It is very sad and shameful that the South Pacific Division (SPD) of the Seventh-day Adventist Church has succumbed to pressure from within and without (most likely from the General Conference too), and has placed Avondale College in the awkward situation of having to move the already scheduled commemoration of the life and work of Desmond Ford from its premises to a “neutral location”. Instead of being held at Avondale College, as previously planned and initiated by the college, the commemoration took place at the University of Newcastle’s Griffith Duncan Theatre, on Saturday, 30thMarch, 2019. Close to 1000 people attended.
Whatever the motives of the SPD leadership, pressuring Avondale College leadership to move the commemoration away from the denominational property was a disgraceful act of disrespect for the life and ministry of Desmond Ford. It seems that Ford continues to offend, even in his death, some “concerned brethren” among Australian SDA leaders and lay members. A man who has indebted the Adventist denomination worldwide with a clear teaching of the Gospel, and has served as a beloved lecturer at Avondale for a number of years, has to remain an outcast even in his death.
His unpardonable sin was that he never recanted. Once having declared forty years ago that 1844 was not a biblical date, he never changed his mind about the controversial nature of the Investigative Judgment, a cherished and the most distinctive Adventist doctrine. So, the official SPD correspondence sent to the Avondale staff and leaders of the church in Australia stated a few days ago: “Many people are still suffering pain and distress from the past events involving Dr Ford, whose views remained inconsistent with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Because of this I want to inform you that the memorial service has been moved to a venue outside the Avondale campus.”
But the way the SPD has behaved towards the deceased Desmond Ford is very hypocritical, to say the least, at a time when all kinds of controversial, fundamentalist, and legalistic individuals and ministries, that are preaching to the Adventist audiences “the other gospel” (Galatians 1:8.9.), are flourishing and growing under the protective canvas of the global Church.
More so than in other parts of the world, the Australian kind of Adventism has been for many years contributing to the world church the other brand of controversial leaders; those who preached the gospel of radical perfectionism, and literal necessity of attaining unquestionable super humanism, alias sinlessness unique only to Adventism. For decades Australia was a greenhouse that supplied the entire Adventist world with the revivalists of sinlessness, and none of those people have been treated with the kind of contempt the church has shown for the late Desmond Ford ever since 1980.
Moreover, many modern-day Adventist evangelists of perfectionism are nowadays welcomed to use denominational infrastructure and facilities, including denominational media and denominational financial resources, to advance their reformation, with no expression of denominational concern if their views are “consistent with the Seventh-Day Adventist Church”. Quite contrary, it seems as if the “remnant LGT (Last Generation Theology) ministries” of “historic Adventism” are being treated as if they were the spiritual elite within Adventism. For example, who dares call Doug Batcehlor’s views “inconsistent with the Seventh-day Adventist Church?”
So, in the light in the denominational tacit endorsement of its popular teachers of legalism, it is downright dishonest and hypocritical that the official South Pacific Division communication, released only a day or two ago, would be bold enough to say the following:
“Recent communications from Avondale following the death of Dr Ford have been perceived as Avondale supporting his theological views. Sadly, this has reignited the pain and distress that many people experienced in the past. It has also been perceived that because the memorial/celebration was to be held on the campus of a Seventh-day Adventist institution, that the South Pacific Division was affirming someone whose views were inconsistent with the Church. This has led to an outpouring of concern and confusion from churches and members and most Conference leaders around Australia.”
One would have thought that the Seventh-day Adventist Church, especially in Australia, has moved away from its 40-year-old antagonism towards Desmond Ford. At least this was my feeling in the years of my pastoral service in Australia in the late 1990s. It seemed, at least in the church milieu where I served as pastor, that a more reconciliatory and embracing spirit had been winning towards Desmond Ford. What has happened since? Was I somewhat naive in believing that Desmond Ford was gaining friends in the Church again at that time? Or, could it be that legalism is becoming mainstream again in the Adventist Church?
Sadly, the decision of the SPD to evict the commemoration of the life and work of Desmond Ford from Avondale, speaks forcefully that the denomination’s reconciliation with Desmond Ford and his legacy is still far-off, and that the Gospel of Christ is still not so welcome in the church. It seems that today in Australia no one remembers or knows about the insights and recommendations of the late Arthur Patrick, Australian Adventist theologian and historian, who was on his death bed, in March 2013, completing a document “Toward a Historical Perspective and the Normalization of Relationship” to encourage denominational reconciliation with Desmond Ford (See Post Scriptum April 6, 2019). The golden opportunity for at least a symbolic act of reconciliation has been wasted. Meanwhile, the elitists of perfectionism will, most likely, continue to enjoy favored status, and remain to flourish as the celebrity leaders in the eyes of many Adventists.
