Why Desmond Ford was Wrong About the Sanctuary, Part 1

Share It :

Why Desmond Ford was Wrong About the Sanctuary, Part 1

It was a conflict destined to divide campuses, congregations, conferences, even divisions—and it is with us yet today.


Nearly four decades beyond Glacier View and its stormy aftermath, it behooves us to review and to answer—for ourselves, and for the rising generations—the questions raised regarding this doctrine, and why these issues continue to matter so deeply to the church’s relevance and identity.


RELATED ARTICLE: Restoring the Sanctuary


Across the Internet, in college and university classrooms, in sermons, magazine articles (in the mainstream as well as fringe publications), and Sabbath School classes, doubts regarding this doctrine—together with suggestions for revising and reimagining it—continue to be heard throughout the church. The hemorrhage of pastors, laity, and congregations begun in the fall of 1980 has not ceased, even if at times it seems to ebb and the issues appear to recede.


Without fail, former or wavering Adventists raising objections to their faith mention this doctrine. And for good reason. If the 1844 theology is false, the Adventist faith is a colossal hoax. If, by contrast, it is true, the awful yet glorious burden of eschatological destiny rests on the shoulders of every Seventh-day Adventist. It is therefore fitting that attacks on the legitimacy of our faith should focus significantly on this matter.


The drama of forty years ago was one that the present writer experienced both as an actor and spectator. I was a sophomore theology major at Pacific Union College, who with many friends was present at the Adventist Forum meeting on October 27, 1979, when the late Desmond Ford publicly attacked the Biblical foundations of the Adventist sanctuary doctrine. An active participant in campus life, I was a daily witness to the struggles of fellow students as they grappled with the issues—the classroom crossfire between critics and defenders, the charge of alleged cover-up, evasion, and unfairness directed at church leaders, the question of where to set limits in the tolerance of expressed ideas, and the persistent notion of too many that the entire discussion was superfluous because “doctrine really doesn’t matter so long as you love Jesus.”


RELATED ARTICLE: Is Knowledge a Requirement of Salvation?


With so many participants in the crises of those years having passed from the scene, it is time for those whose faith both survived and triumphed during that era to tell “the other side” of the Glacier View saga.

The Road to Glacier View—and Beyond

In early 1979, more than two decades of controversy in First World Adventism over the salvation and Christology issues began to rise to a new level.  For some time, it had been evident to certain ones that the popular evangelical gospel, often labeled the New Theology—with its belief in salvation by justification alone, a finished atonement on Calvary, and the imperfectability of Christian character—produced inevitable tensions with the sanctuary doctrine as historically taught by Seventh-day Adventists.[1] In the spring of 1979, these tensions came at last into the open, with the publication of Robert Brinsmead’s 1844 ReExamined.[2]


The theological alignment (if not collusion) of Desmond Ford and Robert Brinsmead throughout the 1970s has been documented by sympathizers to their cause.[3] Both Ford in his position as chairman of the Avondale College Theology Department, and Brinsmead as editor of Present Truth (later Verdict) magazine, exerted their influence during this time in the promotion of such doctrines as original sin, the unfallen nature of Christ, righteousness by faith as justification alone, justification as declarative only, and character perfection as an impossibility this side of heaven.[4]


RELATED ARTICLE: Why Adventist Scholars Should Revisit Perfection Theology


But the doubts of both men regarding the church’s sanctuary theology were expressed but quietly, if at all. (Brinsmead would later acknowledge that earlier in the decade, he had urged both Ford and Edward Heppenstall to come out publicly against the 1844/investigative judgment teachings of classic Adventism).[5] Careful observers recognized, however, that the tension between the New Theology on salvation and the Adventist sanctuary message would eventually reach a breaking point. Following Ford’s open attack on the sanctuary doctrine, Adventist Review editor Kenneth Wood stated in a letter to the present writer,


