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 Articles: Raymond Cottrell on Dr. Ford
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Exegesis of Daniel

by Raymond Cottrell

The Rubric of Consensus

At the beginning of the week the conferees were asked to "work toward a consensus, but not a majority vote." The thirteen-page Consensus Statement, "Christ in the Heavenly Sanctuary," and a two-page statement on "The Role of E. G. White's Writings in Doctrinal Matters," edited and voted by the conferees at the close of the week, reaffirmed the traditional interpretation but cautiously acknowledged five of Ford's key points and suggested the need for further study in two crucial area,17 thus reflecting substantial scholarly support for him:

1. "In Daniel 8:14 it is evident that the word [nisdag, "cleansed" (KJV), or more accurately "restored to its rightful state" (RSV)] denotes the reversal of the evil caused by the power symbolized by the 'little horn,' and hence should probably be translated 'restored'"--rather than "cleansed." "The 'little horn,' however, is on earth, whereas we understand the sanctuary to be in heaven." This is "the chief contextual problem connected with the prophecy of the 2,300 days."

2. The year-day relationship "is not explicitly identified" in the Bible "as a principle of prophetic interpretation."

3. The New Testament reflects a "strong and widespread sense of the imminent Second Advent" (and thus belief on the part of the inspired writers that the prophecies of Daniel would be fulfilled in their generation).

4. Hebrews 9 is not concerned with 1844 as the commencement of the eschatological Day of Atonement.

5. The writings of Ellen G. White were not all "designed to provide a strict exposition of the Bible text. . . . At times she employs Scripture homiletically, at other times she looses passages from their Biblical context for special applications; again Biblical language may simply be used for literary style. E. G. White's total context and situation in life, with attention to time and place, must always be taken into consideration."

6. "The precise meaning of the Old Testament prophecies is a matter that calls for ongoing study" --a reference to their applicability to ancient Israel.18

7. There is need for an "ongoing study of our historic interpretation of Daniel 8:14"--an admission that the contextual problems to which Ford was calling attention had not been resolved.

Inclusion of these cautious acknowledgements of Ford's main points along with reaffirmation of the traditional interpretation was necessary in order that Bible scholars as well as administrators could conscientiously vote for it; otherwise, from a fourth to a third of the conferees (as the closing poll revealed) could not conscientiously have done so.

Affirming contradictory concepts out of both sides of its literary mouth, the Consensus Statement made it internally inconsistent. While reaffirming the traditional interpretation it tacitly and tactfully conceded the key points in Ford's position and reflected the point of view of the significant minority which the poll showed dissenting from the traditional interpretation. At first the administrators emphasized the importance of the Consensus Statement as reflecting a general consensus in favor of the traditional interpretation, but when they realized that the document also recognized the validity of Ford's key points they made less reference to it.

At the final session a "ten-point statement" dogmatically restating the traditional interpretation, hastily prepared overnight, was read. The conferees were forbidden to discuss or to vote on it, nor were copies placed in their hands. They were left to surmise that those in charge wanted it on the record, as if it were part of the proceedings of the conference, but realized that it would elicit sharp debate and a strong negative vote that would invalidate any semblance of consensus. They may also have realized, by that time, that the official Consensus Statement, which was duly processed and voted, tacitly acknowledged Ford's main points and so did not really accomplish their objective in summoning the conference.

When the nine administrators who met with Ford Friday afternoon cited the Consensus Statement as presumed evidence that his fellow scholars had turned against him, he replied that he could accept it and offered to sign it if requested to do so. Also Friday afternoon the ten-point statement--in no sense a bona fide conference document--was presented to him as evidence that the Bible scholars, almost en masse, disagreed with him!--a claim the poll results and the Consensus Statement both clearly refuted.19

In effect the Consensus Statement exonerated Ford while the ten-point statement condemned him, the two thus being mutually contradictory. The goal of those in charge of the conference appeared to be not so much to ascertain the biblical facts as to prove Ford in error, and, if possible, to involve his fellow scholars with them in a verdict they had decided upon prior to the conference.

The opinion poll conducted at the beginning of the conference and again at the close provided further evidence that from one-fourth to one-third of the conferees did not subscribe to the administrative consensus, and that the administrators were not listening to the scholars. Averaging the responses to the two polls:

23 percent agreed with Ford on sixteen points of interpretation including the statement that "the time prophecies of the Old Testament were all intended to be fulfilled in Israel's experience by approximately the time of the first century church."
30 percent rejected the alternative option that they "were intended, in certain instances, to reach nearly 1900 years into the Christian Era."
32 percent responded with Ford that "the time prophecies of Daniel are conditional."
In the closing poll, on the basis of Hebrews 9, 28 percent still opted with Ford that Christ began His second apartment ministry in the heavenly sanctuary at His ascension rather than in 1844. 35 percent agreed that each of the prophecies of Daniel has more than one fulfillment, and were thus in basic agreement with Ford's apotelesmatic solution to the problem.
34 percent dissented from Article 23 of the Dallas Statement of Fundamental Beliefs.

