Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Great Debate

A Rocky Start

Raymond F. Cottrell was a prominent Seventh-day Adventist theologian who was associate editor both of the Review and Herald and the SDA Bible Commentary. He was given the task of working on the volume of the commentary dealing with the book of Daniel. By his own account, he spent more than 10,000 hours diligently studying the problems associated with the traditional SDA interpretation of Daniel 8:14. He came to the disturbing conclusion that the Investigative Judgment doctrine (also known as the sanctuary doctrine) could not be supported by scripture. In an article entitled The "Sanctuary Doctrine" – Asset or Liability?14, he enumerates a litany of messages sent to the Adventist Church through the voices of its own leaders. He felt that these constituted the prophetic voices, sent by God, to bring warning, reproof and correction. Cottrell notes that warnings have been sounded from the beginning of the movement at approximately 15-year intervals starting in 1887. Like the prophets of old, each was rejected. All of the whistle-blowers lost their ministerial credentials. Most were disfellowshipped or had to leave the church.

Warning Voices

D. M. Canright

Canright, a minister and member of the General Conference Committee, led the charge. His book, Seventh-day Adventism Renounced, gives a careful accounting of his objections to the doctrine of the Investigative Judgment. In it he concludes, “if Millerism was a failure, then Seventh-day Adventism is also, for that was the fountain from which this has flowed; that was the foundation upon which it was built…The whole Advent move was conceived in error, born in a mistake, has grown up in folly, and must die in disgrace…Paul said,‘God is not the author of confusion.’ I Cor. 14:33. Then surely he was not the author of Adventism, for the confusion it produced is unparalleled in religious history…Instead of renouncing the whole thing, as sane men ought to have done, each one set himself to find some ‘explanation’ of their mistake.”6 pp 71-73

Albion F. Ballenger

Ballenger was an Adventist administrator in Great Britain in 1905. He was the first to be brought to trial for his dissenting views regarding the sanctuary doctrine. The conclusion of the twenty-five-member General Conference-appointed committee, was that Ballenger’s views were not in agreement with the official church stand. Ballenger asked repeatedly for someone to point out how his views were contrary to the scriptures, and no one even attempted to do so. Their only objective was to establish that he did not agree with them. His journey out of Adventist orthodoxy began during a series of meetings dealing with distinctive SDA doctrines. As God would have it, he was assigned to preach the Investigative Judgment. As he was speaking, he failed to impress even himself with the veracity of what he said. As a result, he determined, “if the Lord will help me, I will never preach again until I know what I am preaching. I am not going to get it from our books…I will not know it because Elder Uriah Smith knew it, but I will know it because God is teaching it to me directly.”1

His study of scripture led him further and further away from the foundational teaching of the church and into the chamber where he faced his accusers. During his trial, Ellen White added her considerable weight to the condemnation of Ballenger’s deviation from their traditional teaching with these words, “In clear, plain language I am to say [notice the inference that she was told by God to say] to those in attendance at this conference that Brother Ballenger has been allowing his mind to receive and believe specious error. He has been misinterpreting and misapplying the Scriptures upon which he has fastened his mind. He is building up theories that are not founded in truth. A warning is now to come to him and to the people, for God has not indicted the message that he is bearing. This message, if accepted, would undermine the pillars of our faith.” 38 p 8 Never did she, or anyone else, give specifics regarding where he was in disagreement with the Bible. Their only objection was that what he believed would undermine the pillars of Adventism. Ballenger’s ministerial license was revoked and “He was dismissed from the church because of theological difference… (for) teaching that the atonement was made on the cross!” M. L. Andreasen, eyewitness to the proceedings.1 p 4

R. A. Grieve

Grieve stands out from the others in that his primary concern was for the gospel truth of salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ. His contended that the doctrine of salvation by faith and the doctrine of the Investigative Judgment are mutually exclusive teachings. He reasoned that if there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Rom 8:1) then there could not also be a preserved record of sins under investigation without conclusion until the resurrection. There’s that pesky common sense again. He plainly uncovered the roots of the inability of Seventh-day Adventists to possess the assurance of salvation. It is precluded by the very doctrine on which the church is built, and to which it owes its existence. Why, then, should we be surprised that people do not know whether they are saved?17 p 55

