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Adventist Today FORUM presents:

Reflections On Adventism - Part Three

an interview with

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

The Interview - Part 3

AToday: QUESTION #14 - In the last 20 years since Glacier view, the world has changed dramatically. For example, the Berlin Wall fell and the whole world was shocked as Communism collapsed without a shot being fired. Moreover, the world has embarked upon a globalization process that is unparalleled. Everywhere there are paradigm changes taking place in politics, business, communications, science, medicine, etc.

Many observers think that Adventism is also undergoing a paradigm change that you started by introducing the Gospel into the Third Angel’s Message followed by an adjustment to Daniel 8:14. How do you view this painful struggle for change within the Advent movement? What is YOUR vision of Twenty-First Century Adventism? Will the movement survive? Will it be less hierarchical and change into a more biblical, congregational model? Will the Sabbath and the Gospel survive together as a meaningful religious package and will the health message ever play an important role in the movement like it once did? What are your thoughts on the future of Adventism?

Dr. Ford: The editor of the Review, a few years back, wrote a little book on the problems within Adventism entitled, The Fragmenting of Adventism. In one chapter, he surmised regarding the future. I believe he is correct in many of those forecasts. For example, he said the General Conference would shrink to a mere advisory body, that its leader would be an Asian, that the prevailing barriers between the sexes and races would further break down, that Spanish would be the main language spoken in the Church, and that modes of administration would be greatly revolutionized. I commend that book.

It is possible that the denomination will split into a gospel body and a traditional body. But one thing is certain: Adventism, as it now is, cannot continue. We work and function and often think as a Nineteenth Century organization. We are top heavy administratively with as many administrators as pastors—which is crazy. Lay participation in decision making is next to nil and major decisions are made by Church leaders long before Church gatherings are called and the token vote is taken. Many administrators have had little training in theology and their other duties hinder their attention to the refinements in this, the greatest of all sciences, but one which is also the most demanding. We have often thought any man ordained is necessarily gifted in finance and business, which is a sheer delusion.

Yes, there must be tremendous change if Adventism is to survive. I believe the change will come and that Adventism will survive—but hardly in recognizable form. Congregationalism will spread around the globe. The Gospel will come to mean more and more to one part of Adventism and only this part will grow. The health message, which has been largely forgotten, must be revived and there will be a great demand for it. The world of the Twenty-First Century will have a fifty percent mortality rate from cancer. In the West, diabetes will be pandemic in the same major centers of civilization. The original call by Adventists to simple practices in harmony with natural law must go forth again to the blessing of millions.

AToday: QUESTION #15 - Dr. Ford, you have been exiled from the SDA church for almost twenty years. Since that time, the Church in North America has experienced one crisis after another ranging from gross mismanagement to theological confusion and corruption. Many of the brightest and best have left the Denomination in disgust, while those who remain are confused, disillusioned, and cynical. From this sad perspective, what advice do you have for the leadership, for those who have left the church and for those that remain?

Dr. Ford:  Luther said long ago that a church stands or falls according to whether it knows and practices the gospel. Adventists must learn that lesson or perish. Administrators must come to a better knowledge of both soteriology and ecclesiology. Too often they are idolaters, worshipping an external organization, forgetting that the true church is the church invisible made up of all those who know Christ as Savior and Lord. A movement is not the church. God raised up the Reformation, Methodism, Adventism, etc. but none of these are the church. Today, the biblical teaching regarding the church is practically unknown to most Adventists, even though Ellen White wrote long ago in Acts of the Apostles (p11?) that from the beginning of time, all faithful souls have constituted the church.

If the Church leaders are to stand guiltless before God, they must put the Gospel where God puts it—first. First in teaching and first in life. As for those who have left the Church, they are either worshipping nowhere or they have discovered that every human group has problems. I wish that they might consider afresh whatever biblical truths that first drew them to Adventism and then as a result work to change present-day Adventism into what it should be without its top heavy administration, its heavy handed pastoral leadership, and its comparative silence on the gospel.

For those that remain in the gospel, I would say to them also, think on these things and act accordingly. Remember you are by faith married to Christ not to any mere human organization. But remember also that God does work through earthly structures but only to the degree that they reflect His truth.

AToday:AToday: QUESTION #16 -  In the final analysis, the Church is comprised of individuals—real human beings—who have to struggle with a host of problems and challenges in a sinful, materialistic, fast-paced world. What practical advice do you have for those struggling with marriage and family issues, the stress of work, children, and finances? The demands of modern-day life can be quite overwhelming.

