by Kevin Ferris | 22 September 2020 |
My words seemed innocent enough. But the effect was akin to the sound of the roof above in slow collapse!
I was delivering a lesson on the subject of the heavenly sanctuary, presenting it in the context of Israel’s long-time obsession with the bronze serpent. Just a look at the crafted serpent fixed on a high pole brought dramatic healing. The Israelites never forgot that. They kept that artifact in their midst for 800 years. They dragged it here and there, protected it and polished it. Finally they made an idol out of it and turned it into an object of worship. Something that had been blessed by God had now assumed a role outside of its purpose. Then in 2 Kings 18:4 we read that Hezekiah
removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it.
I went on to suggest that by reverencing the structure of the heavenly temple in a similar way, we are guilty of the same error. That the heavenly sanctuary is much more than a Lego set to be constantly polished and adored. Could the Creator of this universe really now be confined to a box? But instead, according to Scripture Christ Himself was our dwelling place. To be within the veil is to be within Christ. That according to John the Revelator there didn’t appear to be such a physical structure at all, watching wide-eyed as he searched the Holy City descending from heaven. “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Revelation 21:22).
There was a decided rustling in the audience! The assistant minister became so distressed he declared I should have been frog-marched out of the church! Letters appeared in my mailbox, and I will vouch for more than one making its way as far as the conference office. I was dead meat!
This unexpected crisis found my wife and me contemplating which church we would move to—not easy, because we had given everything to our church over the many years, and to sever our connection was going to be almost worse than death. We had woven many threads amongst many members, and established many irrevocable friendships. In the end, leaving became unthinkable and instead we would bear it. We would stay with our church—a choice for which we are grateful to this day. Nevertheless, in terms of doctrinal adventurism, I myself would thereafter choose to keep some of my beliefs secret.
An historic change
We know that the church lost some people when the whole gospel issue came to a head soon after the issuing of our new Statement of Fundamental Beliefs in 1980. Very likely many of these exits were due to a false premise surrounding the content of our church’s official beliefs. Let me explain.
The Statement had emerged from a history of revisions—six rewrites between the years 1872 and 1980. Of most significance here are the atonement statements. Note, for example, the very first and trend-setting (unofficial) effort penned by Uriah Smith in A Declaration of Fundamental Principles:
Christ… ascended on high to be our only mediator in the sanctuary in Heaven, where, with his own blood, he makes atonement for our sins; which atonement, so far from being made on the cross, which was but the offering of the sacrifice, is the very last portion of his work as priest…
The incongruity of a post-Calvary atonement was perpetuated right up to and including the 1950 edition.
Immediately after the release of the 1980 Statement of Beliefs, here in Australia emissaries were dispatched to the four corners. “No news here,” was the message, almost as if we should be discouraged from checking. It ultimately became apparent that few did.
Yet in fact, changes indeed there were. Fundamental Belief 9 was the reason why the president of our Division made a rare unscheduled visit, even to a far-away and generally overlooked outpost such as North Queensland, as part of an Australia-wide tour.
There was panic in the system! What some assumed a few bothersome dissidents had been propagating on the sidelines was now suddenly and unexpectedly in print, and now official, unable to be disputed!
Fundamental Belief 9
So let us examine Fundamental Belief 9:
In Christ’s life of perfect obedience to God’s will, His suffering, death, and resurrection, God provided the only means of atonement for human sin, so that those who by faith accept this atonement may have eternal life, and the whole creation may better understand the infinite and holy love of the creator. This perfect atonement vindicates the righteousness of God’s law and the graciousness of His character; for it both condemns our sin and provides for our forgiveness. The death of Christ is substitutionary and expiatory, reconciling and transforming. The bodily resurrection of Christ proclaims God’s triumph over the forces of evil, and for those who accept the atonement assures their final victory over sin and death. It declares the Lordship of Jesus Christ, before whom every knee in heaven and on earth will bow.
These words were such a breathtaking change to our belief structure that our organisation now in fact had license to join the world’s evangelical true-gospel fraternity. In one stroke of the pen we were in there in all fullness, so even the most ostracized of former dissenting members could feel at home. And we now had that in writing!
