Questions on Doctrine, 2

Questions on Doctrine, 2


Part two of an 8 part series by the late Dr. Ralph Larson entitled, The Scandal of a Book.


When I publicly defended the purity of our historic Seventh-day Adventist
faith in Loma Linda, I was promptly accused of being divisive, combative, controversial, troublesome, etc. A tiny group of elders set up a meeting to discuss my case, and asked the Conference president to be present. I had to remind them that I was responsible to
the Conference Committee, not to them, and that I would not submit to any “Kangaroo Court” proceedings, but that I would gladly submit to a trial before the Conference Committee.

An elder visited me in my office, and told me that I was not preaching the true gospel. This rather surprised me. In thirty years of preaching and teaching my gospel had always been regarded as true. Why was it not true in Loma Linda? The elder advised me to read the sermons of my predecessor, Elder William Lehman. There I would find the true gospel, he said. I complied, but was still puzzled. When I reported this to the elder, he said, “You need to read the writings of Dr. Edward Heppenstall.” I readily agreed to do this. I had studied under Dr. Heppenstall in college, and had greatly appreciated his classes. I did not know then that he had been a member of the group that had produced Questions On Doctrine. I was soon able to secure three books. Two of them were entirely written by Dr. Heppenstall and the third had a section written by him. The first, Salvation Unlimited,(1) was published in 1974, three years before my
arrival in Campus Hill church. The second, Perfection,(2) was published in 1975. The third, The Man Who Is God,(3) was published in 1977, the year in which these events were occurring.

But I did not find in them the help that I needed. Some passages in them fervently promoted the Calvinistic doctrine that Christians can not and need not stop sinning. Other passages as fervently denied it. From the many examples of self- contradiction that could be cited, I submit two: “Sinless perfection is God’s ideal for His children. . . . This will be realized with the return of Christ, not before.” Perfection, 63. (All emphasis supplied by the author.) “The Bible rejects every possibility of our reaching sinless perfection in this life.” Perfection, 73.

“The Christian should have no difficulty in rendering honor to the law by his obedience to it.” Salvation Unlimited, 226.

So the three books-one published in 1974 (Salvation Unlimited), another in 1975 (Perfection), and the third (The Man Who Is God) in 1977-were in total disagreement. It would be impossible for me to agree with all of them. I had to make a choice. I chose to agree with the book that was most loyal to our faith (Salvation Unlimited) and to disagree with the ones that seemed to be supporting the Calvinist doctrine of salvation in sin (Perfection and The Man Who Is God).

When Dr. Heppenstall learned that I was disagreeing with him, he was most displeased. He called and demanded that I provide a time for him to come to the Campus Hill church to defend his views. If I did not comply with his wishes, he said, he would take the matter to my Conference president, and I would be in very serious trouble.
I arranged for him to speak at a prayer meeting. I also spoke, and explained some of the reasons for my disagreement with him. Then I had reason to remember something that Walt Blehm had told me while he was urging me to come to Campus Hill. He had said:

“Ralph, the Campus Hill pulpit is one of the three most sensitive pulpits in our church. What you preach there on Sabbath morning will be discussed at our Washington headquarters on Sunday morning.”

That didn’t mean very much to me at the time, but it proved to be true in regard to that prayer meeting. The news did not stop in Washington. It went on around the world.
And that was only the beginning. I soon had to point out to Desmond Ford that he had grossly misrepresented a statement of Ellen White and had actually reversed
the obvious meaning of her words. He demanded evidence, which I readily supplied. Some were deeply offended by this.

I had to deal with a staff problem. One of my associate pastors was fervently following both Ford and Robert Brinsmead, and promoting their teachings. This was leading to much confusion and very severe tensions in the church.

I was summoned to Washington to be part of a committee that would examine Dr. Ford’s teaching that Christians can not and need not stop sinning. The Administration would publish our findings in the Review. A very clear majority of the large committee (120 persons) supported the conclusion of a sub-committee, that Dr. Ford’s opinions were not correct.

But the Administration decided to not publish this in the Review. This was a disappointment. If that large committee, chosen from all over the world, had been permitted to announce their findings in the Review, that would have made a significant and meaningful difference. But the report simply said that the question whether Christians can not and need not stop sinning was being left open for further study.