Dr. Ford: Regarding the daily struggle of all, Matthew 6:33 offers a great overruling principle of guidance. As Ellen White has said, "God has a thousand ways of providing for us of which we know nothing." "And those who accept this one principle of making the service and glory of God supreme will find difficulties vanish and a plain path before their feet."

I would particularly urge upon my brothers and sisters in Christ that the first commandment requires us to love God with all the mind—it is impossible to be a mature and fruitful Christian without a very disciplined life which includes regular time (and abundant time) for mental and physical exercise. Study is our duty and privilege but without regard to the muscles, the nerves soon lose their tone. None of us have perfect health for we are all the creatures of heredity and early environment as well as our own choices. But most of us could do a lot better than we are doing.

The Decalogue gives us guidance. It teaches that the universe is causal not casual, that we should put first things first (and God is first), and that people are more important than things (things come last in the final commandment—thou shall not covet anything). When all else fails, follow the directions.

But remember this most of all: when we truly believe that God loves us, and when we understand the Gospel gift is a perfect standing in Christ despite our sins and mistakes—which have no dominion over us—we can have joy and peace. Just to understand Romans 4:8 would give us wings to fly, a song to sing, and feet to dance. Just think about it, God does not even chronicle our faults!

AToday: QUESTION #17 -  What about Women’s Ordination? This topic has recently caused much debate and discussion within the Church. What is your opinion about this debate? Can a woman have spiritual gifts like a man and, if so, can she be ordained like a man?

Dr. Ford:  With regard to women's ordination, we should start with male ordination. The Bible knows no such thing as a separate clergy. This was the devil's invention so that most church members would feel off the hook of required service. Ordination in Scripture is for special assignments, such as missionary endeavors or for local church officers, not for a special caste of men ruling the church universal. Such is unknown to Scripture (see the excellent book on the topic by Dr. Olsen, former President of Loma Linda).

Of course, fifty percent of humanity cannot be excluded from Christian service be it teaching or preaching. Scripture says, "there is no longer male nor female." While the principles in Eden remain for marriage partners, in terms of Christian service, let no women with obvious spiritual gifts be hindered (see Romans 16 where a woman is included among the apostles, verse 7. The second named is a woman, not a man—agreed on by almost all modern scholars).

AToday: QUESTION #18 -  Since Glacier View, the Church has attempted to promote its 27 fundamentals as a representation of Biblical truth and duty for the Advent community (see: Today, I think it is fair to say that less than a majority of the Church’s membership would support all 27 of these supposed "fundamentals." However, it should also be noted that the Church officially recognizes that the "revision of these statements" may be in order when the "Church is led by the Holy Spirit to a fuller understanding of Bible truth." In fact, "revisions" may be allowed if "better language" is employed "to express the teachings of God's Holy Word." My question is this, what changes would you make to this list of "fundamentals" and why?

Dr. Ford: In Article 1 - The Holy Scriptures, I would insert the word "only" before the word infallible. The Bible is the only infallible guide for mortal man.

In Article 2 - The Trinity, I would echo what many orthodox theologians have said and put in the sentence: "As seen and known God is three; as seeing and knowing God is one; He is three persons in Himself, but one person to Himself." Because SDAs have traditionally given Christ a sinful human nature that needs to be corrected in such a way that the wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err therein. The article should say that Christ's human nature, as well as His divine, was immaculate, holy, undefiled, separate from sinners. "In Him was no sin", "He knew no sin."

For Article 6 – Creation, it should be said that Genesis 1 is an inspired interpretation of the mystical work of creation set forth in anthropocentric terms. It is not intended as a scientific statement as the Bible is concerned with showing us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go. The Genesis 1 statement is perfect for its purpose, but its purpose is not one purely designed only for post-Darwinian generations. It was inspired in such a way as to make sense for all generations most of whom could not even read and who learned chiefly by narrative forms. Had Genesis 1 been inspired in purely scientific terms, we would not yet understand it. It would probably be only an equation and useless for all practical purposes. The Bible does NOT teach that the world is only 6000 years old. That view is certainly wrong and does great harm to our young people who are pursuing a higher education.

Ellen White rightly said that the Bible was given for practical purposes and was not intended to satisfy all of human curiosity. The view expressed above in no wise robs the Sabbath of its place in the cosmos. Christ could take bread and use it as the symbol of His body. Similarly, He has taken the week and used it as a divine symbol of the divine creative work and its cessation and all this was done for our example.

Article 10 - The Experience of Salvation: Traditionally, Adventists have erroneously placed sanctification within the scope of the Pauline "righteousness by faith." It is now time for a clear change to be made to correct that error. We should follow the decision made at Palmdale Conference, which I attended in the 1970s and which was written up in the Review as concluding that righteousness by faith meant justification only, though sanctification was always its fruit. This will safeguard the precious doctrine of Christian assurance.

