A Berean Defends The Sabbath School Quarterly

“Pastor Grams,” asked a devoted Weimar College student one day, “how do you know your Bible so well?”  The entire class waited anxiously.  We were daily and thoroughly impressed with our beloved teacher's rapid-fire class presentations.  He could refute error immediately.  He spoke in Bible-ese, his lectures thickly laden with distinctive Bible words and phrases.  He was fond of “stirring up our pure minds” (2 Peter 3:1) on topics he deemed important.

Pastor Grams seemed to have the writings of Ellen G. White and early Adventist history on the tip of his tongue.  He encouraged us to go to the “original sources” to arrive at truth, which counsel increases with value with each topic I study.  And when he left Weimar, a group of loyal disciples made a dictionary of the impressive words he had taught us.  So many things were “inimical” to truth. We must “grapple” with serious issues.  The list was long.

So, how did our spiritual mentor become such an adept Bible teacher?  His answer was simple. “I study the Sabbath School lesson,” he said. “I have studied it daily since I was young, and this habit has given me a broad understanding of the Bible like nothing else.”

Class resumed. He didn't elaborate on his method of studying the lesson.  But I never forgot his words.  I purposed in my heart that if this daily study was my ticket to a knowledge of Scripture, I would do it.  “Study the Sabbath School Quarterly to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth,” (2 Timothy 2:15) I concluded.

I already “studied” the lesson daily....most days.  It wasn't hard.  I read the page for the day, and answered the questions.  I soon discovered that if I couldn't answer a question, the editors had summarized the answer below.  How easy. I had occasionally “taught” a Sabbath School class in my previous small church, and even led a dorm Bible study on Galatians during my senior year at Southern College.  That was all before I became a Berean.

When I studied the Bereans in Acts 17, I got closer to Pastor Grams' intent and practice, I believe. “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so,” (Acts 17:12).  A-ha! Bereans “received” the word—they wanted truth.  And Pastor Grams certainly evinced a ready mind.  Bereans “searched” the scriptures daily—as I would do via the quarterly.  Bereans studied “whether those things were so,” and so must I.

Today I believe Pastor Grams was absolutely correct.  Since learning his secret and studying Berean-style, my grasp of Bible truth and facility in finding Bible texts have increased exponentially.  I have progressed from knowing much about the Bible to knowing the Christ in the Bible, and having many passages committed to memory.  And yes, I still study and teach from the lesson.

Pastor Grams was not naive.  But he failed to mention that the lesson quarterly is not infallible. I have found many mistakes in it.  As a Berean, I sharpen my skills by studying it anyway, taking Paul's counsel to “Prove all things; hold fast to that which is good,” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Here are some common complaints I have heard about the Quarterly and my answers to them.

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 “The topic this quarter is not one which interests me.”

Good!  That's why you need this quarter's study.  You will grapple with a topic you have ignored, and will find that with deeper study you will learn and grow in new directions and understandings.  As it is written, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works,” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, emphasis mine).  If you want new treasures, you must dig in new places.  By studying quarterlies on Jeremiah, Job, the writings of Paul, Galatians, Stewardship, et al, I have found I underestimated the value of much of Scripture.  

 “The editor doesn't include very many quotes from Ellen G. White.”

Remember, the lesson book is of limited size.  Not all quotes on the topic could possibly be included.  Some quarters the writers use more Spirit of Prophecy quotes or references than at other times.  Do your own digging for relevant material.  You will develop your mental and spiritual muscles, and be blessed by having something worthwhile to contribute to class discussions rather than the overused, “I think” comments.  At least two sources publish lesson helps full of EGW quotes.  Or go to the White Estate website (egwwritings.org) and find all you want for free.

 “I prefer to use an alternative quarterly from another source.”

I have considered that myself—doing my own thing, bettering what the church has published. Attitude check: how does my independent spirit build unity with the worldwide church?  When I study the lesson with the world church, I can practice Paul's counsel to the Ephesians about “submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God,” (Ephesians 5:21).  I can be charitable, unselfish, for charity “seeketh not her own,” (1 Corinthians 13:5).  Some class member might need the very things discussed in the current Quarterly.

 “I don't like the lesson because it uses other Bible versions besides King James.”

Yes, I prefer the King James version, too.  Each book I read on Protestant Reformation history or Bible translation history deepens my decision to make the KJV the version I rely on, the one I memorize from.  So what if the lesson employs other versions?  Look up the verses in your preferred translation.  I look them up in the KJV and write them in the margins or between the lines.  I gain amazing insights by comparing translations as I write, and by this tedious method I slow down long enough to focus more thoroughly on each text used.

