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Adventist Today FORUM presents:

Reflections On Adventism - Part One

an interview with

| Intro | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Follow up |

The Interview - Part 2

AToday: QUESTION #8 - It is virtually impossible to discuss Adventist history or theology without dealing with Ellen White, her authority, and her writings. Today, there are numerous web sites that seek to discredit and ridicule her for reasons that range from plagiarism to supposedly fraudulent behavior. Indeed, her popularity and credibility within the Denomination may be at an all time low. I note that your critics have routinely accused you of also being "against Ellen White" and often cite that charge as the fundamental reason for your exile. Would you please tell us your position regarding Ellen White? Was she a real prophet or a fraud? Are her writings reliable and worth reading today? Can her writings be used to help us understand the Bible and determine doctrine? Also, how do you think Ellen White affected the debate at Glacier View, if at all? And finally, has your perception of Ellen White changed over the years and what do you think she would have said about this unresolved debate if she were still alive today?

Dr. Ford: In the Glacier View manuscript and in "The Adventist Crisis of Spiritual Identity," I have discussed the role of E.G. White at great length. She had the gift of prophecy spoken of in l Corinthians 14 which is not identical with that of the canonical writers of Scripture (see l Cor. 14:29 and l Thess. 5:19-21 for clear statements that the gift in our daysince the completion of the canonis not infallible). Ellen White never claimed infallibility and her writings should be studied as those of a great church leader and pastor but not as a "Bible."

Yes, it was my supposed threat to Ellen White that contributed to the Glacier View debacle. I have highly valued the writings of Ellen White since my first encounter with them. But for the last fifty years, I have accepted her own warnings that her writings were not to be used as Scripture and that the Bibleand the Bible onlyis our source of doctrine. Were she living today, she would say the same thing as she said during the long theological debate over the "daily" (see SM, vol. 1, pp. 164ff). During that debate, she told the brethren not to use her statements but to go to the Bible.

When asked by Southern Publishing Association to write a book as a lesson help for a series on the prophets, I wrote Physicians of the Soul. In that book, I have several chapters on Ellen G. White in which I said essentially what I stated above. However, I also pointed out her use of sources, listing many, including, if I remember correctly, authors not mentioned by Walter Rea when years later he made his revelations. My lesson quarterly on the topic, requested by the Church and endorsed by the scholars who reviewed it, was never published because certain administrators feared that my name being on it would arouse controversy. I was never officially informed of this decision and found out years later after making a series of inquiries to Church administrators.

Having researched the stacks of the Library of Congress, I know that most writers in theology, medicine, history, science, etc. of the Nineteenth Century used other authors freely without giving them credit. In addition, the expression, "I was shown," was commonplace among religious writers of Ellen White's day. That phrase did not always or necessarily mean revelation by vision. For example, the famous book, Uncle Tom's Cabin, according to its author, came story by story to the writer in a dream. This religious phenomenon was not at all uncommon in the 1800s.

AToday: QUESTION #9 - Let’s talk about the seventh day Sabbath. Today there is a movement within the evangelical segment of the Adventist community to disregard the Sabbath doctrine along with its traditional eschatological significance. Even though you have been exiled from Adventism for almost twenty years, you have stood up and strongly defended the Sabbath as if you were still a Seventh-day Adventist. In fact, you recently published a rebuttal to Dale Ratzlaff’s book, entitled The Sabbath in Crisis, and more recently defended the Sabbath with three lectures in the Washington, D.C. area. This is somewhat confusing to everyone. Can you explain the issues surrounding this Sabbath debate and set forth why you still support the Sabbath?

In addition, why is it that some within the Adventist community, especially those who accept the gospel, seem prone to rejecting this doctrine? Is the Sabbath a "landmark" doctrine that cannot be moved or is it simply a Jewish relic and part of the ceremonial law that has little meaning for us today? Did the early Christians worship on the seventh or the first day of the week and why does the specific day matter at all? Can you prove from the New Testament that seventh day Sabbath worship is required for Christians and that it is a test for the last days? (I note for our Adventist Today audience that your article, "Is the Seventh-day Sabbath Christian?," can be found on the AToday web site.)

