The gospel according to Holy Scripture is not the gospel according to evangelical Christianity. The latter so-called “gospel,” by which key Adventist doctrines are being faulted and condemned, is not found in the Bible. The true gospel of Scripture is fully and completely in harmony with the Biblical doctrine of Christ’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary, culminating in the final investigative judgment of professed believers. It is only the false gospel of mainstream evangelicalism, falling vastly short of the Biblical mark, which finds itself in conflict with the sanctuary doctrine as historically taught by Seventh-day Adventists.
Critics of the sanctuary doctrine and of Ellen White’s authority have often sought to portray the rift over these issues as occurring between “the uninformed and the dishonest”—in the words of ex-Adventist pastor Dale Ratzlaff in a private conversation with the present writer following Ratzlaff’s removal from the ministry.
One article in a liberal Adventist magazine some years ago, tracing challenges to the sanctuary and Ellen White during the Glacier View era, spoke repeatedly of “floods” and “torrents” of new information coming into the church,[i] of a “bewildering array of new evidence”,[ii] even recalling the Katrina disaster with the metaphor of “breaching a levee bank”.[iii] The charge of cover-up and alleged concealment noted at the beginning, conjures in minds with memories of Vietnam and Watergate the specter of betrayed trust and discredited leadership, with challengers to orthodoxy cast in the role of courageous whistle-blowers presumably “speaking truth to power,” in the manner of a Daniel Ellsberg or a John Dean.
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But in reality, neither ignorance nor dishonesty compel conservative Adventists to hold fast their faith without wavering. Rather, it is the simple fact that the evidence produced by the critics is supremely unpersuasive. The author of the article noted above strains credulity when he describes Desmond Ford’s processing of what he calls “the increasing volume of new information that was arriving on the church’s corporate desk,” and places in this category the Palmdale Conference of 1976 on the subject of righteousness by faith.[iv] He then goes on, in the next paragraph, to state how “during the 1970s the Adventist Church in Australasia made significant progress in better understanding and presenting ‘the everlasting gospel,’” but laments at how it “failed to win the support of older members.”[v]
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Sadly, the reader of this article isn’t told how, at the Palmdale Conference to which the author refers, Ford frankly admitted just how little Scripture he took into account in defining the gospel message on whose basis he would later dispute the veracity of the sanctuary doctrine. In Ford’s own words:
Paul is the theologian of the New Testament. Only he sets forth an analysis of the plan of salvation, and the phrase under discussion is found solely in those books of Scripture which bear the name of Paul.
The only book by Paul which systematically explains Righteousness by Faith is Romans.
The part in Romans which contains this systematic presentation is Rom. 3:21-5:21, those obviously the preceding and following chapters are related to this central discussion. What we wish to emphasize is that it is here we must find the basic nature of Righteousness by Faith. If what we believe is not here, we need to think again.[vi]
Three years later, at a symposium on the same subject at Pacific Union College attended by the present writer, Ford likewise declared:
Where is the definitive word on the gospel to be found? Certainly not outside Scripture. And where in Scripture? Not even in the Gospels which were written as supplementary to the Epistles. The Cross had to be endured before it could be explained.[vii]
Following his removal from the ministry, in a book co-authored with his wife Gillian, Ford repeated himself on this point:
Paul was the greatest preacher of the gospel that there has ever been. You say, ‘What about Jesus?’ My friends, Jesus came to make the atonement, not to explain it.[viii]
No thoughtful Adventist Bible student, whether old or young, could fail to ask on what conceivable grounds a breathtakingly narrow strand of Scripture could become the arbiter of the truth about salvation for the rest of Scripture—not to mention becoming the standard by which the core of Adventism would soon be denounced as “judged by the gospel” and found wanting![ix] One prominent Adventist scholar, responding to a similar attempt by Ford to belittle certain Old Testament Scriptures unfriendly to his position,[x] rightly compared Ford’s approach to the Bible to “Scofield-style Dispensationalism.”[xi]
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For any Adventist on the front lines of evangelism for any length of time, such an approach to the Bible as Ford’s could hardly qualify as “new information,” “new evidence,” or anything that could remotely succeed in calling into question fundamental Adventist doctrine, whose foundation rests on the consensus of Scripture.
The attempt, rooted in Protestant dispensationalism, to reduce the authority both of the Old Testament and the four Gospels within the New Testament—further popularized by Robert Brinsmead in his 1981 attack on the Sabbath[xii]—is one Adventists have encountered for decades in the nominal Christian world. And its lack of Biblical support is so easily demonstrated as to make one wonder how anyone, especially an Adventist, could use such a method as the measure of another’s Biblical faithfulness.
