To understand the necessity and spiritual power of Adventist education, we must go back to the beginning, to the Creation.

April 5, 2021

Something Better: Education for Present and Future Crises

Three hundred and eighty-five years ago, as the Revelation 13 prophecy of a power arising in a sparsely populated area of the New World began to be fulfilled, a small group from the 17,000 Puritan Congregationalists then settled from England in Massachusetts Bay Colony founded a college, and when Reverend John Harvard donated 320 books it was named for him, holding that name until today.

The year was 1636, and Harvard’s main aim was to educate clergy. Its motto was Veritas In Christi Gloriam, a Latin phrase meaning “Truth for the Glory of Christ.” 161 Nobel Laureates, 188 Billionaires, eight Presidents, 161 Nobel Laureates, and an endowment of $40 billion later, one can say the work has prospered even if it has left its Congregational Christian beginnings.

Some years later in 1701, ten ministers met and founded a college in Connecticut which after a donation of over 400 books would be named Yale, becoming America’s third oldest college. It, too, has since prospered with an endowment of over $30 billion, numerous Presidents and Supreme Court Justices among alumni, 61 Nobel Laureates, and more than 31 billionaires. Here, too, one would say it has prospered in its worldly influence and impact. Yet, could there be something better without which even the most elite education may be lacking, or at least could be improved?                                               

In the crisis hour of January 6, 2021, as demonstrators-soon-to-become-rioters gathered outside, two Senators who previously espoused Federalism and States’ Rights, one from Texas and one from Missouri, one from each of these elite schools, would stand in the Senate Chamber of the United States Capitol to challenge the duly reported and state-certified presidential electoral votes of two states. Even after nearly sixty court challenges, at a time when the nation was on high alert because of polarization, anxiety, strife and misinformation campaigns; even after the interruption of the certification process by a riot and violent attack upon the Congress, and numerous injuries to policemen, and the deaths of several individuals, these Senators would again bring their objections, demonstrating to the discerning mind that a fancy education alone does not guarantee that one will act most wisely even in an historic crisis hour.

But nearby in the Capitol, there was a third gentleman who moved to give comfort and spiritual encouragement, prayer and support to those shaken by the unfolding riot, and he called for dialogue and peace. As he prayed after the riot’s destruction and at last the certification of the election, he intoned, “These tragedies have reminded us that words matter, and the power of life and death is in the tongue.” Raised in a home led by a working mother of a sacrificial mind committed to sending her eight children to Christian schools, Adventist schools, so much that two or three times he would come home to find his family’s furniture on the street because Mom had chosen to pay tuition rather than rent. Chaplain Barry Black speaks most affectionately of his education at Pine Forge Academy before he would go on to graduate Oakwood and Andrews universities and other institutions, completing two doctorates, as well achieving the rank of Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy. Amidst the strife of the attack on Congress, Senate Chaplain Black stood rooted in a prophetic worldview of Christ as Lord of the Nations, offering a voice of calm amid the hostility and deadly chaos in the legislative chambers of our Democratic Republic.

It was a moment of awakening, a crisis, and without exaggeration, the character of Chaplain Black was a reflection of a worldview and moral conviction rooted in a faith of dependence that looks up to God alone, helping one to be an exemplary citizen and servant of the nation who acknowledges the Sovereignty of God while calling all to a higher standard, saying in his prayer that next morning, “We need to see in each other a common humanity that reflects Your image . . . use us to bring healing to our divided nation and world.” He embodied calm in the crisis.

Adventist Education and Redemption are One

To understand the necessity and spiritual power of Adventist education, we must go back to the beginning, to the Creation. In the Garden of Eden, Jehovah personally instituted education for humanity. Christ Himself was the face-to-face Instructor, and the school convened at the Tree of Life. The Creation itself and the Word of God were the study, and faith was the means. It was a power so vital, formidable and unconquerable that it is written the just shall live by faith (Hab. 2:14), and Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). In that first University, the great lesson was to know God, and to learn the exercise a faith that works by a love rooted in gratitude for the infinite love of God.

Yet looming in the shadows of Eden was another school which convened at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. There the serpent (Satan) was the instructor, and the questioning and doubting of God’s word (“reason”) was the method. His pitch, in an attempt to attract and engage prospective students, was simple, “Has God said . . . ?” The history and development of these two schools is the story of the Great Controversy in education. It can be traced down through the ages, from the Heavenly school to the Edenic School, from Noah to Nimrod, to the world empires of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, Rome and the Papal hegemony of the Dark Ages, to the Reformation and the reassertion of the preeminence of the Bible. Adventists are the heirs to the legacy of Bible-based education and are called to steward it until its consummation in the coming of the Lord and our graduation into the Higher School of which we have hitherto been an extension.                       