Dr. Ford: I became a Sabbath-keeper in my teens after reading all I could get against SDAs and the Sabbath. I did so with fear, trepidation, and great reluctance for I was an Episcopalian, who worked on Saturdays, and my immediate manager was a Roman Catholic editor. My relatives were very much opposed to my taking this step, but I have never regretted it. When my wife, Gill, and I attend church where we have our memberships (PUC), we greatly enjoy the Angwin fellowship but the same is true wherever we keep the Sabbath in many parts of the world and most regularly here in the Auburn area (when I am not traveling). In fact, you could say that I came to America because of the Sabbath. I was asked by the Australasian Division to first come to this country in the 1950's after a successful debate on the Sabbath issue with a Church of Christ minister, whose hobby it was to challenge SDA ministers on this topic where and whenever he could.

I wrote The Forgotten Day in response to the attack on the Sabbath by Robert Brimsmead. That was not long after Glacier View. The July/August, 1996 issue of Adventist Today has on its cover, "DESMOND FORD DEFENDS THE SABBATH," and pages 11-14 has my article entitled, "Is the Seventh-day Sabbath Christian?" Beginning March, 1999 and running for several months, our Good News Unlimited magazine (which goes to eighty countries) began a series on the Sabbath. One of these articles is a review of Dale Ratzlaff's book, The Sabbath in Crisis. I would like to stress that my sympathies are with Dale on the primary matter of righteousness by faith, but I disagree with his position on the covenants and the fourth commandment.

My recent lectures in the Washington, D.C. area were actually a defense of the gospel for I believe it is impossible to have a well-rounded gospel without a strong position on the law of God. These meetings were not an attack on those friends of mine who love the gospel but see the Sabbath issue differently. Luther and Calvin disagreed on the Lord's Supper but they were united on the Reformation gospel.

The reason some who have been Sabbath-keepers now reject the doctrine is, I believe, because they have mainly known legalistic Sabbath-keeping, which is an antithesis to the gospel. If I had to choose between the gospel without the Sabbath or the Sabbath without the gospel, I would, without hesitation, choose the former. But I see no reason for such a choice. Here is a situation where one can have one’s cake and eat it too.

I also firmly reject legalistic Sabbath-keeping as certainly as Christ himself did. There is a difference between what is legal and what is legalistic. I hope the marriage of those who read this is legal but I trust it is not legalistic. Similarly, there is a distinction between what is rational and what is rationalistic. Too many SDAs have failed to see that the Sabbath is a parable of the gospel. The ceasing from our works to rest in God is a parable of forsaking the Pharisee's road to heaven for the gospel way of faith alone, by grace alone, because of the blood alone, but always evidenced by holy living. God intended that the physical rest of the seventh day should be an emblem of the continual rest of conscience enjoyed by all those who trust in the finished work of Christ for their salvation. See the prolonged discussion in Hebrews chapters three and four on this topic but also the Great Invitation of Matthew 11:28-30, which is the New Testament's introduction to the theme of the Sabbath. (Matthew 12 is the first chapter of the New Testament to name the Sabbath).

According to Scripture, the Sabbath is "honorable", "holy", "blessed", and a "delight". It was made "for" man, not against him. The New Testament has no rules for Sabbath-keeping, only principles. By His Sabbath reforms, Christ clearly taught that works of mercy, necessity, and piety are in harmony with the fourth commandment. Guidance can be summed up in this way: whatever is to the glory of God and the benefit of humanity that is best done on the seventh day is right and proper. Even the fourth commandment itself only has two rules—keep the seventh day holy, that is distinct, and leave alone the self-centered usual work of the preceding days.

Many, like Dale Ratzlaff, list other Jewish prohibitions that were applicable during the wilderness wandering but were never intended for God's worldwide church. All sorts of regulations also surrounded other commandments of the Decalogue which were appropriate for the Jewish era but which do not carry over into Christian times. For example, we do not stone either disobedient children or adulterers.

Yes, the Sabbath IS a landmark doctrine that cannot be moved. It is not saving, in and of itself, but like all other obedience to the known will of God, it is evidence of justification. No commandment-keeping ever justifies but it reveals who is already right with God. Those who in all honesty have observed Sunday, believing it to be the Sabbath of Scripture, are, of course, the children of God. We are not saved by good theology, though good theology is tremendously important. There are "things that accompany salvation" that are not in themselves saving. Baptism and the Lord's Supper, church-going, the study of the Bible can be included in this list. All are important, but not one of them is in itself saving.

The Sabbath is not Jewish. It was given millenniums before there was a Jew. Genesis 2:1-3 pictures the Sabbath as woven into the fabric of the universe—the world's birthday, Christ's rest day, for He was the Creator. One can no more change the birthday of the world than one can change one's own birthday. It is, and will always be, Christ's Sabbath for it is the day on which the Son of God rested after his work of creation. It is not possible to separate the sanctification of the day from the resting and blessing of it at creation.

