Spangler: Why are you having the North American year-end meeting in Minneapolis?
Bradford: We want to commemorate the 1888 General Conference session, which was, of course, a watershed conference on righteousness by faith. Ellen White has said so much about it. Our General Conference president, taking a walk one morning with his wife, said, "Why don't we look back at, reflect on, and commemorate what God did at Minneapolis in 1888?"
Spangler: You say "what God did." Some people call this a celebration, but others say that what happened was a massive defeat. How do you feel about that? Did God do any thing for us?
Bradford: God certainly did something for the delegates and for the whole church in 1888. He sent a message of mercy that was to be the loud cry. God really wanted to break through. And He did, to some people. So we want to go back and recapture what took place there. We want to re-create the scene. We want to do like the apostle says: "Call to remembrance the former days, in which ... ye were illuminated" (Heb. 10:32). And surely the message of 1888 is a great illuminating message: righteousness by faith, the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.
Spangler: Can you expand on what you think was the core message?
Bradford: In Testimonies to Ministers pages 91 and 92, is a passage I have been using. Ellen White says, "This message was to bring more prominently before the world the uplifted Saviour, the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. It presented justification through faith in the Surety; it invited the people to receive the righteousness of Christ, which is made manifest in obedience to all the commandments of God." The experience of 1888 teaches us some important lessons. We need to learn what was wrong and what was right. The brethren bogged down in the sand pit of legalism. Sister White said, You preach the law so much you are as dry as the hills of Gilboa. We probably would have reacted as they did, saying, "Aren't we raised up to preach the commandments of God?" "Yes," she says, "but we must also lift up Christ." So we see that the central mes sage of Adventism is very balanced: The commandments of God, the faith of Jesus, judgment, and mercy. It is not a bifurcated message. It's a beautified mes sage.
Spangler: People claim that our message is unique; that our gospel is different from that of any other group. Do you believe that Seventh-day Adventists have a unique gospel that is so different from that of the Baptists and Methodists? If so, what is the difference?
Bradford: Part of the uniqueness of our message is its harmonization between law and gospel. I say again, between law and grace. Where else can we find an entire church fully dedicated to presenting to the world a balanced portrayal of the law of God and the grace of God? A second aspect of its uniqueness is its eschatological setting. We are the only people preaching justification and sanctification in their correct relationship in the setting of the soon return of Christ. No body can match that! We are not antinomian. Neither are we cheap grace people. We bring grace and the law together. We believe in the grace of God and we believe in the law of God. We don't believe there will be any real revival until the law is put in its rightful place. But at the same time it is only the grace of God and the faith of Jesus that can fulfill in us the righteous demands of the law. I'm preaching a lot these days on Romans 8:1-4, that the righteous demands of the law may be fulfilled in us. Seventh-day Adventists say that when the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus are wed in the heart of the believer, there will be offspring, the fruit of righteousness.
Spangler: Who will be the speakers at this meeting?
Bradford: First we will have a mini evangelistic series. John Carter, the former Australian evangelist now pastoring in Texas, will speak each evening. The churches of Minneapolis are now con ducting Revelation seminars. They want to climax this effort with this one-week series, a decision series, like we used to have in the old days.
Once the North American Division year-end meetings conclude, there will be a mini camp meeting, a real celebrational commemoration. George Knight, who wrote the book From 1888 to Apostasy, about A. T. Jones, will speak about the historical events. Roy Adams, associate secretary of the Canadian Union, and Ivan Blazen, professor of New Testament at Loma Linda University, will speak on theological topics. The Ministerial Association, under Floyd Bresee and Bill Scales, will coordinate small group discussions.
Spangler: Do you feel that this meeting will enlighten those who attend as to what the message really was and what took place in 1888?
Bradford: Yes, we are trying to be as careful as we can to reconstruct the mes sage and the spirit of the message. But we are not going to be extraliteral here, be cause we feel that the same Holy Spirit who worked with Jones and Waggoner can also work through the messengers of today. The transcripts of the messages presented in 1888 were not preserved. But we need not be dismayed over that. The Holy Spirit is still with us. He inspired Jones and Waggoner, and He can inspire us. We believe that the time of the latter rain is here. And that the preaching of this message of righteousness by faith is inextricably bound up with the end-time message and the latter rain, which ripens the saints and finishes the work.
Spangler: Ellen White speaks much about the attitude, the spirit, of the brethren. That almost seems to overshadow the message in 1888. She was so dismayed at how people could be so judgmental and critical about each other. Do you get that same opinion in your study of 1888?
Bradford: Yes, and that's a great tragedy. The great sorrow of her life was the attitude of the brethren. We have got to have the right attitude, and we have got to have the right relationships with one another. We also need to lay aside our preconceived opinions, listen to each other, appreciate each other, and affirm each other.
Spangler: Brethren Wieland and Short have had a great burden for the 1 888 message. How do you relate this commemoration to these good brethren?
Bradford: Brethren Wieland and Short ought to be happy. Their message has got ten through. We are all receiving it. They have done the church a service. Brethren Wieland and Short, like Jones and Wag goner and all the rest of us, are not inspired in the same sense as biblical writers. The church ought to be able to correct itself and work together as brethren in collegial relationships. And if I preach in a vacuum, I am going to come out one sided. That is what happened to our brethren down in Australia with the Brinsmead brothers. I told them, "On those long Australian nights, you are studying by yourselves. You are not get ting in contact with your brethren. You aren't in fellowship with other leaders, so you don't have any corrective influence."
Spangler: Who is invited to this meeting?
Bradford: Whosoever will, let them come! We are making provisions for all who wish to come. It will be a mini camp meeting. We want it to be like a General Conference session. We hope that serious Bible scholars will come from all over the North American Division. I under stand that a great number of ministers are coming from Texas and that another conference is sending its pastors. We want this to be a time of real Bible study. The 1888 Minneapolis meetings centered on Bible study. Women and men studied these matters together. They looked at the texts themselves. And this is what we want to do, because I believe that the recovery of biblical teaching is probably one of our greatest needs. I won't say the greatest need, but it is definitely one of the greatest. We will want to study the texts together because no scripture is of any private interpretation. We don't want to make the mistake of doing this in isolation, but with all the brethren and sisters present having in put. Everyone should have an opportunity to add a word of caution or whatever to make the whole fellowship complete.
Spangler: This means that laypeople are invited too?
Bradford: Laypeople are invited! Men, women, students, everyone. It will be serious study. Not just a lark for people to come and have some little revival service. We want it to be deep Bible study. Sister White says we must "sink the shaft deep in the mine of truth." That's what we want to do. Small groups will meet after the meetings, drinking in the mes sage, reflecting on it, and going a little deeper still. We want to come out of this experience with a renewed interest and a renewed determination to continue with the strong biblical emphasis of righteousness by faith as the foundation of our message.
I was in meetings in Florida the other day, and their theme was "Christ our Righteousness the Foundation of the Caring Church." And so Christ our righteousness is the foundation for all our doctrines. The 27 fundamental beliefs that we emphasize stand on Christ the solid rock.