October 2014


There is a school just to the North of where I live that started out as a simple farm school but is now large and thriving. In its very early years we, the Village Church, were asked to come and lead Tuesday afternoon Bible studies for the learners. Opposition immediately sprung up among both the teaching staff and some parents. In response we decided to take a team out there on a Sunday afternoon to pray.

I was the only guitarist in our little church at that time so I took my twelve-string and we marched around the area singing and praying. Some very impoverished families lived on the farm that housed the school and alcohol was a major problem for them. Yet, despite their partying and brawling the music attracted many and soon there was quite a crowd gathered around us.

This seemed like a great opportunity to preach the Gospel so I laid the guitar down and took up my Bible. As I started to preach a large woman in the crowd fell face down in the dust and started undulating across the ground like a snake, hissing loudly. Some of our tender hearted ladies thought she was ill and rushed to help her, but I instructed them to back off. I walked over to the woman and simply declared; “Demon, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth I command you to leave this woman!” She writhed, hissed, coughed, blinked, and sat up looking both surprised and relieved.

Suddenly, every eye was fixed on me as I stepped back and continued preaching. I gave an invitation to repent and believe and dozens stepped forward for prayer. Hallelujah!

Now what were we going to do with these people who had responded? Right there and then we decided to establish a Sunday afternoon congregation at the school. We announced it right away and the next Sunday many of the local folk attended… and the woman who had been delivered of a demon was the first one there!

The opposition to our Tuesday Bible studies ceased from that day onwards and later the church management erected a sign at the gate to the school which read ‘To God be the glory’. The congregation lasted for several years but then the local authorities relocated the families in the area to a township where a number of churches already existed. We still work with the school and the sign still stands at the gate – to God be the glory.

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The best laid plans

I am sure that all preachers go through phases when they experiment with their sermons to try to make them more engaging. I have done this a number of times. I have experimented with preaching in tandem with a colleague – a sort of churchy Mutt and Jeff show. I have gone through seasons of preaching entirely without notes. I have tried drawing the congregation into participating. But the experiment I remember most vividly was when I set up someone in the congregation to object to something I said during the sermon. This is how it went down.

My text concerned water baptism and because I had preached into this subject several times before, I wanted to take a novel approach. A particular couple had started attending the Sunday services recently and so were not yet known to most people in the congregation. I drew the husband aside before the service started and solicited his cooperation. His task was to wait until I made a particular point and then to jump up and challenge me. I would then answer him brilliantly and everyone would be greatly impressed.

At exactly the right moment he leaped up from his chair and took issue with me in a loud voice. I responded with the preplanned rejoinder and after I had done so I said; “Please don’t think he was being rude. Actually, I asked him to interject because I thought it would liven things up a bit.” The concerned looks disappeared from most faces and a gentle corporate chuckle swept the hall. However, one dear lady was hard of hearing and although she had followed the exchange well enough she had not caught my explanation of how it had been a set up.

She was an elderly lady who had spent many years in a church group that had a particular view of baptism. She believed that if one had been baptized in the Holy Spirit then water baptism by immersion was redundant. I suspect that the doctrine had been devised to solve the problem that some denominations have with baptizing adults who have been previously ‘christened’ as babies. In any event, this dear lady, and she was a very dear lady, had also only been attending our services for a few Sundays, and so she took the man’s earlier interjection as acceptable common practice. So, rising to her feet she stopped my sermon in midflight to politely explain her doctrine of baptism.

The earlier planned attempt to shoot down my sermon had supported the case I was making for water baptism, but this second interruption threw me seriously off course. All I could do was to gently disagree, smile a lot, and then quickly ‘land the plane’ with an early conclusion.

The best laid plans of mice and men go oft astray – yes they sure do. But, I still think preachers should mix things up from time to time. The Word of God needs to be presented with living freshness and within the context of real life. Why should a preacher be above contradiction? Why can’t genuine believers be given the opportunity of asking questions during a service? But I need to remind myself that lurking in the congregation will always be a dear old lady with a theological ground-to-air missile pointed at the preacher.

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An exception that proves the rule

“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings”. Hosea 6:6

When Zelda and her husband first attended our services I thought that they were potential trouble. They seemed so focused on what was happening that it was as if they were evaluating and even judging us. I was wrong. They soon revealed themselves as lovely people devoted to Jesus and eagerly seeking a church home in our area. When their first child was born I had the joyful task of blessing her as part of a Sunday service. While the parents were still up front with their baby daughter an elderly lady stood up and prophesied over the child. I can’t remember exactly what she said but it was about how God loved this child and that she would worship Him from a young age.