The educational issue, or “problem” as Adventist educational pioneer E.A. Sutherland called it, is central to the work and mission of the everlasting gospel. It embodies the teachings of the Bible as first taught by the prophets and patriarchs of Israel and revealed in sacred history. Its exhortations to teach meant first receiving God’s truth in one’s heart and then …thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up (Deuteronomy 6:7).

Today, through the collaboration of home, school and church, the Word of God and its author is acknowledged as the Source of Light and Living Water. The foundational principles, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, all thy mind, and all thy soul, and they neighbor as thyself (Deuteronomy 6) are echoed in the triumvirate of the ministries of parents, teachers and pastors, and amplified by the culture of a people of faith.

Education’s mission is to facilitate the restoration of the “well-nigh obliterated image of God” in humanity, while also imbuing its students with individuality, “the ability to think and to do and not be mere reflectors of other men’s thoughts” (Education, p. 13). Mobs evidence the collapse and refutation of individuality. Whether Nazi Germany, the use of lynchings to terrorize in America, or gang shootings in urban and rural neighborhoods that kill the innocent as well as gang members, or the high-tech televised killing of George Floyd, it is clear that human dignity requires courage to follow God rather than man, often to break ranks with a flow of evil or wrong and stand alone. Indeed, our common humanity is affirmed in creation and redemption.

God has made of one blood all nations for to dwell on all the face of the earth . . . Further, He has determined the times before appointed and the bounds of their habitation . . . (Acts 17: 26). This means America has a unique role in last day events and that God Himself in His sovereignty and appointment of times and boundaries has ordained the outworking of His will in the caldron of America as He has brought together descendants of the Mayflower and the Amistad. Christian Adventist education acknowledges this challenge and equips one through fervent spirituality to stand through God’s strength as did Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Babylon.

Adventist Education is Always Evangelistic

The stories of the evangelistic power of Adventist education must be told again, for it has had a far-reaching impact on the growth and development of Adventism and in service to the world. Countless individuals and families have been won through the ministry of Adventist teachers, principals and the pastors and school boards and churches who committed to the enterprise. Across the Lake Union, laymen have historically exerted strong influence in their tireless support of the education of our youth. Among them are Rodney Metcalf at Downers Grove, Mark Clare at Mt. Pleasant, Shannon Weiss at Cicero, Delores Godley at Chicago SDA.; Linda Strong at South Suburban; the late Ed Mattocks who served at the Flint School after beginning a career at age 26 as principal of DuPont Park in Maryland; Carmelita Richardson at Capitol City in Indianapolis; Herb Harris at Glendale; and Chuck and Janelle Randall of the Paw Paw Church in Michigan; these are just representative of a much larger, loving army who have been engaged in education with a deep sense of God’s calling to help those who follow the greatest Teacher who ever lived.        

Evangelism and Education for Service

Today the Public Defender’s Office of the District of Columbia, recognized and celebrated as a model service and one of the finest in the nation, is led by Harvard Law School graduate, Attorney Avis Buchanan. Her grade school education was at the DuPont Park Seventh-day Adventist School. There she was won by the love of Christ and Adventist educators, and the spirit of the Truth of His Word, and becoming a baptized Adventist was followed by her mother, brother and father. After graduating Michigan State University as a National Achievement Scholar, she would go on to Harvard Law School, clerk for a federal judge, and begin a legal career that would lead her to become the director of the Public Defender’s Office for over twenty years. Her brother, Herbert Buchanan, with a similar early education at DuPont Park, would go on obtain graduate degrees from M.I.T. in Engineering, an MBA from Northwestern, and then to serve as a CEO at major hospitals including Howard University, Indiana University, and in other capacities, including in the Adventist Health Care systems. It is clear that Adventist K‒12 education prepares students for wherever they choose to go, hopefully to one of our colleges or universities, but well-prepared should they be called to be a light in a secular university.

Church mission, at both the local and conference levels as well as the Union and Division levels, supports evangelism in its many phases and ministries. However, the evangelistic impact of the church school, especially K‒12, is often underestimated. When the Apostle Paul addresses the matters of discipleship, church growth and mission, he praises the ascended Christ for the spiritual gifts of apostleship, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. This five-fold union of ministry, manifested by the hand or the power of God, is readily acknowledged, although we, too, often are reluctant to affirm the spiritual calling and gifting of teachers. They work in the church body, especially with youth, fostering unity of the faith, the knowledge of Christ and spirituality maturity in Christ.

