On the 15th of May 2016, my dear wife, Joy, my precious mother, Annie, who recently turned 82 years of age and has been a member of the SDA church for 58 years, and I were disfellowshipped from the Whyalla South Australian SDA church. Here is the story of what the Son of God has done for us.
Eph 3:16-19 that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that ye may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 4:32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.
I would like to fast track back about 3 years ago when I was suddenly held captive to the wonderful truth that God truly has a begotten Son. I walked alone, humanly speaking, on this journey of discovery for approximately 6 months when I eventually had a strong enough conviction to share this with my wife who accepted this straight away because she came from a Catholic background and realised the problems with the trinity doctrine. Soon this unstoppable fire in my heart had me sharing this with many people in our local church as well as to my mum. I was delighted to hear that she always believed that Jesus was the literal Son of God. Well, this landed me very quickly into a church business meeting to tell me I was no longer fit to be an elder of the church and to desist from sharing my views with others
About 2 hours after that meeting when the premise was well and truly vacated, I said to my wife I'm going back to the church to collect my guitar and other belongings I kept there. After loading my things in the car I went back inside the church, knelt beside the rostrum and said a heartfelt prayer and stood up. There was an absolute sense of finality during this time. I then put all the church keys I had on a table where they would be easily spotted. I wrestled in my mind for several minutes by the open door whether to keep the keys or not. After all this was MY house, I've been here since I was 3 years old. A panorama of memories flashed before my mind, and then I pulled the door shut, leaving the keys inside.
A very difficult situation arose between my mother and I because she did not immediately realise the full implications of what was happening. I was so cut up that she remained silent during my sentence after telling me she believed in the begotten Son. Of course the amplification of my feelings were twofold for my wife who naturally wanted to protect me from this perceived betrayal. Instead of allowing satanic influences to hinder us, my heavenly Father poured more grace and love into my soul to strengthen my dear mother and my wife.
God grew a home church for me of about 10 members. He told me, “Go teach what I showed you.” It became like our church in the wilderness. Except for Joy and I, the rest attended the local church Sabbath morning and our home gathering on the Sabbath afternoon. This arrangement worked well for a little over a year. Then, one of the women in our group had a dream that the new pastor sent to our area would come to see me. Soon this was confirmed and I waited in anxious anticipation. This dragged on for several weeks and one Sabbath I chose to cancel our church gathering fully expecting to be confronted by him. Perhaps the Lord knew I was not ready so the confrontation did not happen. I was filled with fear which gave birth to anger. I vowed never to let this pending “confrontation” affect us meeting together again.
Now this takes us up to the present time of our disfellowship. You are now going to journey on a most incredible story of God’s unfathomable love followed by miracle after miracle in what should have been one of the most painful emotional period of my life. At last I received a call from the pastor on Monday 9th of May requesting a time to meet. We agreed upon 7.00 pm that very night. Incidentally it was a king tide in Whyalla with the water nearly going over the barrier wall during that time. When we met I was perfectly calm and had no fear. I spoke with him alone for about two hours telling him of my close attachment to the church and he was gracious in listening to me. After a time we both spoke a bit more frankly about our views of the present day church and our understanding of God and His Son. The pastor showed a measure of respect for me but seemed very determined for the need to disfellowship my wife and I from the SDA church if she shared the same views. He said a prayer and we parted ways. I felt no anger or bitterness. This was a miracle.
Then another miracle followed. Unbeknown to me the pastor had arranged to meet my mother on Wednesday of the same week at 10.30am. I decided to go and see mum at 10.00am to tell her what was going to happen to Joy and I. When she told me he was coming to her house in half an hour my initial reaction was to leave. But I'm so glad my mother said she'd rather I be there. We quickly had prayer and she reassured me of her commitment to the Son of God and her commitment to stand by her own son even if this would sacrifice her own membership. This healed the wound from three years ago and prepared us for what lay ahead. The pastor arrived with the head elder and I think they were a bit more than surprised to see me there. I spoke very calm yet in a strong manner on behalf of my mother for the harsh merciless judgment that was about to take place upon a poor harmless and faithful 82 year old woman. But after they left, Christ removed all bitterness. We saw two souls groping in darkness and it made us more certain in our confession of Jesus as the only begotten Son of God. Instead of hatred I felt joy and gratitude of having mother and my wife along with the angels of heaven standing by my side.
