Desmond Ford's New Book Recalls Conflict Over Sanctuary Doctrine, Dismissal from Adventist Employment

Former Adventist pastor, theologian and professor Dr. Desmond Ford has released a new book in which he documents the events that led to his dismissal from denominational employment in 1980. The events in Ford’s retrospective, entitled “Seventh-day Adventism, The Investigative Judgment and the Everlasting Gospel,” are more than 35 years old, but they continue to provide insights into the ways ecclesiastical authority has been determinative for both theology and employment with the Adventist denomination.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

One of the vital points made by Ford, and highlighted in this article, is the fact that control of SDA doctrine has been wrestled from theologians and remains today in the hands of administrators.
If administrators do not achieve their aims in the first round of discussion their typical ploy is to refer it back to study committees ad infinitum because, in many matters, they do not even sense the meaning of the questions and the importance of the questions. Many theologians grow weary of this tactic, throw their hands up in despair and walk away from the discussion, leaving administrators smug and comfortable in the mistaken belief that questions surrounding the IJ have been resolved.
On the contrary, the questions have not been resolved. The volumes published by the BRI after GV were a smoke screen, chloroform in print. I recommend them for insomniacs.
Ford’s list of 22 assumptions connected with the IJ still deserves urgent attention and can only lead to a total rejection of the IJ. The historical matrix underpinning the IJ is patently wrong. This article highlights the fact that the linguistics are wrong. And the church ignores the context of Daniel 8 and 9. On all counts of proper exegesis (historical background including Ezra and Nehemiah, genre, linguistics and corroborating evidence from other scriptures, especially Hebrews) the objective conclusion can only be that the IJ theory is utterly bankrupt.


I’m thinking about the Power of an Apology. Last spring Don Livesay, Lake Union President, apologized for the church’s lack of ethics and kindness with African Americans earlier in the 20th century. It would be healing and powerful, if someone with some stature would apologize to Ford and his family for the way he was treated as he tried to help the church address weaknesses in the traditional interpretations. Also, what about an apology to MeriKay?


What was so jarring about the process against Desmond Ford was that church leaders were willing to sacrifice him overtly on the altar of tradition. Given that the SdA church, from its beginning, had fought against tradition in favor of a new reading of the scriptures, it was shocking to the many members who had internalized that belief to see church leaders condemn Dr. Ford for sins against a creed they were unable to defend from the Bible. In that sense, the Ford affair became a pivotal event in SdA history. 1980 was the year when Adventism ceased to be a movement and became a denomination among many others.

Ford was primarily advocating for a Lutheran/Reformed understanding of “righteousness by faith” and “sola scriptura.” (It was this, incidentally, and not any controversy over the sanctuary doctrine that led him to leave Australia for PUC). Ford’s critique of the sanctuary doctrine was merely the outworking of these two Reformation principles; first, that you could not accept a doctrine that said that the work of salvation was not finished at the cross, and secondly, you could not retain a dogma that was not based on the Bible. If you did, you betrayed both the gospel and the Reformation.

In my view, Ford was technically right, but at the same time offending against the spirit of the Christian gospel. The Christian gospel, as it emerged from the first century, is based on the idea that Jesus, somehow, provided salvation for humanity and that this salvation is available for the asking “by faith alone.” Now, if that is true, why is it crucial to understand the underlying theology? If somebody gives you a car, why do you need to understand how the power train works?

Ford, like Luther, brought great comfort to a lot of people who had been condemned to eternal doubt, if not destruction, by a theology marinated in perfectionism, but what I saw happening at the time was that moral perfectionism was being replaced by its theological variant. You see this reflected in Ford’s own assessment, quoted in the review above, that the end of all things would have been ushered in in post-apostolic times, at the latest, if the church had correctly grasped the nature of the Christian gospel. This, to me, sounds very much like magical thinking, of the the type that Ali Baba resorted to when he entered the robbers’ treasure mountain. A single password was all he needed, sesame. When his uncle forgot which cereal it was and tried barley and wheat, the mountain scorned him.

Car owner don’t need to be auto mechanics, but they need to know a thing or two about maintenance, and so do Christians. It is for that reason the church has pastors. Ford did wonders as a pastor, and much of his scholarship was unimpeachable, but when theology (or any ideology) becomes self-referential, its usefulness is compromised. As a result, the Ford imbroglio was quickly filed away in the envelope of “Theological controversies” and ceased to have much of an existential impact on the church.

