February 8, 2016: Sabbath (February 6) hundreds of Adventists gathered near Avondale College (Australia) where an independent group hosted two presentations by Dr. Desmond Ford, the Bible scholar fired by the denomination in 1980 because of his critique of the doctrine of the investigative judgment. In the fall of 1979 he was a visiting professor at Pacific Union College in California and made a presentation to the local chapter of the Association of Adventist Forums. It created such an uproar that he was relocated to the denomination’s headquarters in Takoma Park, Maryland, and spent a number of months writing a detailed, lengthy paper on the subject. That paper was the focus of a gathering of the denomination’s theologians and administrators at the Glacier View retreat center in Colorado the following year.
After being fired by the denomination, Ford had a successful career as a radio evangelist, speaker and writer, based in California. He remained a member of the denomination until recently, and produced a book defending the Sabbath. He is now 87 and retired in Australia. The conflict led to hundreds of Adventist clergy leaving the denomination and scores of independent congregations being formed. A number of ministers were falsely accused of being “Fordite” by self-appointed spokesmen for traditional views on the topic.
On Sabbath, Ford spoke in the morning and again in the afternoon. The morning presentation reviewed the debate about ordination which has flared in among Adventists since the 1970s and came to a head last summer at the General Conference (GC) Session in San Antonio, Texas. The afternoon presentation revisited his critique of the investigative judgment from 1979-80.
The event was hosted by an independent Adventist congregation called NOW which values “inclusiveness, gender equality, creativity, a calm environment, meaningful congregational singing, stimulating spoken word, good food and conversation.” The gathering convened in Morisset, New South Wales, at the Uniting Church in the Trees.
Controversy about the Investigative Judgment
The Adventist movement began in the 1830s with the leadership of a Baptist lay evangelist named William Miller. He, with the support of other clergy at the time, predicted the Jesus would return to Earth in the early 1840s, eventually settling on the date October 22, 1844. At its height, it is estimated by historians that about one in ten Americans believed in the prediction and when Christ did not appear, the date became “the Great Disappointment.”
A number of young adults in the movement were so affected by the experience of community and spiritual vitality in the movement that they were unwilling to go back to business as usual and began to search for why the Second Coming did not occur. A number of Bible study conferences in the 1850s led to the emergence of the three leaders who cofounded the Seventh-day Adventist denomination in the early 1860s; James and Ellen White and Joseph Bates.
The early Adventists came to believe that Miller misunderstood what event prophecy pointed to on October 22, 1844. They saw the event as happening in heaven and not on Earth. Since that time the denomination has refused to predict the time of Christ’s return although it is often referred to as “near.” The current statement of this doctrine is found in paragraph 24 of the denomination’s Statement of Fundamental Beliefs, as follows.
“Christ’s Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary: There is a sanctuary in heaven, the true tabernacle which the Lord set up and not man. In it Christ ministers on our behalf, making available to believers the benefits of His atoning sacrifice offered once for all on the cross. He was inaugurated as our great High Priest and began His intercessory ministry at the time of His ascension. In 1844, at the end of the prophetic period of 2300 days, He entered the second and last phase of His atoning ministry. It is a work of investigative judgment which is part of the ultimate disposition of all sin, typified by the cleansing of the ancient Hebrew sanctuary on the Day of Atonement. In that typical service the sanctuary was cleansed with the blood of animal sacrifices, but the heavenly things are purified with the perfect sacrifice of the blood of Jesus. The investigative judgment reveals to heavenly intelligences who among the dead are asleep in Christ and therefore, in Him, are deemed worthy to have part in the first resurrection. It also makes manifest who among the living are abiding in Christ, keeping the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, and in Him, therefore, are ready for translation into His everlasting kingdom. This judgment vindicates the justice of God in saving those who believe in Jesus. It declares that those who have remained loyal to God shall receive the kingdom. The completion of this ministry of Christ will mark the close of human probation before the Second Advent. (Heb. 8:1-5; 4:14-16; 9:11-28; 10:19-22; 1:3; 2:16, 17; Dan. 7:9-27; 8:13, 14; 9:24-27; Num. 14:34; Eze. 4:6; Lev. 16; Rev. 14:6, 7; 20:12; 14:12; 22:12.)”
