I’m sure Gideon and his 300 had a great time at Morisset last Sabbath! Afterall, Des Ford has been a real and wonderful mentor to a full generation of Adventist theology and education students. And it would be suprising if he forgot your name, if you had ever been his student. His emphasis on Christ and his righteousness was a vital and lifegiving understanding that formed the foundation for the life of the great bulk of his students. It also formed the best antidote to the theology of the early Robert Brinsmead.
Yet I have wondered at the wisdom of Des Ford combining comments on very diverse topics - ordination of women and the sanctuary and the investigative judgment. Certainly, I can agree with Des Ford’s thoughts about the ordination issue, yet there was nothing novel in what he said about this. His theology concerning the sanctuary and the investigative judgment is more problematic for me, for reasons I will detail below.
While I applaud renewed discussion of ordination issues in the South Pacific region, which I am led to believe was the major purpose of the meeting, such discussion is unwittingly complicated by the introduction of other seemingly unrelated issues.
[Probably it was in 1988, that the late Dr Andrew Mustard, theology student Billy Leonard [currently a prominent member of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA], and I, a postgraduate student in Theology were travelling toward Gloucester, England to attend the local Adventist congregation. The building was next-door to Fred West’s house, though we didn’t know at the time. (Fred was later found to be a serial killer of several of his own children and other youths to whom he and his wife had provided sanctuary. He buried his victims in his backyard). In our discussions that day we attempted to solve the ordination issue that was even then being manifest among Adventists. Andrew Mustard reminded us both that this could not be thought of as an issue that divided conservative Adventists from their more progressive peers].
Yet, I fear that the involvement of Des Ford in such as issue will convince many undecided church members in Australia that ordination issues among Adventists should be thought of as conservative vs progressive. They are not!!
We really need more open and frank discussion and education of Adventists in the South Pacific on these ordination issues. And we desperately need to build our theology of appointment to leadership roles based on a broad foundation. Specifically we need a well honed Adventist hermeneutic such as Bertil Wiklander and the Trans European Division have developed as the starting point for all discussion and research. We then need to build a theology of the whole people of God and a theology of ministry and discipleship. With such foundational elements in place we may safely move to work on a theology of appointment to leadership roles and the associated rites of induction, blessing and consecration.
I do not believe that Adventists should wait till a process of attrition and debate gifts Adventists with practices of ordination which are not undergirded by well appreciated and understood guiding principles. Rather, Adventists worldwide should develop a system which as far as possible eliminates any incipient hierarchy in favour of rites of appointment that truly embrace a theology of ministry and leadership where the spiritual gifts and specific roles of people of both genders are affirmed and set to work. In my mind, such a move necessitates a move away from a hierarchy of deacon, elder and pastor in favour of a more lateral affirmation of people in their specific roles - teacher, professor, deacon, institutional administrator, pastor, specialist resource people, elders, doctors, nurses etc.
In the following paragraphs I wish to comment on Des’ sanctuary and judgment theology. The first thing to say is that even his sternest critics do not fault Des Ford’s theological logic. Take for example, Fernando Canale, Prof Emeritius of Theology and Philosophy, SDA Seminary, Andrews University. In 2013 Canale wrote the book,Secular Adventist; Exploring the Link Between Lifestyle and Salvation. This book is a critique of Des Ford’s theology that perceives it from a deeper perspective than is usual. Fernando Canale, with his training and experience in philosophy as well as theology has been able to examine the ‘justification only’ gospel from first principles ie foundational hermeneutical perspectives.
I quote, “Desmond Ford correctly perceived that the Protestant understanding of justification by faith contradicts the idea of an end-time judgment. Convinced that the Protestant interpretation of justification by faith is correct, he argued against the sanctuary doctrine and the investigative judgment… Following Ford’s conviction on the meaning of the “gospel,” many Adventists have implicitly or explicitly, rejected the doctrine of the heavenly sanctuary and the historical interpretation of the apocalyptic prophecies of Daniel and Revelation.” (27).
