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

Christopher Peppler

Christopher Peppler



4 thoughts on “An exception that proves the rule”

  1. Thanks for these writings Chris. I have only had time to look at your blog and read them now that I am on holiday. Continue writing.

  2. I was in the church service (in the Fourways High hall, I think) when the baby blessing and prophecy occurred. I remembered thinking how blessed the family were. The lady had spoken of angels watching over the child, if I remember correctly. Then came the shock of the accident soon after. I have often wondered about this young mother and am glad to now know the rest of the story! Thank you for sharing.

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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.