A key element in this doctrine, Ford stated, is the year-day theory used by Miller to interpret prophecy, as it has by many others. One scholar has identified fifteen applications of the theory by Miller. Ford noted that every date in Miller’s famous prophetic charts was wrong. It has become widely seen among Bible scholars today as an out-of-date method of interpretation. Ford stated that the Consensus Statement issued by the denomination’s scholars and administrators at the Glacier View Council admitted there was no strong biblical evidence for the year-day concept.
Ford pointed out that the denomination’s position rests on a poor translation of the key text (Daniel 8:14) from the King James Version. He said the Hebrew word for 24-hour periods (yamim) is not in the original text. The better translated is “2,300 evenings and morning,” as it is rendered in the New International Version. It refers to the evening and morning sacrifices in the Old Testament temple, Ford stated, a literal 1,150 days. Furthermore, he said, it is wrong to make a parallel between the word “cleanse” (tahar) in the Day of Atonement ritual of Leviticus 16 and the word translated as “cleansed” (tsadaq) in Daniel 8:14. Tsadaq is better translated as “justified,” as noted in the margin of the Revised Version, or “reconsecrated,” as it is in the New International Version. Miller and the early Adventist leaders were not trained in biblical languages and skeptical of the Bible scholars of the time.
Ford has long been an evangelist for the good news of the grace of God in Jesus Christ and believes that the traditional teaching of the investigative judgment downgraded the finished atonement at the cross. (John 12:31; 16:8-11; Hebrews 9:12, 26-28; 10:10, 12-14) His concern is that it leaves people in doubt about the assurance of personal salvation.
In recent years most Adventist scholars have begun to refer to the “preadvent judgment” instead of using the word “investigative.” The denomination’s Biblical Research Institute has published nearly 2,500 pages of scholarly papers that were commissioned after the Glacier View event in 1980. A total of seven volumes in the Daniel and Revelation Committee series include the following: Selected Studies on Prophetic Interpretation, Revised Edition, a careful examination of judgment in the Old Testament, the year-day concept and October 22, 1844, as the antitypical Day of Atonement by Dr. William H. Shea; Symposium on Daniel more than 500 pages of papers on the reliability and interpretation of the Book of Daniel, including key papers on Daniel 8 and its significance for the sanctuary doctrine, edited by Dr. Frank B. Holbrook, as were the other volumes in this series; The 70 Weeks, Leviticus, and the Nature of Prophecy, 12 papers dealing with the prophecy in Daniel 9, the Old Testament sanctuary service in Leviticus and the conditionality and fulfillment of prophecy; Issues in the Book of Hebrews, an examination of major issues such as the nature of typology, the defilement and cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary; The Doctrine of the Sanctuary which traces the historical development of the doctrine among Adventist pioneers and addresses challenges to it raised in both the 19th and 20th centuries; and Symposium on Revelation, the last two volumes, which cover the way the Apocalypse is structured and how it should be interpreted, how it relates to Old Testament prophecies, the final events and questions such as the remnant, the mark of the beast, the seven last plagues, the millennium, and the interpretation of Armageddon. Ford recently published a book entitled Seventh-day Adventism: The Investigative Judgment and the Everlasting Gospel which is described as “a retrospective” The book can be downloaded free of charge in PDF at www.desford.org.au.
The Ordination Issue
Ford’s presentation on the topic of ordination followed much the same outline as the majority report of the official study committee on the topic over a year ago. He began in Genesis where it required both a man and a woman to represent the image of God, and Eve was created Adam’s equal. A number of women were pointed out in the Old Testament who played key spiritual leadership roles.
Jesus demonstrated no gender discrimination, Ford said. Christ had no problem with women ministering to Him. (Mark 15:41) There were spiritual leaders of the New Testament church such as Priscilla, Phoebe and Junia.
The difference between the Old Testament priesthood and the Christian order, Ford pointed out, is the priesthood of all believers. He said that this important concept has not been shared effectively by Adventist missionaries in many parts of the world. It is not well understood by most Adventists.
Ford stated that Paul’s admonition that women should not speak in church must be understood in the context of a particular problem in the group in Corinth where some babbling women disrupted the gathering. Paul’s advice that they keep silent would be the same for disruptive men. (1 Corinthians 14)
The major contribution that Ford has made to the Adventist movement is his clear and energetic proclamation of the saving grace that is found in Jesus. “He helped to awaken Adventists again in the second half of the 20th century to the fundamental message of the gospel,” an person who attended the meeting told Adventist Today. “For that, large numbers of Adventists will always thank him.”