Seventh Day Adventism at the Crossroads – Program 1

By: Rev. Walter Rea, Dr. Desmond Ford; ©1982
What did Ellen G. White say happened in 1844? Why do some Seventh-day Adventists no longer believe that explanation is supported by the Bible?

What is the Sanctuary Explanation of 1844?


Dr. Desmond Ford—Widely respected Adventist theologian, author and pastor. He received his PhD from Manchester University, England, and has served as a theology professor at several Adventist seminaries and colleges. He is the author of nine books and many articles published in Adventist journals, and has sat on the highest doctrinal body of the church, The Biblical Research Institute.
Rev. Walter Rea—Scholar, author and pastor. Rev. Rea is recognized as the leading authority on the writings of Ellen G. White and has written more concerning her works than any other person.


Many people know the Adventists as the people who go to church on Saturday; others know them as the people who don’t eat meat. They are perhaps best known for their outstanding hospitals and clinics. But the Seventh-day Adventist Church is in turmoil and stands at the most critical crossroads in its history. Which way will this great church go? Those invited to speak for it but declined the invitation were Dr. Neal Wilson, President, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists; Dr. Robert Olsen, Chairman, the Ellen G. White Estates; Dr. Victor Cooper, Associate Director, General Conference of SDA; Mr. Warren Johns, Associate Editor, Ministry magazine, and Dr. William Johnsson, Associate Editor, Adventist Review. To help us uncover the answers, John will interview two of the leading spokesmen in the Adventist Church. They’ll discuss issues of Biblical authority, the writings of Ellen G. White, and recent charges of the church’s misuse of funds.

John Ankerberg: As of today, as of the taping of this program, this (Time magazine, August 2, 1982) is now hitting the newsstands. And here it says that of the 3.8 million-member Seventh-day Adventist Church, a couple of bombshells have been dropped, and one of those bombshells is a theological bombshell that, Dr. Ford, in part you are responsible for, or have at least brought up. Quoting Time it says this: “Ellen G. White’s Sanctuary Explanation of 1844, in your opinion is no longer able to stand up to the light of the Bible.” Let’s start with that. For all of us that are not Seventh-day Adventists, would you please explain a little bit about what the “Sanctuary Explanation of 1844” is?
Dr. Desmond Ford: Gladly, John. If I may just give a moment of background. You said you were not a Seventh-day Adventist; I accept that apology. I am one, and I love the church, but I want to see it come in full harmony with scripture. Adventists have long claimed to be the heirs of the Reformation, and the Reformation was based on the primacy and the adequacy and the sufficiency of Holy Writ. It was based on the priesthood of all believers and justification by faith. I want to see my church come into full harmony in these areas. I believe the church has made a great contribution to Christendom, its stress on the blessed hope in an age of hopelessness, its stress on the law in an age of lawlessness. But the Sanctuary as usually presented by Seventh-day Adventists seems to many to be a threat to the Reformation doctrine of salvation by grace alone.
Ankerberg: Okay, what is it?
Ford: The Adventist Sanctuary Doctrine affirms that in 1844 our Lord Jesus Christ entered the second apartment of the Heavenly Sanctuary—or as some would say entered upon a “second phase” of his ministry, this being a work of Investigative Judgment—a work that has now been in procedure for over 140 years, which is to determine who should be saved and who should be lost. A review of the saints, the way it is often presented, has taken assurance from the vast membership of the church.

Ankerberg: For those who are not Seventh-day Adventists, let’s pause here to clarify what Dr. Ford just said. Seventh-day Adventists believe Daniel 8:14 supports their view that Jesus moved from one compartment of the Heavenly Sanctuary to another in 1844. At that point, Jesus began an Investigative Judgment of all Christians. Ellen White wrote: “Attended by heavenly angels, our great High Priest enters the Holy of Holies and there appears in the presence of God to perform the work of Investigative Judgment and to make atonement for all who are shown to be entitled to its benefits.”
But a number of Seventh-day Adventists, like Dr. Ford, are questioning this. They believe the Bible teaches that atonement was completed at the cross through the shed blood of Christ and that believers’ sins are forgiven once for all at the moment of salvation.
However, Ellen White has written, “The blood of Christ, while it was to release the repentant sinner from the condemnation of the law, was not to cancel the sin. It would stand on record in the Sanctuary until the final atonement.” She also wrote, “In the New Covenant, the sins of the repentant are by faith placed upon Christ and transferred in fact to the Heavenly Sanctuary. The actual cleansing of the heavenly is to be accomplished by the removal of sins which are there recorded. But before this can be accomplished, there must be an examination of the Books of Record to determine who, through repentance and faith in Christ, are entitled to the benefits of His atonement.”
But some Seventh-day Adventists, like Dr. Ford, point out that God has removed forgiven sin as far as the East is from the West. Why then, they ask, must there be any further Investigative Judgment by Christ based on past sins to determine a believer’s salvation? The key question that emerges is this: Is salvation by faith alone—that is, faith in Christ, whose life and death satisfies God’s demands—or is it by a mixture of faith plus works; that is, faith in Christ who only gives me strength for me to go out and live perfectly so He can later finally approve me?