Our teachers give instruction in the various subjects of the curriculum but, much like Christ with His disciples, they also oversee an environment predicated upon nurturing spiritual relations and, as Elijah mentored Elisha, Paul Timothy, and Naomi Ruth, so they also lead their students as the Holy Spirit leads them, embodying the love of Christ, the love of learning and the love of their fellowman manifested in service. They model servant leadership; they win youth to Christ. Only 30 percent of Adventist youth from Adventist homes who are educated in public schools ever become baptized. Ninety percent of Adventist young people from Adventist homes who attend our schools become baptized members of the Adventist Church.

The business of education is God’s business and, therefore, the church’s business. It is both a science and an art, directed by Christ through the Holy Spirit, educational professionals seek to “educate” the youth. Derived from a Latin word that means to “draw out, or lead out” what God has placed within. It is the recognition that every child is marvelously made, endowed with infinite possibilities that must be developed now, but will continue to be realized throughout eternity in the Higher School. Youth directors and pastors are to work in collaboration and support of this effort. During his tenure at Lake Union, Gary Sudds, now retired, saw the importance of affirming the needed partnership between educators and pastors and, with other colleagues, he developed Partnering in Mission: Pastor & Teacher Resource Manual.                                                                                                                              

The Present Crisis

Changing demographics in the graying of the Adventist denomination and the resultant attrition in our churches has been a major factor in the decline of enrollment in our schools. Urban decline also has impacted many of our churches and schools. Gary, Indiana, with a current population of less than 75,000, Gary is less than half of what it as in 1980, and far from the all-time high of 175,000 in 1970.

Similarly, the population of the City of Detroit, once 1.849 million in 1950, 1.514 in 1970, is currently about 670,000. Chicago has declined from a high population of 3.7 million in to 2.7 million today. Industrial decline and dispersal (the breakup of neighborhoods, and movement of people from inner city to suburbs, and even migration south) has left churches and schools without the incarnational presence they once had, which made them significant centers of neighborhood life, embracing the community, and also drawing students from the neighborhood. Our churches were even different at that time, not commuter churches but community churches.

The weakening of our schools has led further to a decline in the number of college students training for careers as K‒12 educators in our church. Enrollment at colleges and universities show that majors in Education also have declined, probably largely because of career uncertainty and lack of assurance about employment prospects. We must muster the will to understand, especially in North America, the educational challenge at the center of our mission to the world.

The Rest of the Story

Why is the restoration of the image and character Christ in man the vital part of the mission of the gospel and Adventist education? It is because it is the spiritual core of the Three Angels’ messages. It is centered in the everlasting gospel’s call, Fear God and give glory to Him for the hour of His judgment is come. The glory to be given the Apostle Paul describes as He compares salvation to Creation: God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness has shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). Teachers and pastors, gospel workers, are all co-laborers with Christ our High Priest in this “heart work,” this divine-human, terrestrial-cosmic ministry of reconciliation and restoration which embraces truths higher than the highest human thought can think as the Lord prepares us for what will be the consummation of the gospel with the flight and descent of the fourth angel which John describes in Revelation 18:1: I saw another angel come down from heaven and the earth was lightened with His glory.

The irony of our present crisis moment is that, while the church has grayed and youth are seemingly less engaged, and enrollment is declining in our schools, after 176 years of Adventists proclaiming the judgment hour message, it will be a younger generation which finally will be God’s instruments in finishing the mission in the final crisis hour. Indeed, “The last rays of merciful light, the last message of mercy to be given to the world, is the revelation of His character of love” (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 415). This is the aim of Adventist education, the something better, the “more excellent way” by which Paul introduces the agape love of I Corinthians 13.

“False religion may prevail, iniquity may abound, the love of many may wax cold, the cross of Calvary may be lost sight of, and darkness, like the pall of death, may spread over the world; the whole force of the popular current may be formed to overthrow the people of God; but in the hour of greatest peril the God of Elijah will raise up human instrumentalities to bear a message that will not be silenced” (Prophets and Kings, p. 186). The invasion of the misuse of media and digital technologies, television, artificial intelligence, alternate realities and conspiracy theories, forebodes a time of powerful delusion for those not anchored in the eternal realities set forth in the Word of God. This will be the work of Adventist education as teachers and schools join with pastors and churches in the gospel work of proclaiming the Three Angels’ messages which will lighten the world with the glory of His character in His people.

Michael Horton is a graduate of Harvard University and the Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He is Lake Region Conference’s Ministerial director.