The Seventh-day Adventist Educational Emphasis

Commencement address, Potomac University, Sligo church, August 13, 1959.

R. R. FIGUHR, President, General Conference

Seventh-day Adventists believe in a high type of education. The need for this is well stated by Lord Macaulay:

"Nine tenths of the calam­ities which have befallen the human race had no other origin than the union of high intelligence with low desires. Learning without cor­responding character development has been no blessing to the world. Combined with low desire, it has often proved a curse."

Seventh-day Adventists have ever stressed the importance of education, but always with a certain emphasis. The fol­lowing inspiring motto has been their guid­ing star:

"Higher than the highest human thought can reach is God's ideal for His children."—Education, p. 18.

There could be no grander concept of learning. It gives to learning a religious connotation that Seventh-day Adventists appreciate. The student should "advance as fast and as far as possible in every branch of true knowledge."—Ibid.

Wherever the work of our church has spread, there we have established schools and encouraged education. Often, in our earlier days, schools were established in poverty, and not infrequently they were in­adequately equipped.

In those early days an Adventist lad be­gan his schooling under just such circum­stances. This lad was led past two beautiful, large, well-equipped, and well-staffed pub­lic schools. After a walk of more than two miles he was led down into the basement of a humble Seventh-day Adventist church. There he was placed in the care of a noble and devoted Christian teacher. She was not trained for her task as teachers are today, but she had something that training in it­self can never supply—the gentle spirit of the Great Teacher, and the conviction that she was called and commissioned to do a great work. Sincere parents, deeply con­cerned over the future of their children, made great sacrifices to send them to her, believing that in doing so they were provid­ing the best possible educational opportu­nity for them. In such a spirit of sacrifice and dedication our educational work was born and has been nurtured. It has been carried forward in the same spirit the world around.

We have come some distance from those more primitive times, but our emphasis has not changed. Though our work has grown and facilities have increased, it remains our firm conviction that our young people, no matter what careers they choose, can be adequately educated only in Seventh-day Adventist schools, under Seventh-day Ad­ventist teachers. We believe that the spe­cific mission of our church can be accom­plished alone through a people prepared and inspired by those who have caught and followed the heavenly vision of which the apostle Paul long ago spoke.

Our deep conviction in this matter, and our emphasis upon certain distinctive prin­ciples, were rather lightly looked upon by many in our earlier years. But a change has come. Time, that final and inexorable judge of ideas and philosophies, has ren­dered its decision. There doubtless came to your attention a few weeks ago an Associ­ated Press article that was published across the country in leading metropolitan pa­pers, entitled "Seventh-day Adventists Don the Scholar's Cap." We quote a few ex­cerpts of what it said of Adventists:

"A group, often brushed off in the past as narrow-minded, today holds increasing stature in religious intellectual circles. . . .

"A new generation of earnest intellec­tuals is appearing within the ranks of avowedly fundamentalist groups and edu­cational institutions.

"They're reinforcing 'old-time religion' with keen scholarship."

Have we changed our ideas of education to bring this about? Have we become lib­eral and worldly? Have we thrown aside our distinctive teachings and principles?

Not at all. This is but a natural outgrowth of what we have believed and emphasized from our very earliest years. This change was to be expected.

While Adventists appreciate and see much good in the secular schools and do not criticize or depreciate them in any way, recognizing the tremendous contribution they are making to the life of the nation, yet Seventh-day Adventists believe that they are called upon to give a special mes­sage to the world speedily. In preparation for this task it is their conviction that their own schools alone are adequate.

The apostle James contrasts two philoso­phies of education in his epistle written nearly two thousand years ago. Yes, as long ago as that, those who counted themselves disciples of the great Master Teacher encouraged and highly evaluated learning, but learning with a special emphasis. The apostle begins his brief discourse on this subject by asking a pointed question, "Who is wise and understanding among you?" In answer to that question he sets up a stand­ard that is still good today:

"By his good life let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom" (James 3:13, R.S.V.).

The indisputable evidence of an edu­cated man is not the framed diploma, nor the letters appearing after the name. These are but evidence that the man has had edu­cational opportunities, not necessarily proof that he has actually achieved the goal. The proof is the good life, the useful deeds, and gracious humility that adorn the life. What an era of peace and happiness would be ushered in if this world of ours were populated by such truly wise and knowledgeable people! Nations would not be devoting half their national budgets to military purposes.