Ford: The way it is often presented has taken assurance from the vast membership of the church. Very few Adventists, comparatively, rejoice in the known possession of eternal life now, in harmony with John 5:24: “He who believes has eternal life….” Usually Adventists think that if they can get through that tremendous hurdle of their name passed into the Investigative Judgment, that if their characters are found in harmony with the law of God, they can make it. If I can read three lines from a president of the General Conference on the point. This is what he wrote in Drama of the Ages. This is Elder Branson: “A Christian who through faith in Jesus Christ has faithfully kept the law’s requirements will be acquitted. There is no condemnation for the law finds no fault in him.” If that’s true, we’re all done for.
Ankerberg: Okay. Let’s go back. I think you lost a few of us here. The first that I was thinking about is, Why do we even need a Sanctuary doctrine?
Ford: The Seventh-day Adventist Sanctuary Doctrine grew out of the Miller Revival, the Advent revival in 1844; a Baptist pastor who was responsible for the resurgence of pre-millennialism, the doctrine that Jesus Christ would come before the millennium, which was quite contrary to the post-millennialism of the day. In an age of progress, it was taken for granted the world would get better and better for a thousand years then Jesus would come.
Ankerberg: Miller was a skeptic…
Ford: That’s right.
Ankerberg: …then found the Lord. Under his own study he came up with the idea that the Lord was coming back in 1844.
Ford: That’s right. An honest Christian who preached Christ, who preached the gospel, but sadly, ultimately—not for years—ultimately settled on a date of October 22, 1844 for Christ to come. Most people in the movement were opposed to date setting.
Ankerberg: What verse did he get that from?
Ford: He felt it was found in Daniel 8:14 when linked with Daniel 9:24.
Ankerberg: Okay, read it for us.
Ford: Daniel 8:14 in the KJV says, “Unto 2,300 days, then shall the saints be cleansed.” And Daniel 9:24 speaks about “70 weeks are determined upon thy people….” The Adventists have said the word determined means “cut off from.” So 490 years would be cut off from 2,300 and both should begin with the date of Daniel 9:25—a decree to restore Jerusalem in 457 BC.

Ankerberg: How did William Miller pick the date of 1844 AD as the time Jesus would return to earth? He made at least five wrong assumptions to do so. First, he assumed two unrelated passages of scripture—Daniel 8:14 and Daniel 9:24—were actually related.
Second, in Daniel 8:14 he assumed that the 2,300 days mentioned could means 2,300 years. He was wrong. The Hebrew literally reads, “2,300 evenings and mornings,” which total 1,150 whole days.
Third, he further assumed from Daniel 8:14 that in the words, “Then shall the sanctuary be cleansed,” that the sanctuary stood for the whole earth, and “cleansed” stood for Jesus leaving Heaven and coming to earth. Again, he was wrong. The Hebrew word for “cleansed” literally means “vindicated.”
Fourth, in the other verse, Daniel 9:24, he assumed that when the seventy sevens, or 490 years were decreed, the word “decreed” could be translated “cut off from.” He was wrong. The Hebrew literally means decreed or determined. He further postulated the 490 years mentioned here were “cut off from” the 2,300 years postulated in the other passage of Daniel 8:14.
Fifth, from these two non-related texts, he joined his wrongly translated words in those texts to assume he knew when the 2,300 years began and when they would end.
This postulated date, mixed with his assumption that the cleansing of the sanctuary stood for Jesus coming to earth, led Miller to wrongly conclude that Jesus would come back to the earth on October 22, 1844 AD. Later, in a vision, Ellen G. White claimed it was revealed to her that Jesus did not come to earth, or “the earthly sanctuary” as she called it, rather, on October 22, 1844, Jesus changed his location in Heaven and entered the Heavenly Sanctuary, or the Holy of Holies.

