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 Articles: Raymond Cottrell on Dr. Ford
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Exegesis of Daniel

by Raymond Cottrell

The General Conference Assumes Jurisdiction

From time to time Southern California experiences a dessicating sirocco known locally as a Santa Ana, which may blow down from the desert continuously for several days at a time. With the landscape a tinder box in late summer this wind may translate an innocuous spark into a catastrophic firestorm. In a similar way the decade of obscurantism (1969-1979)6 conditioned the Adventist theological landscape for the fateful spark Desmond Ford ignited at Pacific Union College on October 27, 1979.

Two of the first principles in coping with war, an epidemic, or fire are to contain it within as limited an area as possible and to select the most effective procedure for coping with it. The doctrinal conflagration Ford's investigative judgment address ignited could have been extinguished readily and effectively by confining it to the campus of Pacific Union College and by identifying his error as pastoral indiscretion (discussing a moot subject before an audience not prepared to understand and evaluate the evidence) rather than as heresy. Many Adventist Bible scholars had already come to substantially the same conclusion as Ford, with respect to the exegetical problems inherent in the traditional interpretation of Daniel 8:14, the sanctuary, and the investigative judgment. If Ford's understanding of the subject made him a heretic, most of the theological "brethren of experience" in such matters are, ipso facto, more or less heretical also.7

GC acceptance of jurisdiction over the Ford affair, and its decision to summon church leaders from around the world to sit as a jury escalated it into a major issue for the world church. The decision to charge him with heresy rather than pastoral indiscretion made evident that church administrators were not well informed with respect to either the exegetical facts at issue or the consensus of their "brethren of experience" in such matters--the Bible scholars of the church.

Like the Santa Ana wind, these two decisions quite unnecessarily transmuted the Ford affair into a traumatic, confidence-shattering experience for many ministers, members, and congregations, especially in North America and Australia, leading them to interpret the GC procedure in dealing with him as an ill-advised exercize of administrative authority. Following the GC example, many lesser administrators and local church officials resorted to similar tactics in dealing with ministers and members, and for several years the theological firestorm spread more or less out of control. Its effects are still with us more than fifteen years later.

GC escalation of the Ford affair from a local problem into an issue for the church worldwide publicized the exegetical problems to which Ford was calling attention far beyond what would otherwise have been the case, had the matter been confined to the campus of Pacific Union College, and created a tsunami of sympathy for him. Prior to Desmond Ford relative few people were more than vaguely aware of the exegetical problems related to Daniel 8:14. It would have been far better had those competent to deal with the technical problems of exegesis--the "brethren of experience" in such matters, the Bible scholars--been permitted to work their way through to a consensus before the GC involved so may who were not prepared to deal with them intelligently and objectively. In so doing it repeated on a world scale the very indiscretion Ford committed on the campus of Pacific Union College.

When asked to deal with the Ford affair the GC would have served its own best interests and those of the church by following the counsel of Ahithophel the Gibeonits instead of that of Hushai the Archite. Upon the occasion of Absalom's revolt against his father David, Ahithophel sagely counselled immediate, limited, decisive action that would have involved David alone. As a ploy to protect David and the stability of Israel, Hushai counselled deferred action involving the entire nation. "My counsel," he said, "is that all Israel be gathered to you [Absalom], from Dan to Beersheba, as the sand of the sea for multitude, and that you go to battle in person." Hushai's counsel appealed to Absalom's vanity because it would cast him as the new head of state in the role of a dynamic leader. This led Absalom to follow Hushai's counsel--with fatal results for Absalom instead of David.

And so it came to pass that all Israel gathered together at Glacier View in August 1980 to slaughter Desmond Ford.

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