Indeed, Ford’s method of Bible study flies directly in the face of the apostle Paul himself, who declared to Timothy:
From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2Tim. 3:15-16).
Two key points stand out in these verses, both of which demolish Ford’s effort to make a brief Pauline passage the final word on righteousness by faith. The first is Paul’s statement that the Scriptures Timothy was taught from his childhood—obviously, the Old Testament, since by all accounts none of the New had yet been written—are able to make believers “wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (verse 15). The apostle was obviously under no illusion that his doctrine of salvation through faith in Christ was some New Testament innovation.
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Secondly, the following verse is clear that “all Scripture”—once again, both Testaments—is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (verse 16). The word for righteousness in this verse is the same as the one used in Romans, and throughout Paul’s other writings in discussing salvation and the gospel.
In short, Paul is saying the entire Bible is to be the basis of instruction in the gospel of righteousness by faith, as well as every other teaching. Not the slightest hint is offered that any single passage, in Paul’s writings or elsewhere, is to serve as the template for clarity by which the rest of the Bible is measured.
Paul’s doctrine of justification and righteousness by faith is based explicitly on Old Testament theology (see Rom. 1:17; Hab. 2:4; Rom. 4:6-8; Psalm 32:1-2). In the book of Acts, the Berean Christians were commended for testing the apostles’ teachings by the Old Testament Scriptures (Acts 17:11). The new, or better, covenant of the Christian faith described in the New Testament (Heb. 8:6) is taken word-for-word from the Old Testament (verses 8-10; see Jer. 31:31-33). When evangelicals of any stripe—be they current, former, or non-Seventh-day Adventists—describe themselves as “New Testament Christians,” they are crafting an identity unknown to the New Testament writers themselves.
RELATED ARTICLE: The Debate Over Justification by Faith
Equally discrediting to Ford’s case for a justification-alone gospel is the heavy reliance by his material on uninspired theological commentaries as a means of explaining the Bible, in the selfsame context in which he seeks to marginalize Ellen White’s role in the controversy on the basis of her statements that “the Bible and the Bible only” is our creed.[xiii] In Ford’s own words:
Inasmuch as “the Bible and the Bible only” is our creed” (E.G.W.) we enquire from Holy Writ as to the significance of the Pauline expression “Righteousness by Faith.” The greatest classic in print on this topic asserts that the Scripture evidence can be summarized as follows.[xiv]
This “greatest classic in print” to which Ford refers is The Doctrine of Justification, by James Buchanan, from which Ford draws two giant quotes consuming the subsequent one-and-a-half pages.[xv] Then Ford writes:
A multitude of quotations from New Testament commentaries such as Sanday and Headlam, Cranfield, Alford, Murray, Nygren, Bruce, Manson, Dodd, Haldane, Barclay, Barrett, Barth, Meyer, Moule, etc, could be given to support the main emphasis of Buchanan’s statements—namely that Righteousness by Faith is identical with Justification by Faith.[xvi]
He then proceeds to inform us, without any supporting Biblical evidence, that the supremely definitive passage of Scripture on this subject is Romans 3:21-5:21, declaring dogmatically—as we noted earlier—that “it is here we must find the basic nature of Righteousness by Faith,” and that “if what we believe is not here, we need to think again.”[xvii] The lack of Biblical support for Ford’s arbitrary preference for this passage seems not to disturb him, since he quickly assures us:
All exegetes we know of, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant (including Seventh-day Adventist) are agreed that the theme of this section of Romans is Justification. It is not discussing that gradual growth in holiness which theologians call sanctification.[xviii]
So much for sola scriptura! Conservative Adventists have rightly observed that, far from teaching sola scriptura, Ford and his theological allies in fact follow the principle of “sola theologian.”[xix] Ford’s vaunted reverence for “the Bible and the Bible only” gives every evidence of being a poorly-disguised attempt to keep the writings of Ellen White—whose consensus poses major problems for his teachings—safely removed from his theological formulations.
Put simply, if this is the kind of “new information” and “new evidence” by which orthodox Adventist teachings—regarding the gospel or anything else—have been called into question, it is little wonder that church members at all levels of denominational life have remained unconvinced in the decades since Glacier View.