Ford: The event did not take place, of course…
Ankerberg: That was great disillusionment …
Ford: …great disillusionment; not the extreme going up on hilltops in ascension robes, and all that has been debunked long ago by historians; nevertheless, tremendous disillusionment, and Adventists who felt the Lord had led them sought for an explanation. Those that became Seventh-day Adventists came up with the explanation after 13 years, in 1857, came up with the explanation: Investigative Judgment; that at that time Christ had come, not to earth, but to the most holy place of Heaven, to do an antitypical work of judgment as prefigured by the day of atonement.
Ankerberg: In other words, would you say that it was a face-saving device?
Ford: Most theologians from outside looking at it have drawn that conclusion, particularly inasmuch as Adventists had several other explanations—shut door, going into the marriage, receiving the kingdom—there were a number of other theological devices that were tried for awhile, found wanting and given away before this one was adopted. James White, husband of Ellen White, opposed this one in print in the church paper when it originally came out, but in 1857 it took control.
Ankerberg: Okay. And so, Jesus was supposed to come back to the earthly sanctuary, or the earth—he didn’t come; and so, was it Ellen G. White that said…?
Ford: No. Ellen White did not devise a single doctrine of the Adventist church, but she did write on it after it had been accepted by the church.
Ankerberg: Okay. But she accepted and….
Ford: Promulgated it.
Rev. Walter Rea: She endorsed it.
Ankerberg: She endorsed it, that Jesus had not come to this sanctuary but had just switched compartments in the heavenly.
Ford: To begin a work of Investigative Judgment to see who would be saved when Jesus came. And this, to most of the scholars of the church, flies in the face of the everlasting gospel, which says that we can have assurance of eternal life now. That we had the verdict of the last judgment the moment we believed, because Christ’s merits and Christ’s merits alone are the only issue in the judgment, have we laid hold of them by faith.
Ankerberg: What, in brief, are the reasons that you have found do not support that original interpretation?
Ford: John, I am not an original thinker in this area. The things I am saying have been said by various men in the church for nearly a century.
Ankerberg: Okay, give us some of the things that they have been saying that would be solid evidence.
Ford: Right. The major thing is this: There is only one place in the New Testament that speaks of the meaning of the two apartments of the Jewish sanctuary. That’s Hebrews 9. There is only one place in the New Testament that discusses the cleansing of the Heavenly Sanctuary—that’s Hebrews 9. There is only one part in the New Testament that explains in detail the meaning of the antitypical day of atonement when the high priest went into the Most Holy, but that’s Hebrews 9. This chapter embarrasses Seventh-day Adventists to no end. Of course, I’m generalizing. The scholars have known what I’ve said for decades. This doctrine has not been taught at our university for decades.
Ankerberg: What have the scholars known all of these years concerning Hebrews 9 that seems to straighten us out in terms of what scripture is saying about the two sanctuaries and the Investigative Judgment?
Ford: John, to take the cross from the Christian is like blotting the sun out of the sky. And when the writer of Hebrews talks about the Ancient Sanctuary, he makes it all point to the cross of Christ. And when we come to Hebrews 9 he opens the chapter by discussing the two apartments of the sanctuary. And if we look at verse 6 he says that when everything had been arranged like this, the priest entered regularly into the outer room. There’s the first apartment, to carry on the ministry. But, he’s going to talk about the second apartment all the way through, so now he has a “but.” “But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year and never without blood.” And then verse 8: “The Holy Spirit was showing by this the way into the most holy place”—that’s the equivalent of the word “inner room” or “second” room mentioned in verse 7; now it’s called the most holy place—“had not yet been disclosed as long as the first room was still standing.”
This is an illustration for the present time. In other words, Hebrews is saying, the first apartment represented the Jewish age; verse 9 and 10 goes on to talk about the age of food and drink offerings, various carnal regulations that couldn’t clear the conscience. And the writer of Hebrews says the first apartment represented the first era, the Jewish era, when those continual ministrations that didn’t achieve anything because the cross hadn’t come.
But to the second apartment, when the High Priest went through the veil into the presence of God, where the Shekinah was, the Ark was, and the Mercy Seat; where the blood was sprinkled. That represented our Lord Jesus Christ in the cross, resurrection, ascension event. So there’s the first answer. The two apartments, according to the New Testament, the only place that discusses them, are said to prefigure the two eras: one, the Jewish, not the era until 1844, as Adventists had said, but the Jewish era; and the second apartment, not the era from 1844, but the whole Christian age.
