It’s been 36 years ago today since a group of church leaders and scholars met at Glacier View Ranch in Colorado to talk about the challenging ideas put forth by Australian theologian Desmond Ford. There are few attendees left who can and will talk about it, and I am grateful to have as a friend and AT contributor Richard W. Coffen. I’ve asked Richard to write his memories of Glacier View, and he has graciously consented.
—Loren Seibold, AT Executive Editor


by Richard W. Coffen

When: August 10 – 15, 1980.
Where: Glacier View Camp, Ward, Colorado.
Who: 129 invitees.
What: Sanctuary Review Committee.
Why: Desmond Ford had pushed some Seventh-day Adventist hot buttons.
White papers: Ford’s 991-page magnum opus titled Daniel 8:14, the Day of Atonement, and the Investigative Judgment; additionally, approximately equal number of pages of various position papers and other documentation.

Raymond Cottrell (long-time pastor, missionary, biblical scholar, educator, and editor (Footnote 1)later penned: “The meeting of the Glacier View Sanctuary Review Committee Aug. 10-15, 1980, was the most important event of this nature in Adventist history since the 1888 General Conference in Minneapolis.” (Footnote 2)

Many comments—pro and con—quickly followed the dissolution of the so-called committee. Many can be acquired via Google. My retrospective here consists of my own subjective experience(s)—accounts of a meeting I sometimes speculated might degenerate into a figurative auto de fé of Ford. Understand, I’ve always regarded Des not only as a client (I served as head book editor and responsible for publishing his Anvil Series book Daniel (Foonote 3)) but also as a friend (he and his delightful wife, Gillian, provided me with a delicious meal in their home).

Ford’s Assertions

As a biblical scholar (Ford received his doctorate under the auspices of renowned F. F. Bruce) and, as an Australian (Aussies have a reputation Des Fordfor outspokenness), Ford had publicly called into question certain cherished Adventist positions.

Des Ford postulated that:

(1) the Danielic “little horn” symbolized Antioches IV Epiphanes (215 B.C. – 164 BC), demolisher of the Judaic cultus;
(2) Daniel 8:14 does not reference the Levitical Yom Kippur;
(3) the Hebrew term (tsâdaq) (Footnote 4) translated “cleansed” in the King James’ rendition of Daniel 8:14 differs from the word used of the effect of Yom Kippur in Leviticus 16:19 and 30 (ṭāhēr);
(4) the purported day-for-a-year principle devolves from misunderstanding proof texts;
(5) the terminology translated “days” in the KJV isn’t the usual Hebrew term (yōm) but two words—(a) “evenings” (‘ēreb) and (b) “mornings” (bôqer). This, as Daniel 8:13 clarifies, is the “daily” (tâmîyd) ritual service. (Footnote 5)
(6) investigative judgment (non-biblical terminology) as generally presented undermines (a) objectively the gospel of grace and (b) subjectively personal assurance of salvation;
(7) Hebrews 9 teaches that High Priest Jesus entered the divine presence (antitypical Most Holy Place) immediately upon the Ascension, not waiting until 1844;
(8) apocalyptic literature should be interpreted by using the “apotelesmatic principle,” which understands predictions as having multiple (even partial) fulfillments;
(9) the Greek word (dikaióō) behind “justify” and “justification” was legal jargon for the verdict: “Not guilty”;
(10) Ellen White’s writings aren’t inspired commentaries but homiletical instruction for upbuilding the Adventist Church.

The General Conference President’s Solution

General Conference president, Neal C. Wilson, magnanimously provided Ford with a costly six-month paid leave to write a defense of his ostensibly heterodox opinions. An ad hoc committee chaired by Richard Hammill was to support (but not dictate to) Ford in Neil Wilsonhis crafting of the document. The resultant weighty tome (five pounds!) would be critiqued by yet another and much larger ad hoc group, the Sanctuary Review Committee, which Wilson organized to provide a venue for dealing with Ford’s nonconforming beliefs.

Thus I found myself at Glacier View Camp, along with 114 other attendees. I shared sleeping quarters with Kenneth Holland, my colleague and longstanding editor of These Times, and E. S. Reile, conference president and Holland’s friend.

The officially prescribed timetable followed an unvarying pattern: (1) 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m.—communal breakfast; (2) 8:30 a.m. to noon—“study groups” (official terminology; a real misnomer in my opinion) consisting of 18 or so individuals to discuss topics related to Ford’s propositions; (3) noon to 1:00 p.m.—common lunch; (4) 1:00 p.m. to 2:15 p.m.—free time; (5) 2:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.—plenary session to deliberate on the day’s topic(s); (6) 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.—supper; (7) 7:45 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.—plenary session during which specialists read papers on topics related to Ford’s claims; and (8) 9:30 p.m.—bedtime.