Furthermore, all Bible memorials begin at the very time of the event memorialized. If the sanctification of the Lord's Supper and its observance were to take place as long after the first Lord's Supper as some think the giving of the Sabbath to man was separated from Christ's initial resting upon it, we would not yet be observing it! Mark 2:27, in the original Greek, says that the Sabbath was made for "the" man, meaning the first man. If it was for the first man, made at the time when all things were made, it is also for the last man, and for all men in between. Hebrews 4 also is clear that the Sabbath rest began at the foundation of the world.

Nobody doubts that the other nine commandments were from the beginning and were for all men and nobody doubts that the other nine commandments are moral. Surely, the one put in the most protected position, alone prefaced with "remember," partakes of the same origin and quality. Man was a worker and a worshipper from the beginning and obviously had a set time for rest and adoration. We do nothing regularly for which there is not a fixed time. Even the heathen saw the need of days of rest and change. We are made like a seven-day clock that needs rewinding every week. The Sabbath comes like a caress, wiping away the strain and tensions of the week. It becomes a window into eternity. The day of God leads to the House of God to hear the Word of God to meet the Son of God. Jesus kept it in life and death. Nothing can be added to a covenant after it is sealed as Scripture repeatedly states and so Sunday-keeping or Sabbath rejection comes three days too late.

What a boon to receive the gift of time to think about eternity! Those who cannot now regularly spend one day with God should not plan on an eternity with Him. In Heaven we change our place but not our company. The fourth commandment is a blessed armistice in our battle with the things of the world. It is a truce that brings joy as family members see more of each other, fellow-believers, and the face of God.

On the topic of the final test, I have written at great length in the second volume of my commentary on Revelation called Crisis! The first time the Sabbath is actually named it is called a test. See Exodus 16:4, 28-29. In Revelation, the key word to the last conflict is "worship" (see how often it is employed in Revelation 13 and 14). The first war of the world was over worship and so too will be the last one. Compare Genesis 4 with Revelation 16 (Armageddon). Scholars of Apocalyptic point out that apocalyptic literature is concerned with the issue of loyalty to the law of God. See that illustrated in Daniel 1,3,6, 7:25, etc.

In Revelation 13, the commandments of the first table are shown to be central in the closing conflict of the great controversy. All the world worships the beast (against commandment one of the decalogue), makes an image to the beast (against commandment two), blasphemes God's name (against commandment three), and pays homage to the creature—the beast instead of the Creator (against commandment four). Thus those who are loyal are described repeatedly as keepers of the commandments of God as well as the faith (gospel) of Jesus. Thus, the fourth commandment is quoted in the warning message of Revelation 14:7. Obedience to the known will of God, as revealed in Scripture, will constitute the evidence of loyalty to the gospel.

Sanctification everywhere in scripture is seen as the demonstration of justification, and sanctification is the process of ever increasing conformity to the image of Christ through faith and obedience. The real mark of the beast is the character of Satan and the real seal of God is the character of Christ (see Revelation 14:1) but each seal will have its own earthly sign. Repeatedly in Scripture, the Sabbath is declared to be that sign. See Exodus 31 and Ezekiel 2 for examples.

Revelation 12 and 13 present a false Trinity—the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. They will have a false law with a false mark or seal. (Observe that the reference to the mark in the hand and forehead is an allusion to three Old Testament texts about the law of God being in the hand and foreheads of God's children). This false Trinity will also have a false gospel and a false Pentecost (thus the fire coming down from heaven). Again, I refer readers to Crisis, volume 2, for more on this theme. The gospel is at the heart of the final controversy on earth but the evidence of committal to the gospel has always been found in obedience to the commandments of God. See the second half of most of the Pauline epistles and Matthew 12:50 and the closing words of the Sermon on the Mount. Christ still asks, "Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say?"

Church history is quite clear that Christians kept the seventh day Sabbath for centuries after the Cross. I have documented this in my book, The Forgotten Day, (now out of print, but which may be reprinted sometime in the future). If the Sabbath was kept by Patriarchs, Prophets, Kings, Apostles, Christ, and the early Church, why should not all who learn of its "delight" keep it now? As we enter into the rest of faith we are, so to speak, transported into the Most Holy Place of heaven. (Observe how the word "enter" is used in connection with the Sabbath in Hebrews 4 but later in connection with the Most Holy Place in Hebrews 9 and 10 repeatedly—see modern translations.)