Now the second point, the meaning of the cleansing of the sanctuary, verse 23: “It was necessary then for the copies of the heavenly things to be cleansed with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves [cleansed] were better sacrifices than these. For Christ didn’t enter a manmade sanctuary—it was only a copy of the true one—He entered Heaven itself.” And then verse 25: “Nor did he enter Heaven to offer himself again and again the way the high priest enters the most holy place every year with blood that is not his own.”
So here the writer says the cleansing of the earthly sanctuary on the day of atonement pointed toward the time when Christ would cleanse the record, the shadow of sin, which has been cast into Heaven through the ages of transgression of God’s holy law, that Christ would cleanse away that blot by shedding his own blood, the better sacrifice. He entered Heaven itself with blood, you see. And then it speaks about the sacrifice of himself in verse 26. So there’s the second. The cleansing of the sanctuary is said to be fulfilled on the cross of Christ and Christ ascending into the most holy place.
Now, the third one, the meaning of the day of atonement. And we go to verse 12 of chapter 9 again, all three in chapter 9: “He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves” —these are what we used on the day of atonement—“but he entered the most holy place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.” So that is the parallel to verse 8: Only the high priest entered the inner room only once a year and never without blood; verse 12, he entered with blood, but not of goats and calves, the most holy place, once for all having obtained eternal redemption. So the high priest’s entrance, on the day of atonement, into the second apartment is said here to be fulfilled when our Lord died on the cross and by virtue of his own blood entered into the presence of God on our behalf, taking with him legally the whole human race.
So the moment I affirm by faith that he represented me, he substituted for me, that moment I am as close to God as he is, and the law can no more condemn me than it condemned him, because the great atonement has been offered. The atonement is complete; salvation is procured; sin has been blotted out; I have eternal life. So long as I trust in the merits of Jesus, I cannot be lost. That’s the gospel. So these are the three points.
Ankerberg: Okay, Walter?
Rea: What he said, John, is a very important point of it’s not just theology that Ford caused the dilemma in. The Adventist does not believe nor does not teach nor has not taught that the atonement was complete at the cross, but that experience comes with conversion with Christ at the cross. You see, they separated it. And to an Adventist, technically and philosophically, I think his atonement is never completed until after his judgment and the coming of Christ.
Ford: The Adventist is tempted to hold his breath until he’s gotten through the Investigative Judgment. This is not true of everyone, because there are many people in the Adventist church that do know the gospel. People who only know the traditional teaching, it’s different.
Ankerberg: Can I summarize this and see if I’m right or wrong here, okay? When a person is converted under the teachings that you have been saying have not been correct, when they were converted, in one sense they still weren’t sure of Heaven, they weren’t sure they were going to make it, because of this doctrine…
Ford: That’s correct.
Rea: That’s correct.
Ankerberg: …which simply says that in 1844 Jesus started investigating people, started going back on the records, and as he looked at those records, somewhere along the line he was going to come up to you in the present,…
Ford: That’s right. I could come into judgment at any time….
Ankerberg: …and when he did come to you in the present, what did he do?
Ford: He would weigh my life in the balances of the sanctuary. Now, according to the President of the General Conference…
Ankerberg: Even though you were converted already?
Ford: Yes. According to the President of the General Conference, Pastor Branson, unless my life was found in harmony with the law of God, I’m a “goner.” And one other place, and I quote him again: “If it is found that one has broken even a single precept, and this transgression is unconfessed, he will be dealt with just as if he had broken all ten.” So here even salvation depends on good memory.
Rea: And the interesting thing is that it came to mean not only the Ten Commandments but all of the ideas and concepts of Ellen G. White, which ties the problem together.
Ankerberg: Okay. So a person who was converted, he was still looking toward this Investigative Judgment. Would he ever know while he is living?
Rea: Oh, no.
