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 day—since the completion of the canon—is
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 Bible—and
the Bible only—is 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.
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
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
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
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
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 #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.