It has appeared to me for a long time that Dr. Ford’s approach to the Bible and the writings of Ellen White would eventually lead him to this point.[6]


In 1844 Re-Examined, Brinsmead disputed the Biblical foundation of the Adventist sanctuary message in Daniel 8,[7] insisted that the book of Hebrews taught the immediate entrance of Christ into the heavenly Most Holy Place at His ascension,[8] and sought to dissuade Adventists from resorting to Ellen White for a defense of the church’s historic stand, on the grounds that—in his view—one such as Ellen White can possess a genuine spiritual gift while at the same time misusing it.[9] In other words, Brinsmead claimed Ellen White could still be seen as a genuine prophet, while presumably being wrong at times in both teaching and lifestyle.


RELATED ARTICLE: The Reality of the Heavenly Sanctuary


Brinsmead’s challenge was clearly on many minds, especially at Pacific Union College, when I and others arrived for the start of the 1979-80 school year. On the Fall Quarter Events Calendar, we soon noted a scheduled meeting of the Association of Adventist Forums, with Desmond Ford as the featured speaker. His title: “The Investigative Judgment: Theological Milestone or Historical Necessity?”[10] (The very words rang uneasy bells in the minds of the faithful.) The meeting was scheduled for October 27, 1979.


I Remember it Well


It was a lovely autumn Sabbath. Word seemed to have gotten around that Ford was about to make a major statement. Devotees of his theology gathered to the PUC campus from far and near. One reported to me much later that the evening before, Ford had stated to her, “What I say tomorrow will be heard around the world.” More than a few seemed to know this.


That same evening, I spoke on the telephone with Dr. Herbert Douglass, then serving as the senior book editor at the Pacific Press. He was certain Ford would be extremely subtle in his assertions and would need—in Douglass’ words—to be “smoked out of his lair.” He believed it utterly out of the question that Ford would join Brinsmead in directly attacking the historic SDA sanctuary doctrine. I then told Douglass I would call him the following evening, after Ford’s presentation, but only if something dramatic occurred. He seemed quite sure I would not be calling him.


He was in for a Surprise


At 3:30 the following afternoon, two friends and I knelt for prayer in my dormitory room, prior to leaving for the meeting site. Somehow we too sensed something serious was about to happen. As we approached Paulin Hall, where the meeting was to occur, we saw the doors open and a crowd start pouring out. Running ahead, I learned that due to overflow numbers, the meeting was being relocated to Irwin Hall, PUC’s historic building which then overlooked the lower expanse of classrooms, walkways, and the college church complex. My friends and I turned around and hurried up the long stone staircase, anxious to find good seats. At one point I asked, with a hint of sarcasm, “What are we running for? So we can hear the investigative judgment thrown away?” My negative premonitions were getting stronger than ever.


Ford began his discourse with his own testimony, describing doubts he had held for decades about the harmony of the Adventist sanctuary doctrine with the book of Hebrews. He went on to discount the validity of the year-day principle, denied any linguistic connection between Daniel 8:14 and the depiction in Leviticus 16 of the ancient cleansing of the sanctuary, and declared that the book of Hebrews places Christ in the Most Holy Place, not in 1844, but immediately at His ascension.


RELATED ARTICLE: In Defense of the Year-Day Principle


My hand shook as I took notes—from chagrin, disbelief, and the unmistakable awareness that I was witnessing a pivotal moment in Adventist history.


The crowd loved every word, greeting Ford’s message with enthusiastic applause. At least one retired North American Division president was there, rising to his feet during the question period with a choked voice and a breaking heart. A group of us gathered in the back after the meeting, hardly believing what we had just heard. Upon returning to my dorm room, I called Dr. Douglass again, as I had promised to do in the event Ford’s message was newsworthy. I read him my notes over the telephone. By the time I finished, the veteran theologian was in tears.