But on the other hand, the heavy-handed way it was handled destroyed the General Conference as a religious authority. Ever since, it has often been nothing more than the SdA Vatican and a far cry from the days when it prided itself in being God’s highest authority on earth.


The Glacier View debacle occurred long before the Internet Era.

When I am intrigued by a minor television commentator or other personality, a mere click of the Google button tells me more than I want to know about the individual, including intimate details of divorces, sexual orientations and out of wedlock pregnancies.

The participants at Glacier View surely had an antiquated view of the “judgement”, visualizing Christ laboriously poring over multiple pages to determine the ultimate fate of the person on trial. This was surely EGWs understanding as well as the Biblical writers. The “books were opened” no doubt conjured up visions of parchment scrolls being unrolled and painstakingly explored for lurid details.

Is it not LUDICROUS to think that God with His most advanced and sophisticated computers, would need 1844-2016, one hundred and seventy two years, and counting, to perform his “investigation”?

When Ford states: “The New Testament teaches that the end was meant to come just after the First Advent” this resonates with me.

Christ states emphatically three times in the last book of Revelation. “BEHOLD I AM COMING SOON”. The King James Version muddied the text by translating the word as “quickly” but my French and Dutch Bibles clearly translate the word as “SOON”

I cannot even imagine that Christ would be so emphatic if He knew He could not possibly return at the earliest than 1800 years later!
Christ is not a liar.

The fact that the IJ is unique to Adventists and that even the best theological and scholarly minds ( non Adventist) after 172 years , have not adopted this strange doctrine, makes me believe that our pioneers, in their desperate disappointment, grasped the IJ as a face saving mechanism.

It seems that the Biblical textual basis is contorted and unconvincing and certainly diminishes Christ’s death on the cross as our ultimate means of salvation.

Desmond Ford was pilloried and denigrated and deserves an apology.


Des Ford was noted as having a silver tongue. He also was undoubtedly a gifted systematic theologian. I honour him for perceiving accurately that the Protestant understanding of justification by faith contradicts the idea of an end=time investigative judgement. Thus, he was forced to reinterpret the sanctuary doctrine and the prophecies of Dan 7 & 8 that are joined at the hip to the sanctuary doctrine.

However, much of Adventist scholarship in the years since 1980 has questioned the accuracy of the Protestant understanding of justification by faith and such scholars have therefore not seen the need of rejecting the teaching of the investigative judgement.

I lived in the Avondale community for all of the 1970’s and was intimately connected with the events and personalities on all sides of the issue, though I only graduated with my BA (Theology) at Avondale in November 1982. At present I am a near neighbour of Keith Parmenter’s elderly widow.

Let no one assume that Des Ford’s recollection of the events are in any great degree an objective recital of the events. This recollection well serves a greater agenda! Scholars in Adventist studies and historical theology will yet have a more final word. This is still perhaps a generation or more away!

Where theologically would the Adventist communion of faith be today had we accepted Des Ford’s lead those 35 years ago?


The SDA church in Australia has, for the most part, wholeheartedly adopted Ford’s interpretation of Grace centered, anti ‘faith by works’ theology. And they are much better off for it.



From its earliest years, Adventism has had an implicitly strong ecclesiology. The very idea of a remnant doctrine is coherent only if one presupposes that there is but one church; therefore it is no accident that Adventists have strived not only to be a worldwide church, but to retain institutional unity in the world church. ‘In the biz’ that’s called catholicity, plain and simple. The reason this matters is that the Adventist community has been from its inception keenly aware of its unique identity vis-a-vis other Christian communities, and the logic of this identification is finally taken to its logical end when other Christians are simply called “non-Adventist.” By being simultaneously committed to a strong ecclesiology that places high value on the singularity and unity of the church, and being aware of the division of the church between Adventist and non-Adventist, the Adventist community has understandably become sensitive about and deeply concerned with its identity and, most importantly, the reason for its existence. In my own judgment, the most significant dividing line between liberal or progressive Adventists and conservatives or traditionalists is that the latter still believe that Adventism needs a theological justification for its coming into existence and its continued existence; any Adventist, no matter how otherwise theologically committed, who says that you yourself can determine what it means to be Adventist has already moved away from that strong ecclesiology implicit in the apocalyptic remnant doctrine. All this to say: the Adventist teaching on the sanctuary and the investigative judgment is intimately involved with Adventism’s historical origin in Millerism. Threatening this doctrine is not simply asking for a revision of biblical interpretation, nor simply asking to be flexible with regard to Ellen White’s authority; traditional Adventists are well aware that to threaten this doctrine is to attack the very justification for Adventism’s existence. Any progressive Adventist who is in fact committed to Adventism cannot simply discard the sanctuary teaching; either the doctrine remains unchanged, it gets revised, or it and Adventism with it are theologically rejected. Ford may have been a good Old Testament scholar and a good theologian, but he underestimated the churchly political ramifications of his theological claims–a mistake that I am all too familiar with.

