Desmond Ford, Seventh-Day Adventist Theologian Who Was Defrocked for Controversial Beliefs, Dies at 90

Seventh-day Adventist theologian Desmond Ford died March 11, 2019, in Australia, at age 90. Ford’s 1979 presentation challenging two of the movement’s key doctrines led to his dismissal from the ministry and sparked a schism. Photo courtesy of Good News Unlimited

Desmond Ford, a Seventh-day Adventist theologian and writer whose 1980 defrocking by Australian leaders of the movement led to a schism, died in the early morning hours of March 11, his widow, Gillian, announced on Facebook.

He was 90 years old.

From 1961 to 1977 Ford headed the theology department at Avondale College, a Seventh-day Adventist school near Sydney, Australia. The school, established with the encouragement of Ellen G. White, the movement’s co-founder and author of its principal texts, has long been a training center for pastors, evangelists and teachers in the South Pacific church region.

But in 1979, Ford, then a professor at Adventist-owned Pacific Union College in Angwin, Calif., gave a public presentation that signaled a major break with two of the church’s distinctive beliefs: the “investigative judgment” of every person, living and dead, which Adventists believe God has undertaken since October of 1844, as well as the prophetic timing of the sanctuary cleansing described in Daniel 8:14, which led the pioneers to that 1844 time frame.

These two points are part of the Adventist Church’s fundamental beliefs statement, and Ford’s repudiation sparked controversy.

The dispute centered on teachings promoted by White, a young 19th-century follower of William Miller, a lay Baptist preacher who set Oct. 22, 1844, as the date for Christ’s return.

When that failed, White and other Millerites believed the “Great Disappointment,” as the day was now called, signified Christ’s entry into the “holy of holies” in heaven to begin the judgment phase.

This judgment, Adventists believe, “vindicates the justice of God in saving those who believe in Jesus.” From 1844 on, Adventists believe, God has been deciding who qualifies as an authentic Christian — reviewing the lives of those who claim to follow Jesus to see if their good works match their claims of faith.

According to a 1982 Time magazine account, Ford’s research questioned White’s interpretation of the events of 1844 and the idea of the “investigative judgment.”

Ford authored a 1,000-page thesis defending his position, arguing, in part, that the “investigative judgment” teaching obscures grace and puts too much weight on a believer’s works.

Pushback from Adventist administrators of that era led to a conference – his supporters would later call it a “trial” – at which Ford spoke alongside other theologians and church leaders, including Neal C. Wilson, then president of the Adventists’ General Conference, or global headquarters.

Although that meeting, held at a church retreat center in Colorado called Glacier View, ended on a cordial note, Ford’s Australian administrators pressed for his dismissal and the removal of his ministerial credentials.

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Source: Religion News Service