Why Adventist Education Exists
By Ted N. C. Wilson
The Times Higher Education (THE) magazine, based in London, is a trusted authority on higher education around the world. Each year, THE publishes the “World University Rankings,” the “only global university performance tables to judge world-class universities across all of their core missions—teaching, research, knowledge transfer, and international outlook.”1
Well-known names top the list: University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford. . .
These institutions have a long history of providing outstanding educational opportunities and producing world-class leaders. Numerous Nobel prizes in chemistry, physics, medicine, literature, and peace have been awarded to those associated with these high-ranking educational institutions. Leaders in government, finance, science, philosophy, and other disciplines have graduated from these highly competitive, prestigious schools.
These well-known educational institutions are united in their goals of serving society as centers of higher learning, advancing knowledge and research, and challenging their students to develop their full “intellectual and human potential.”2
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is also deeply committed to quality education. With its 7,883 schools, colleges, and universities, we have the largest Protestant educational system in the world. Why should we make such an investment in education? Simply put, it is because we want our children, youth, and adults to gain more than what the world can offer them.
“Higher than the highest human thought can reach is God’s ideal for His children,” writes Ellen White in the book Education (p. 18). “The world has had its great teachers, men of giant intellect and extensive research, men whose utterances have stimulated thought and opened to view vast fields of knowledge; . . . there is One who stands higher than they. . . . Every gleam of thought, every flash of the intellect, is from the Light of the world” (ibid., pp. 13, 14).
While the educational systems of the world seek to impart knowledge, Seventh-day Adventist education seeks to acquaint students with the Source of all knowledge. While the world hypothesizes about origins, we teach that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1) Adventist education provides a meaningful worldview built around Creation, the Fall, redemption, and re-creation, and is derived from the Bible and the inspired counsel of Ellen G. White.
Within the context of this worldview, students are encouraged to develop and grow in a wholistic way—spiritually, physically, intellectually, and socially. Service to God and others is emphasized. Restoration of the image of God in every human being is the object of education and life. It strengthens character, fortifies the mind against evil, and prepares the learner for service to God and others.
The Core Mission
Within a decade of the formal organization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, our church’s founders realized the importance of a divinely balanced education built on the principles of God’s Word, and the imperative of educating children and youth to exert an influence for God in the world. Foremost in projecting the vision of Adventist education was Ellen White, who outlined a visionary yet practical philosophy and mission for Adventist education in her 30-page essay “Proper Education” (1872). She later expanded this work in her books Education (1903) andCounsels to Parents, Teachers, and
The core Adventist philosophy is that education should be redemptive, for the purpose of restoring human beings to the image of God. Basic Seventh-day Adventist understanding is that the foundation of all true education is a knowledge of God. Mental, physical, social, and spiritual health, intellectual growth, and service to humanity are the essential core values. By focusing on the important mission of providing a biblically based, wholistic, mission-driven educational experience, Seventh-day Adventist education has grown from a small church school in Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1872, to a worldwide network of 7,883 schools, colleges, and universities today.
Millions of students ranging from prekindergarten through doctoral level have benefited from their Adventist educational experience, and many have gone on to serve the world as medical professionals, teachers, pastors, relief workers, business professionals, and in other service-oriented capacities.
Small or Large
While we know that education begins in the home, it is important for the local church to understand that young people aren’t just children of their parents—they are children of the church. When a church can collectively assist its children, that’s a magnificent thing! I would encourage congregations to provide educational assistance to students who want to attend a Seventh-day Adventist school.
Whenever possible, I encourage churches to have their own local church school—even if it is just a one-room school. I attended the first grade in a small church school in Beirut, Lebanon, where I learned the basic skills of a student. It has been shown that small and multigrade schools actually produce very good scholars, and that students aren’t educationally deprived in what may appear to be a limited arrangement.
In more recent years there has been a lessening of commitment to make certain that a Seventh-day Adventist education is available for every Adventist student. As of 2012 the ratio of baptized members to Seventh-day Adventist students in Adventist schools was only four students per 100 members.3
Let’s renew the creative ways to encourage our own Adventist students to receive the many benefits of receiving a Seventh-day Adventist education—even if it means creating a one-room school.
"We want our children, youth, and adults to gain more than what the world can offer them."
In areas where there are many Adventist schools, it may not be practical for every church in the area to have its own school. For example, the church where I attend—Triadelphia, in Clarksville, Maryland—doesn’t have its own church school. However, we offer a subsidy to all church members whose children are attending a local church school, so that they are able to receive the discounted constituent rate for their student(s).
Many Adventist high school and college/university students are studying on secular campuses. There can be some great advantages in that these students can be valuable witnesses to many people at their institutions. However, unless we as a church take care of these young people and engage them in mission outreach training, they will often be overwhelmed by their secular environments, unless they are deeply committed to staying close to Jesus.
Keeping Adventist Schools Adventist
Over the years Adventist education has attracted recognition by government authorities in many countries, and the support of numerous families of others faiths who are sending their children and young people to Adventist schools. In fact, today more than half of the students currently enrolled in Adventist schools come from non-Adventist homes.
In our own schools, having non-Adventist students can be a wonderful mission opportunity, provided that the school has a strong Seventh-day Adventist faculty and staff. Unfortunately, however, some of our higher educational institutions are drifting toward hiring more non-Adventist teachers while at the same time accepting higher and higher percentages of non-Adventist students.
I am urging all college and university administrations to make it a priority, as much as possible, to hire only Seventh-day Adventist faculty and staff; otherwise you will not be fulfilling your mission, and you will find your institution redundant.
But even where mistakes have been made, there is hope. In the Review and Herald, January 9, 1894, Ellen White wrote that when students “see no difference between our schools and the colleges of the world, and have no preference as to which they attend, though error is taught by precept and example in the schools of the world, then there is need of closely examining the reasons that lead to such a conclusion. Our institutions of learning may swing into worldly conformity. Step by step they may advance to the world; but they are prisoners of hope, and God will correct and enlighten them, and bring them back to their upright position of distinction from the world.”
Seventh-day Adventist Christian education is absolutely indispensable. In spite of the challenges with which its leaders wrestle, Adventist education is a tremendous blessing. Many of us are products of that education. Let’s not lose it. Let’s help it to grow, and for those who are on a secular campus, let’s help them to be strong in the Lord, encouraging them not to be “conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2).
2 “The Mission of Harvard College,” www.harvard.edu/faqs/mission-statement.
3 See the 2012 Statistical Report of the Education Department of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.
Ted N. C. Wilson, is president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He holds a Ph.D. in religious education from New York University.