That being said, Jared’s closing remark is telling, and it should give everyone pause. What does it mean to have a church managed by people who are not competent in understanding Christian faith? Make no mistake: a Christian theologian is nothing more than a person who has become professionally competent in articulating and elaborating the faith. Those in church administration who make decisions should be expected to be theologians, even if that isn’t how they earn a paycheck. That’s not too much to ask.


Thank you, Jared Wright, for reminding us in this article through the experience of Dr. Desmond Ford to practice what we preach and to maintain our integrity we need to have strong convictions in our beliefs and ideas. And the conviction should stand strong even when confronted with the highest test, which is adversity. Only a strong conviction will give us the courage to stand for our beliefs and other issues. All great leaders, such as Dr. Ford, and people who have blazed a trail through history had only their conviction as their greatest strength.

As a teacher at PUC and in Australia, Dr. Ford gave definition to his faith and experience. In his writings and lectures Dr. Ford was able to be a “person of definition” By definition I mean giving a clear reason for the beliefs we have and the way we live or. As Christians, if our lives and beliefs are different, as they should be, and we never let others know why we are different, we may have still failed in being examples. “But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess” (1 Peter 3:15). Because of the power of our example and the way one’s life either negatively or positively influences others, the Scripture repeatedly addresses this vital responsibility. Leaders and Christians as a whole are to be models for others to imitate. In truth, every believer’s life is to become a source of motivation and direction for others. We are to be a picture of reality, a proof that Jesus Christ saves and changes lives so we can become a powerful magnet that draws others to Christ. Dr. Ford gave a compelling and clear answer for his beliefs. Do we?


I have often said that higher education is a curse to the S D A Church instead of a blessing.I have been chided ridiculed and even refered to as bein anti improvement man.But the more i read the clearer it comes, as was the case Of our foreparents Adam and Eve, the desire/love for knowledge for the most part drives us farther from God,it drives us into unbelief and or doubt.
When i read the book of Revelation 22:12,and i am told ,by the Lord that he is coming and his reward is with him to give all men according to their work,i fail to see an anomaly with the sanctuary doctrine as taught by the SDA Church.God is a just God and until he sees /finds you guilty he will not render punishment.So when he gets to earth all cases would have already been decided,man would have already maid his choice,so,where is the problem? The problem lies with man he wants to continue living however he pleases and find a good report.Strange these very professors will tell their students that they have did they so conclude? they came to that conclusion as a result of a review of that students work. True it is scary ,but if we surrender ourselves to God and trust him to keep us from future sinning he will keep us.We have to turn away from all that is earthly and wordly and start planning to live in heaven.hebrews 11:9 tells us (reading from vs8) Abraham dwelt in tents.This means he was ready to move at a moments notice so we who are living in these last days need to be mentally ready to move at a moments notice.Why all these Doctorate trained people can’t see this is beyond me.They need to know there is no loophole no way around the one way Jesus Christ and if they can’t see/understand this then it might be that 2corinthians 4:3 ai applicable to them.The sad thing is that Dr.Ford continues to draw people after him.Friends It is one thing to be lost but to know i might be taking others with me makes me shudder and so should all these socalled theological luminaries.


Very informative article, at least for me. Having come into the church as an official member in 1982 (in contact with the church for about two years prior to baptism) I was in the wake of the Ford Controversy. It was a very hot item at the time, and the fallout is still with us. I agree that we have made a huge mistake in making EGW the definer of doctrine and its expression, but I don’t think she was simply pastoral, though that was perhaps the bulk of her ministry. As Ford said 1844 was God’s calling attention to Christ in the heavenly sanctuary and at that time Christianity in America was preoccupied with prepping for a 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth with a dose of a weird view of law done away with at the cross, yet, for many, a nationalistic feeling of enforcing God’s law (Sunday, going into overdrive on it post Civil War). The view of angels thumbing through books of records of professed Christians had its purpose of correcting the notion one can be of the world and God’s, too. It indeed was fraught with serious implications.

