Post 46: “The Night is Far Spent”: Toward a Glacier View Balance Sheet

(This blog may make more sense to some readers if they first read “Encircling Gloom: Kindly Light: Seeing Glacier View with the Lantern of History,” posted on this website 10 November 2011.)

Journalist Paul Johnson ventures with some success into areas of human experience that are complex, even daunting, for would-be interpreters. For instance, in the epilogue to a tome entitled A History of Christianity, Johnson reflects that Christianity contains a “self-correcting mechanism.” Therefore, even though “Christian history is a constant process of struggle and rebirth-a succession of crises, often accompanied by horror, bloodshed, bigotry and unreason,” there is “evidence too of growth, vitality and increased understanding.”[1]

The words Glacier View are well known amongst older Seventh-day Adventists in North America and elsewhere. They are particularly poignant for Adventists living in Australia, earth’s driest continent where no glaciers exist. Rather than conjuring mental images of an ice-river issuing from snow-covered mountains, for many the two words evoke vivid memories of years darkened by career crises for ministers and teachers, exits, “failed expectations, loss of commitment, and the erosion of faith.[1][2] This article acknowledges the harsh reality that, for many Australians and some others, a sense of trauma and unresolved grief are still bewildering realities. However, it also seeks to move beyond the struggle and its immediate outcomes by contending that three decades after Glacier View there is evidence of  “growth, vitality and increased understanding.”

I. Defining Glacier View

Some 125 Seventh-day Adventist administrators and scholars were invited to assemble at a youth convention facility in the foothills of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains for five days during August 1980 to consider the content of Fundamental Belief 23, “ Christ’s Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary.” Of the invitees, 115 actually arrived at Glacier View to constitute the Sanctuary Review Committee (SRC), participate in discussions and approve consensus statements, “Christ in the Heavenly Sanctuary” and “The Role of the Ellen G. White Writings in Doctrinal Matters.” Reports of the conclave applauded the quality of the fellowship experienced by the conferees, the constructive stimulation they derived from collective Bible study and their satisfaction with the dialogue and the consensus documents.

Richard Hammill was the principal organiser of the SRC, under the direction of General Conference president Neal Wilson. Wilson’s era of leadership (1979-1990) was characterised by conferences offering the church outstanding opportunities to better relate to crucial aspects of its faith and polity, such as the Righteousness by Faith Consultation (1979/80), Consultation I and II (1980, 1981) and the first-ever International Prophetic Guidance Workshop (1982). Hammill’s autobiography (1992) summarizes the positive aspects of Glacier View but also lists problematic features: “a serious mistake in tactics”; official reporting that was at times “the opposite of the discussion on the committee”; the way in which crucial pieces of evidence were ignored; the later perception by the church’s Bible teachers that they were “betrayed”; “hasty” action “due to the ineptitude of the Australasian Division officers,” and so on.[3] Hammill’s diverse career as a pastor, scholar, educator and administrator makes him one of twentieth-century Adventism’s best-known leaders. Since his testimony indicates that Glacier View incorporates significant elements of profit and loss, it would seem eminently worthwhile for the church to construct a comprehensive balance sheet now that enough time has elapsed to facilitate effective historical analysis. This brief overview may be useful for those who wish to consider whether such a task is feasible and, if so, how it might be initiated.

II. A Glacier View Balance Sheet: Assets

To begin the process of assessing Glacier View, it is helpful to seek an inclusive understanding of similar events in both Christian history and Seventh-day Adventism. Glacier View may be analysed fruitfully as a Christian council. The first major Christian council convened in Jerusalem circa 49 A.D. and initiated patterns that are useful for describing and understanding countless such events.