The “gospel” by which the core of classic Adventism—the sanctuary, the Sabbath, the remnant-church theology, and much more—is being “judged” and found wanting, is admittedly based on a minuscule portion of Scripture, kept apart by its promoters from any balancing or clarifying evidence found elsewhere in Scripture, but with heavy support from uninspired Bible commentators. While promoters of this theology declare Adventism to be “judged by the gospel” and found wanting, in reality it is their own view of the gospel and salvation that has been judged by the Scriptures and found wanting.
When all is said and done, challenges to the Adventist sanctuary doctrine boil down to two basic premises: (1) the evangelical gospel, often called the New Theology in contemporary Adventism; and (2) the methods and presuppositions of higher criticism. Concerning the first premise, Dale Ratzlaff has perhaps said it best:
Does the SDA doctrine of the cleansing of the sanctuary and the investigative judgment distort, undermine, or contradict the one and only new covenant gospel of grace? This is the acid test. All that has been said thus far—as important as it is—fades, in comparison with this test.[xx]
Gillian Ford, wife (now widow) of Desmond Ford, said the same thing in a book co-authored with her husband some years ago:
It was Ford’s emphasis on righteousness by faith that led him to see the necessity for reinterpretation of the SDA scheme of prophecy.[xxi]
My larger paper on this topic,[xxii] together with what has been reviewed in the present article—together with my recent series on this site in defense of Last Generation Theology[xxiii]—should be sufficient to prove the falsity of the “gospel” taught by Ford, Ratzlaff, and their fellow travelers. If one rejects the Ford/Ratzlaff gospel, accepting in its place the Biblical gospel of sin as choice, Christ taking fallen human nature, salvation by both justification and sanctification, justification as both declarative and transformative, and the perfectibility of Christian character in this life, no conflict is found with the Adventist sanctuary doctrine. For the same reason, if the “gospel” producing conflict with the sanctuary doctrine is found to be Biblically false, any challenge to this doctrine on such grounds becomes obviously invalid.
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The late Raymond F. Cottrell, in a summary of his objections to the sanctuary doctrine written just before he died, is clear that one’s method of Bible study determines whether the sanctuary doctrine is seen as flawed or flawless:
The traditional Adventist sanctuary doctrine is based on the historicist principle, or method, of prophetic interpretation. Consequently, those who follow that method automatically find the doctrine flawless. On the contrary, those who follow the historical principle, or method, find it bristling with flaws.[xxiv]
What Cottrell here calls the “historical method” is, in simple words, higher criticism—the reduction of the Bible, in his own words, to a “historically conditioned” document replete with “thought forms with which they (the original hearers) were familiar, [reflecting] the salvation history perspective of their time.”
The logical extension of such thinking leaves no room for an objective standard of right and wrong, no immutable law by which sin and righteousness are defined, and thus accomplishes the evisceration of Christianity itself.
In short, objections to the Adventist sanctuary doctrine must either deny the gospel according to Holy Scripture in favor of a truncated substitute or deny the transcendent authority of Scripture itself in favor of relativism and higher-critical guesswork. No scholarly education or mindless aversion to change is needed to persuade thoughtful Adventists that either view presents a mortal threat to the most basic rationale for their church’s—and Christianity’s—existence.
The claim that “new information” was responsible for calling Ellen White’s authority into question is likewise untenable. A careful review of Ellen White criticism through the years soon reveals that, aside from the extent of Ellen White’s use of sources, little or nothing that is new has been alleged in recent decades by her critics. The exact extent of Ellen White’s source usage will likely be debated for some time, though the vast volume of her written work—with its overwhelming linguistic, structural, and thematic similarity—may in the end constrain the honest researcher to conclude her borrowing was as minor as many early apologists claimed. (After all, almost no borrowing has been alleged outside such major works as the Conflict Series, very little in the Testimonies,[xxvi] and almost none in her voluminous periodical articles, published and unpublished manuscripts, and letters of counsel.)
But the extent of Ellen White’s borrowing, such as it was, is really beside the point. If in fact the working of inspiration through the ages has demonstrated that inspired writers are allowed to take the uninspired words of others and incorporate them into inspired messages, as the evidence from Scripture clearly demonstrates,[xxvii] the extent of source usage by an inspired writer really doesn’t matter. If originality is not a test of inspiration, the level of originality found in any set of inspired writings becomes irrelevant.