Many Others

There have been many who have stood for truth at the risk of their jobs, reputations and family approval. For those who would like to pursue this history in more depth, both Desmond Ford17 and Raymond Cottrell14 refer to E. J. Waggoner, famous proponent of justification by faith in 1888; William Fletcher, Bible teacher at Avondale College, 1930; Louis R. Conradi, VP of the GC for the Central European Division, 1928; William W. Prescott, Bible scholar and college president of Union, Walla Walla, Avondale and Emmanuel Missionary Colleges in the 1930’s and 40’s. It was Prescott who said, “It seems to me that we are betraying our trust and deceiving the ministers and the people. It appears to me that there is much more anxiety to prevent a possible shock than to correct error.” The Shaping of Adventism by Gilbert M. Valentine. Others included: L. E. Froom, well-known administrator and Bible scholar; Harold E. Snide, Bible teacher and diligent Bible student, 1945; R. D. Brinsmead, chairman of the Bible department, Avondale College, 1950’s; Dr. Carl Tuland, scholar and author in multiple languages, pastor and administrator in the Middle East, North America and South America, 1950’s; Earl Hilgert, writer, 1959; David Sibley, pastor and administrator, 1960; Desmond Ford, head of theology department Avondale College, 1979 (who will be discussed in greater detail later); Dale Ratzlaff, pastor and teacher at Monterey Bay Academy, 1981; Dr. Jerry Gladson, Faculty member of Southern Adventist College, 1982; Janet Brown, lay Bible student, 1985, Don W. Silver, lay Bible student; and, of course, Raymond Cottrell himself.

A Modern Thorn: Desmond Ford

Many Adventists are aware that on October 27, 1979, Dr. Desmond Ford dropped a bombshell into Adventism whose shockwaves have yet to subside. His study of the doctrine of the Investigative Judgment (which he considered to be Adventism’s “central theological problem”) began in 1949. Until he was asked to present his views at an open meeting of the Association of Adventist Forums, he had remained silent about his findings. There were three prominent Adventist ministers present at that meeting who saw what they identified as heresy in Ford’s presentation. They reported the unacceptable beliefs to then GC president, Neil Wilson. Ford’s digression from orthodox Adventist teaching was considered serious enough to cause the officials of the General Conference to give Ford a six month leave of absence to prepare a defense of his position. His views were then presented to a committee consisting of 115 high-level church administrators and biblical scholars from all around the world, chaired by Dr. Richard Hammill (a GC vice-president).

Ford came to the now infamous meeting, known as “Glacier View”, with a 992-page manuscript of the most comprehensive exegetical study ever composed on the subject of the Investigative Judgment. The ground rules of the trial were stacked against Ford’s research from the beginning. Cottrell notes, “They were specifically instructed not to evaluate Ford’s beliefs with respect to Daniel 8:14, the sanctuary and the Investigative Judgment by the Bible itself, but as set forth in the statement of twenty-seven fundamental beliefs, which the church had already determined to be normative...Ford was given no opportunity to present the reasons for his …interpretation of it.”14 The charge against Ford was that he held a dissenting view from the sanctuary doctrine as stated in Article 23 of the Dallas Statement of Fundamental Beliefs, which they held as the standard by which to judge his conclusions. It should have been Article 23 that was on trial, as it was held up to the standard of the Bible, but that was never attempted or allowed. Dr. Ford’s ministerial credentials were revoked several weeks after the hearing - not because his conclusions were in conflict with the Bible, but because they did not line up with Article 23.

Instead of examining the validity of the Investigative Judgment in the light of scripture, those attending were instructed to assume that it was correct because it rests “on the teaching authority of the church and not on explicit, or even implicit, teaching of scripture.”15 Ford had already conceded that he was in conflict with Article 23 before he ever came to Glacier View. His entire manuscript was an evaluation of the sanctuary doctrine from scripture that invalidated the Article.

It is impossible to overemphasize the role of Ellen White’s writings in the outcome of Glacier View. The opening address of the Conference asserted, “The bottom line is the role of Ellen White in doctrinal matters.” And Cottrell, commenting on this says, “In other words, Glacier View considered her an infallible interpreter of Scripture, and thereby prescinded from the sola Scriptura principle! To affirm either automatically rejects the other, yet Glacier View ambivalently professed both! There cannot be two final authorities, one saying one thing and the other something else!…Administrators at Glacier View evidently believed that the Bible and the Bible only as interpreted by Ellen White is our infallible rule of faith and doctrine, even when she quotes it out of context, homiletically rather that exegetically.”15

Why Won’t It Die? The Pride of Identity

In more recent times (2002), Jan Paulsen, current Seventh-day Adventist General Conference President, made this statement.

“Eschatology and apocalyptic preaching--which are part of the treasured heritage of our church--will produce strongly held and very focused convictions. A further word needs to be said about our being 'loyal to our heritage and to our identity'. Some would have us believe that there have been significant shifts in recent times in regard to doctrines that historically have been at the heart of Seventh-day Adventism.