Often the church convenes a council as something of a last resort when its agenda seems to demand more than local input. A council often focuses on issues of faith and order that in whole or in part defy tidy definition, so its outcomes are likely to be far less than those desired by some participants. Decisions reached may involve accommodation of rival viewpoints, even compromise. Unity of belief and practice may be strengthened or developing divisions may be widened, as when Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Christians separated. A council’s task may be fraught because of external pressures: Nicaea in 325 A.D. had to satisfy a petulant emperor, Constantine, for whom political unity was far more important than biblical truth. Viewed within the context of twenty centuries of Christian councils, the Glacier View gathering from 11 to 15 August 1980 is memorable for its level of success.

But there is more: Glacier View not only succeeded as a Christian council, it was successful as an Adventist conference. Adventists have been convening councils or conferences since 1840, when our Millerite forebears first held a General Conference of Christians Expecting the Advent in Boston. Between 1848 and 1850 in various New England and especially New York State locations, 22 gatherings loosely dubbed Sabbath Conferences established the theological foundations of Sabbatarian Adventism. Outstanding General Conference sessions in 1863 and 1901 organised and reshaped the structure of the movement, whereas the epoch-making1888 session struggled with a core theological issue-how being Adventist related to being Christian. A conference attended by administrators, Bible and history teachers in 1919 offered insights with promising potential for averting the crisis relating to the life and writings of Ellen White that enveloped the church increasingly from 1970. The trouble was that the 1919 transcripts were unknown until Spectrum published them in 1978.

By 1980 Adventism was established in 190 nations with three million members. The SRC in August that year represented this geographical diversity quite adequately. It convened on United States soil to diagnose and treat an Australian cancer that was metastasising rapidly to other parts of the Adventist body. The SRC was the largest assembly ever to give significant consideration to Adventism’s most distinctive and controversial fundamental belief; it created a comprehensive and potentially unifying description of Christ’s high priestly ministry. In so doing, it addressed a cluster of issues that had been simmering constantly and boiling over about once in each generation since 1844, usually with significant loss of one or more valued employees. Its two relatively succinct consensus statements were voted unanimously and applauded even by Desmond Ford, the pastor/educator/scholar whose 27 October 1979 address at the Pacific Union College chapter of the Association of Adventist Forums highlighted an immediate need for the SRC. It is now obvious that the SRC made outstanding progress toward clarifying divisive theological issues long under debate; perhaps as much clarification was achieved in five days as the church has usually managed in fifty years.

Glacier View also needs to be viewed in association with three other notable achievements, during the same calendar year, that form the apex of the councils called during Wilson’s presidency. Given Adventism’s growing geographical extent and ethnic diversity, as well as its developing theological sophistication, it was remarkable that the April 1980 world session could actually vote approval of a statement setting forth the church’s fundamental beliefs. The process that in 2005 gave the church one additional fundamental indicates how noteworthy the 1980 session was: in a mere ten days it agreed on 27 points of faith.

Further, a thirty-year struggle over Righteousness by Faith came to a potentially constructive climax with the publication of “The Dynamics of Salvation” statement. Issues that emerged at the 1950 General Conference session reignited debate about the 1888 General Conference session and brought to prominence a cast of whistle blowers and innovators: Robert Wieland, Donald Short, M.L. Andreasen, Al Hudson, Robert Brinsmead, and more. In Australia, Desmond Ford took a lead in seeking to clarify the theological issues, only to awaken striking opposition from senior ministers and others, some of whom adopted the descriptive title “Concerned Brethren.” Even the “bishops’ conference” at Palmdale (California) in 1976 failed to tie all the loose ends together; therefore President Wilson summoned the Righteousness by Faith Consultation in 1979; its findings were reported in Adventist Review on 31 July 1980. A careful reading of the consensus document, “The Dynamics of Salvation,” makes clear that the Righteousness by Faith Consultation was a sterling endeavour with a positive outcome offering a way to solve many of the tensions that had been effervescing for three decades.