This is the paradox of Adventist orthodoxy.
Good News Unlimited video release of the commemoration program “Avondale Remembers Des Ford”.
Gill Ford’s shares Des Ford’s faith statements.
More about the memorial service: Norman Young, A Summary of the Memorial Service of Dr. Desmond Ford
Post Scriptum, April 4, 2019: Whoever might have suggested or spread the idea that moving the Ford’s memorial service out of the premises of the Avondale College was done due to some “security concerns” was either uninformed, or dishonest. The official letter says it all: “We understand that many people are still suffering pain and distress from the past events involving Dr Ford, whose views remained inconsistent with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Because of this I want to inform you that the memorial service has been moved to a venue outside the Avondale campus.” Avondale did what it could under the circumstances, and it did a great job. It was a very encouraging thing to see that the idea about the memorial service came out of its circles. The orders to evict the service from the college premisses did not come from within the college, but the denominational headquarters in Australia. A wrong message was sent to the world by what happened last Saturday. It looks as if the SPD acted vengefully, wanting to punish Ford even in his death. Some grace would have not hurt anyone. I initially thought the directive came from GC, but I am now hearing that the initiative came solely from the Australian conferences (???). The whole thing is even more concerning if this is true. During the years when I worked as a pastor under Victorian Conference in Melbourne 1995-2000 I remember a favorable spirit manifest among the pastors and some leaders toward Desmond Ford; at least in the circle of a significant number of pastors and some leaders if not among all of us. Among ourselves (pastors) we were almost quietly divided between “evangelically minded” pastors and traditional, “historic” pastors who were flirting with CBs, or quietly (or not so quietly) affirmative of them. It looked to me at that time that the most hurting years following the Glacier View were almost behind us, and that we were gradually advancing towards reconciliation. What has happened since? Had SPD acted more generously this could have been justified in more than one way. Instead it has contributed potentially towards deepening the crisis, unnecessarily I believe. The whole thing looked as if the Church was punishing Ford even in his death and this is not fair, nor it projects well.
Post Scriptum April 4, 2019: This is something every Adventist today should read and think about. John Rosier writes in his latest letter: “We are witnessing the rise and encouragement of heretical perfectionist Adventism. It’s in the SS books. It’s being propagated in sermons. Last Generation Theology and the false views of M. L. Andreasen are coming into vogue again…. As for the gospel its definition of justification is confused with sanctification. It’s allowed people to call the understanding of justification by faith as taught in Romans and Galatians ‘legal fiction’. Thus it encourages the undermining and compromising of the very gospel it claims to be taking to the world. It has allowed and encouraged without correction the propagation of the heresy that we are saved by a mixture of faith and works based on a law keeping lifestyle performance. As such grace is in completion with human works and spiritual humanism as the basis for salvation. It also undermines the appreciation of the full force of the Fall and Sin, which is a form of Pelagianism.” Read the whole letter …
Post Scriptum April 6, 2019: Arthur Patrick was “a Seventh-day Adventist theologian and historian. At the time of death, he was an honorary senior research fellow at Avondale College in New South Wales, Australia”. In 2002 Arthur Patrick put together a document “Toward a Historical Perspective and the Normalisation of Relationships” with the guidelines for the leaders of the Adventist Church in Australia how to pursue reconciliation. On the side of the church administration the document was kept very private, so much so to that Arthur Patrick decided to upgrade the document and share it publicly. To him it was so important that his document becomes public that he finished the publicly released edition of the document only a few days before his death on 13th March, 2013. Anyone who wants to learn more about the circumstances surrounding the dismissal of Desmond Ford, and the role SPD played in it at the time, and much more that is not widely known, must read this document. “This story has never before been told in this detail to a group of Australian Adventists. Why tell it now? Simply to facilitate an understanding of the level at which information was controlled in the 1970s and early 1980s; to illustrate the evident fear amongst church leaders that ordinary members might become aware of facts now recognized as basic for all Adventists; to highlight the need of mature pastoral care for workers and members in a situation of turmoil. The lack of information amongst church members meant that scores of ministers faced dismissal if they attempted to understand and interpret the waves of data flowing over them.” Read the entire document here.