The trouble comes in that we haven’t done much to fine tune that message in a way that is gospel oriented, encouraging, and challenging to sin at the same time speaking to our times, not the past Victorian, Manifest Destiny mentality of her day. Worse, we have made is a point of salvation through doctrine expressed in a particular way. Dr. Ford’s assessment of the damaging effects upon faith is noted and accurate. Even in the 1980’s and '90’s as a pastor I saw this devastating effect on members hopes and ability to be joyful and thus an attractive witness for Christ. My hope is that someday this church will have a healthy message about judgment and the gospel (considering that the judgment message is part of that everlasting gospel going to the entire world!).


Has anyone calculated the loss of members to this entire controversy?
Even long before Ford, Canright and others wrote that the doctrine of remnant and its conclusive message was like the emperor with no clothes; and nothing has changed. The church has only become more insistent in the face of disputes and questions.

In Australia alone, and there are those here who can give more info, there were dozens of pastor and denominational employees who left in disgust, not so much over the doctrine as the administrator’s reactions. Peter Ballis (sp?) wrote a book on this which I read some years ago.

The church ignores the fall-out and continues to convert thousands in the third world countries who do not ask questions and accept authorities as a long-standing practice. But the western nations, only through birth heritage their children become Adventists through baptism and the easy route. Few know or care about such esoteric doctrines but are simply expected to become Adventists. Twenty or more years later they remain on the books but have long been away from the church; there are many here.


I read an early copy of Des’s book. Jared did a fine job in his review. It is sad that administrators having such a limited understanding of theology are in control of doctrine. Their theme song is Blest be the tithe that binds. tom Z


You know I was just thinking…We just dont have enough about Des Ford and the church on spectrum.
Why cant we do alternating weekly stories on all the controversies in the church and then when we get through all of them we can just start from the beginning again?
It would be a real service. After all a lot of the people on here are older and need a regular dose of adrenaline and whats better than jolting them with their favorite trigger issues on a regular basis?


Matt, you claim that “traditional Adventists are well aware that to threaten this [traditional, sanctuary] doctrine is to attack the very justification for Adventism’s existence. Any progressive Adventist who is in fact committed to Adventism cannot simply discard the sanctuary teaching; either the doctrine remains unchanged, it gets revised, or it and Adventism with it are theologically rejected.”

You reviewed my The Promise of Peace, largely favorably as I recall, and you know I offered a justification for Adventism, and an explication of it, that took the traditional sanctuary doctrine to have NO importance for the SUBSTANCE of Adventism. Insofar as “sanctuary” teaching involves the idea of “investigation,” it make no biblical or theological sense. The brilliant Dr. Ford underscored this point successfully, although because he was and perhaps still is stuck in a now-dated “paradigm” with respect to Paul, and has no apparent interest in the Radical Reformation, he cannot himself, or at least cannot yet, offer an adquate argument for the relevance of Adventism.

I think what you say in the remark I quoted above is a mistake. Adventism cannot hang on so thin a thread as the investigative judgment, but why does it have to? Don’t you cede unwarranted authority to the traditionalists? There’s more to the Bible, and more to Radical Reformation movements, than Daniel 8:13 interpreted fundamentalistically.

Thanks for your provocative comment!



These and other issues have been thoroughly addressed by others. You’re just not reading the “others”. And I believe lay people, or at least not the church’s prominent theologians, have done a better job of addressing Ford’s conjectures than the official church body has. If you want a place to start, look up our friend Kevin Paulson. There are many others. And try to get hold of The China Letters by David Lin for a good look at the inconsistencies in Ford’s statements and other theologian’s statements. Several independent ministries still stock it.

What’s Ezra and Nehemiah got to do with it? The book of Daniel was written well before the return to exile. That can be and has been addressed as well. Daniel was written when it claims to have been written.

One of the greatest problems that Ford has not addressed is the prophetic dates. If he claims that the day-year principle does not exist and that 1844 is not the culmination of the 2300 days, then what event does it point to? (In a watertight explanation!) If the day-year principle does not hold, then does he accept the 70 week prophecy as pointing to Christ? How does he get there? The evangelical way, by choosing the incorrect starting date (by choosing the wrong decree of Artaxerxes) and doing some mental gymnastics by saying a prophetic day is equivalent to roughly 360/365 years due to the difference between the prophetic year and the solar year? What do the 1260, 1290 and 1335 day prophecies point to? He has taken away but has nothing solid to fill their place with. Hence, his theology is empty. He has taken away but hasn’t put back anything to take the place of what was taken away.