Therefore, President Wilson and his colleagues deserve positive recognition for their “conciliar” initiatives within Adventism and the SRC merits particular attention in this regard. The SRC stands out as a constructive illustration of a healthy, creative tension between continuity and change in Adventist thought. It laid a useful foundation for Consultation I that began on the evening of 15 August 1980, confirming the essentiality of a working partnership through face-to-face dialogue between thought leaders and elected leaders. Not only did the SRC offer an illuminating illustration of how constructive development may be expected to occur in Seventh-day Adventist doctrine, it underlined the value of serious Bible study that embraces disputed aspects of a fundamental belief as well as the potential for consensus statements to offer a path for disputants to walk together in enhanced fellowship and intentional engagement with the church’s mission. In short, any serious analysis of Glacier View in terms of Adventist conferences held over seventeen decades is likely to rate it as a remarkable success.

III. A Glacier View Balance Sheet: Liabilities

Why has such a positive event as Glacier View become Adventist shorthand for contention, pain and division? On the afternoon of 15 August 1980, after the SRC closed and many of its conferees had departed, nine church leaders met with Desmond Ford, initiating an administrative process that would be employed in the trials of scores of ministers, teachers and members in Australia. Some of the outcomes can be documented in detail; they include divided congregations, alienated families, blighted evangelism, reduced tithes and offerings, the loss of a major part of a generation of potential leaders, plus virulent distrust of church administrators.

Since the crisis era, significant investigations have clarified both the issues and the outcomes. One of the relevant doctoral dissertations offering fruitful analyses is the work of Peter Harry Ballis. A sociological study, the Ballis dissertation became a major book in the Religion in the Age of Transformation series. Ballis began his professional career as an effective pastor, demonstrating early in his ministry a passion for understanding Adventism via historical research. His published writings and unpublished papers document a strong Adventist commitment and scholarly maturity. However, Ballis observed with increasing angst the decimation of the Australian church following Glacier View, finally deciding not to further subject his family to the tensions engulfing so many ministerial families. Leave of absence from pastoral ministry for doctoral study in sociology brought an unexpected outcome: Ballis had not anticipated the loss of his ministerial credentials. However, his scholarship and administrative potential were welcomed by Monash University in Victoria.

Ballis “compiled a list 182 ministers who left the Adventist ministry between 1980 and 1988” in Australia and New Zealand, “an astonishing 40 percent of the total ministerial work force.” While the exact number of exits and the precise reasons for some of them are elusive or disputed, Ballis observes: “Theology has consistently featured in exits, although it would be both incorrect and simplistic to attribute fallout exclusively to one set of theological issues or to assume that the conflicts occurred in a social vacuum.” Therefore, he uses a range of descriptors: “complex,” “subtle” and “difficult” are amongst them, and he contends that “social factors and organizational processes interacted with sectarian beliefs to generate loss of confidence in Adventist bureaucracy, disillusionment with sect ideology, and loss of commitment in ministry, which have contributed to the most rapid and massive exit of Adventist pastors in the movement’s 150-year history.”[4] The factors described deeply impacted a far larger number of people than just the ministers who exited, including such others as employees who soldiered on, wounded members determined to remain, members ejected forcefully or leaving of their own volition. It is difficult to quantify the effects of the conflict on the quality of the fellowship within the church and the effectiveness of its outreach to the wider society.

The “ineptitude” Hammill identifies as demonstrated by Australasian Division officers stands out in bold relief; however, his circumspect North American perspective does not attempt to trace the outcomes in Australasia, some of them deriving from the administration of Division president Keith Parmenter, 1976-1983.

Parmenter observed the cancerous conflict growing in Australia and New Zealand during his tenure as Division secretary. He witnessed the valuable support offered by such bodies as the Biblical Research Committee toward clarifying issues and recommending patterns of response. But once in the presidential chair, he chose to handle the issues “administratively,” not calling the Biblical Research Committee to offer advice and deeming a request to call it together as insubordination. Ellen White’s role was increasingly in the eye of the storm during Parmenter’s administration with the 1982 International Prophetic Guidance Workshop constituting the crest of the information wave. Parmenter declined to engage with the new data relating to Ellen White’s life and writings, fostering administrative procedures that disallowed the flow of information to ministers, teachers and churches, and refusing to acknowledge or correct disinformation. Failing to grasp the significance of Righteousness by Faith as the core issue of the 1970s, he did not maximise the promise inherent in the “The Dynamics of Salvation” statement reported on 31 July 1980. Additionally, Parmenter focused anxiously on the peril posed for the church by the ideas and activities of Robert Brinsmead whose sanctuary-related agitation began in 1958 and was climaxing (in its second phase) by 1979.

