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The Advent Movement | Survey 8, Part 1

In our seventh survey, we studied through the beginning and development of the educational work among Seventh-day Adventists (–click here to view past studies–) This week in The Advent Movement, we will continue with our study of the crisis over education, in Battle Creek (1881-1882).


                  –The Educational Crisis–

We will begin by reading from an interesting article in “The Review and Herald” of February 24, 1944. This is from dear Elder Spicer, one of the best loved leaders that this denomination ever had. He was president of the General Conference for a number of years. As a young man, he was in Battle Creek. In fact, he was a young student in Battle Creek College when these experiences that we are studying took place. From his own memory and the memory of others, he has given us this very interesting article which he entitles “An Early Crisis in Our Educational Work”. When I use the word crisis relating to the 1881, 1882 situation, I’m borrowing from this leader. I’ll not read the entire article, but I’d like to just pick up a few sentences which will review what we studied together last time:

“There was a real crisis in the Battle Creek College in the school year of 1881, 1882. The college was not re-opened the next school year. That early crisis arose over the question of fidelity to the principles of Christian education committed to us. It was a question whether those principles just beginning to be understood among us were worth the struggle to maintain.

“In 1881 a new president had come to our first college. The first leader there for seven or eight years, Professor Sidney Brownsburger, dropped out on account of breaking health, and a Professor McLaren came in. The new man had known little of us. It appeared that he knew less of the way of Christian education into which the Spirit of Prophecy had been earnestly calling us. He knew only the way of the world’s system under which he had worked. His bent was to take us back into that. This was really the issue, and unfortunately the majority of his faculty appeared ready to take the path back to Egypt.

“Even among our teacher’s ideas were sometimes hazy. It did not take more than a strong-minded leader to start the retreat. But on the faculty was the veteran head of the English department. Professor G. H. Bell knew more than the art and skill of language teaching. Christian education was as the religion of his educational soul. He had carried out the principles in several years of work at the school he had founded at the headquarters on his conversion to this message, the school that grew into Battle Creek College. He was decidedly against any turning back. Thus two parties naturally developed in the faculty and the student body.

“To make matters worse, a few leaders in the local church took an active part. They lined up quite a body of sentiment among the members in favor of the new professor’s policy. There were no school dormitories at that time. Students lived in private homes all over the community. One can understand how agitation and discussion would create an atmosphere not at all favorable for serious study.

Student group meetings were held. Those opposing Professor Bell gathered evidence to show him irritable at times, making some sharp statements in the presence of his students. Some of us younger students were called before school board hearings to tell what was said in our classes concerning the matter.

“Only the other day I was glad to hear a word about the professor’s reply at one such hearing. I met a classmate of those days.

“‘Sister W.,’ I said. ‘Were you brought into that hearing in the old college crisis when we were called in to relate some incidents?’“`Yes I was,’ she replied, ‘and I remember Professor Bell’s answer before the group. He said, ‘Brethren, I can tell you that all that these children have testified to is perfectly true, and I am sorry that it is the fact.’

“One may find in the messages of the Spirit of Prophecy on this matter evidence that the professor had been given counsel by this gift about a weakness of sharp talking. He was admonished not to excuse his fault or engage in self-defense. So the man standing like a stone wall in defense of Christian education met the laying bare of personal faults with humble acknowledgment, and he fought on for the big issue of principle undefeated. So a great heart shamed us all.

“Anyone looking through those earier pages in Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 5 will see how close to this crisis Sister White was brought by the Spirit of Prophecy. She had gone to California after James White’s death in the summer of 1881. Broken in health she had hoped to escape heavy burdens for a time. But she tells how in the Spirit she found herself back at the old headquarters in Battle Creek. She seemed to be listening in at some of the hearings, and listening to words spoken in some home circles.

“Speaking of one testimony she sent for the Battle Creek Church on these issues, she wrote, ‘Before sending that testimony my mind was so impressed by the Spirit of God that I had no rest day or night until I wrote to you. I had little hope that my words would be understood. But when the Lord moved upon me so decidedly, I could not resist His Spirit. It is strange how blind we sometimes are in seeing things.’

“That was the message wrought out in such intensity of pressure that the leader on the wrong side in the local church did not bring it at once before the church. He held it undelivered for a considerable period.” –The Review and Herald, February 24, 1944

As I told you, that man was not only a prominent leader in the local church, he was the head of the college Bible department and a minister of long experience and heavy responsibility in the denomination. That brings us back to where we left off last time, page 52 of Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 5. Before we take up the continued study of these pages, I would like to have us note some of the points in these first hundred pages that Sister White was dealing with in Battle Creek at this time. I think it will help us to get an overall picture of the trends that will help us to better understand what we are going to read today, and also be in a better position to apply these principles to the problems of the present. I’m going to give a list of 13 points:

Number 1 – Simplicity

A statement or two on this:

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. – Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 5, pg. 11

I have been shown that, as a people, we are departing from the simplicity of the faith and from the purity of the gospel. – Ibid., pg. 18

I was shown that fathers and mothers have departed from their simplicity and neglected the holy calling of the gospel. – Ibid., page 74


Number 2 – Extravagance and Ease

In contrast to simplicity, these two are pointed out:

My soul is burdened as I see the great want of spirituality among us. The fashions and customs of the world, pride, love of amusement, love of display, extravagance in dress, in houses, in lands – these are robbing the treasury of God, … – Ibid., pg. 10

Many are ruined by their desire for a life of ease and pleasure.… They set their hearts upon having the good things of this life. – Ibid., pg. 70

I wonder if anything could more appropriately describe the present trends in the world. Each one will have to answer how we have been affected by extravagance and ease, and setting the heart on having the good things of this life.