In many respects, the great country of the Argentine is similar to the United States. It is populated by an alert, liberty-loving, and cosmopolitan people. I had oc­casion one day to stand in line before a post office window and there await my turn for service. In the line ahead of me was an im­patient, restless man—the type one is likely to meet almost anywhere. Finally, in his impatience he pushed to the head of the line and demanded immediate service. A hefty policeman put him back in his place, despite his protests. When I quietly re­marked to the officer upon the impropriety of the man's act, he stepped over and con­fided in me, "That man has very little edu­cation." The individual referred to looked intelligent. He was well dressed, and his speech was grammatically correct. He had the outward evidences, at least, of a degree of learning, but he had little consideration for others. He was selfish and evidently be­lieved in getting, even with a degree of vio­lence, the things he wanted. The police of­ficer was correct. The man lacked those fine, commendable qualities that mark the truly educated—consideration, coopera­tion, and courtesy.

We believe that education should lead to the proper evaluation of self and a modest concept of one's own abilities and powers. A great stumblingblock of humanity, all too common, is overevaluation of self and of one's own attainments. It has been truly said that the person who knows everything has a lot to learn. It is also true that the chief difference between an educated per­son and an ignorant one is that the former knows more things that he recognizes he cannot understand.

That astonishing material progress has been made in our world in the last few years is everywhere recognized. It is con­tinuing at an amazing pace. This led one thoughtful person to exclaim: "If we could have made as much progress these last fifty years with people as we have with things, what a world this would be!"

Applied knowledge could result in trans­forming the very world in which we live. Many dream of this. They dream beyond this little world of ours and are on the verge of sending men into outer space to touch the very fringes of eternity. But un­less material progress is accompanied by character development, man will, if per­mitted to carry on, be the very means of his own destruction.

Unless education gives the right empha­sis, its product can actually be a detriment to society, rather than a help. Notice this statement:

"Our country's leaders have long recog­nized in the unscrupulous but highly trained man a serious detriment to civil well-being. President Theodore Roosevelt once said, 'When you educate a man in mind but not in morals, you educate a menace to society.' "—United Evangelical Action, June, 1959.

"The late Warden Lewis Lawes of Sing Sing prison complained to a national edu­cational convention in Detroit, 'Criminals springing from our schools and colleges are more brazen, more vicious, and more des­perate than ever before in the history of any civilized community.' "—Ibid.

Warden Lewis Lawes is a man who has been in long and close contact with hun­dreds of lawbreakers, and his complaint is that education too often only sharpens the wits of evil men and increases their capac­ity for crime, making them more vicious, more desperate. Plainly an emphasis is needed in education that will teach proper relationships to one's fellows and that will awaken a sense of responsibility toward others, making education a blessing in our desperately needy world, in place of in­creasing the menace of lawlessness.

This is precisely the reason Adventists stress a particular aspect of learning. The pattern has been established by our Lord Himself, who "came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." He came with a vision of service, a deep interest in others, a dedi­cation to a mission for others. This vision He transmits to His followers. As a force­ful example of what He means He relates the parable of the Good Samaritan. The two educated men passed the needy, smit­ten traveler by, their thoughts on what they considered weightier matters. It was left to the despised Samaritan, the man with much less opportunity for formal schooling, to render the service that, under God, everyone owes his fellow men. To all of His followers Jesus says, "Go ye and pro­claim My gospel, the gospel of love and service." We maintain that the great pur­pose of intellectual training has for its chief objective, effectively carrying out Christ's divine directive. While there must be the upward look on the part of those who fol­low Christ, there must also be the outward and the downward look. The same Lord who said, "Come unto me," also said, "Go unto your fellow men."

Our church has not spent millions of dol­lars, raised through great sacrifice and self-denial, merely to prepare teachers, doctors, preachers, and others to carry on in the old established tradition of the professions. Were this our purpose we would avail our­selves of the excellent schools already es­tablished about us, for whose support we pay taxes. But we believe that Seventh-day Adventist young people, the future workers of this cause, can best obtain their training and their inspiration for selfless, dedicated service from dedicated Seventh-day Advent­ist teachers. These men and women are called of God and commissioned by Him to teach and exhort all men to "look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen," recognizing that "the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18, R.S.V.). They believe that the very basis of true education was laid by God Himself when He stated this fundamental principle: "The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is under­standing" (Job 28:28).

Such recognition of God leads to dedi­cated service. Those who strive to please God, sense that they are debtors to all men. It leads to the kind of service to which Jesus calls our attention in reminding us of that great final court session from which there will be no appeal. The Supreme Judge will there evaluate with unerring accuracy and justice the usefulness of lives that have been lived on this earth. The em­phasis will be on selfless service. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Here is the true measure of worth­while living.