The accusation that the Ellen White Estate and denominational leaders deliberately sought for years to hide the fact or extent of Ellen White’s literary borrowing is not supported by the facts. As early as 1933, W. C. White and D. E. Robinson wrote a paper titled Brief Statements, which specifically acknowledges how Ellen White, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, used the writings of others in preparing some of her books.[xxviii] W. C. White addressed this same issue at the Advanced Bible School in Angwin, California, in which he asked, Can the description of scenes and events copied from another writer find a proper place in the inspired writings of a messenger of God?” He then answered this question in the affirmative.[xxix]
RELATED ARTICLE: Literary Thief or God’s Messenger?
Francis D. Nichol’s Ellen G. White and Her Critics, published in 1951, contained at least sixty-five pages on the plagiarism charge,[xxx] in addition to addressing countless other charges. None other than Walter Rea declared, in 1965:
Controversy has flared from time to time concerning close similarities or outright adaptations in Mrs. White’s writings drawn from other contemporary sources. . . . If God in His infinite wisdom chooses to sanctify the thoughts of Conybeare and Howson, Wiley, or Edersheim and bring them to our attention by the pen of Ellen White or anybody else, so be it. . . . I have established myself in the writings of Ellen G. White, regardless of the human problems involved.[xxxi]
Arthur White likewise dealt with the issue of Ellen White’s use of sources in his supplement to volume 4 of The Spirit of Prophecy, published in 1969,[xxxii] as well as in his 1973 book The Ellen G. White Writings.[xxxiii]
Perhaps it is fair to say the illusion of cover-up and deception on these issues has only been possible on the part of some because they haven’t paid attention to the research and official statements that have long been available, but in which little interest has existed. If people aren’t interested in a particular subject at a given time, statements regarding that subject tend not to be noticed. And if suddenly interest does arise in such a topic, it is easy for those not familiar with the record to claim nobody made the effort to share these things, even if the facts say otherwise.
Conclusion—Embattled Yet Enduring
As Seventh-day Adventists consider the claims of our classic sanctuary doctrine, the investigative judgment, and the prophetic significance of 1844, they can do so in full confidence that this core teaching of their faith is Biblically sound, and in full harmony with the true gospel of grace found in Holy Scripture.
The quest for relevance, rightly or wrongly, has become the consuming passion of much of the contemporary church. In view of this concern, it will doubtless be asked, What does this controversy mean to my daily life? Do Seventh-day Adventists living in a postmodern world still need the 1844 doctrine?
Yes, and for two fundamental reasons:
First, the universe must be sure that those God takes to heaven won’t start another revolution. Why, in Daniel 7, do we find the hosts of heaven assembled for the investigative judgment (verse 10)? Because only when the books of record are opened will they be certain that God is just. The unfallen citizens of the universe may see what humans do behind closed doors; but according to Scripture, only God knows the heart (1 Kings 8:39). Only the disclosure of inner motives will demonstrate God’s fairness in taking some to heaven and leaving others out.
What thinking person, Adventist, or otherwise, can view the continuing tragedy of the human experience and not see the need for God to prove conclusively, by the most thorough investigation possible, that those rescued from this rebel planet will never rebel again?
Secondly, the investigative judgment can’t happen till the end of time because only then will God have a totally perfected people (2 Peter 3:10-14; I John 3:2-3; Rev. 10:7; 14:5). The deepening of the sin problem through centuries of time has made it essential for God to produce a people whose reliance on His power makes possible the resistance of the most deeply rooted sinful tendencies in human nature and society. The judgment of God’s professed people has been delayed till 1844 because only at the end of time could it be shown that the most ingrained and rampant sin is still without excuse. The Bible speaks in several places of how Satan’s accusations against God’s people are silenced by the claiming of divine power for victory over sin (Job 1,2; Zech. 3:1-4; Rev. 12: 10-11). Once this is demonstrated, the universe will at last be persuaded that sin will not rise a second time (Nah. 1:9).
Many former Adventists, and some current ones, are most uncomfortable with the thought that their words, acts, and secret motives will decide their destiny in God’s judgment. But Jesus Himself taught this principle. In His parable of the sheep and the goats, He declared that how we treat fellow humans will determine whether or not we enter His kingdom (Matt. 25:31-46). In another passage, He declared,
That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned (Matt. 12:36-37).
The New Testament didn’t invent this teaching, of course. Solomon declared in the Old Testament,
For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil (Eccl. 12:14).
The apostle Paul echoed this teaching in the following verse:
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad (2 Cor. 5:10).
In his book attacking the investigative judgment, Dale Ratzlaff quotes a number of Ellen White statements which speak of our words, acts, and secret motives deciding our eternal fate.[xxxiv] Then he declares, “This is not the gospel; it is condemnation”.[xxxv] But the above verses make clear the case for Ellen White’s plagiarism is at last conclusive—she copied this teaching straight out of the Bible!