That stroke of the pen is equally important for what it destroys as to what it affirms. For it also demolishes the traditional claim to our cherished term investigative judgment. For Fundamental Belief 9 leaves no place at all for a dual atonement. In this regard it is significant to look back at the 1889 rendition to discover what seemed to be of major concern by some even back then—a concern actually included in the statement—that is, the anomaly of a non-Calvary atonement:
Some thoughtless persons accuse us of rejecting the atonement of Christ entirely, because we dissent from the view that the atonement was made upon the cross, as is generally held. But we do nothing of the kind; we only take issue as to the time when the atonement is to be made. We object to the view that the atonement was made upon the cross, because it is utterly contrary to the type, which placed the atonement at the end of the yearly sanctuary service, not at the beginning.
The Sanctuary Doctrine
In view of Fundamental Belief 9, there surely had to come a corresponding change to our sanctuary doctrine—the holy shrine and epicentre of Adventism. Indeed there was! Though still using the word investigative, that is, a search for an inner qualifying virtue in the subjects before the court, the statement goes on to fully contradict the term by describing the process instead as revelatory. Furthermore, just as described in Fundamental Belief 9, it now clearly defines atonement as a Calvary-only event.
Notice, then, Fundamental Belief 24:
There is a sanctuary in heaven, the true tabernacle that the Lord set up and not humans. In it Christ ministers on our behalf, making available to believers the benefits of His atoning sacrifice offered once for all on the cross. At His ascension, He was inaugurated as our great High Priest and, began His intercessory ministry, which was typified by the work of the high priest in the holy place of the earthly sanctuary. In 1844, at the end of the prophetic period of 2300 days, He entered the second and last phase of His atoning ministry, which was typified by the work of the high priest in the most holy place of the earthly sanctuary. 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.
Note again from Fundamental Belief 9 that Christ’s atoning death was substitutionary and the terms in Him of the above fully accords with that. On that great and true-to-Scripture day of reckoning, the subject appears before the court in Christ. Christ doubles on behalf of the true penitent. As our substitute He requires no search (investigation) as to His credentials for the task.
For in accordance with Romans 8.1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” In the great courts of heaven, with Christ revealed as his substitute the penitent receives a pass!
Artifacts of the past
In view of Fundamental Belief 9, and the clear-cut revisions of Fundamental Belief 24, the term investigative judgment, along with the date 1844, have now both assumed the status of artifacts—vestiges of a bygone era, and out of sync with the revised words to which we now corporately hold. In a perfect world those anomalies will of a necessity be corrected, and, we trust, very soon.
But what happens on paper and in the minds of adherents can be as far apart as the poles. So to avoid the sounds of a falling roof, I’ll be retaining my existence as a Secret Adventist, comfortable that in accord with our official creed, and even overlooking other denominational imperfections, I’m sitting with the right company of believers—with the only way of salvation in Christ now clearly established.
I’m longing for the day when this true message of salvation will have so infiltrated our membership that at last I can risk being “outed!” Until then in a close community like this one, I’ll not throw stones on the roof of the cherished house in which another dwells. But I could attempt to sell them a better house!
Christ in you
There is one element in the book of Hebrews that we had gravely missed. But in that, we are not alone, for even the apostle Paul had encountered this difficulty. “There’s a remaining mystery,” he declares, which “had been kept hidden for ages and generations but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people” (Colossians 1:26). Up until now, he suggests, down through the ages when a prophet had prophesied, he had gone back home, scratched his head and said it’s all very well, but something’s missing. Things aren’t happening in people’s lives the way they should. Now Paul is saying that at last he’s declaring that mystery revealed by God, and he does so in the next verse—information that could only make sense after Calvary: “The glorious riches of this mystery,” he says, is “Christ in you, [and it’s corollary, “in Christ”] the hope of glory.”
The sanctuary message we were always intended to take to the world is that to be within the veil is to be within Christ, and all of His righteousness a message that now cries out in its strongest and clearest voice from the very heart and centre of our church’s creed: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17 KJV).
- In the preamble to the Statement are the words “Revision of these statements may be expected at a General Conference session when the church is led by the Holy Spirit to a fuller understanding of Bible truth or finds better language in which to express the teachings of God’s Holy Word”. ↑
- We triumph in Him (2 Cor. 2.14); We are clothed with His righteousness in Him (Gal 3:27); are sanctified in Him (1 Cor. 1:2); given grace in Him (2 Tim 1:9); experience freedom (Gal 2.4); have the promise of life (2 Tim 1:1); presented perfect (Col. 1:28); live a godly life (2 Tim 3:12); have no condemnation (Rom 8:1); are seated in heavenly realms in Him (Ephesians 2:6). ↑
Kevin Ferris is former conference youth director, now a member and Sabbath School leader in the Springwood Adventist Church in Brisbane Australia.