The central words of the decalogue are, "The seventh day is the Sabbath". This is because that blessed institution reflects the lineaments of Christ and exemplifies His gracious work of salvation that brings us rest of conscience. Christ is our real Sabbath just as He is the true Bread and the true Baptism, and the true Bridegroom—but none of these glorious truths wipe out their symbols. Without spirit, the form is dead; without form, the spirit dies.

AToday: QUESTION #10 - Although the early church expected the soon return of Christ in the first century, they met with disappointment. Likewise, the early Adventists expected the Second Coming and were also disappointed. Why the delay? Why does God not put a stop to all this sin with its misery, pain, suffering, and death? What, if anything, can we do to expedite the eschaton?

Dr. Ford: Central to this question are the plain repeated statements of Scripture to the effect that the end cannot come until the gospel has gone to all the world. While Matthew 24:14 is the best known of these, there are many others (see Mark 13:10; Revelation 10:1,2; 14:6; 18:1, etc.). The great controversy, which began on earth with one family, in one place, will not end until there has been a global demonstration of the principles involved. These were all acted out at Calvary but are yet to be seen throughout the whole world as the controversy comes to its close and the body of Christ, the church, goes through similar turmoil as its Head.

Ezekiel 12:22 is very relevant. "The days are prolonged and every vision faileth." Before the first advent, many Jews had given up the hope of the soon coming of the Messiah for they had waited so long as a nation for the predicted event. Then, while most slept, He came. So, it will be again. The church will sleep, most will give up their hope, and then He will come (see Luke 18:8 and Matthew 25:5). l Corinthians 4:9 tells us that we are a spectacle to the universe (Greek original = cosmos), to angels, and to men. Before the return, all must acknowledge that just and true are the ways of the Lord God (see Revelation 15:3,5, etc). Then unto Him, every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess. The searing lesson of earth’s abysmal misery shall give a lesson to the myriads of sinless beings in the universe so that never again will any try the folly of disobedience to the Creator. Tediously long as earth's history seems to us, it is only a blip in the aeons of eternity.

Our part is to live and teach the gospel and thus hasten the return (see 2 Peter 3:12). Just as an arc can be described as convex or concave according to our angle of vision, so Scripture teaches both the absolute sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. From one angle, God has fixed the exact moment of the return of Christ. From another angle, He seeks the co-operation of His church to speed forward that event. In most ages, the church has lapsed into legalism and thus the good, glad, and merry tidings that make a person's heart to sing and their feet to dance has been eclipsed. Thus, the delay is due to the slowness of the spread of the saving message of grace, which is the world's supreme need.

AToday: QUESTION #11 - There seems to be a number of Adventists who have gravitated towards the Messianic Jewish movement. This Sabbatarian group accepts the Gospel and trusts in Christ as the Messiah. They focus on the Old Testament as well as the New Testament and practice many of the Old Testament feasts and festivals, including the Passover. They believe that the "time of the gentiles" is about over and that the Gospel will now go to the Jews. The rise of the Jewish State figures quite prominently in their eschatology. I know that Miller and traditional Adventism have always rejected this popular eschatology, but is there any truth and light to be found in this growing movement? Is it wrong for gentile or Jewish Christians to practice the Passover and to follow other Jewish traditions so long as they understand that Christ is their true Righteousness? Do the events in the Middle East figure into the last day events? Your thoughts on all this?

Dr. Ford: There are many wonderful folks in these groups and I am sure God is with them. No group, however, and no individual, is free from error. It is what theologians call the "noetic" effect of sin—sin affects the mind as well as the character. All the Jewish feasts have much to teach us but it is not possible to keep them according to the biblical mode because they all involved sacrifices and sacrifices were only permitted while the temple stood.

These groups have been greatly influenced by the fundamentalist dispensationalists of this country and the Scofield Bible. But dispensationalism is radically in error with regard to the future. The book of Revelation constantly quotes from the Old Testament prophecies about Israel but always applies them to the Christian church. Jesus told the Jews that the kingdom would be taken from them and given to a people bringing forth fruit, and in l Peter 2, we are told that this applies to the Christian church (see also the last words of Galatians 3 and Romans 2). The Christian church has been grafted into the stock of Israel (see Romans 11). The new covenant is also made with Israel—spiritual Israel. We must take seriously the warnings of Revelation 2:9 and 3:9. The true Israelite today is not one after the flesh, but one who is in Christ.

