part of my ‘mantra,’ which I repeated over and over each morning as I woke up for meditation. They became my greatest treasure, part of the important sacramentals which separated me from the laity. I thought they brought me closer to God.”
When Dzingirai participated in six of the seven Catholic sacraments, he viewed ordination as the highest sacrament since it conveyed the most grace:
“In my heart I boasted that it was added to my other sacraments and vows. I was, therefore, confident that I could act as God with this sacrament that put my seat next to Christ. I was a holy man, so I thought.”
After around seven years in the order and as a priest, Dzingirai saw much hypocrisy in the order – specifically breaking the vow of chastity. Some of his fellow priests would have mistresses and even children, but the superiors didn’t do much about it. This shook Dzingirai up. On top of this, he was attracted to a woman and eventually had a child with her. After he broke his vow of celibacy, he felt deeply guilty even though his superior forgave him. What did Dzingirai do?
“Day after day I participated more and more vigorously with a penitent heart in morning meditation, the Mass, Friday adoration hour, and prayer before the Monstrance. What else could I do since I was taught that cleansing myself was my responsibility? I tried harder and harder.”
Dzingirai was never taught the gospel in the Roman Catholic church; he didn’t know God’s grace and merciful forgiveness in Christ through faith. He was simply taught to work harder when he sinned. Finally he ran across a man who spoke out against Rome; this man taught Dzingirai the truths of Scripture and the gospel of grace.
“I felt as though scales were falling from my eyes. It was as if I were waking up to reality from a deep sleep. It took me nearly a year to understand the meaning of such verses as Gal. 3:10-11. I never knew that God could love me and extend grace to me in a state of sin (Rom 5:8). I never before knew that God could love me and look upon me as ‘just’ before him because of my faith in Christ’s perfect work of atonement while I was in a state of sin. This was extraordinary – knowing that God justifies not by works that I do, but by faith in Jesus Christ (Rom 4:5, 10:10).”
What a great testimony of God’s grace to a sinner trying to earn salvation by prayers, vows, obedience, and holiness! Dzingirai was trying to work his way to heaven; God stopped him in his sinful tracks and told him that heaven is not earned by works, but by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. This is one of the reasons I will never go to Rome: because Rome has officially declared an anathema upon those who believe in justification by faith alone. I, like Dzingirai, will stick with Paul: a man is not justified by works, but by faith!
The above edited quotes are found in chapter three of Far from Rome, Near to God.
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)