I do not want to dwell on any other unjust things that occurred but the business meeting for our disfellowship was on Sunday 15th of May, just 6 days after my first visit. It was scheduled for 7.00 pm. I had two phone calls from my faithful brother in Christ, Adrian Ebens. This man has been an unfailing pillar of strength and inspiration to me over the past 3 years. I know many prayers were sent heavenward for us and I could feel it so strongly. Our God is real. His love is overwhelming. He fills my eyes with tears of joy and caresses my heart with waves of love until I feel my chest will burst and all this in the face of persecution. It makes no human sense. I write this as confirmation and thanks for all your prayers and to tell you that there is nothing but pure agape love that comes from the Father and Son. He loves those who are persecuting us in the church. He loves those in the world. He loves those who are lost, God is love and when He tells us to love our enemies He is not commanding us to do that which He knows is impossible for us to do. No No. He is promising to send forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts to help us love our enemies because by faith we have confessed His name. This is true for all His commandments.
We got to the business meeting resting in the power of Christ and more miracles happen. The pastor opened with some powerful statements by Mrs. White. When presented in the way they were, it made it to appear that she supported the church to have full authority in all matters at general conference level and also concluding that she supported the binding nature of the current fundamental beliefs. To me, the unbalanced way it was put forward sounded identical to the persecuting power of the papacy and it momentarily caused me to tremble. There were a few “amens” and nods of approval amongst the approximately 17 people present which included some children. Then we were given the opportunity to speak and I chose to go first. The meeting was not held in the main church building but in the hall where combined lunches usually took place. It was the same place my position of elder was removed from me three years previously. I stood behind a bench facing my accusers.
The love of Christ came to me again in that very moment. I saw them there, some who I have known for many years, but none of them went anywhere near as far back in the church history as my mother or I. I felt genuine sorrow for their darkness. I realised a few years ago I was exactly the same and so having very few notes with me and trusting in the promise, where it says in Scripture in that very hour it will be given unto you what to speak, I hesitantly began. I gave a brief history of the changes of the fundamental beliefs and that initially they were simply an expression and summary of what the Holy Spirit had revealed as truth. They were never meant to be a chain to dictate or enforce how to interpret Scripture. I then explained the type of authority the general conference held in world session was also not to cross that sacred barrier that violated personal conscience in regards to the word of God. I said to do so would be to deny the work of the Holy Spirit in convicting the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment. I then simply testified my confession in the begotten Son of God. In that moment my voice changed became loud, clear and confident and using John 3:16 as a platform I forgot myself for a moment. I could hear myself speak while feeling its conviction. It was the strangest feeling. I could see my lovely wife with tear filled eyes and my mother filled with pride for my stand upon the Father and Son. I saw a few others hanging on to every word the Spirit was now giving me. I saw some wrestling in their own spirit including the pastor and then the others I have no recollection of seeing. It was as if they were not there. After saying a few more words I sat down. It was a beautiful experience and nothing like this has happened to me before.
My dear mum then stood up to speak. How painful and utterly humiliating this should have been for her but yet she gently and graciously thanked everyone for all the precious and happy memories over the years. She said how surreal it was that she should be disfellowshipped for believing that Jesus was the begotten Son of God. That she never knew she was baptised into 27 fundamental beliefs but that she was baptized into Jesus Christ whom she loves. What a miracle was witnessed again in my mother. And then my wife was used by God to witness about her Catholic background and how the trinity doctrine is the foundation of that system and challenged them to think it should be strange that we would worship the same. She expressed her love for Jesus as the literal son of God, highlighting the same relationship a parent like herself would have to a son.
Then the voting papers were distributed out for a yes they agree to our disfellowship or a no they do not agree. At this point my precious sensitive wife chose to leave the room. The votes were counted, 8 yes 4 no 1 confused. And so 53 years of the Penman name has been removed from the Whyalla Seventh-day Adventist Church. But what I should say is, just like that, Jesus Christ was crucified again amongst His own people and voted out of the church.
I have two more miracles to finish this report and I recognised them in hindsight the following day. I was sitting in my taxi waiting for a job whilst reflecting on what happened the night before. I felt okay but heard myself thinking shouldn't there be a bigger blessing for being faithful? I no sooner had thought this when I realised something. After the vote was counted the pastor asked us to stand and join hands for prayer. My mum was on my left but to my right was the very person I struggled to forgive. We both looked at each other and hesitated. At the very instant a lovely young Papua New Guinea girl who goes to our home church with her mum jumped up in between us and grinning from ear to ear she grabbed my right hand tightly to bridge the gap. I then realized she was being used as a type of Christ to bridge a gap that I could not. Now the circle of prayer was complete and then the pastors looked me squarely in the eye and said in all sincerity, John can you pray for us and then I will close. I marvel at what God can do. I had no hesitation. I said a very simple heartfelt prayer asking for the forgiveness of our sins, which was inclusive meaning, my sins also. While the pastor prayed I felt a heavy large hand on my left shoulder from the young man behind me. For a moment, I wondered which way he voted but then the thought quickly left my head. So this part of the journey ends for us and new challenges lay ahead. But all I really want to do is to testify of the inconceivable love of my Father given in His Son.
Disfellowship from Fox Valley SDA Church