Every nation has a right to its own country so providence was in the move back to Palestine—though there are far more Jews in the U.S. than in the Holy Land. But the Middle East does not figure in New Testament prophecy as I have documented in my books, Crisis! volumes 1 and 2. Armageddon, for example, has nothing to do with the plain of Megiddo, except insofar as the events that happened there are typical of the last great conflict between good and evil soon to take place on a world-wide scale. The words of James in Acts 15 applying the prophecy of Amos should be closely studied. There he applies the Old Testament prophecy to gentiles who in joining Jesus have become the new Israel. This is consistent with the whole book of Revelation which itself opens with the symbolism of the sevenfold Jewish candelabra symbolizing the seven Christian churches of Asia. Also in Revelation, Jerusalem is the symbol for the Christian church.

AToday: QUESTION #12 - The Advent movement has always looked at the "time of trouble" as a literal period of great social turmoil with all sorts of chaos, persecution, and destruction that precedes the Second Coming. Today, in spite of the world’s growing prosperity and the strong trend towards democracy, can we still expect a real time of trouble? Will Sunday laws start the time of trouble as once believed? And what about Y2K, could that problem start the time of trouble? Also, do you think that the Bible describes or refers to nuclear holocaust in certain places such as Revelation 8,11 and 18:8, 17 and19 as well as Matthew 24:29? Could a limited nuclear war be the fulfillment of Thessalonians 5? Isn’t this planet wired for destruction in ways that the Adventist pioneers never contemplated?

Dr. Ford: There is to be a time of "great tribulation such as never was." This, the Bible teaches over and over (see the Second Advent sermon and the closing chapters of Revelation, especially Revelation 13 and Dan 12:1). I do not think it will be exactly as SDAs have pictured it, though I believe, in principle, that the traditional picture has value. It seems clear from the Bible picture, especially in 2 Thessalonians 2 and Revelation 13,16,17,19, that the fearful governments of earth in their last attempt to unify will call on religion, but its lowest common denominator. Those who will not conform will be threatened with death. It will be exceedingly dangerous to practice the outward signs of Christianity, the Lord's Supper, baptism, and the Sabbath.

Nobody on earth knows exactly how Y2K is going to work out. An on going series of troubles, major and minor, can be expected. How far-reaching these will be, no one knows. But coming events cast their shadows before, and the type of prospect Y2K suggests will one day overtake the globe though not necessarily beginning January l, 2000 AD.

The nuclear weapon is the only one invented by man that has not had wide and repeated use. It seems, humanly speaking, too much to ask that it will never be used by someone in the ever growing nuclear club of nations. Passages like Revelation 11:18 seem to hint at that possibility (see also Isaiah 24). 1 Thessalonians 5 draws on the history of the time of trouble that came to Babylon and tells us that there will be a global repeat of that disaster. When the nations are sure they have guaranteed peace and safety by their worldwide enforcement of a religion akin to New Age teachings (which already embrace about a tenth of the world's population), then disaster will fall. See especially Matthew 24:28 which says in effect that the world will become a rotting carcass of spiritual and moral filth on the eve of the great denouement.

AToday: QUESTION #13 - The Advent movement has traditionally viewed the new earth as a literal place where the saints of all ages will live after the 1,000-year millennium. How do you envision this sinless society? We know that there won’t be marriage, but what about money? Will we see Jesus and the Apostles on the evening news? Will we use electricity, drive cars, work in office buildings, and use computers? Will we eat and sleep like we do now? Will there be a Sabbath every seventh day? Please share your thoughts with us on this all too often neglected subject, which is the point of the Gospel according to Corinthians 15:19 and Hebrews 11.

Dr. Ford: I don’t know the answer to this question for I am not a prophet. I do know that the fact certain modern inventions appeal to me greatly is no evidence that they will be present in the age to come. God will change our tastes when He remakes us. I believe we will live the "Eden life" in garden and field which honestly does not altogether appeal to me now. But it will at that time.

A wise old lady wrote these words about a century ago and I think they are relevant: "Workers for God should not spend time speculating as to what conditions will prevail in the new earth." It is presumption to indulge in suppositions and theories regarding matters that the Lord has not revealed. He has made every provision for our happiness in the future life and we are not to speculate regarding his plans for us. Neither are we to measure the conditions of the future life by the conditions of this life (see Gospel Workers, p. 314).


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