Today, if thousands of people were asked to indicate who in their judgment is the greatest living person, they would not name some well-known public character—statesman, renowned soldier, or wealthy person. They would point to the jungles of French Equatorial Africa, to a spot far re­moved from the beaten path of civilization, to a man who many years ago saw a great need, a neglected, suffering, and primitive people, and felt a deep, personal responsi­bility. A writer paid him a visit and de­scribes how the trip to his chosen place of service was made:

I had gone by plane as far as I could—a little local plane that flies from Brazzville to the interior of French Equatorial Africa, which came to a land­ing in a bumpy, muddy field, with nothing but a hut and a tall stepladder to show there was a land­ing strip. From there I went by truck over a trail that could scarcely be called a road, to the very landing where a row boat was waiting to take me to the hospital. Five men were at the oars and I knew by the clean bandages on their arms and legs that they were patients, and some instinct told me that they were lepers, almost healed but kept for observation. We rowed for about an hour up the river against the current—Al/ Men Are Brethren, p. 11.

There, though eighty years of age, Dr. Albert Schweitzer carries on his work in behalf of a needy, neglected people. He carries on with the vigor and enthusiasm of youth. He still is obedient to the vision that came to him many years ago. The same writer says of the doctor, "There was a sim­plicity about him that one finds only in the truly great. In spite of the heavy demands on his time, he puts up no barrier between himself and others."

Here is a man well educated, cultured, refined, intelligent. The world would pay high for his services. Had he so chosen he could be living in material splendor and in fame. But he turned aside from all this and disappeared into the jungle. Why? Because he considered what talents were given him, whatever skills he had acquired, placed him under obligation to his less fortunate fellow beings.

Education, according to the divine plan, was never intended to benefit primarily the recipient of it. The divine concept is that it shall better equip one to aid and encourage others in their need and distress. Neither should education make life more complex. Rather it should simplify and strip it of all pretense, useless adornment, trivia, and make the great issues of life and the pur­pose of living stand out clearly. Relation­ships with others should become more easy, more natural, more understanding. It is no credit to an individual of any profession to have it said of him, "He is very profound; he is so profound that I cannot understand what he says. He must be highly educated."

Let us not confuse lack of clarity with depth. Deep waters are likely to be clear waters. We do not pursue education to make truth more difficult of understand­ing. On the contrary, the aim is to make it more simple and easily understood.

Especially is this true of those devoting themselves to public work. And let me add that the less you endeavor to impress peo­ple that you have been attending a univer­sity or a seminary, the better. Your own as­sertions of this fact will do little to increase your prestige. Rather, let this fact be at­tested to by your deepened sympathy for others, your fuller dedication to ministry of whatever type of service, and your genuine sincerity and natural simplicity.

Though Christ confounded the doctors, scribes, and the educated of His day with His wisdom and deep understanding of truth, He also held in breathless interest the common, ordinary people—the farmer, the shoemaker, the herdsman, the day laborer. He even awakened and held the attention of little children. A philosophy of education that produces such results is what Seventh-day Adventists seek to achieve.

We are in the throes of launching our denominational university. It is not an easy task, nor can it be accomplished in a few weeks. It will cost a large sum before it is

developed fully to the place it is intended to occupy in this denomination. The sacri­fices will not all be on the part of those who provide the funds. The leaders, charged with the administrative responsibilities of the developing institution, and especially the faculty members, will all have joined in sacrificial effort to achieve what we be­lieve is absolutely necessary to provide a center of Seventh-day Adventist higher learning in these confused and uncertain times.

Let me here pay tribute to our fine and dedicated corps of teachers who are willing to put aside personal considerations and conveniences, to move along with our de­nominational program. This attitude un­derlines their dedication to the cause of Seventh-day Adventist education. "I'm will­ing to go anywhere to teach our young peo­ple," one of this group remarked to me. In saying this, I am sure this individual ex­pressed the feelings of all.

We have high hopes for the success of ev­eryone who goes forth from this institu­tion better equipped and inspired for serv­ice. We believe that you here in this class this evening, and the many more who will follow you in years to come, will, with clarity, simplicity, and conviction, witness to the faith once delivered unto the saints, and added to the spoken word, give that much more forceful and persuasive expo­sition—the good life, with ample evidence that in you dwells the wisdom that is from above, which is "pure, then peaceable, gen­tle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy."

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R. R. FIGUHR, President, General Conference

December 1959

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