Article 11 - The Church, we should follow the example of Ellen White who said clearly in Acts of the Apostles that from the beginning of time, all faithful souls have constituted the church. The distinction should be made as Questions on Doctrines made, between a movement and the church. All who know Christ as Saviour and Lord are members of His church, regardless of whether they be Catholic or Protestant, dispensationalist, or nondispensationalist, charismatic or noncharismatic.

Article 12 - The Remnant and Its Mission: This should follow Questions on Doctrines which rightly pointed out that the remnant is yet to be developed and will consist of all faithful Christians in the last days. I heard F.D. Nichol say at the Seminary (in the 1950s at Potomac University) that "it was a puzzle to him that SDAs recognize the woman at the beginning of Revelation 12 as the church invisible but by the 17th verse they had made her remnant very visible indeed!"

Article 13 - Unity in the Body of Christ: This definition should point out that unity is not uniformity and that true unity is only possible where Christ's words about leadership are taken seriously: "he that would be first let him be servant of all."

Article 17 - The Gift of Prophecy: This needs rewording. The gift of prophecy has always been in the church and was not reserved just for the remnant yet to be developed. If I remember rightly, our early pioneers, including the Whites, interpreted Revelation 19:10 more broadly than we have in recent decades. I think the word, "authoritative," should be removed as it implies infallibility which Ellen White rejected.

For the 18th article, The Law of God, the second sentence should say: These commandments "as interpreted by Christ and his apostles" express God's love, etc.

In Article 19, The Sabbath, it should be clearly said that whereas legalistic observance of the Sabbath is an abomination to God, those who know it as a parable of the gospel will find it a delight. They will observe it not as a fetish but according to the principles taught by Christ in his Sabbath healings. This article must stress that mere rest on its own is valueless. Unless the Sabbath observer has ceased to depend on his own works and is trusting fully in the completed work of Christ, his or her Sabbath-keeping is not acceptable to heaven.

Article 20 - Stewardship: The New Testament has no law about tithing. However, the Apostles clearly taught the principles of good stewardship. See 2 Corinthians 9:6-11 and my discussion in, "Right With God Right Now," pp. 310-311. This article should state that the New Testament takes for granted that if Old Testament believers, with their limited privileges, could return one tenth of their increase, the New Testament saints should be giving much more as their privileges are greater. Again, legalistic observance should be warned against.

Article 21 - Christian Behavior: This should say that whereas since the cross, there is no recognition by heaven of ceremonial uncleanness and that therefore the Old Testament regulations regarding the mingling of different types of cloth, agricultural prohibitions regarding the yoking together of diverse animals, and the outlawing of certain foods are not to be enforced on the world wide church. Yet each set of laws has something to teach us still. Inasmuch as part of the reason concerning the prohibition of certain meats was for health reasons, Christians will freely follow the hint still, without enforcing it as law upon others. Similarly, where the environment permits, the nearer one gets to the diet of Eden, the more one can glorify God in health and service. The New Testament offers principles of behavior and we should not move beyond those principles in instructing others, except by way of pointing to ideals.

Article 22 - Marriage and the Family should say that though God hates divorce today as always, yet in some situations divorce may be the lesser of two evils. The overruling guide is always mercy and not sacrifice. Those who misuse this loving principle are known to the Searcher of hearts. SDAs have had church leaders with wives suffering from incurable insanity who have sacrificially chosen celibacy as a way of life for decades. In view of Paul's words in l Corinthians 7, it should be recognized that there are some situations that break a marriage as surely as adultery. Christ merely pointed out what was the characteristic sin of His time without trying to cover all moral bases. The article should stress that the Sabbath and Marriage are the two great pillars of society and whatever strengthens them, blesses the world, and whatever weakens them, curses the world.

Article 23, Christ's Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary was rejected decades ago by most Adventist scholars and should be rewarded in harmony with Hebrews 9:8,12,23,25; 10:19-20. The date 1844 should be omitted as quite unscriptural and yet a providential date in God's timetable for raising up the Advent movement. It should be stated that the pre-advent judgment is the matter of a moment as Christ closes his priestly ministry (see Revelation 22:11,12). The judgment of Daniel 7 and Revelation 14:7 is judgment upon the wicked, not the saints. Compare Revelation 18:10, which uses the same words as the earlier verse, in one hour is thy (Babylon's) judgment come.