Ford: Usually Adventists have said that this would happen towards the end of time, but nevertheless in popular homiletic presentations it has often been said, “Your name may come up at any time.” And instead of the glad, joyous note that should characterize every Christian that knows the Good News, so many earnest Adventists have been bowed down with guilt, wondering whether they are going to make it.
Rea: And, John, we have even said and argued theologically, you can remember, that, well, maybe some of your probation has closed and you don’t know it. Wow, what a thought, you know? Perhaps you’re just playing the game.
Ankerberg: In other words, at that point, if you are to be the progenitors—the ones that advance the Reformation, it seems to me that you’ve picked up the very theology that the Reformation was working against.
Ford: John, that’s correct. It can be said this way, that the Council of Trent opposed the Reformation and began to talk about an infused righteousness; that God medicinally infused righteousness so man could be blessed and justified.
Ankerberg: In other words, Christ, when at conversion came into your life, he gave you the power, and you’ve got to work it out after that.
Ford: That’s right. And tragically, that has been the theological belief of many Adventists. They think their sins were forgiven when they came in, but then they roll up their sleeves, they cooperate with God and get such a sanctification that that sanctification can meet the gaze of the Lawgiver. It just ignores…
Ankerberg: But some people say, “You know, but that sounds just like the gospel I believe. Why are you saying that’s not the gospel?”
Ford: Because the infinite law of God takes account of our motives. It looks at every drive. Even the desire of sin is sin. It looks at our mixed motives and, you see, that the teaching of the Bible on depravity says that it’s not enough, even if we keep the law from now on. One slip will fix us. One slip will ruin us. The law demands perfect thoughts, perfect desires, perfect motives from the beginning of your experience. None of us will ever have this to offer and unless we are saved by grace alone, we will not be saved.
Rea: The interesting thing, too, was that it emphasized that sin was an act, not an attitude. It’s an Old Testament concept rather than a New Testament. So many Adventists—faithful Adventists, good Adventists—are really Old Testament believers, not New Testament Christians, because they believe that sin is an act, not an attitude.
Ford: Right!
Ankerberg: Let me see if we can get this into some other terms for people. Let’s take the terms, these big hairy theological words like justification and sanctification, okay? What I hear you saying is that Seventh-day Adventists got those words confused and turned them around and… let’s put this in language for the laymen. What is justification? What is sanctification? Let’s come up with an illustration here.
Ford: Let me say something first, John. It’s very difficult to put all that in one bag, because that would not be correct. There’s a wide spectrum of Adventists. I’ll hardly say anything tonight that a large number of our scholars would not say “Amen” to in their hearts, at least, see?
Ankerberg: We’re going to bring this up, though. There are 3.8 million Adventists and how many of them are scholars?
Ford: Well, an influential, very tiny minority. But influential.
Rea: How influential?
Ankerberg: Later on we’re going to come back to that.
Ford: The term justification—it’s the same word in the Greek as “righteousness,” and what it means is the verdict of acquittal, the verdict of forgiveness. But more than forgiveness; the imputation, the reckoning to us of the merits of Christ so we stand without guilt, spotless before God, as spotless as His own Son, for as long as we believe in His Son. You can never be lost while trusting the merits of Jesus. Justification is continual. It’s over you like the cloud that protected Israel from the sun all their days, and there’s no condemnation.
Ankerberg: So the Reformation made the point for illustration that it didn’t take place inside you, it took place outside of you.
Ford: That’s right. It is reckoned; it is external. My righteousness is in Heaven. That’s why I can’t lose it, so long as I’m trusting Him.
Ankerberg: And sanctification? Quickly…
Ford: Sanctification is the fruit of it, whereby the Holy Spirit comes in and begins that lifetime process of changing my life, because God does not justify any he does not sanctify. He gives his gift with both hands. We are not talking about cheap grace. Obedience to the law of God is the fruit of salvation, but it is never the root. Now, with many Adventists, they have sadly taken hold of the pagan philosophy, “If I’m good, God will love me.” The gospel is the opposite. God loves you though you are not good. And if you believe it, you’ll become good.
Ankerberg: And also this whole idea that I can be perfect, once I’m converted….
Ford: The New Testament knows nothing of sinless perfectionism. The Bible says in many things we all offend. The Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses…” None of us will ever outgrow it. But it’s not willful sin. The Christian does not willfully cherish known sin. He hates his sin, but now he is accepted. He’s mainly overcoming it.

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