Righteousness by faith symposium in Washington

From August 6 to 11 a number of church leaders met together in the Washington area and shared their points of view.


One of the major points of discussion during several eras of denominational history has been the relationship of justification by faith in the imputed merits of Jesus Christ to the continuing obligation and authority of the law of God. This issue was involved in the controversy that resulted from the preaching of Elders A. J. Jones and E. J. Waggoner at and following the Minneapolis General Conference of 1888.

Only a stranger to current experience in the Seventh-day Adventist Church—possibly in some countries more than others, and in some denominational centers more than others—could be unaware of the deep interest in the doctrine at the present time. Some names have come to be known among us for their association with varying views or em phases within the total subject. From time to time there have been conversations with some of these individual students of the Word at denominational headquarters.

From August 6 to 11 a number of theologians, writers, editors, pastors, evangelists, and church administrators met together in the Washington area and, in a free and open climate of discussion and prayer, shared their points of view. There was an evident and earnest desire to hear one another and to determine as accurately and as fully as possible the areas of agreement, as well as areas of disagreement.

No formal agreements or recommendations were voted at this meeting (which may prove to have been an exploratory session) other than to indicate the need for continuing communication by mail, and possibly the need for future meetings.

There was general agreement that in the relationship to the provision of justification by faith in the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ some find a real and deep fear of "cheap grace," antinomianism, and any other attitude that tends to lower standards of Christian living by a presumptuous and promiscuous prostitution of the mercy of God in Jesus Christ. On the other hand there were a number who articulated the somewhat opposite fear of a form of legalism that gives nominal assent to the initial need for justification by faith but then becomes absorbed with the performance of good works (albeit with acknowledgment of dependence on the Holy Spirit).

The discussion of these opposing fears led to a number of questions. If imputed righteousness is our title to heaven and is associated with repentance, confession, acceptance, regeneration, and other elements of the beginning of a salvation experience, so that God views the genuine believer as if he had never sinned, then where does he go from there? Is the need for imputed righteousness gradually reduced or eliminated by receiving imparted righteousness? Is salvation identically and equally dependent upon justification and sanctification? Is salvation dependent on justification, with sanctification appearing as the fruitage of the faith relationship to Jesus? Does the true believer ever cease to need justification? What will carry one through the judgment—justification alone, justification and sanctification, or sanctification alone? What is the "wedding garment" of Christ's parable—imputed or imparted righteousness, or both, or something else?

Those who understand the Bible to present the "ail-along" sufficiency of justification hold that sanctification is the inevitable fruitage or outgrowth (through the indwelling Holy Spirit's presence and power working with the believer's will in the daily life) of the faith relationship of justification, that it is the evidence or test of the reality and maintenance of the justified relationship. They believe that never does the righteousness of Christ cover cherished sins, but that no portion of the sanctified life earns merit toward salvation, now or in the judgment.

Many questions remain unanswered. There will be much earnest prayer, meditation, and study on the part of all who participated in the Washington meeting until they meet again.

Those who participated were Charles E. Bradford, W. Paul Bradley, Herbert E. Douglass, W. Duncan Eva (chair man), Desmond Ford, Edward Heppenstall, Gordon M. Hyde (secretary), Hans LaRondelle, W. Richard Lesher, Everett L. Marley, Robert W. Olson, Robert H. Pierson, J. Robert Spangler, Morris L. Venden, Elden K. Walter, Robert J. Wieland, Neal C. Wilson, Kenneth H. Wood, E. Edward Zinke.

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