AToday: QUESTION #19 - As one looks more closely at the "27 Fundamental Beliefs," it becomes painfully apparent that the Gospel did not make the list! There are specific statements regarding "The Law of God," "The Sabbath," "Creation," "The Gift of Prophecy," and so on, but there is not one statement whatsoever on the gospel! Moreover, rather than correctly explain the Gospel anywhere within these "fundamentals," there is only a confused and unbiblical attempt, as noted in your criticism of Article 10 entitled, "The Experience of Salvation." I will also note for the record, that the word "gospel" appears only four times out of the 4,000 words that comprise the entire 27 articles of faith (see numbers 11, 20, 22, 24). Are we to conclude from this glaring omission that SDAs are not very Gospel-oriented?

In addition, I note that it has been more than twenty years since the "Righteousness by Faith" debates and your attempt to promote the Protestant Gospel to the Adventist community. It is obvious that the leadership still can’t seem to comprehend or clearly promote this primary doctrine. Why do you think the Denomination is so hesitant to proclaim the true gospel? Is it just an attempt to protect the law and the Sabbath? Or is there some sinister "anti-gospel" plot that has been put into effect years ago? Whatever happened to the Palmdale resolution that was passed back in the Spring of 1976 that correctly defined the Gospel? How many more decades must pass before the SDA Church realizes that Gospel reform is the only answer for both a dying world and a dying Church? This is very troubling and confusing to many. Please help us understand this.

Dr. Ford: The pragmatic guiding star for many busy and threatened administrators is to keep the ship from rocking. The urgent continually crowds out the important. There are wonderful exceptions—men like Duncan Eva, Robert Frame and others. I think Jan Paulsen will be faithful to the primacy of the gospel. He is a very dedicated man and I do not think he will compromise.

No, there has been no sinister "anti-gospel" plot, though men like the Standish brothers have worked hard to silence the truth about Righteousness by Faith. I believe the administrators have done it honestly, out of ignorance, not out of viciousness or malevolence. (The Standish brothers are not primarily administrators, though they have an independent work including the school at Hartland, Virginia).

I begged Duncan Eva not to let anything happen to the Palmdale resolutions. He replied, "Over my dead body." But literally, it has happened. He is dead and the Palmdale biblical discoveries have been lost. The doctrine of original sin helps to explain many mysteries including ecclesiastical ones. Because of sin, every institution has been corrupted to some degree and the church of every age has found the gospel like quicksilver—hard to hold. To really understand the gospel means to distrust oneself and all things human and to depend on God alone. To be fully dependent on God means to be wholly independent of all else and everyone else. That's a hard hand to play unless one has been broken and learned to look only to Jesus.

It may be, that as the Church disintegrates more and more—which in the western world will happen as the generation of tithe payers born before World War II die out—that in desperation, both leaders and lay people will cry out to God and the One who hears the song of the sparrow may graciously attend to us with showers of blessing.

AToday:QUESTION #20 -  Although you have been exiled from the Denomination for almost twenty years now, it is apparent that you are still an Adventist at heart. For decades now, you have strongly supported and defended the historic fundamentals of the Advent movement such as the Gospel, the Second Coming, the Sabbath, Bible Sanctification, the Judgment, the State of the Dead, etc. In fact, few men today can defend the mission and articulate the message of Seventh-day Adventism as eloquently and passionately as you!

Moreover, I note that you have been—and still are—a member in good standing of the Seventh-day Adventist church ever since Glacier View. My question is this: under what conditions would you accept the return of your ministerial credentials so that you could preach and teach for the Denomination? Would the confusion about the Gospel and the Investigative Judgment have to be officially repudiated? Would the 27 fundamentals have to be revised as you have indicated? Or would the Church have to go even further and make a major re-organizational change to a more biblical, congregational model? Unfortunately, I do not mean to imply that there is any such reform in the works, but as Christians we do believe in miracles, don’t we?

Dr. Ford: Charles Watson, former G.C. Vice President, asked me the same question some years ago. "What does the leadership have to do?" My answer was, "Be honest." But, today, I would be more detailed.

I would want to say that I have little confidence in many of our administrators and committees. Repeatedly, since Glacier View, move after move has been calculated by expediency and the results have been catastrophic. Gladly, I acknowledge the presence of godly men among these same committees. But it does seem that their counsel rarely prevails. It is not that Adventist leaders are worse than other men—it is rather, that they are no better. The biblical doctrine of depravity gives cogency to Christ's warning "Beware of men."