In Fernando Canale’s critique of Luther, his reasoning gets to Luther’s primary philosophical commitments. (Perhaps it is helpful to recognize that Canale wrote his PhD dissertation on such foundational philosophical commitments, so this kind of discussion is not new to him).
Canale’s critique of Luther is as follows:
- Luther understood the reality of God according to the Greek philosophy of timelessness. Roman Catholicism did too. Here God’s being is timeless and spaceless. In fact, Luther borrowed this philosophy from his early training.
- This understanding directly affected the way Luther understood divine actions. Justification is a divine action flowing from God’s will and power.
- In such an understanding of God’s reality, “God doesn’t live or act in the sequence of past, present and future, but all in one ‘instantaneous’ moment.” (39). In other words, as Luther states, “God does not see time [the time of our lives], longitudinally, [sequentially]; He sees it transversally [simultaneously, all at the same time].” (Luther as quoted in 38).
- According to Canale, Luther believed that God cannot understand life from such a sequential view or look at it in a longitudinal way. He is not capable of doing this. Rather, Luther believed that God saw things transversely [vertically and similtaneously]. from his static and timeless eternity.
- Thus, “time and history, our lives, our acts, are not part of the world of the Spirit but of the human body. Justification takes place in the spiritual world, the world of the human soul.”
- Luther thus understood the eternal world to be a non-material universe. The flow of history only extends as far as the second coming, after which life will be “a timeless, spaceless form of contemplating God in the “one moment” of eternity.” (42).
Adventist teachings such as the literal nature of the heavenly sanctuary, the literal, visible return of Christ, the non-immortality of the soul, the millennium and the new earth, plus the great controversy between Christ and Satan through history including our historicist understanding of prophecy - these all rebel against a spiritualized understand of God and eternity. If justification happens in the world of the Spirit and sanctification in the realm of history and life, then of course they can’t belong to the same whole. Yet it was on such a spiritualized understand of God, his actions and eternity that Luther built his gospel.
God’s love for humanity is not static. It is able to respond to the changing circumstances of human life. Here John Peckham’s recent book The Love of God: A Canonical Model (IVP, Oct 2015) is helpful. John Peckham is Prof of Theology and Philosophy at the SDA Seminary.
Jesus in the gospel taught the gospel of the kingdom. This kingdom is the realm in which God is active to defeat the usurper of His kingdom. We could say therefore that reference to the gospel is nothing more or less than a reference to the great controversy between Christ and Satan and it’s assured outcome.
This divine stategy of God was implemented in the first promise in Eden to engender conflict between the Seed of the woman and the seed of the Devil. This promise was repeated and expanded to the patriarchs, Israel and took form with the establishment of the Davidic kingdom. The prophet Daniel wrote prophecies of encouragement to God’s people who had witnessed the destruction of the promised Davidic kingdom. Here, Daniel outlined the coming defeat of the kingdoms of this world and the establishment of His eternal kingdom. The cornerstone of that Divine Kingdom was laid in the first coming of Christ. And in his subsequent ministry to people held in the kingdom of the Usurper. By his teaching and by his ministry to individuals, Christ released people from the chains that bound them in slavery to sin and the Devil. Christ introduced them into the freedom of His love. In the teachings and ministry of Christ he illustrated that the power of divine love was much greater than the love of kingly power as illustrated in the life and career of Satan. There could be no more potent illustration of this Love than in the self-sacrificing death of Christ - a moment of weakness that hid divine strength to save all that come to God for salvation. The moments of His resurrectional triumph over the ruler and the kingdoms of this world and his inauguration in the heavenly temple as ruler of the heavenly kingdom were made real to his followers because of the descent of the Spirit in all his power. The Spirit of God, the Vicar of Christ, was poured on the followers of the Master to bless and empower the lives and ministry of His waiting saints who are to continue the ministry of Christ, in word and deed, just as their Master. What a powerful gospel the good news of the kingdom is!!