This Australasian context made several things almost inevitable after the Glacier View SRC had finished its work on the afternoon of 15 August 1980. The consensus statements had to be marginalised immediately in favour of a ten-point statement prepared by six conferees without discussion or vote by the assembly. After the closure of the SRC, administrative leaders conferred with Desmond Ford whose 900-page position paper was a key part of two thousand pages of material supplied to the conferees. These administrators parried Ford’s enthusiasm for the consensus statement on the sanctuary and dismissed the significance of his written commitment to teach and preach within its parameters. In one afternoon nine leaders created a template whereby the Australasian church would measure its employees and members. The resignations and dismissals Ballis documents were indeed for complex reasons, but the most prominent amongst them was the decision of administrators to opt for difference rather than consensus, for traditional belief rather than the evidence of Scripture and history that renewal was essential and achievable.

III. Glacier View As Profit and Loss: Another Ten-Point Statement

In the aftermath of Glacier View, the interpretation of Adventism fostered by the unofficial but vigorous GROF (“Get Rid of Ford”) party finally prevailed and was adopted administratively as normative for the South Pacific church. The theological benchmark of this group was not so much the Bible as the concept of truth carried in the minds of a trusted group of vocal leaders composed mainly of retired ministers, evangelists, missionaries, and administrators, plus some prominent lay members. Desmond Ford’s dismissal was merely one early step in a pervasive process designed to cleanse the church. Ultra-conservative members in numerous congregations welcomed a virtual charter wherewith to hold ministers for ransom with support from church administrators. Pastors became vulnerable for what they read and said, and for what they didn’t say. The attitude of the ten-point statement created a way for assessing the theological reliability of anyone who appeared enthusiastic about Righteousness by Faith or was impressed by the relevance of new data about Ellen White’s life and writings. Whereas the Adventist doctrine of the sanctuary was moving toward a new level of biblical maturity and theological winsomeness, this reality was shrouded by distrust and conflict. A student capable of taking shorthand notes in college classes was as welcome an ally for some church leaders as were surreptitious tape recordings of conversations: suspects needed to be incriminated and excised from the remnant.

This costly night of Australian Adventism is now far spent as new leaders have striven to lead from the centre rather than the right edge. Perhaps the church is ready and able to consider issues of profit and loss with the aid of an alternative ten-point statement that might read along the following lines.

Adventist doctrine has developed in constructive ways over time. A chief contention of the Australian “winners” after Glacier View was that Adventism’s “truth” was unchanged and unchanging. Since then, a plethora of books and dissertations such as those by Rolf Poehler (Andrews University, 1995 and after) offer realistic correctives for this view.

Adventists can participate constructively in the development of their teachings. As early as 1980, Fritz Guy outlined how “the activity of theological reflection and construction” might proceed coherently, a process well described in his volume Thinking Theologically, Andrews University Press, 1999.

The Adventist sanctuary doctrine as it was in the mid-twentieth century needed development. Ford’s concern over concepts presented in Adventist books motivated his quest from 1945 that culminated in Glacier View. There is now widespread agreement that some earlier formulations negated Christian assurance, were “stilted” or inadequate.

Serious mistakes were made in the way the Glacier View event was interpreted. This matter, introduced in Hammill’s autobiography, can be explored effectively with the help of the primary and secondary sources that are readily available.

