Contribution to the ongoing conversation about the ignored contribution of the late Desmond Ford to the theology of the Seventh-day Adventist Church: Ministry Magazine, May 2001, under the editorial leadership of Willmore D. Eva, published a part of my article “Gospel Without Strings Attached”.
As Hans La Rondelle, Raoul Dederen, Hans Heinz, Roger Evans, and Will Eva questioned the assumptions of the Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, they spoke with clarity, unseen for a considerable time in our official publications, about the forensic, objective, and legal nature of justification, distinguished from sanctification, as thought by Paul and the Reformers.
Those articles raised several questions: Has the Adventist Church, twenty years after Glacier View, finally matured enough to face the challenges of the gospel without preconceived prejudice? After providing an objective assessment of the current Catholic-Lutheran crisis over justification by faith, dare we now proceed by sweeping our own backyard, to provide a breath of fresh air so that the gospel, too often disfigured beyond recognition, may finally begin to shine in its intended beauty?
Consequently, we should ask again, how could the Church still maintain that our denominational views about the phased or stretched atonement, character-dependent investigative judgment, and the final justification of God’s character through the sufficiently perfect obedience of God’s people, all of which make salvation dependent on the believers’ performance, complement the truth of the objective gospel?
Just as much as the “gospel had been lost in an increasingly complicated systems of merits, good works, sacraments and penances” in the teachings of the Catholic Church, so it is compromised by the increasingly confusing systems of Adventist theology of salvation where individual sanctification frequently merges with the divine act of justification and where our eternal destiny was not decided on the cross as much as in the characters of believers, so that at the end of the day our honoring of Christ’s finished work of salvation appears more like a lip service than a genuine belief.
Whether the gospel is infused into indulgences, sacraments, merits of the saints, or into the character shaping doctrines of investigative judgment, vindication of God’s character through the lives of the believers and almost immaculate law keeping, it makes no difference. Both approaches are responsible for confusing the believer as to the method and place where salvation takes place, and as such they are an offense to the gospel—a serious deviation that undermines the fullness of salvation in the person of Jesus Christ.
The integrity of the Church and its mission in the days to come does not depend on how skilled it becomes in maneuvering through the challenges our distinctive beliefs will continue to face. Ultimately, the Church will be tested by its honesty toward the integrity of the gospel, for no church or a movement has ever been given commission other than to preach the gospel without strings attached. And how far will the gospel go in the Adventist Church this time depends on those ministers, evangelists, teachers, scholars, writers, editors, and lay members who treasure the gospel above the loyalty to any ideological concept.
For all of us the first step should be to stop hinting at the gospel and start preaching it deliberately and without apology.
Post Scriptum April 6, 2019: Although in this article, written and published 18 years ago, I was challenging the populist Adventist theology of salvation, by comparing it with the Roman Catholic theology of salvation, suggesting that none of them are in tune with the Pauline and Reformer’s understanding of salvation, justification, atonement because both tend to infuse our works into Justification, the truth is that the story of misunderstanding of the Gospel does not rest solely within the boundaries of these two denominations. Across large sections of the Protestant/evangelical spectrum prevails a widespread confusion as to the roles of justification versus sanctification in our salvation. Consider the following paragraph: “Just as much as the ‘gospel had been lost’ in an increasingly complicated systems of merits, good works, sacraments and penances” in the teachings of the Catholic Church, so it is compromised by the increasingly confusing systems of Adventist theology of salvation where individual sanctification frequently merges with the divine act of justification, and where our eternal destiny was not decided on the cross as much as in the characters of believers, so that at the end of the day our honoring of Christ’s finished work of salvation appears more like a lip service than a genuine belief.” If you belong to any other Christian circle, not mentioned in the article, ask yourself a question: In what ways it becomes obvious that I or my church believe and act as if our eternal salvation depends very much on our performance, despite that fact that we all love to talk constantly about the grace of God?