“Take specifically our understanding of judgment and Christ's ministry in the heavenly sanctuary and the prophetic messages in which these teachings are contained. Some are suggesting that since the 1980 (Glacier View) meetings, the very teachings that the church affirmed that year at those meetings have been abandoned, and that the church has essentially moved to accept the very positions it rejected then. Such a claim is a distortion of reality, and nothing could be further from the truth. The historic sanctuary message, based on Scripture and supported by the writings of Ellen White, continues to be held to unequivocally. And the inspired authorities on which these and other doctrines are based, namely the Bible supported by the writings of Ellen White, continue to be the hermeneutical foundation on which we as a church place all matters of faith and conduct. Let no one think that there has been a change of position in regard to this.

“The question to which the church should constantly be sensitive is: Have we been loyal to ‘who we are and why we are’? Preserving our identity has to do with the integrity of our church. Faithfulness to the Lord and to the reasons for which He caused this movement to arise cannot be compromised. If we drift, it is not the "brethren" (whether on the left or the right) who will hold us accountable, but the Lord Himself. And ultimately that is what really matters.”26

Because the primary focus of the Adventist Church has been “preserving our identity” it follows that an accurate exegesis of scripture has become secondary. This has been most evident in the church’s response to the multiple objections to the doctrine of Investigative Judgment. One of the most quoted objections was from W. W. Prescott, Bible teacher at Emmanuel Missionary College (now Andrews University), “I have waited all these years for someone to make an adequate answer to Ballenger, Fletcher and others on their positions regarding the sanctuary but I have not yet seen or heard of it.”1 That was in 1934 and still, the questions have not been addressed by the SDA Church. In fact, there seems to be a resurgence of affirmation that “we were right all along.”26

The Scramble to Preserve

The interesting new twist is that even the publications with a liberal bent, such as Spectrum and Adventist Today, are now taking a stance that supports the Investigative Judgment as metaphor. There is an intellectualization of the concepts that seems to deny that the details were ever meant in a literal sense at all. The November/December 2006 issue of Adventist Today was entirely dedicated to the sanctuary doctrine. One of the articles, The Doctrine of the Sanctuary as an Adventist Philosophy of History by Joe Greig, Professor Emeritus of religion at Andrews University 21, was the most mystifying. It was difficult to decipher his code and discover just what he was trying to say. Where his meaning was clear, it bordered on blasphemy.

Let me illustrate by quoting some of his comments. “The early Christian church appropriated these texts {from the Old Testament} for themselves by claiming that Jesus was the expected messiah. ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son’ (Hosea 11:1), is a historical a (sic) reference to Israel, not Jesus…The reinterpretation depends on a community that is creating its living mythology.” “In the sense of community myth, the text means exactly what the community says it means.” “Our denomination’s ancestors gave us a doctrine that was crucial to their call and identity…This approach justifies the doctrine by looking at it as an expression of the Adventist self-understanding of its mission, not by insisting on the infallibility of the traditional exegesis and interpretation of the text.” “Ideas like the Incarnation, or the cleansing of the sanctuary, have elements that are not strictly historical. There are metaphysical, or suprahistorical elements present…The idea that ‘God sent’ is suprahistorical.” “Historically, Adventists created that doctrine [the Investigative Judgment]…in a way similar to the manner in which the followers of Christ came to declare his messianic and divine identity. Thus the text (or its interpretation) and the church mutually crated each other. In the case of both Jesus and Adventism, the historical elements achieve their historical significance from the unhistorical suprahistorical.” “I have at times stood before God without a mediator, each time with the intention of unmasking him.”21

Another article in the same issue, 1844, a Personal Journey by John Thomas McLarty 24, reinterprets the word “judgment” to mean all judgment - thereby legitimizing the Investigative “Judgment” by word association. Listen. “Church members who gave much attention to theories about the close of probation and perfection were always troubled by anxiety and fear…. So where did this leave 1844? I simply ignored it, as did nearly everyone else around me…After four years in Babylon I returned to Manhattan. There I rediscovered the Adventist doctrine of judgment…Through confession and repentance these evildoers may find redemption, but the doctrine of judgment assures their victims that no amount of minimizing or blame-shifting or clever posturing fools the Judge of All the Earth.” He has here substituted a doctrine with false premises for the idea of judgment itself. Where did he appropriate that slight-of-hand trick? He also warmly accepts the IJ doctrine because it “gave us the Sabbath...And it produced a rich spiritual harvest.” He was right that it did produce the Sabbath, but the harvest it produced continues to rob its heirs of the security of salvation.

