The Advent Movement | Survey 7, Part 1

Today we are going to study about the beginning and development of the educational work among Seventh-day Adventists. We have been told that we have nothing to fear for the future except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us and His teachings in our past history.


                                   –His Teachings In Our Past History–

As Seventh-day Adventists developed their system of doctrine in the 1840s, the early 1850s, they were expecting, of course, that Jesus would come very, very soon. And for a number of years their minds were not impressed especially with the need for education, either of their children or of workers, for they expected that the second advent of Christ would take place speedily. We mustn’t blame them for that. The Lord did want things to wind up in a hurry, didn’t He? Yes, and of course, they could only see a step at a time.

As the work developed and the doctrines were welded together, and the organization was accomplished, and our health work was started, there gradually came to be more and more a realization that our children and youth needed a training different from that which they were receiving in the schools of the world. In Volume 3, you will note a wonderful chapter on education, published in the early 1870s. This chapter in Volume 3, on proper education, is a broad comprehensive vision on education similar to the broad comprehensive vision on health, given a decade before.

In looking at that chapter you will observe that Sister White called for the training of the muscles as well as the mind, and for the heart as well as the head. It was a combined training of the spiritual and the physical as well as the mental. During the early 1870s our educational work was beginning in a very embryonic form to take place in Battle Creek. Perhaps one of the most interesting places to begin is in the year 1866 at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, the Western Health Reform Institute as it was known at that time.

To that little health institution came a man by the name of Bell, Goodloe Bell. He came accompanying a patient. He came the next year, 1867, as a patient. Bell was an educator; somewhat self-educated. As a young man he had spent some time as a student at Oberland College. If you know the name of Oberland, you know it was connected with educational reform. However, he was not able to be there long because of conditions in his father’s family. He was the oldest of a large family of children. They moved on to Michigan and he later became a teacher there, a teacher that was well recognized in the state of Michigan, but he didn’t have any college degree.

So this teacher came to Battle Creek Sanitarium in 1866 and 1867. While there as a patient, he was assigned, as part of his treatment, to do light work in the garden and on the grounds. That was a very interesting thing. We know that that’s a good prescription for many patients, don’t we? And thank the Lord they knew it in that early health institution in Battle Creek. While there, he manifested his interest in some of the boys of the neighborhood with whom he got acquainted, there on the grounds. And among them were Edson and Willie White and also the Kellogg boys. As he talked with these boys he found some of their problems in grammar and arithmetic, and helped them with them. They reported enthusiastically to their parents and the upshot of it was that before long Goodloe Bell was installed as a teacher for a number of the Seventh-day Adventist children in the west end, as that part of Battle Creek was called.

Bell by this time had accepted the Seventh-day Adventist faith. So thus was developed through the medical missionary work, our first outstanding educator. Presently his little school was taken under the wing of the General Conference. And by 1874 we see the educational work of the Seventh-day Adventists taking shape in an incorporated society, and the starting of Battle Creek College. Battle Creek College was dedicated (the building was dedicated) on January 3 of 1875. So we think of 1874-1875 as starting that college.

Now to go back a little. Sister White, of course, had sought to give guidance through the Spirit of Prophecy to these early endeavors, and she urged that the school be located in the country. But men could not see as God sees nor as the prophet saw. While Sister White suggested a definite location out in the country, they felt it was too far. She suggested another one closer in. That was considered too far. Finally, while Sister White was away on a trip, they bought twelve acres directly across the street from the Battle Creek sanitarium, presently sold off five of that for lots for houses, and they had seven acres left to start a college.

Sister White wept as she heard what had been done, but (and this is an important point to note), she didn’t withdraw her support. She didn’t go off into a cave somewhere and say, “You didn’t do what you should have done, so I can’t help you any.” No. She and James White both did all that they could to encourage the beginning of this college, and tried to help them to minimize the perils and dangers which they had brought upon themselves by their location in the outskirts of the little town of Battle Creek.

Another interesting thing. Bell, in some ways, would have been the logical choice to be the head of the school, but Bell lacked a degree. There were those who felt that to carry on a college it was necessary to have a man with a degree. And as they felt, in the providence of God, one appeared, by the name of Brownsburger. He had his training at the university of Michigan at Ann Arbor. He was a good Seventh-day Adventist and so he was put in. And Bell, to his credit, did not get rebellious or feel sorry for himself because he had been left out. He accepted the leadership of the English department. He was very strong in the subject of English and grammar, and composition and literature, and all that. So they went ahead. However, it was evident that Brownsburger was seeking to put a mold upon the school after the classical pattern. Naturally he would. He was trained in a university, and he felt that what the Seventh-day Adventist people wanted was a college, so he was going to give them one.