Sometime later the little family set off with Zelda’s parents for a holiday in the Cape. She was now pregnant with her second daughter. After her husband Hilton had completed the Argus cycle race they left to return to Johannesburg. Before getting into the car some hours before dawn they joined hands and prayed for safety and ‘traveling mercies’.

Dawn was breaking by the time they approached Bloemfontein and they were in good spirits. Suddenly, for reasons still not known, Hilton lost control of the car and they had a terrible accident. Both he and Zelda’s mother were killed on impact.

A long hall truck driver was approaching them on his way to Johannesburg and he stopped and helped them. A doctor, travelling in the opposite direction also stopped and drove Zelda, her father and her baby daughter to the nearest hospital. The child had sustained severe injuries and died in her arms on route. Her father’s limbs were broken in several places but miraculously Zelda came through the terrible experience with hardly a scratch, and her unborn child was unharmed.

As a church community we were stunned. How could this have happened?! Had words of hope and blessing not been spoken over this precious child, and now she was dead?! Had the family not prayed for protection before they set off on that terrible trip?!

As the details of that traumatic morning started to emerge it became clear that God had not abandoned that little family. Not only had a doctor been driving by when it happened but a local pastor had rushed to their aid and taken special care of them. Our young mother had received a peace that definitely passed all understanding, a grace that enabled her to live through those early hours and days with faith and supernatural calm.

In the weeks following the accident her husband’s best friend Robbie took a special interest in her and became a strong arm that she could depend on. He too was a disciple of the Lord Jesus but his life was pretty messed up. He was dealing with substance dependence, anger issues and financial problems. He was her physical support and she became his haven of peace and faith. It didn’t take long for their relationship to develop into genuine love.

They came to see me one day to tell me that he had moved into her house. They were determined that they wanted to be good witnesses and bring glory to God but they were adamant that they desperately needed to be together at that time. She was having terrible flash-backs of the accident and would wake up at night in great distress. He needed to be there for her and he also needed her strength of character and faith to get through his own ‘dark night’. They said that they understood that, as their pastor, I would not approve of them staying together, but would I please have compassion and not shun them in any way. They needed Jesus, they needed each other, and they needed the church family. They stated their intention to get married when they felt that their lives were more stable and their emotional wounds healed. I believed them. I assured them that not only would I not shun them but would stand with them and explain, to anyone who enquired, that they had my blessing. Foolish by conventional church standards? Perhaps it was, but I had a deep sense that this is what Jesus would do.

A month later her child was born, and they were married soon after. I had the privilege of officiating at their marriage ceremony at their home. Shortly after this they moved down to the coast and soon had another daughter of their own. It is now 22 years later and they are still happily married and serving God. For years now they have been running a house church from their home. Together they pastor a couple of dozen believers. Their daughters have grown into beautiful young women who love Jesus and their parents.

Did I do the right thing in sanctioning and defending their ‘cohabitation’? She told me some time later that she doesn’t know how she would have survived if she had been confronted with a choice between her church family and the support of her friend, and now husband. Would I do it again? Yes. Some will quote scripture at me, although strangely enough no one did at that time. I am still full of admiration for their commitment to each other, to the Lord Jesus, and to the spirit and intent of His written Word.

I guess that grace is the exception that proves the rule.

Names used with permission

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Empty ossuary and empty tomb

As the Passover season approaches every year, there is always someone ‘discovering’ an amazing new ‘proof’ that Jesus didn’t die and rise again. This year it’s the story of the empty ossuary. An ossuary is a stone box used to store the bones of the dead. In 1980 someone discovered a family tomb in Jerusalem containing ossuaries inscribed with names of Judah son of Jesus, Joshua son of Joseph, and Mary. At the time, scholars dismissed the find as of no particular religious significance and released the bones for interment. Now, 27 years later, the story has risen from the tomb once again. A spurious DNA test that proves nothing, a bit of statistical analysis, and the promoters draw a startling conclusion – Jesus didn’t die on the cross but instead lived on to marry Mary Magdalene and produced a son by her. It’s a fantastic story in the full sense of the word (bazaar, incredible, unlikely, and imaginary) and it is as devoid of substance as the ossuaries are of bones.

The whole thing is perhaps just an attempt to make money, but the motivation could be more sinister. Paul wrote ‘…if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith’ (1 Corinthians 15:14). So, from the very first, the Holy Spirit laid down the challenge – prove that Jesus did not rise from the dead and you prove Christianity to be false. Why should this be the ultimate test of the truth of the Christian message? Firstly, because Jesus said that he would rise again (John 2:19) and if he did not then he is a liar and not the truth he claimed to be (john 14:6). Secondly, whilst his death settled the penalty for the violated covenant between God and man, his resurrection provided the basis for new and eternal spiritual life. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then we would be pardoned sinners but we would still be spiritually dead!