Tapes of the meeting belted the world in days. Soon the General Conference intervened, arranging with Pacific Union College that Ford be given a six-month leave of absence, during which time he would prepare a defense of his views, which would then be examined by a committee of persons from varied backgrounds. Ford’s manuscript, titled, “Daniel 8:14, the Day of Atonement, and the Investigative Judgment,” totaled 991 pages, and was eventually published in book form.[11] An abbreviated version of the manuscript was also published in Spectrum magazine.[12]


A group of 114 scholars, pastors, and church administrators, soon to be called the Sanctuary Review Committee, met to consider Ford’s case at the Glacier View Ranch near Ward, Colorado, during the week of August 10-15, 1980.[13] Less than a month later, following unsuccessful efforts by church leaders to urge Ford’s reconsideration of his stand,[14] the General Conference recommended to the Australasian Division that Ford’s ministerial credentials be removed. This was done.


RELATED ARTICLE: Seventh-day Adventism Doctrinal Statements, and Unity


The years that followed would see scores of pastors and a number of congregations exit the ministry as well as the denomination. And the controversy thus ignited continues to this day


It is an epoch the church dare not forget. And one whose unfinished business remains essential to the task of the contemporary church.


Following is a summary of the major issues raised by Desmond Ford and his fellow travelers regarding the sanctuary doctrine, both in the Glacier View era and in the years since:


  1. The focus of the judgment and sanctuary cleansing in Daniel 7 and 8 is not the people of God, but their enemies.[15]
  2. The year-day principle lacks clear Biblical support.[16]
  3. The word “cleansed” is not a correct translation of Daniel 8:14.[17]
  4. Antiochus Epiphanes was the primary, if not exclusive, fulfillment of the little-horn prophecy in Daniel 7 and 8.[18]
  5. The book of Hebrews teaches that Christ entered the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary at His ascension.[19]
  6. The Bible teaches neither a two-apartment heavenly sanctuary nor a two-phased ministry by Jesus in heaven.[20]
  7. The phrase “within the veil” in the book of Hebrews refers to the second veil or entrance to the Most Holy Place.[21]
  8. Seventh-day Adventists are wrong in teaching that sacrificial blood defiled the sanctuary, either on earth or in heaven.[22]
  9. The writings of Ellen White have no rightful authority in settling doctrinal controversy within the church.[23]
  10. The sanctuary doctrine, as historically taught by Seventh-day Adventists, contradicts the New Testament gospel of grace.[24]


For those wishing an in-depth response to the sanctuary challenges noted above, and related challenges as well, the present writer has prepared a three-part series titled, “The Sanctuary Doctrine: Cultic or Biblical?”,[25] written in reply to The Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventists, by former Adventist minister Dale Ratzlaff.[26] The responses that follow are provided for those seeking more abbreviated answers.

Click here to read the rest of this series on Desmond Ford.



[1] See Colin D. Standish and Russell R. Standish, The Gathering Storm and The Storm Bursts (Rapidan, VA: Hartland Publications, 2000), pp. 57-60.

[2] Robert D. Brinsmead, 1844 Re-Examined—Syllabus (Fallbrook, CA: IHI, 1979).

[3] Geoffrey J. Paxton, The Shaking of Adventism (Wilmington, DE: Zenith Publishers, Inc, 1977), pp. 221-124,128-133; Ray Martin, “What is Happening in Australia?” p. 1.

[4] Desmond and Gillian Ford, The Human Nature of Christ in Salvation (Cooranbong, N.S.W: Avondale College Theology Department, 1975); Brinsmead, “A Summary of Basic Catholic/Protestant Differences on Justification by Faith,” Present Truth, October 1975, p. 40; “The Theology of Imitation: Is Salvation by Imitation or by Grace?”

[5] Larry Pahl, “Where is Robert Brinsmead?” Adventist Today, May-June 1999, p. 13.

[6] Letter of Kenneth H. Wood to Kevin Paulson, December 6, 1979.

[7] Brinsmead, 1844 Re-Examined, p. 79.