 “This Sabbath School Quarterly hardly uses any texts. It's just giving the writer's opinion.”

Be a Berean SDA: rise to the occasion!  If opinion is given, prove it false; if fact is given, establish it with Scripture.  If key texts are missing, find them.  Bring them to class on Sabbath. Contribute something better than a yawn or an opinion. If you detect evil, “overcome evil with good,” (Romans 12:21).

 “Nobody studies, so why bother?”

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Nobody studies?  It may seem that way when class discussions stall or are limited to a few garrulous speakers.  I will confess here, that when our son Eljiah was in Cradle Roll, I taught in his class, and studied that lesson only. Whenever I could attend the adult class, I was a coat-tails participant, relying on those who had studied, then adding to their comments.  What if they had not bothered to study?  Their example led me to renew my daily habit of studying the adult lesson.  “Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification....For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope,” (Romans 15:2,4).  In Nazareth, Jesus read from the Isaiah scroll handed to Him, then connected the reading with other relevant passages He had studied.  What if we could also edify our Sabbath School classes by reason of our faithful, daily study? 

“The writers quotes non-SDA sources.”

So did Paul.  So did Ellen G. White..

As a Berean, you will search Scripture to find corroboration or refutation for any dubious quotes.  You might even Google the names, as I have done, to discover the roots of their teachings, and any connections with Adventism or ecumenism (Oh, the rabbits I've chased!). The dictionary is a non-SDA source, but I find it helpful.  As in all cases, ask for the Holy Spirit's guidance as you study.  For “even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God....Which things we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual,” (1 Corinthians 2:11,13).  Learn to recognize “enticing words of man's wisdom” (verse 4) and replace them with Bible truth. Indeed, “One sentence of Scripture is of more value than ten thousand of man's ideas or arguments,” (7 Testimonies, p. 71) but many writers won't take time to find the texts. You find them. Bring them to class.  What a lively discussion will ensue.

 “The writers are changing SDA doctrine.”

This has been a problem since the days of the Apostles.  If you can identify error, then follow Jude's counsel and “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints,” (Jude 3).  Read the rest of Jude.  If someone is indeed tampering with our Bible-based beliefs, inserting inimical sentiments and theories, God will reserve that person unto judgment.  Don't be too proud of your own opinion, however.  I have found myself corrected by a class member when I thought I stood on solid Biblical ground.  Expand your personal study beyond the confines of the Quarterly.  “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.  Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates,” (2 Corinthians 13:5)? Contend meekly, with a Christlike spirit, after first determining the truth of your position (2 Timothy 2:24-25).

“Why do we have memory verses in our lessons? Memory verses are just for kids.”

 Oh really?  Is that why Moses said, “these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart; And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children,” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)? Have you memorize the entire Bible already?  Some years back, one Primary teacher challenged the adults to stand up in front and say our verses like we wanted the kids to do each quarter.  I took on the challenge, and learned many verses.  The ones I put into song are still in my head today.  I do not always memorize the verse for the week, but when I do, I add to my mental Bible.  The more verses I memorize, the easier it is to find key texts when I need them.  Mom used to tell us kids that someday our Bibles might be taken from us, and we would have to rely on what we had stored in our minds.

“I'd rather have a Sabbath School class on (favorite topic) or (favorite EGW book).”

The Sabbath is 24 hours long.  The week is seven days long.  There is plenty of time for a group study besides the hour appointed for the worldwide church to unite in studying the same topic.  Have you tried a Friday night home study?  What about Sabbath afternoon after potluck?  Prayer meeting?  The book of Acts recounts how the early Christians met often, sometimes daily, for prayer, study, food and fellowship.

As General Sabbath School Superintendent in my little church, I was gratified recently to hear from new believers how much they enjoy studying the Sabbath School lesson.  “This is my favorite part of the whole morning,” said one beaming lady.  “I am learning so much from studying every day,” said another.  I agreed with them both.

Are you praying for those who prepare the Sabbath School lessons?  It is a lengthy, multi-step process requiring much planning and collaboration.  Send them your positive suggestions as to topics and writers. “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part,” and now “we see through a glass darkly,” (1 Corinthians 13:9,12).  Offer your prayerful support, Aaron and Hur-style (Exodus 17), and you may find yourself in a whole new area of ministry.

*Yes, I know it is now called the “Sabbath School Bible Study Guide.”  But I never hear that title used.

"So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17).

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Holly Joers is a lifelong SDA who was raised in Southern California and now is blessed to live in rural Arkansas with her husband Skip and son Elijah.  She is a church pianist and is addicted to Bible study, gardening and bargain-hunting, among other things.