Messenger of the Lord


Chapter 30—Education-Part 2: Establishing Educational Institutions

“The truths of the divine word can be best appreciated by an intellectual Christian. Christ can be best glorified by those who serve Him intelligently.” 1 MOL 354.1

Battle Creek College. A Battle Creek school for Adventist youth, locally supported, had been successfully conducted by G. H. Bell beginning in 1868. In April 1872 James and Ellen White called for an upgrading of this school into an advanced educational facility, the first attempt to have a school supported by the denomination. The primary purpose of this proposal was to educate teachers and preachers “to proclaim the third angel’s message.” 2 MOL 354.2

As guidance for this school, Mrs. White wrote Testimony for the Church, No. 22, entitled, “Proper Education.” 3 This document has been studied for more than a century by Adventist educators as a clear charter for Adventist education. Here she developed one of her fundamental principles of Christian education: the correlation between “the physical, mental, moral, and religious” aspects of education. 4 MOL 354.3

The early years of Battle Creek College were turbulent. The principles of this 1872 testimony may have been understood in theory but neither administrators nor teachers seemed to know how to implement certain of the key themes. Among these were how to include a manual labor program in the school curriculum, how to make the curriculum Bible-oriented and not merely include Bible as an elective subject, and how to frame the curriculum with practical subjects, eliminating the classics as the main thrust. 5 MOL 354.4

This false start led Ellen White to address the denominational leaders in December 1881. She opened her remarks with a clear message of concern: “There is danger that our college will be turned away from its original design.” Later she warned: “Our college stands today in a position that God does not approve.” She noted the “effort to mold our school after other colleges. When this is done, we can give no encouragement to parents to send their children to Battle Creek College.” To teach students only a knowledge of books could be done at any college. “A more comprehensive education is needed” that would include emphasis on character development, a daily reminder to give students a “sense of their obligation to God,” and a program to “unite physical with mental taxation.” MOL 354.5

Mrs. White went on to spotlight the importance of right motivation in the work of both teachers and students: “The evils of self-esteem, and an unsanctified independence, which most impair our usefulness, and which will prove our ruin, if not overcome, spring from selfishness.” 6 MOL 354.6

Dark days came when the college closed on August 10, 1882. Problems included personnel clashes as well as the perceived crisis that the young college had not met the purposes for which it had been established. One year later it was reopened with the clear statement that the college would “in all respects” harmonize with the instruction provided through the Spirit of prophecy. 7 MOL 354.7

However, again it was easier to publish the school’s goals than to implement them. The turning point in the development of Adventist education came at the Harbor Springs, Michigan, educational convention in the summer of 1891. Ellen White made at least six presentations in addition to rereading her 1872 testimony on “Proper Education.” She renewed her previous emphasis on eliminating from the curriculum pagan and infidel authors and the courses in Latin and Greek classics. In addition, her emphasis on Bible teaching and history from the standpoint of prophecy as well as the spiritual qualifications of teachers seemed to take hold among the leading educators. MOL 355.1

After the Harbor Springs educational conference, Mrs. White wrote six articles in the church paper reinforcing the strong positions she had taken at the conference. The battle of the curriculum was changing in her favor but it did not come immediately. The knife edge of educational reform was the defining difference between conventional classical education and the perspective of Christian education in the light of the Great Controversy Theme. 8 MOL 355.2