The truth is that the ossuaries are empty, and so is the tomb of Jesus described in the Gospels! The ossuaries originally contained the bones of some well-to-do residents of pre-modern Jerusalem. The tomb described in the scriptures contained the body of Jesus for just a few days. After he rose from the dead, the tomb contained only his burial linen as evidence that he had risen.

I can understand why unscrupulous business people try to make money from ‘discoveries’ such as the one I have described. I find it harder to understand why any sensible people, let alone Christians, find anything credible in their bazaar tales. A few years ago, it was the story that Jesus had married and produced a daughter. Last year a fiction writer picked up on this and made millions. Today it’s the tale of the empty ossuaries. Next year it will be something else.

Isaiah lamented that ‘truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey’. (59:15) This is especially true in our day. Yet, there has always been one who is, in himself, the truth – his name is Jesus. I have just completed a book entitled ‘Truth is the Word’. It deals with how we establish truth, the truth claims of the Bible, and how we interpret biblical truth. In it, I make the assertion that Jesus is the source of truth. You can order the book from www.chrispy.co.za.

The ossuraies are empty, the tomb is empty, but the Truth lives on!

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Ecclesiology 2007

Theologically, on what should we be focusing in this seventh year of the 21st century? Previous generations gave their attention to such things as the trinity, biblical inspiration, and the dual natures of Christ. What should be at the top of our theological study agenda this year?

I am convinced that Ecclesiology should be our number one field of theological study. Ecclesiology is a catchall for all things pertaining to the church but what engages me most in these days is the nature and purpose of the church. George Barna’s research reveals that among the public there is a very high interest in Jesus but a low appreciation for the church. Why is this? This is a key question and we need to answer it.

I love the church. I resonate with Paul when he reminded the Elders of the church at Ephesus to be good ‘shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood’ (Acts 20:28b) If the church is so valuable to Jesus that he was prepared to die so that it could live, then why is it so undervalued by society? Could part of the reason be that we Christians have lost a sense of the nature and purpose of the church?

How does a non-disciple of the Lord Jesus view the church? I would think that most see the church as an organisation; an organisation such as a club, a benefit society, a religious business, or a charity. Yet the New Testament pictures the church as a household, a family, and a body. The key characteristic of a family is relationship, not organisation. A household needs to be organised so that it can function as an extended family. A body needs a skeleton so that it can hold together, but we do not define it in terms of its skeletal structure. An organisation uses its members to achieve its objectives but a church is the sum of its members. Yet, so often, the church, like a typical organisation, uses its members to fund and staff its programmes and projects. Now here’s the thing – people don’t like to be used; they like to belong, to be loved and accepted, to contribute… but they don’t like to be used. If society perceives the church as a user then it will have a low view of it.

I think the problem goes even deeper. Not only are most churches perceived as organisations, but they present themselves as localities. “Come with me to church” translates to “Come with me at a particular time to a particular building”. We go to the supermarket, we go to the cinema, we go to a restaurant, and we go to church. What then would someone expect when ‘going to church’? They would probably expect to buy something, to be entertained, or to be fed. Is this the purpose of the church; the church that God bought with his own blood? It seems that many church leaders think that it is! As a result the church tries to out-stock the supermarkets, out-entertain the cinemas, and out-serve the restaurants.

We need to rethink our doctrine of the church. Today’s young men and women don’t want a religious supermarket, cinema, or restaurant; they want a spiritual family. They don’t want to go to another place, they want to be disciples of the Lord Jesus. They don’t want to be used, they want to belong.

I can almost hear some readers muttering, “But the church exists to evangelise, and evangelism requires organisation, and a place, and structure”. Well I disagree on all counts. Jesus calls us to make disciples, not to evangelise. The church is a family that equips and supports us as we live, witness, minister, and make disciples. If discipleship starts with introducing people to Jesus and continues with helping them to nurture and reproduce that relationship, then why does it need programmes, training sessions, and organised ‘outreaches’? Of course, if we regard evangelism as selling something, or as teaching something, then we will see the overriding need for organisation, and enterprise, and a place to ‘do business’. But the church is neither a business nor a school; the church is the extended family of the Lord Jesus Christ.

You might not agree with what I have said about the church. I don’t ask for your agreement but I do plead for your attention. We MUST give serious and sustained attention to the doctrine of the church. If we do not then we should not be surprised if more and more people say “Jesus, yes, but the church, no!” However, if we seek God’s face concerning the nature and purpose of HIS church, then we could be the most desirable organism on the face of the earth!

Ecclesiology 2007 Read More »

About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.