But a few weeks later Dr. Ford “came out of the closet” and launched his now well-known, open attack on our Sanctuary doctrine. He had told one of my associate pastors that ninety-five per cent of all of our church’s ministers were with him. He apparently thought that this was his time to boldly challenge the church and take control of a large part of it.

I was one of those who were requested to analyze Dr. Ford’s attack on the Sanctuary doctrine and send my findings to the General Conference. There was a General Conference Session coming up soon, and after that a special committee would meet at Glacier View to consider the Ford problem.

I did not respond to this request promptly. I was growing weary of the conflict, and thought that I had stopped enough “bullets” for a while. I would let someone else do it this time. But then my conscience started bothering me, and I finally undertook the assignment.

The results were appalling. I counted 25 separate arguments in Dr. Ford’s attack on the Sanctuary. Of these, I judged 23 to be totally fictitious, fake, and false. The other two were partial untruths.

I wrote all of this into a paper called a “Reply.” But then I had a problem. There was not time enough to get my “Reply” to the General Conference, and there copied and mailed out to the people who would need it at Glacier View.

What should I do? I had my secretaries make copies, and I loaded them into my suitcase and took a plane for the General Conference Session in Dallas, Texas. I would deliver them myself.

I had a list of the persons who would be on the Glacier View committee to consider the Ford problem. They were of course attending the General Conference Session. I spent most of a day locating their motel rooms and having the clerks put a copy of my “Reply” into their mail boxes. When this was done, I was ready to go home. Business meetings, board meetings, and committee meetings have always been a drag on my spirit.

But I was rooming with two minister friends, and they strongly objected. They insisted that it was my duty to stay there. I finally agreed to stay one more day to see if there was anything more for me to do.

In the morning I filled my brief case with copies of my “Reply” and went to the auditorium. It was a round building, with halls that encircled it. As I entered one hall a
delegate from some far away country came up to me. “Are you Ralph Larson?” He asked.
“Yes,” I answered.
“Did you write a reply to Desmond Ford?”
“Is there any way that I can get a copy? I need it badly.”
“Yes,” I said. “I have a copy for you right here.”

Then I walked a short distance and it happened again. And again. And again. So my “Reply” went home with delegates from many countries.

Then Attorney Lew Walton from Bakersfield, California approached me. “Ralph,” he said, “If you will give me your permission, I will mail a copy of this paper to every Seventh-day Adventist minister in North America.”

Of course I gave him my permission, but then a high-ranking church official who was standing by said, “Wouldn’t it be better to get the approval of the President before doing that mailing?”

I innocently accepted his suggestion and gave him a copy for the President.
I should have known better. It was a tragic blunder. But I was not schooled in politics. I would learn my bitter lesson when the report came back from the President’s office:

“It’s a wonderful paper, but don’t mail it out.”

So just as the members of the world church were not permitted to receive in the Review a clear statement of what had happened at the Washington meeting, so the ministers in North America were not permitted to receive a clear exposure of the falsehoods of Desmond Ford. That’s politics.

So for me it was back to Loma Linda and more of the same. But I was growing weary of it all, and I began planning for early retirement. By accepting a reduction in my sustentation (pension) I could retire at age sixty-one and forget the endless controversies and the hassles. I began thinking in that direction.

But then something wonderful happened. I received a question from the General Conference. Would I consider going to the Philippines to teach evangelism
in The Far Eastern Theological Seminary?

Would I consider it? I leaped at it! I would teach evangelistic procedures to the ministers who came there for graduate study, then take groups of them into cities of the Far East to conduct evangelistic meetings. That would be pure joy.

And I could walk away from the “combat zone” in Loma Linda and forget about the tensions and the controversies that were plaguing the church in America. Hallelujah!

There was a grim surprise waiting for me in the Philippines, but I was blissfully unaware of it. I went on my way rejoicing. ±

1 Salvation Unlimited: Perspectives in Righteousness by Faith, Review and Herald, Washington, DC.
2 Perfection: the Impossible Possibility, by Herbert E. Douglass, Edward Heppenstall, Hans K. LaRondelle, C. Mervyn Maxwell, Southern Publishing Association, Nashville, TN. [The authors of this book presented four perspectives on the subject of “perfec- tion”-two that indicate that Christian per- fection is impossible, and two that indicate that perfection is a possibility.]
3 The Man Who Is God: A Study of the Person and Nature of Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, Review and Herald, Washington, DC.

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