Jennifer Jill Schwirzer took a similar approach in her article, The Sanctuary Truth in the Adventist Review, Vol. 184, No. 10, 2007 29 , in that she seems to be in denial about what the sanctuary doctrine actually teaches. “The sanctuary doctrine reveals that we are significant to God, who notices the details of our lives sufficiently to record them all.” Primarily in the sense that, “brother’s watching.” He not only records every detail, He does not remove our sins from our records even after they are confessed, leaving one in constant fear about the final outcome.

She continues, “The sanctuary is God’s tough love program – all the more desperately needed in today’s permissive climate…it’s tough on sin…” To interpret, God threatens us by holding our records of sin over our heads, then we will cease to sin. “…God designed a system of confrontation and accountability called the heavenly sanctuary. Why not affirm it? In God’s bidding to put away sin, lies the promise that it is possible.” She has embraced perfectionism as the words peal thru her head; you must “stand in the sight of a Holy God without a mediator.” Somehow, the IJ doctrine has given her the confidence that she can do so? It is the plaintive voice of an abused child, with a forced smile on her face, saying, “I’ll be good this time.”

Redigging the Trenches

During the tumultuous conflict raised by A. F. Ballenger, an entire SS quarterly was dedicated to the subject of the IJ. The church rose up to defend the foundations of its existence and quell any exodus that might be triggered by the questions he raised. Just as with Desmond Ford, his disagreements with the doctrine were never answered. The defense centered on the argument that God raised up the Adventist Church, and since Ballenger was coming against the church, ergo he was coming against God. Ballenger commented, “It is shocking to think that the leaders of a denomination which makes such high claims as the SDA’s do, could be guilty of continuing to teach what they know is not biblical; that which they know is directly contrary to the teachings of the Bible.” “Again we say: this quarter’s lessons are a disgrace to the denomination, and this disgrace cannot be removed except by a frank and humble confession.”3

At the same time, a converted Jew became the leading spokesman for the Investigative Judgment within Adventism. It was felt that his familiarity with the rituals and practices of Judaism gave him authority to speak to the subject in ways that others were unprepared to do. Ballenger was not impressed:

“One of the books that has recently come from the R. & H. Publishing House should be placed in the same catalog as the S. S. Quarterly. We refer to Messiah In His Sanctuary by F. C. Gilbert. He is supposed to be the best authority on Hebrew in the denomination because of his Jewish nationality, and his special training in this field. He, like the S. S. Lessons, continues to teach that which is directly contrary to the teaching of the Word of God, and we know that his attention has been called to this error... And this book is very highly recommended by the denominational paper. See R. & H. July 29, 1937.

“Will anything but the judgment of God persuade the leaders to be honest with their people? Brethren, you will have an account to render before the judgment seat of God if you continue to be false shepherds to the flock. You may be able to quiet your conscience for the present by reasoning that it is expedient for the work to keep people in ignorance of the truth; but do you think that will work with God? Does God have to depend on deception to carry on His work? These things call loudly for reformation.”3 p 10

They still do. Since the General Conference Session of 2005, it seems that Adventism has once again been whipped into a frenzy to affirm its roots and its prophet, Ellen White. Indicative of that trend, the Sabbath School Quarterly, fall, 2006 was entitled The Gospel, 1844, and Judgment20 It was written by Clifford R. Goldstein, interestingly, a Jewish convert to Seventh-day Adventism. Because of his background, it is felt that he comes with an insider’s view of the sanctuary and the customs of the Old Covenant. He has become the Adventist Church’s leading advocate for the sanctuary doctrine. Fascinating how history keeps repeating itself. Goldstein has authored Graffiti in the Holy of Holies and 1844 Made Simple, both regarding the IJ.

The issues Goldstein raises in the Quarterly are gathered from various sources, not all in harmony with traditional Adventist teaching. While Ellen White makes it clear that the IJ is solely for the purpose of reviewing the lives of professed believers, Goldstein echoes Graham Maxwell’s thesis that it is primarily God who is on trial and must vindicate His fidelity to both justice and mercy before the watching universe. In the study for July 7 he states, “But above all, final judgment vindicates the Creator – His character, law and governance – In the minds of all created intelligences, whether loyal or lost, thereby obtaining eternal security and peace for the universe.”20 p 28 Those are concepts so familiar in Adventism that they are accepted as truth without inquiry.