[8] Ibid, pp. 82-84.

[9] Ibid, p. 162.

[10] Schneider, “Twenty-Five Years After Glacier View and Who Cares?” Spectrum, Winter 2005, p. 6.

[11] Ford, Daniel 8:14, the Day of Atonement, and the Investigative Judgment (Castleberry, FL: Euangelion Press, 1980).

[12] “Daniel 8:14 and the Day of Atonement,” Spectrum, November 1980, pp. 30-36.

[13] William G. Johnsson, “Overview of a historic meeting,” Adventist Review, Sept. 4, 1980, pp. 2-7.

[14] “Events Since Glacier View,” Ministry, October 1980, pp. 14-15.

[15] Desmond Ford, Noel Mason, & Brad McIntyre, “Who’s On Trial in Daniel 7?” Good News for Adventists (Auburn, CA: Good News Unlimited, 2005), pp. 28-30; Dale Ratzlaff, The Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventists: An Evangelical Resource/An Appeal to SDA Leadership (Sedona, AZ: Life Assurance Ministries, 1996), p. 180.

[16] Ford, Good News for Adventists, pp. 32,52; Ratzlaff, Cultic Doctrine, pp. 176-177.

[17] Ford & McIntyre, “Constant Debate Over Daniel 8,” Good News for Adventists, pp. 32-33; Ratzlaff, Cultic Doctrine, p. 179.

[18] Ford, Daniel 8:14, the Day of Atonement, and the Investigative Judgment (Castleberry, FL: Euangelion Press, 1980), pp. 234-239; Ratzlaff, Cultic Doctrine, pp. 169-172.

[19] Ford, Mason, & McIntyre, “A ‘Better’ Interpretation of Hebrews 9,” Good News for Adventists, pp. 37-39; Ratzlaff, Cultic Doctrine, p. 210.

[20] Ford, Mason, & McIntyre, Good News for Adventists, pp. 38-39,52-53.

[21] Ford, Good News for Adventists, p. 52; Ratzlaff, Cultic Doctrine, pp. 173-175.

[22] Ford, Good News for Adventists, p. 52; Ratzlaff, Cultic Doctrine, pp. 207-208.

[23] Ford, Daniel 8:14, pp. 335-399, A-238-245; Good News for Adventists, p. 5; Ratzlaff, Cultic Doctrine, pp. 276-278.

[24] Ford & McIntyre, Good News for Adventists, pp. 13-15,22-24; Ratzlaff, Cultic Doctrine, pp. 225-240,302-303,319-341.

[25] Kevin D. Paulson, “The Sanctuary Doctrine: Cultic or Biblical?” Parts 1-3, http://everlasting-gospel.blogspot.com/2010/01/sanctuary-doctrine-cultic-or-biblical.html; http://everlasting-gospel.blogspot.com/2010/01/sanctuary-doctrine-cultic-or-biblical_13.html; http://everlasting-gospel.blogspot.com/2010/01/sanctuary-doctrine-cultic-or-biblical_16.html

[26] Dale Ratzlaff, The Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventists: An Evangelical Resource/An Appeal to SDA Leadership (Sedona, AZ: Life Assurance Ministries, 1996).

Share It :


About the author

Kevin Paulson

Pastor Kevin Paulson holds a Bachelor’s degree in theology from Pacific Union College, a Master of Arts in systematic theology from Loma Linda University, and a Master of Divinity from the SDA Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He served the Greater New York Conference of Seventh-day Adventists for ten years as a Bible instructor, evangelist, and local pastor. He writes regularly for Liberty magazine and serves as a script writer for the It Is Written television ministry and other media ministries within the church. He also serves as the leading webmaster of ADvindicate.com, where many articles by him and others can be found which address a variety of denominational issues. He continues to hold evangelistic and revival meetings throughout the North American Division and beyond, and is a sought-after seminar speaker relative to current issues in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He presently resides in Berrien Springs, Michigan.