I should mention a ninth but unofficial happening. Every day between 1:00 p.m. to 2:15 p.m., while many attendees lumbered off to their quarters in order to recharge their intellectual and emotional batteries by napping, a relatively small group of us convened in one of the rooms. I dubbed the group “FOF”—Friends of Ford, not necessarily, though, because we agreed in toto with all his assertions. Each of us would report on the sentiments expressed during our individual morning study groups, following which we’d discuss what, if anything, we might say during the afternoon plenary session that would prove constructive. We’d end our discussions with prayer.

On one occasion, Ford was invited to join us. It was a congenial occasion. Some of the FOF wondered if he might suspend voicing some of his views, even though he regarded them as well-founded. After his leave-taking, some opined that it seemed like Ford might have imagined himself similar to Luther at the Imperial Diet of Worms. “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason . . . my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant.”

My Study Subgroup

W. Wernick chaired the study group to which I’d been assigned, but his arrival had been delayed for a day. So C. D. Henri presided over our first session. Members assigned to this group were: F. W. Wernik (G. C. vice president), C. D. Henri (retired G. C. vice president), T. H. Blincoe (Seminary dean), W. T. Clark (president Far Eastern Division), R. W. Coffen (RHPA head book editor), Atilio Duperthuis (Seminary student), Salim Japas (Antillian College professor), H. K. LaRondelle (Seminary professor), J. Melancon (Oakwood College professor), R. L. Odom (Daniel Committee member), Elbion Pereyra (associate secretary White Estate), Jack Provonsha (Loma Linda University professor), L. L. Reile (president Canadian Union Conference), W. R. L. Scragg (president Northern Europe-West Africa Division), J. G. Smoot (president Andrews University), A. H. Tolhurst (president North New South Wales Conference), Mervyn Warren (Oakwood College academic dean), and R. M. Zamora (Columbia Union College professor).

Henri’s opening words went something like this: “We all know why we’re here. To defend the ‘faith which was once delivered unto the saints’” (Jude 1:3). Each study group elected a secretary, who, during the afternoon plenary session, would give an oral report to the entire body. I don’t know what happened to their handwritten notes—destroyed, given to Wilson for the archives, or . . . ? Wilson did inform us that the tape recordings of the afternoon and evening sessions would be stored in the Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research, where they would be sealed away from prying eyes. Nonetheless, Cottrell took shorthand notes on 3 x 5 index cards of all the meetings he attended.

On Monday, August 11, the topic for discussion throughout the day was the nature of prophecy. On Tuesday, the subjects were (1) the cleansing of the sanctuary and (2) the investigative judgment. On Wednesday, the issues for discussion were the same as the previous day. Finally, on Thursday, August 14, the matter for consideration was the role of Ellen White’s writings in formation of doctrine and exegesis of Scripture. A list of subtopics guided each daily discussion.

Some Negative Reactions

From grumblings murmured by certain administrators, it became evident to me that the whole event was essentially an exercise in futility. Neither Ford himself nor his theses would receive what I’d reckon an impartial hearing. Some wondered aloud why Wilson had convened such an expensive meeting, which cost each employing organization $600 per attendee, with the remaining expense underwritten by the General Conference. “Why waste hundreds of thousands of dollars of the Lord’s money?” Others grumbled that the whole scenario wasted everyone’s time. After all, the outcome was a predetermined conclusion. “We know what we believe!”

According to Wilson’s original strategy, Ford would remain a silent participant because everyone had received (and presumably read—ha!) his lengthy documentation and the other documents mailed to each participant. Other historians and theologians needed to be heard. However, at the request of various vocal participants, Ford was ultimately given time during an afternoon to elucidate some of his views.

Throughout the afternoon plenary sessions, I observed the body language of attendees. At one point, Ford was explaining a position, which I assumed most biblical scholars would assent to. However, two pews ahead of me I noticed a small commotion. Tolhurst was vigorously flailing his head around, balling his fists, and pounding on the top railing of the pew. It seemed to me that his behavior captured that of other attendees who may not have been so demonstrative. I believe it’s fair to say that Ford didn’t bask in a warm atmosphere! I recognize that other attendees perceived a kinder atmosphere than I did. Maybe reality lay somewhere in between.

During the same assembly, Ford explained his construal of Hebrews 9 and 10. As he understood the Greek along with the literary context, upon Jesus’ ascension he immediately entered God’s throne room, the antitypical Most Holy Place. Ford had been exposed to this concept by Edward Heppenstall, SDA Seminary professor.