Number 3 – The real object of our college

Page 12 says:

“The design of our college has been stated again and again, yet many are so blinded by the god of this world that its real object is not understood.” – Ibid., pg. 12

On page 21, it shows that the original design of the college was a place where our people could study the sciences and at the same time learn the requirements of His Word. The Bible should have the first place in our system of education.

Here is a very important statement.

One of the great objects to be secured in the establishment of the college was the separation of our youth from the spirit and influence of the world, from its customs, its follies, and its idolatry. The college was to build a barrier against the immorality of the present age, which makes the world as corrupt as in the days of Noah. The young are bewitched with the mania for courtship and marriage. Lovesick sentimentalism prevails. Great vigilance and tact are needed to guard the youth from these wrong influences. – Ibid., pg. 59

One of the great objects of the college was to lift the standards, to separate our young people from the world and its influence. It’s very clear from these statements.


Number 4 – The warning against imitating other colleges

What does imitate mean? Copying, aping. Here is a warning that it may not be turned away from its design and molded after other institutions of the kind:

The Lord never designed that our college should imitate other institutions of learning. – Ibid., pg. 14

The prophet said that that’s exactly what was happening. She gave her warning and her counsel:

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. – Ibid., pg. 21

It is a very serious matter to mold our school after worldly schools.

Its managers reason after the manner of the world and copy its plans and imitate its customs. But in thus doing, they will not meet the mind of the Spirit of God. – Ibid., pg. 23

Another clear strong statement showing the college had already gone far in the way of world conformity:

Our college stands today in a position that God does not approve…. If its responsible men seek to reach the world’s standard, if they copy the plans and methods of other colleges, the frown of God will be upon our school. – Ibid., pg. 27

What brings the frown of God? Imitating other schools.

The Lord has repeatedly shown that we should not pattern after the popular schools. – Ibid., pg. 61


Number 5 – Worldly amusements

It is one of the symptoms of trying to imitate other schools.

“Some of the teachers have been scattering from Christ instead of gathering with Him.… They link the hands of the students with fashionable, amusement-loving unbelievers, and carry them an advance step toward the world….” – Ibid., pg. 12

“When teachers or professors shall sacrifice religious principle to please a worldly, amusement-loving class, they should be considered unfaithful to their trust and should be discharged.” – Ibid., pg. 14

Is the matter of catering to worldly amusement sufficient to discharge a teacher? That’s what this says.

The leisure hours of the students are often occupied with frivolous pleasures,… – Ibid., pg. 23

She says this was because they didn’t have land for cultivation. This is one of the clear and strong statements on amusements:

The object of God in bringing the college into existence has been lost sight of. Ministers of the gospel have so far shown their want of wisdom from above as to unite a worldly element with the college; they have joined with the enemies of God and the truth in providing entertainments for the students. In thus misleading the youth they have done a work for Satan. – Ibid., pg. 33

The little booklet “Testimony for the Battle Creek Church”, published in Oakland in 1882, gives a few details not found in these Testimonies. I want to give you a couple of samples of these worldly amusements. Maybe they weren’t as bad as you would think just listening to this. Or maybe our own ideas of what’s bad and what isn’t need to be measured by the light from heaven.

It’s very hard for us, as time has gone on and worldly trends have come in, to realize how far we’ve slipped on some things. It’s hard for us to realize how comparatively innocent some of the things our people were sharply rebuked for years ago were.

I am going to read a sample on worldly entertainments. Listen and see if you would think of it as terrible as the prophet presents it. Speaking of Professor Bell, she says:

You have pushed aside this known and tried laborer, and have readily accepted a stranger. You have hunted down the man to whom you were so greatly indebted, and have given your confidence to one whose plans and principles are new and untried. – Ibid., pg. 38

Then there appears in the Review a notice of the celebration of Longfellow’s birthday.

You deify a man of whose heart you know nothing, and whose relation to God you know nothing. This is similar to the course pursued by Aaron when he made the golden calf in the absence of Moses, and offered sacrifice before it while the people proclaimed, ‘These by thy gods, oh Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.’ Have the church at Battle Creek put out their eyes that they cannot see the tendency of these things? If I did not know how God regards your course, I would not write thus. The time spent in paying honor to a mere man might better have been employed in fasting and praying before God. – Ibid

Then she continues, as we already read, that one of the great objects to be secured in the establishment of the college was the separation of our youth from the spirit and influence of the world, from its customs, its follies, and its idolatry.

I want to ask you something. If you were in a place and there should be some birthday celebration of Longfellow, and they would have some of his poems and speeches about him, would you consider that to be particularly bad? Now I recognize that we weren’t there; we don’t know all that went on; we have no way of looking at it with a microscope. But I just wanted you to get the benefit of that statement. It is something to ponder over.

Let me give you another example from this same book:

The worst thing that ever happened to Battle Creek College was the visit of Mr. Hamill, the teacher of elocution. Fascinated with this branch of knowledge, many forgot our position as a peculiar and holy people. They permitted themselves to be led away from God, and some souls will be lost in consequence. The fault was not with Mr. Hamill. He worked in accordance with his faith. But those who forgot all higher interests in their zeal to pursue this new study have done no credit to themselves or to the cause they represented. Some made themselves ridiculous,… – Ibid., pg. 76

In some circles, if a man makes himself ridiculous, he gets himself applauded, doesn’t he?

Some made themselves ridiculous, and though God has reproved their error in mingling with the world, others have done the same thing, and with their spiritual blindness and want of consecration, they continue to repeat the same error. – Ibid

I read these as samples of the worldly amusements the prophet was talking about were being carried on in the college and in the church community that called forth these warnings from heaven

-Continue on to the next study-

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