It is significant that on these key points at issue so many members of the Sanctuary Review Committee dissented from Article 23 and tended to agree with Ford. The consistency of dissent on items that were clearly worded with those said not to be clear invalidates the ambiguity argument by which administration rationalized the dissent, and explains why those in charge made no further use of the poll results. For instance, no one could say that poll item 15 was ambiguous: it quoted Article 23 on the sanctuary in full and provided five optional responses: "With the above statement I a. agree strongly. b. agree somewhat c. not sure d. disagree somewhat e. disagree strongly." In the two polls an average of 34 percent indicated varying degrees of dissent from it. Items that might be considered ambiguously worded elicited approximately the same percentage of dissent as items that all would agree were clearly worded.

The fact that the poll was conducted at the beginning and again at the close of the conference is evidence of the importance administration originally attached to it. On ten key items the second poll at the close reflected an average of 11 percent of the conferees shifting to a more conservative position. If the polls, particularly the one at the close, had reflected substantial consensus on the response administration wanted they would certainly have cited it as evidence of unanimity. But the substantial dissent obviously invalidated any such claim. Failure to publish the results of the two polls concealed the fact that a fourth to a third of the conferees dissented from the official verdict of the conference. A majority, yes, but not the consensus administion wanted.20 Should the quarter to a third of the conferees who more or less agreed with Ford not have been disciplined as he was? Or did the promised immunity apply to them but not to him? The fact that the official tape recording of the conference has never been released confirms the facts here set forth.21 This, together with the grossly biased and inaccurate report of Glacier View in Ministry magazine left the church with an intentionally misleading concept of what took place there.

All week long the scholars present had endeavored, tactfully but unsuccessfully, to communicate their considered judgment, point by point, but the administrators were evidently not listening--a curious fact in view of their invitation to the scholars to be "partners" with them "in reaching decisions on doctrinal matters."

For instance, the first assigned discussion topic Monday morning was, "Could all of the Old Testament prophecies have been fulfilled within the time of the covenant with Israel, i.e., by the time of the first advent of Christ?" Twelve of the sixteen speeches on the subject in Study Group 2 that morning favored a Yes response to the question, but at the close of the discussion the chairperson--a vice president of the GC--summarized the morning's discussion: "Our consensus in response to this question, then, is No." Evidently he had not heard, or perhaps did not understand, what was being said. Following one of the Yes speeches (with which all the scholars agreed) the other vice president / chairperson replied, "We could never accept that."

In the plenary session that afternoon eleven of fifteen speeches by scholars similarly favored a Yes response, but again administration took the consensus to be negative. They evidently heard what they wanted to hear and were deaf to what they did not believe to be true and did not want to hear. In both instances--morning and afternoon--the scholars saw the handwriting on the wall and thought best not to press the matter further.

Two hours or so after the Sanctuary Review Committee had adjourned sine die a little before one o'clock, Neal Wilson and eight other administrators confronted Ford with an ultimatum to either renounce his views or forfeit his ministerial credentials. He must submit to the Dallas Statement of Fundamentlal Beliefs, including Article 23 (from which 34 percent of the conferees had already indicated more or less dissent), and go on record in the Adventist Review acknowledging that he had been in error but had changed his mind and would henceforth teach the traditional view of the church. Confronted with this choice, he elected to be faithful to his conscientious convictions and to the Bible as he understood it.

Ford had charged that the traditional teaching of the church with respect to the sanctuary doctrine is in error and appealed to the Bible as evidence. The church counter-charged that Ford's understanding of the same passages of Scripture is in error and appealed to Article 23 of the Dallas Statement as evidence. At Glacier View the church prescinded from an examination of Ford's reasons for rejecting the traditional interpretation or the evidence he submitted in favor of his views, and devoted its attention exclusively to what were considered reasons affirming the traditional view. But reaffirmation of the traditional interpretation did not answer Ford's objections to it or prove him in error.

Ford nevertheless graciously accepted the verdict, expressed appreciation for their patience, and a few weeks later surrendered his credentials. Fifteen years after Glacier View he still considers himself a faithful Adventist, and remains a member of the Pacific Union College Church. Unlike Canright and Ballenger, he has not indulged in criticism of the church or those who defrocked him, nor has he attempted to press the matter further. Under the name "Good News Unlimited" he continues to proclaim the gospel of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ.

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