I’d later attended the same class, and Heppie (as we affectionately dubbed him) had issued an assignment—exegete portions of Hebrews 9. He wanted us to figure out when and where in the antitypical heavenly temple Jesus entered after he’d ascended. Some students tried to construe a difference based on the Greek (“holies” not “Most Holy [Place]”). These hapless students found themselves victims of Heppie’s customary rapid-fire grilling, which ultimately pinned them to the wall like a mounted butterfly. Somehow they’d disregarded Hebrews 9:24: “Christ is . . . entered . . . into . . . the presence of God.” This contextual elucidation by the author of Hebrews (also provided in Hebrews 10:12), Heppie hammered home, clearly refers to the antitypical Most Holy Place—God’s throne room.

Ford, having explained his understanding of Hebrews 9, turned to Heppenstall, who was sitting across the aisle from me. “Isn’t that correct, Dr. Heppenstall?” It shocked me when Heppie demurred. Ford also looked bewildered. Hadn’t he just presented what Heppie had taught? Absolutely, but Heppie refused to substantiate what he’d taught and what Ford had just explained. Although I never polled the academics in attendance, it seemed to me that Heppie’s silence was typical of the attitude of other scholars there. This despite the published after-remarks of some.

Provonsha’s Valiant Attempt

ProvonshaDuring one of our FOF informal sessions, Provonsha reported, “I’ve exciting news!” We all instantly perked up. “I’ve visited individually with Des, Wilson, and Parmenter. All agreed that they would lay down their cudgels and, if need be, agree to disagree, in order to restore harmony and good will.” Provonsha had set about to do the impossible and had exacted the concurrence of the main parties involved. As usual, our group dispersed after prayer, but this time the petitioning seemed even more intense.


At the afternoon plenary session, Provonsha asked Wilson for the floor. As he strode to the front, I sent up a silent prayer, as I’m sure the rest of the FOF were doing. “Mr. Chairman, brothers and sisters [
two female participants had been invited], as a physician I’ve spent my career trying to heal. Sometimes healing has seemed impossible, yet other times what appeared to be impossible happened. And I give God the glory!” (Footnote 6)

By now, each attendee wondered what Provonsha intended. After more introductory words about the need for spiritual healing and the raison d’être for the Sanctuary Review Committee, Provonsha turned to Parmenter, asking if he was amenable to bringing about reconciliation. He balked! When Provonsha turned to Wilson, he too hesitated—if not downright reneged! Provonsha’s whole attempt unraveled, even though he’d earlier gotten positive commitments from all parties. No reason remained for him to ask Ford if he’d be willing to engage in this armistice. Disappointed, Provonsha trudged back to his seat.

My Reflections

Did Ford get a fair hearing? I’m not sure he did, although some of his protestations seemed to have stuck. One rarely hears about the investigative judgment anymore. Now the terminology is pre-advent judgment. Other minor changes appeared in the wording of the two consensus statements framed by a handpicked committee that met toward the end of the sessions.

It seems to me that those statements of consensus were essentially political. Because these were consensus statements, it doesn’t follow that every attendee agreed with the viewpoints buttressed therein. Rather, the statements indicated the possibility that, given certain presuppositions, the positions enumerated therein could be rationalized. Agreeing to these statements of consensus didn’t mean agreeing with them. Fact is, the meetings at Glacier View did not satisfactorily resolve the issues addressed by Ford. Much remained to be considered. Perhaps those statements of consensus should have been called statements of concession.

Aftermath

On January 30, 1983, the South Pacific Division revoked Ford’s ordination. For several years following Glacier View, various administrators called for Ford’s church membership to be rescinded. Doing so is the prerogative of the local church, and the Pacific Union College Church refused to comply. Ultimately, Ford’s membership ceased.

Despite the bitterness at Glacier View and afterward, Ford himself has maintained graciousness. In a personal letter to me, dated February 8, 1983, and typed by himself, he wrote: “Our discussions with the brethren were friendly. They were courteous. . . . Brother Wilson phoned me last week to say the discussions were finished and that he ws [sic] giving Australia the okay to annul my ordination. I am sympathetic towards the brethren—they are in a hard place.”


Footnotes:

(1) Cottrell was one of the founders of of Adventist Today.
(2) Spectrum, Vol. 11, No. 2  

(3) Don Short, associate book editor, line edited the book.
(4) Transliterations are from Spiro Zodhiates and Warren Baker, general editors, The Complete Word Study, Old Testament and The Complete Word Study Dictionary, New Testament.
(5) Compare Ex. 29:38, 42; Num. 28:3, 6; 29:38) two burnt offerings—one sacrificed each morning and the other, each evening. Other aspects of the sanctuary service also were described by the same adverb: showbread (Ex. 25:30); smoldering incense (Ex. 30:8); flames on lampstand (Lev. 24:3, 4); and fire on the altar of burnt offerings (Lev. 6:13).

(6) My reconstruction.


Richard Coffen

Having served as pastor, book editor, and vice president at now defunct Review and Herald Publishing Association, now-retired Richard Coffen writes from his home in southwest Arizona.