The argument goes like this: because people have seen the lengths to which God will go to prove His love to them, they become irrevocably convinced of God’s right to rule, and, thereby, become “safe to save.” It is not because they have accepted the substitutionary life and death of Christ, but that God has demonstrated his love so convincingly that they will never choose to rebel against Him again. This heretical teaching completely sidesteps the cross - and the blood of Christ. In fact, it discredits the shedding of His blood as unnecessary. It is alarming that nearly any heresy is winked at as long as it doesn’t impinge on the doctrines that distinguish Adventism from the rest of Christianity, namely the Sabbath, the state of the dead and the Investigative Judgment.

Like McLarty, Goldstein uses the word “judgment” in the Bible to stand for the Investigative “Judgment” regardless of the original context. Even when the judgment spoken of relates to a very specific context, he generalizes and appropriates it to refer to the IJ. He also affirms the historicist method of exegesis, which led William Miller to the date of October 22, 1844 and adds, parenthetically, “of which Adventists remain almost alone in still adhering to.” It’s interesting that he doesn’t mention who joins Adventism in that method. Jehovah’s Witnesses are the lone group that joins Adventism in historicist exegesis.2 Their roots are just as inseparably intertwined in Millerism as are Seventh-day Adventism’s. The lack of other supporters in the exclusive beliefs of Adventism, instead of raising cautions, emboldens the belief that they hold a position special status - a chosenness inherent in their solitary positions. They are the “remnant church of Bible prophecy.” It is the very fact that they stand against, and separate from, the other churches that binds members together even more closely in community. There is really nowhere else to go because, “no one else believes the truth.”

Jesus Christ: The True Identity of Christians

At times I have speculated what changes would result from admitting the error of the Investigative Judgment doctrine. What would happen if Christ became the identity of Adventism, rather than the unique and peculiar history that takes so much energy to legitimize? Why is it that so much effort is expended in putting a new face on a doctrine that has become a pariah, both inside and outside the SDA Church? It doesn’t take much rubbing to get down to the pride that motivates the refusal to give it up. Jan Paulsen, the current GC president believes, “The question to which the church should constantly be sensitive is: Have we been loyal to ‘who we are and why we are’? Preserving our identity has to do with the integrity of our church. Faithfulness to the Lord and to the reasons for which He caused this movement to arise cannot be compromised. If we drift, it is not the ‘brethren’ (whether on the left or the right) who will hold us accountable, but the Lord Himself. And ultimately that is what really matters.”26 So that’s what really matters!


As early as 1887, God began sending warning voices to the Seventh-day Adventist Church to give opportunity to rectify the errors in the foundational doctrine of the Investigative Judgment. In each instance, the warning has been rejected, and each time the ‘heart” of Adventism has been hardened even further. In fact, the frequent and pervasive occurrence of these warnings has caused the people to develop a collective response to those sent to deliver the messages. It goes something like this: We’ve been thru this before and we are still here; There will always be bitter people with chips on their shoulders; Why are they tearing down instead of building up?; I know that person, and he is always involved in controversy; You need to be careful not to destroy people’s faith. Of course the list could go on. Those of us brought up in the Adventist system have heard all of those arguments that amount to a smoke screen to cover over the blatant errors. If “we’ve been thru this before,” when will “we” stop and listen? Perhaps the reason the same themes continue to surface is that they have validity. Without a doubt, the issues have never been openly considered without defensiveness or fancy footwork.

If it is true that the Sabbath, the state of the dead, Ellen White, the Remnant status and the Investigative Judgment are the identity of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, then shame on them. It’s time to lay down that identity and take up Paul’s determined resolved “to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.” 1 Cor 2:2-5 (NIV)

Faith or Fear? Table of Contents

The Next Chapter: Rotten Foundations

Holes, holes, everywhere holes.


Unknown said...

Just a note regarding folk whom has sent to show truth to the SDA's. When I left the church in 2002 I approached the local church pastor to show him the true gospel but was thrown out of his home and told to never come back.
Several years later my wife and I met a Penticostal Tahitian lady and her children who were sent from New Zealand to the North NSW Conference of SDA's by God. She became an SDA and served on the conference board where she proclaimed the gospel but was not listened to. She eventually went home to Tahiti.
One week ago we celebrated a birthday with some Adventist friends and while we were there my good mate and church elder in the local SDA church told me of his approach to their church pastor to explain to him his beliefs and what SDA doctrine he, and many others in that church, didn't believe. The pastors response was to say 'I have a lot of teaching to do'. (For several years prior to this I was able to tell this mate of the true gospel and he preached this in his church. Praise God)
So for at least 130 years God has been sending folk to all levels of SDA leadership to no avail. I often weep and pray for these leaders to really know Jesus.

Gently Broken said...

Peter, thank you for your comments. I pray that we will all be given wisdom to have the words of mercy and compassion that will draw people to the Lord. Blessings as you seek His face.