On the contrary, control of SDA doctrine remains in the hands of God, for it is based on the Bible and has beed developed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and underpinned by prophetic insight revealed to Ellen White. It has been established firmly and does not move. Thus, nobody controls SDA doctrine. Theologians speak on it, they try to increase our understanding of it, some get it right, some get it wrong. But is doesn’t change. It is watertight, whereas Ford’s explanations of the prophecies of Daniel are not. (For example Antiochus could not have been the little horn by any stretch. It’s impossible (little horn comes out of Rome for one, not Greece, and Antiochus was not “exceedingly great” in comparison to prior powers, but there’s more), and I believe he knows this, but accepts that most evangelical theologians accept that the little horn is Antiochus, and he defers a lot to theologians/authorities, thus the faulty claims of modern theologians trump the biblical inconsistencies of the interpretation. Thinking stops when authorities are more important than what the Bible says.)


Hi Chuck, I see what you mean. I should have been clearer; I wasn’t arguing for the traditional sanctuary doctrine, which I have not believed at any point. My point in the comment was to say that theological justification for Adventism’s existence has to account for its historical origin in its place and time; as I remember, your book did just that. When I was a student at La Sierra, I wrote a paper arguing that the sanctuary doctrine’s failure was its fixation with the priestly role of Christ. As you know, the traditional munus triplex identifies Christ as prophet, priest, and king. In the paper, I suggested that Christ’s movement into the Father’s presence in the heavens is not treated in Scripture under the priestly office of Christ, but his kingly office; Scripture’s language for this is that Christ has ascended to God’s right hand as head of the church. So what I argued is that the church must interpret events in its life (reformations, splits, shifting theological attentions) as evidence of Christ’s “continued movement” in heaven, his exercise of his kingly role over the church. This was intended to avoid the poor exegesis of Daniel (and Hebrews, for that matter), the shoddy theological reasoning of the traditional sanctuary doctrine, and to give some sort of broad, biblical justification for saying that “something happened in 1844.” Instead of saying something about atonement or heavenly geography, the paper said simply, “Christ acted in heaven; and on earth, this movement was born.”

I’m certain the argument would convince no one, but it was an attempt at a revisionary “sanctuary doctrine,” rather than a simple rejection. Anyway, all this to say, I think progressive Adventists shouldn’t simply discard traditional doctrines, but should work to think through revisions of them. When progressives don’t do that difficult theological work, I really do think that traditionalists have the better argument (even if it’s often the wrong one).


Someone somewhere mentioned Spectrum has waned “controversy” that pulling out the ‘old faithful’ Desmond Ford that Spectrum undermined reports on the woman ordained at Loma Linda few weeks ago. I say, Spectrum is brilliant in dusting the withered DF to full life again. We see the similarity of injustice done to DF or WO is controversy of great detail something that should never happened. Last paragraph on Spectrum explains: The bookends with a personal letter from Raymond Cottrell to Desmond Ford dated November 17, 1979. “Dear Des, you couldn’t be more right in what you told the forum two weeks ago…I would be hard pressed to find anything in your talk I could disagree with.” The book is both a biographical retrospective and a cautionary tale about wresting theological agency from theologians and vesting it in administrators”. Don’t we feel so bad for DF or WO how badly they are being treated? A sinner can reform, but ADMINISTRATORS stupidity is forever.

A reminder that commenters are always expected to demonstrate respect for people and ideas, especially when disagreeing with them. Thank you. -Website Moderators


Matt and Chuck,

I think there is a compelling argument to be made (and Des Ford, in a way, makes it, as does Matt) that the traditional Adventist articulations of the earthly/heavenly sanctuary and the idea of an Investigative Judgment have significance as mile markers on the road to Where We Are Today, and that given hindsight (which includes the mistreatment of many who had honest disagreements on this topic and others), there are now better ways to articulate the significance of the Sanctuary, if Adventists are going to continue giving it doctrinal significance.


I don’t even think it would be possible to calculate the ways that this controversy factored into the casualties resulting in there being as many former Adventists as current Adventists in many hotbeds of Australian and North American Adventism (to say nothing of other parts of the world). Of course this plays into arguments people on both sides of the ideological divide are inclined to make.

On the right, people say “We can’t afford to allow the questioning of doctrines because doctrinal laxness leads to loss of faith and abandonment of the Church. Just look at the Des Ford saga.”

On the left, people way “We can’t afford to disallow the questioning of doctrines because doctrinal rigidity leads to loss of faith and abandonment of the Church. Just look at the Des Ford saga.”