So long as the Church fails to heed the warnings of the Spirit against all forms of hierarchicalism, the Denomination shuts away from itself the blessing God so longs to bestow. Christ made it clear that it should not be among his followers as it is with the pagans who enshrine kings to dominate the less powerful. We were instructed to follow his example: "I am among you as one that serves." We have never taken seriously the gospel admonition that he who would be first, must be servant of all.

An example from my own division is the tragic loss of over 180 ministers in the ten years after Glacier View. That exodus certainly cannot be wholly blamed upon the administration but there is sadly little evidence that the administration greatly cared for these men before or after their exodus. Thus hundreds of dedicated people suffered terribly and their greatest pain was just that—that nobody seemed to care. In many instances, sheer ignorance, prejudice and administrative brutality was responsible for the loss (see the documented Ph.D. thesis by Harris Ballis on this topic printed some months ago).

Secondly, the Church does not seem to know how to repent. Rarely does it acknowledge its doctrinal or administrative errors. So, how can there be forgiveness where there is no confession and restitution? Where are the plain statements acknowledging that the Church taught error on the nature of Christ for over one and a half centuries? That it misrepresented righteousness by faith for just as long, despite the advice of the Palmdale committee? That its own scholars repudiated the Investigative Judgment half a century ago in response to a questionnaire authorized by F.D. Nichol? That the action taken at Glacier View was based on a ten-point statement not authorized by those present and not acceptable to many including the writers? I listed over fifteen cherished errors of the Church in a public session at Glacier View. After all these years, these errors continue to be ignored rather than unveiled and addressed. My own "defrocking" was illegal, according to the chief denominational legal adviser in Australia, because I was not invited to be present as the law required. (The Church rejected the advice of its lawyer on this point and, therefore, I could have sued the Church successfully).

More recent pronouncements by the Church regarding Ellen White are made as though all the research of Walter Rea had been disproved when the opposite is the case. See, for example, Herbert Douglass' recent work, The Messenger of the Lord, which as Alden Thompson pointed out in his Spectrum review (Winter, 1999), ignores the scholarship of the church itself on this matter. I quote Thompson: "Messenger's handling of Rea strikingly illustrates the deliberate plan to ignore the critics." How right Thompson is, and woe unto us!

Decades ago, James Denney in his classic, The Death of Christ, wrote: "Nothing is more characteristic of churches than their attitude to assurance, and the place they give it in their preaching and in their systems of doctrine" (p. 288). While Ellen White could write, "It is insanity not to know that we are children of God," as a Denomination, we have been scared of this gracious gospel truth. Our teaching on the judgment and perfectionism has haunted scores of thousands of conscientious Adventists, while others equally conscientious have given up the fight and left the Church. This indeed is something to be repented of, but I see few signs of sorrow and confession by leadership.

What about the calamitous neglect of the youth in our Church? Unlike the Adventists, Southern Baptists in this country pay close attention to their youth ministry. We lose most of our young people in the West and usually the most talented. We have followed Nineteenth Century methods in this area as in almost all other areas of significance. Much of our behavior suggests that we belong to history and the ecclesiastical archives rather than the end of the 20th century. Where is the spirit of self-sacrifice so often characteristic of our pioneer days? When the laity hear of the salaries we give to some of the administrators in the health arm of the Church, they are rightly horrified.

We refuse to learn from other church bodies, as we should. While key denominations of Protestantism often give lay people at least fifty percent participation in denominational decision making, our laity’s contribution is barely a whisper and too often decisions have been agreed upon before it has ever been presented to a committee. The Lord says: "Shall I not visit for all this?" And visit He will!

My wife (Gill) and I are members of the PUC church but our primary membership is with the church invisible—the one bride of Christ made up of all those who know Christ as Saviour and Lord regardless of denominational affiliation. I would do anything I could to help the Seventh-day Adventist church move towards the gospel, but just as surely would I be glad to assist any other body of Christians striving to exalt Christ and His truth.

No, I would not accept denominational ministerial credentials unless determined efforts were afoot to correct such Church cancers as the above. And while I agree with you that as Christians we believe in miracles, it may be that I am not quite as optimistic as you are about the possibilities in this instance. May God grant—and I pray for it fervently—that I am wrong in this instance.

AToday:AToday: Dr. Ford, I want to thank you for taking time to answer our questions. We will post this interview in its entirety on the Adventist Today forum website. No doubt, the Adventist Today audience will have a number of follow-up questions. The best of these will be forwarded on to you for further comments. We will then post both the additional questions and your response to them on the Adventist Today website.

In addition, I would like to personally thank you for your many years of promoting and defending the gospel and Adventism. You have done this in the face of great opposition and challenge and you should be commended. May you, your family, and your Gospel ministry be richly blessed.


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