Long ago, in the time of David and Solomon, a priest named Asaph seems to have faced a crisis in his walk with God. He writes,
For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked (Psalm 73:3).
After describing at length how the wicked seemed to be getting away with so much (verses 4-15), he declared:
When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end (verses 16-17).
For us also, even in this post-9/11 world, the Biblical sanctuary doctrine –as historically taught by Seventh-day Adventists—offers this assurance.
[i] Patrick & Stirling, “Twenty-Five Years After Glacier View,” Adventist Today, Nov.-Dec. 2005, p. 12.
[ii] Ibid, p. 16.
[iii] Ibid, p. 13.
[iv] Ibid, pp. 13-14.
[v] Ibid, p. 14.
[vi] Ford, The Palmdale Documents, p. 4 (italics supplied).
[vii] Ford, “Righteousness by Faith,” Study Papers, Series One: Righteousness by Faith (Angwin, CA: Pacific Union College Religion Department, 1979), p. 17.
[viii] Desmond & Gillian Ford, The Adventist Crisis of Spiritual Identity (Newcastle, CA: Good News Unlimited, 1982), p. 253 (italics original).
[ix] Brinsmead, Judged by the Gospel, pp. 303-311; Ratzlaff, Cultic Doctrine, pp. 258-262.
[x] “Ford Responds to Shea,” Spectrum, vol. 11, no. 4, p. 54.
[xi] “Shea Replies to Ford,” Spectrum, vol. 11, no. 4, p. 57.
[xii] Brinsmead, “Procedural Methods,” Verdict, June 1981, pp. 6-7.
[xiii] Ford, The Palmdale Documents, pp. 2, 10.
[xiv] Ibid, p. 2.
[xv] Ibid, pp. 2-4.
[xvi] Ibid, p. 4.
[xix] Colin D. & Russell R. Standish, Adventism Vindicated (Paradise, CA: Historic Truth Publications, 1980), p. xiv.
[xx] Ratzlaff, Cultic Doctrine, p. 319.
[xxi] Desmond and Gillian Ford, For the Sake of the Gospel: Throw Out the Bathwater But Keep the Baby (Bloomington, IN: Universe, Inc, 2009), p. 153.
[xxii] Paulson, “The Sanctuary Doctrine: Cultic or Biblical?” Part 1 http://everlasting-gospel.blogspot.com/2010/01/sanctuary-doctrine-cultic-or-biblical.html;
[xxiii] —-“The Case for Last Generation Theology, Part 1: First Principles,” Aug. 22, 2019 https://thecompassmagazine.com/blog/the-case-for-last-generation-theology-part-1-first-principles (see end of article for links to remaining nine installments of this series).
[xxiv] Raymond F. Cottrell, “The ‘Sanctuary Doctrine’—Asset or Liability?” (A Presentation of San Diego Adventist Forum, P.O. Box 3148, La Mesa, CA 91944-3148, February 9, 2002), p. 28.
[xxv] Ibid, p. 14.
[xxvi] See Walter T. Rea, The White Lie (Turlock, CA: M&R Publications, 1982), pp. 282-309.
[xxvii] See Bruce Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (New York: Oxford University Press, 1957), pp. 159-16-,162; Robert W. Olson, “Ellen G. White’s Use of Uninspired Sources” (White Estate Paper), p. 17.
[xxviii] Olson, One Hundred and One Questions on the Sanctuary and Ellen White (Washington, D.C: Ellen G. White Estate, 1981), p. 109.
[xxx] Francis D. Nichol, Ellen G. White and Her Critics (Washington, D.C: Review and Herald Publishing Assn, 1951), pp. 403-467.
[xxxi] Rea, Claremont Dialogue, vol. II, no. 2 (1965), pp. 31, 34, 36, quoted by Olson, One Hundred and One Questions, p. 109.
[xxxii] Arthur L. White, supplement to Ellen G. White, Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4, pp. 507-549.
[xxxiii] Arthur L. White, The Ellen G. White Writings (Washington, D.C: Review and Herald Publishing Assn, 1973), pp. 107-136.
[xxxiv] Ellen G. White, Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4, pp. 307-315; Manuscript Releases, vol. 15, p. 36; Sermons and Talks, vol. 2, p. 294, quoted by Ratzlaff, Cultic Doctrine, pp. 235,236.
[xxxv] Ratzlaff, Cultic Doctrine, p. 236.