V. Training Bible Instructors in the Early Days
To tell the complete story of the early training of our Bible instructors, we must pick up the thread again during the camp meeting season of 1883. Bear in mind that Elder Haskell had been vividly impressed while in Europe with conditions on that continent. He reflected seriously on the mission and work of the Waldenses as he entered the territory of these early Bible Christians. Waldensian zeal and methods guided the "father of our Tract and Missionary Society" to produce some new plans for promoting our message.
Humble workers in America at first led out in house-to-house ministry with our literature, and these contacts were then followed up with personal work and Bible readings. But our humble, often untrained, laymen who then pioneered our missionary work soon realized that they had to meet a hostile world, and that their arguments had to be well prepared. Their knowledge of the Bible had to be materially increased, and their methods had to be polished up if they were to find entrance to the homes of the better classes. So next, in the picture of our denominational progress, we find a need for courses of training, when brief periods of a few weeks would provide a more adequate preparation for missionary work. Jesus was coming soon, and it was entirely out of the thinking of these practical folk even to dream about college courses with degrees
Advanced education among us was just beginning in 1882. Healdsburg College and South Lancaster Academy were to meet the demand of the field for developing much-needed workers. These schools led out by offering short courses for ministers, colporteurs, and some energetic laymen who desired to prepare themselves for more aggressive missionary work. Brief, special courses were given at the end of the year's curriculum. Announcing the course to be given at Healdsburg College in the August and September numbers of the Signs, we learn that at least fifty were expected to attend. During May, 1883, the editor of the Signs is reported to have visited Healdsburg College two weeks for the purpose of instructing student colporteurs and missionary workers. Bible readings were a part of this instruction.
Announcement was made of another special three-week training course to be conducted at South Lancaster, Massachusetts, beginning March 17 the following year. Wide publicity continued to be given to this course, and workers and laymen were urged to avail themselves of this exceptional opportunity. The Review reported that during the preceding year a limited number of student colporteurs, with only a very meager training, had met with marked success in their field work, and that this follow-up course, headed by a more complete faculty, would undoubtedly surpass that of the preceding year in helpfulness.
It is illuminating to read in the annals of the early development of our Bible work how this course was conducted. Prof. G. H. Bell, already a prominent figure in our educational work, was principal of South Lancaster Academy at the time. In the training of field missionary workers for the summer of 1884 he featured instruction in language and letter writing. A letter by Elder Haskell to Mrs. White indicated that a query was made by a few leaders as to the rigidity of the drilling to which Professor Bell was subjecting these colporteurs and future Bible instructors. It seemed evident, however, that they made rapid progress under his thorough tutelage, and from day to day their missionary letters showed better grammatical construction.
Again it is most interesting to observe how this same group responded to a most thorough drilling in the Bible-reading art. The assignment each day required the production of an original Bible reading. Logical sequence and sound, well-rounded argument on various doctrinal subjects was emphasized. Astonishing improvement in the handling of studies was most noticeable as the course progressed, and before it terminated, the hard-working students seemed really to know what the Bible taught regarding the return of Christ, the Sabbath, the state of the dead, the Spirit of prophecy, and other doctrines of present truth. A few of the remaining workers of this group, personally known to me through association with them in the work, have always impressed me with the certain note of their sermons or Bible readings. This early training in Bible work had sent them forth with proper assurance and conviction.
Need for Printed Bible Readings
Denominational textbooks in those early eighties were very scarce. The cost of Christian education in any form was very high ; nevertheless, these dauntless Adventists thoroughly believed in Christian training and frowned on secular education. Bell's grammar books made more than a denominational contribution. Our message was now drawing to itself other prominent educators who engaged in teaching in air own schools. While a general academic course interested the younger generation, the more mature field workers needed far better equipment for Bible argument. And so there arose a cry throughout the length and breadth of the land for printed Bible lessons ! Such lessons in more permanent form could become a pattern for many workers. Their well-prepared argument would be as a nail in a sure place. Many a modern Jael was to learn skill in attacking her Sisera!
The Battle Creek Institute, October 30-November 7, 1883, began to set the pace for original Bible readings. The recommendation for a Bible reading bureau resulted in the publishing of a series of printed Bible readings during the early months of 1884. We have before us a copy of the original Bible-reading Gazette, printed in Battle Creek in 1885. The first study on the sanctuary includes 149 questions answered with definite texts! We can assure our readers that this initial work was a most thorough treatise of this subject. Although the year 1883 began without any of these printed lessons for the field, the Signs of May 20, 1884, carried the announcement that Bible-reading Gazette, number 5 was then ready. On the title page of volume of this set of Bible studies we read that these 162 Bible readings are on a "great variety of subjects, doctrinal, practical, and prophetical, adapted to all classes of society." As we peruse this work we must admit that the lessons measured up to all these objectives.
Although the Bible-reading plan began with the idea of giving instruction to the believers in the Advent faith, it was soon developed to meet the broader needs of an evangelistic environment. Remembering that the Bible-reading Gazette of twelve numbers was the forerunner of our present widely circulated work, Bible Readings for the Home Circle (1889), we can realize the influence of these Bible studies on the public as well as on our own believers. Today our Bible-reading technique has developed into a definite Adventist skill. Through the Spirit of prophecy we have been instructed to enhance the possibilities of this plan in the hastening of the completion of the everlasting gospel, to guard well the plan of the original Bible reading.