Bell, on the other hand, sought to emphasize more definitely those things which had been emphasized by the Spirit of Prophecy, such as thoroughness in the English language rather than so much time spent on classical Greek and Latin, a use of inspired literature rather than depending so much upon the polluted fountains that the world drinks from. He also sought to give his influence in the direction of student industries, high standards of discipline, and so forth.

Well, things went along, and more or less, the institution was blessed and thus proceeded for about seven years. However, at the end of seven years, Brownsburger, recognizing, at least to some degree, that he and Bell were not pulling in exactly the same harness, and also affected somewhat by poor health, withdrew and went out to a farm. That left the school without his leadership. What should they do?

Well, again it seemed to some, providentially a university man appeared. This time it was Professor McLearn of whom we will hear more as we proceed in our study… He must have been a very interesting character. He’d only recently accepted the truth. He was a university man, had a good deal of spirit and dash. And there was a large element in Battle Creek that responded to his leadership in a strong way, but he was much further in the direction of a worldly mold than Brownsburger had been. So the contrast between McLearn and Bell was much greater than between Brownsburger and Bell.

Just at this time or about this time James White died. He died in the summer of 1881. And Sister White, burdened with care and grief because of this closing sickness of James White, and because of certain sad and disappointing conditions in the Battle Creek church, worn as she was, she withdrew to Colorado for a period of rest after the funeral of James White. There in Boulder, Colorado, she penned a message to be read at the Michigan camp meeting, dealing with conditions in Battle Creek and Michigan at that time.




–The Fallen Standards–

In Volume 5, page 9, we will notice some very interesting things. You will notice that this chapter is titled “Campmeeting Address.” It is dated Boulder, Colorado, September 25, 1881. This is the next month after the death of James White. It is addressed, you see to: “Dear Brethren and Sisters who shall assemble to the Michigan camp meeting.” Will you please note the little footnote in small type at the bottom of the page:

This appeal was written for the Michigan camp meeting, but being forgotten at that time, was read before the General Conference, December 1881. – Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, pg. 9

About three months after it was written. That’s quite an interesting footnote, isn’t it? Can you imagine a condition, my friends, in which a message from the prophet of God, the Lord’s messenger, written expressly to be read at a camp meeting, would be forgotten? Forgotten!

Sister White felt grieved over this. As you notice it was read later in December 1881 at the time of the General Conference.

Now, I want to scan through this appeal that she wrote at this time, written in September, finally reaching its listeners about three months later. I can only call attention to a few points. I hope you will read every word. At the bottom of page 10, she speaks about the fashions and the customs of the world coming in among our people. The love of amusement, love of display, extravagance in dress, in houses, in lands.

Later in this volume she speaks specifically of some of the residences which had been erected about that time by some of our workers and people in Battle Creek. She said there were so many evidences that they did not believe that Jesus was coming soon, and that even worldlings were looking at those elaborately built homes, and scoffing at the idea that those Seventh-day Adventists really believed that Jesus was coming soon. Near the top of page 11, you will notice the statement:

The old standard-bearers are fainting and falling. – Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, pg. 11

Her husband had passed away just a few weeks before the writing of this testimony. Other workers had also passed away, Joseph Bates the decade before.

We are not doing one-twentieth part of what God requires us to do. There has been a departure from the simplicity of the work, making it intricate, difficult to understand, and difficult to execute. The judgment and wisdom of man rather than of God has too often guided and controlled. – Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, pg. 11

Note the warning against listening to men instead of listening to God. Then at the bottom of page 11 she comes specifically to our college showing that its purpose was to educate laborers for God – that that was the object and that our brethren should feel a responsibility to guard it, that it may not be turned away from its design and be molded after other institutions of the kind. You can see the force of the warning in the light of the background I have given you. Right at this time McLearn had taken the leadership of the school and was definitely putting a worldly mold upon it.

Much that has no part in Christ is allowed a place among us. Unconsecrated ministers, professors, and teachers assist Satan to plant his banner in our very strongholds. – Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, pg. 12

Quite a statement, wasn’t it? Imagine how you might have felt if you had been one of the faculty or one of the board or one of the parents or one of the students there at that time.

Some of the teachers have been scattering from Christ instead of gathering with Him. By their own example they lead those under their charge to adopt the customs and habits of worldlings. – Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, pg. 12

Then she speaks of linking the hands of the students with fashionable, amusement-loving unbelievers, and carry them an advance step toward the world and away from Christ. You can see page after page what she is getting at. There was a worldly trend there in the college, and encouraged by some ministers and by some parents right there in the church at headquarters at Battle Creek. Now you notice she said they were doing this in the face of warnings from heaven:

… Not only those given to the people in general, but personal appeals to themselves. The anger of the Lord is kindled for these things. – Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, pg. 12

Had the Lord, then, sent personal testimonies to some of these people, that they were disregarding? Now, before we get through this lesson, you will see that this was reaching into high places, and that involved in it were some people of long experience and high position in the work. That’s why this was so serious.