The general treatment of Adventist ministers in Australia and New Zealand during  the 1980s crisis was inadequate. President Wilson wrote in 1980: “We do not believe it is Christian nor morally just to condemn or assign guilt by association.” He also declared: “The church is not embarking on a hunting expedition to find pastors who teach variant doctrines.” See Spectrum 11, no. 2 (November 1980), 65-67.  However, such wise and reasonable comments did not deter the Australian church from a “hunting expedition” followed by actions that were unchristian and unjust.

While Hammill warns the “official” reports of Glacier View were flawed, a trustworthy account of Glacier View is available online. According to F.E.J. Harder, Raymond Cottrell and Spectrum “are to be congratulated for providing what must be regarded as the normative description of that unprecedented and historic session for the Seventh-day Adventist Church.” Spectrum 12, no. 2 (December 1981), 64.

Australasian Adventism in the 1970s and beyond implemented a creed in terms of Loughborough’s definition. Loughborough said: “The first step of apostacy is to get up a creed, telling us what we shall believe. The second is, to make that creed a test of fellowship. The third is to try members by that creed. The fourth is to denounce as heretics those who do not believe that creed. And, fifth, to commence persecution against such.” Review and Herald, 8 October 1861, 148.This creed was not the 27 Fundamental Beliefs voted at the 1980 General Conference session; it was the concept of Adventism carried in the minds of an earnest but misguided pressure group.

Adventism is tempted to choose tradition over Scripture in a time of crisis. According to Raymond Cottrell, “In the thinking of the majority at Glacier View, Adventist tradition was the norm for interpreting the Bible, rather than the Bible for tradition,” Spectrum 11, no. 2 (November 1980), 18. The problem of putting tradition above Scripture was the fatal flaw in the approach taken by the Australasian Division officers.

Currently, a vigorous reversionist stance continues to elevate tradition above Scripture. Over twenty of the books written by Colin and Russell Standish illustrate this observation, as does their periodical entitled The Remnant Herald. For many years the Standishes were faithful prosecutors of the emphasis developed by the Concerned Brethren; in their view Adventism descended into deep apostasy, as argued in their volumes on Ellen White and Adventist fundamentals.

There is a single major solution for conflicts like that of the era following Glacier View:“the dialogue and dialectic of a community.” This pattern does not exclude members who ask questions, nor does it reject Adventism. Rather, it transforms Adventist faith and practice through attention to Scripture by a community that values each member and invites every one of them to participate in understanding, expressing and sharing its message.

Ellen White claims ours is a “progressive truth” that challenges us to “walk in the increasing light.” She also declares,  “We having nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.” Perhaps the supreme lesson of Glacier View is that vigilant parties (even people as dedicated as those calling themselves Concerned Brethren) who demand dismissals should never control the church’s agenda when the clear voice of a properly constituted council (like the Sanctuary Review Committee) offers realistic consensus.[5]


[1] Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1976), 515-516.

[2] Peter H. Ballis, Leaving the Adventist Ministry: A Study of the Process of Exiting (Westport, Conn.: Praegar, 1999), 1.

[3] Richard Hammill, “The Sanctuary Review Committee and Desmond Ford,” Pilgrimage: Memoirs of an Adventist Administrator (Berrien Springs: Andrews University Press, 1992), 183-198.

[4] Ballis, Leaving the Adventist Ministry, 17, 22, 27.

[5]For a fuller discussion of related issues and citation of relevant sources, see “Twenty-five Years After Glacier View: Using the Lantern of History, Anticipating a Brighter Future,” my presentation to the Sydney Adventist Forum, 22 October 2005.

Note: The above script is related to the oral presentation that I made to the Sydney Adventist Forum when, 25 years after the event, it sought to analyse Glacier View. For the published form of some of these ideas, see my article, “Glacier View and the Adventist Ministers,” Spectrum 34, Issue 2 (Spring 2006). Taken together with this blog and the one mentioned above, the four presentations offer a more balanced picture than that given in isolation by any one of the pieces. On 9 March 2012 I edited the above blog from the in-process draft dated 16 January 2006.

Arthur Patrick, 10 March 2012