I never knew Desmond Ford, but I heard about him in 1988 when I was studying the Adventist Message. The turmoil in the early 1980’s surrounding Ford and Glacier View all preceded me (I joined the Adventist Church in 1989).
He passed away around 1 :15 AM, March 11, in Queensland Australia. He was 90 years of age.
Like most historians, I learned about Desmond Ford from the writings of others. I heard Hans LaRondelle’s perspective of Glacier View. I heard Gerhard Hasel’s perspective of it. I also heard Morris Venden’s perspective at the 1992 Ohio Campmeeting.
Apparently, Ford became increasingly uncomfortable with the Adventist Church’s understanding of the Investigative Judgment, and began teaching reinterpretations of the Day of Atonement doctrine at Pacific Union College. He also began to teach prophetic perspectives that differed from the biblical truths that the Adventist Church had been given.
He was allowed to present his views at Glacier View Ranch in Colorado in August of 1980. Unwilling to yield certain beliefs that were at variance with the beliefs of our Church, he was terminated as a denominational employee, and eventually stripped of his minister’s license. This is what I have learned about Desmond Ford,
He was a generally pleasant person. His teachings did a lot of damage to the Seventh-day Adventist Message.
According to Hans LaRondelle and Gerhard Hasel, Ford insisted on multiple fulfillments of one-time prophetic events. This led him to eventually accept Antiochus Epiphanes as the Little Horn of Daniel 8.
He claimed that the Atonement was completed at the Cross, in a way that undercut the redemptive outworking of the priestly ministry of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary. For him, 1844 had no significance.
Morris Venden says he held discussions with Ford for over a year at PUC, and came away every time with the feeling that there was something wrong with Ford’s theology, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. He finally concluded that Ford was afraid of the judgment, and it led him (Ford) to undercut sanctification in his theology.
According to Roy Gane, at the 1998 Orlando ATS meeting, Desmond Ford and the fruit of his theology—Dale Ratzlaff—were fearful that the Judgment of God could move people from saved to lost, and they thus resisted the idea of an Investigative Judgment, on that basis. However, the righteous Judgment of God does not move people from lost-to-saved or vice-versa, it merely turns the lights on and reveals where people are standing. It doesn’t move them around. In the parable of the Wedding Banquet, the King came in to review the guests (Matthew 22:11). This is the Investigative Judgment in biblical allegory.
The Adventist Church did the right thing by firing Desmond Ford. That is the honorable thing to do with an employee who is at severe variance with his employer. To not terminate such an employee, risks corrupting the organization from within, through their example and inconsistent teachings. To not terminate them does great disservice to the variant employee himself, and also to the rest of the organization. We are accountable to each other in the working Body of Christ. I am, and you are. Ford was given time to reconcile his teachings with the Church, and failing to do that—was fired.
This defrocking of Desmond Ford appears to have been followed by an era of timid non-discipline in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This recoil away from meaningful accountability in the Church has wrought untold damage in the denomination, resulting in an almost-anything-goes climate of cowardice in the North American Division, unless of course you happen to be conservative. Then you can be punished for not falling in line with the North American Division parti pris.
After Ford was fired, a group of Pacific Union College students along with others at Andrews University founded a sympathetic unofficial journal, entitled Evangelica, in 1980. A group of liberal professors at the college also expressed their displeasure with the General Conference and its then president, Neal C. Wilson, by writing parodies of certain Adventist hymns, an event which became notorious in conservative Adventist circles as the "singing incident". All participants in the unofficial journal "Evangelica" were fired. This too, is a good thing for the working Body of Christ.
There were times in our Church when there was an overemphasis on human effort in salvation—in certain quarters. For some of these people, salvation seemed to hang on a tenuous thread forever imperiled. Into the resulting vacuum came a renewed stress on salvation as the gift of grace through faith alone. Human nature, being given to extremes, resulted in a recoil away from sanctification, towards justification only (mostly in western Adventism). Such serious charges are reinforced by the virtual absence from our pulpits and church-sponsored publications (such as the Adventist review, Ministry, Insight, and others) of materials that urge obedience to God’s Law in preparation for Jesus’ return. I would challenge you to find material like that in the last twenty-five years in any of those publications.
Ford’s theology has been accepted by a number of leaders in the Church, contributing to a wave of New Theology. Some found it attractive in ways that distanced them from previous Adventist faith. This New Theology offers a short-circuited religion, robbed of responsibility and is concerned little with preparation for Jesus’ soon Return. But the promise of redemption, and the panoramic vision of the great Controversy has kept aflame the candle of hope for a generation preparing to meet our Jesus in the Time of The End.
That’s what I know about Desmond Ford. I wish the Ford family peace as they lay the man to rest; I wish our denomination peace as we close this chapter of theological experimentation, and “find rest unto our souls” in proclaiming the Three Angels’ Messages.
We will not rest until the task is completed. Praise Him.
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment” (Matthew 22:11).