The Lord never designed that our college should imitate other institutions of learning. – Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, pg. 14

But that’s exactly what they were doing under McLearn’s leadership. You can imagine how Bell was getting along in that atmosphere, because that wasn’t what he wanted. He was trying to hold up the standards, to stand for the reforms, to stand for discipline, and there came such conditions in the school that the son of McLearn kicked Bell down the stairs at the college. That is how far things got. Bell was looked upon by some of the students and some of the parents as a harsh, stern, difficult man, and McLearn was popular because he was easy going, world loving, brought in worldly amusements, and allowed a letting down of the standards.

While Bell was standing for truth and principle, he wasn’t always as kind as he might have been. He had a number of handicaps. His health wasn’t the best. He had many burdens. He was doing the work of three men, Sister White said, and he at times was irritable. He also was very exact, thorough, a perfectionist, if you please. In fact, Sister White told him that he carried the matter of grammar and thoroughness in English, too far. But she strongly condemned those who criticized Bell and rallied around McLearn in accusing Bell and making things hard for Bell. That was the situation.

Now, this gives you a little picture of this first testimony written in September, finally reaching the people in Battle Creek, as far as it being read is concerned, in December of 1881… The second chapter in this book contains another message from Sister White which was read at about the same time that the first one was. The name of it, as you see, is “Our College.” The footnote says that this was read in College Hall, December, 1881, before Conference delegates and leading workers in the Review and Herald office, sanitarium, and college. Notice how she comes directly to the point and deals
with the current crisis there in Battle Creek:

There is danger that our college will be turned away from its original design. – Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, pg. 21

She shows what that design was, that there ought to be a place where our young people could study the sciences, and at the same time learn the requirements of God’s Word. A study of the Scriptures should have the first place in our system of education. A careful study of these chapters will show that under McLearn’s influence there was a tendency to reach out for world-loving students, and to make it rather a liberal college where there was some Bible taught, of course, but where young people who wanted, shall we say, ordinary education could get it.

The next paragraph contains one of the most astounding statements in the inspired writings… Consider the setting. Please note as you listen to this, as you read it here, that at this time, Battle Creek was our only educational institution of any grade. A young person who wanted to go to a Seventh-day Adventist school either must come to Battle Creek or else he didn’t come to a Seventh-Day Adventist school. Keep that in mind. Now with that in mind:

Students are sent from a great distance to attend the college at Battle Creek for the very purpose of receiving instructions from the lectures on Bible subjects. But for one or two years past there has been an 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. – Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, pg. 21

Isn’t that an interesting statement? The parents might have said, “Well, Sister White, where can we send them, then?” I don’t know what she would have said. But under the circumstances, Battle Creek College was becoming so molded, so affected by this worldward trend that the Lord’s messenger could not encourage the parents to send their children and young people to Battle Creek College. Remember, this is only seven years after the beginning of the Battle Creek College… With that, you might want to put page 186, which was written about the same time. This is in the chapter “Moving to Battle Creek,” warning our people against the influences which were prevalent in educational circles there in Battle Creek at that time:

The influence exerted by some who have long been connected with the work of God is fatal to spirituality and devotion. These gospel-hardened youth have surrounded themselves with an atmosphere of worldliness, irreverence, and infidelity. Dare you risk the effect of such associations upon your children? It would be better for them never to obtain an education than to acquire it at the sacrifice of principle and the blessing of God. – Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, pg. 186

I think of what one of the fundamentalist evangelists in another denomination said some time ago. He said he would rather see his son have to learn his ABCs in heaven than to be able to read Greek in hell… We will note some of the points that Sister White pointed out that should have been in the college, some things that were there that shouldn’t be:

Too little attention given to the education of young men for the ministry… The study of books only cannot give students the discipline they need. A broader foundation must be laid. – Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, pg. 22

In other words, young men came there to be trained for the ministry, but under the influence of certain worldly teachers they got their eyes on other things, and lost their burden for souls. Some of those things that were put before them, it says, would occupy a number of years, thus their minds were diverted from the Lord’s work.

So she points out the need for industries, industrial reform:

It would be well could there be connected with our college land for cultivation, and also workshops under the charge of men competent to instruct the students in the various departments of physical labor. – Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, pg. 23

Then she points out the inevitable result of lack in this direction. You notice the rest of the paragraph shows that the leisure hours of some of the students, since they weren’t occupied in the farm and the workshop, were given to frivolous pleasures, leading to sensual indulgence and the untimely excitement of courtship and marriage. I want you to notice as we go through these various points, shall I say, there is nothing new under the sun. Some of the very problems that are being faced today, were being faced back there in old Battle Creek in 1881 and 1882…

-Continue on to the next study-


* This study has been adapted from classes taken by Elder W.D. Frazee.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.