True Education: An Essential To Salvation

After over a decade of pioneering educational work in the southern United States at Madison College, E. A. Sutherland wrote a book first published in 1915 called Studies in Christian Education.  His primary audience in writing the book was his own students at Madison. 

In the book he traces the origins of the papal system of education that has taken root in the American model and to a large degree is followed in Adventist institutions.  Sutherland contrasts this model with the reforms of Martin Luther at Wittenberg, Thomas Jefferson at the University of Virginia, and, especially those carried out at Oberlin College, in Oberlin Ohio, USA prior to 1844.  Sutherland presents these examples as powerful models of Christian education in more modern times. 

Sutherland was fully persuaded that Ellen White was correct in stating that understanding the science of true education is not only pivotal to the successful promulgation of the Advent message, much more than this, a true understanding on this point is essential to salvation itself.  As the years have rolled on many of us have wondered how the Lord is ever going to bring about the reforms in Adventist education that are essential to its success.  I'll come back to that at the end because there is plenty of hope and I have some good news to share.  But first, the following summary of points by Dr. Sutherland outlines the essential differences between true and false education. 

Towards the close of the book as he comes to his conclusions Sutherland quotes this statement by Ellen White:

Before we carry the message of present truth in all its fullness to other countries, we must first break every yoke. We must come into the line of true education walking in the wisdom of God, and not in the wisdom of the world. God calls for messengers who will be true reformers. We must educate, educate, to prepare a people who Will understand the message, and then give the message to the world (“The Madison School,” p. 30).

Then addressing his students, Sutherland states:

The object of these studies has been to aid you students to understand the instruction in the paragraph just read, that you may avoid the educational pitfalls, and that you may “come into the line of true education,” and have a part in carrying the message to the world.
We shall review briefly the subject, and list important educational principles found in both systems.  As these are presented, determine your attitude to each one, and ascertain your reason for taking that position.  You are asked to do this with the hope that it will strengthen your position on educational questions, and aid you to “come into the line of true education,” and thus be better prepared to carry the message of Christ’s soon coming.  It is done with the hope that you may more fully sense the deep significance of the statement,
Now as never before we need to understand the true science of education.  If we fail to understand this, we shall never have a place in the kingdom of God. (Christian Educator, August 1, 1897).

1.  Protestants hold their children in the church when they receive Christian education.  They lose these children when they attend schools having a Papal system.  Said Melanchthon, “Religion cannot be maintained without them (schools).”

2.  The Papal system of education is never a fit model for Protestant schools.  Luther and Melanchthon recognized this.  Accordingly they reformed the school system, changing the curriculum, text books, and methods of teaching.

3.  Some schools, Christian in form, follow the Papal system, sandwiching in a little Bible, and flavoring the course with Protestant theology.  John Sturm did this.  So have some schools since the days of Sturm.

4.  This combination educational system—Christian and Papal mixed—always opens the way for hairsplitting theological controversies, and the students are neglected for heresy hunting.  It always ends in a victory for Papacy over Protestantism.

5.  The Papal system of education makes a Moloch of abstract subjects and worships at his shrine.  Its strength lies in repeating meaningless forms, and “a dead study of words takes the place of a living knowledge of things.”  Mental cramming and formal memorizing are exalted methods of its teachers.  Emulation, prizes and rewards are needed stimulants for “a mechanical and compulsory drill in unintelligible formulas,” and their long stereotype courses end in degrees, the sign or mark of the system.  It is the subjugation of human minds to the authority of some one above, the stifling of free thought by unnatural, close supervision in place of self-government.  It leads away from nature, nature’s work and nature’s God, and centralizes in cities and man-made institutions.  This is Papal education, and its reward is the degree conferred at the end of the traditional course.

6.  Every school is the pulse beat of some organization;—of the State, if it is a state school; of the Papacy, if a Papal school; and of the Christian church if it is a Christian school.  Any educational system which mechanically teaches a stereotype course leading to degrees, will, in time, result in the development of a creed by its controlling organization—a creed written, or perhaps consisting only of the opinions of those in power, but a creed nevertheless, according to which every one not recognizing its power to initiate is considered irregular or independent.

7.  Protestant education allows the student freedom in the choice of studies.  This freedom from the stereotype course bears fruit in a church which provides for differences of opinion without the cry of heresy.  Courses and degrees are an essential element in a religious trust.  Trusts, in the very nature of things, can make no use of those who question their authority; those who differ must be crushed.

8.  There are but two systems of education, one inspired by the Word of God and one by other literature.  The Christian school not only has Bible study in its curriculum, but Bible principles are the guide of the student’s life, and the spirit of the Bible is the inspiration of the school.  If Bible principles are not the foundation of all subjects and the basis of all teaching, that school, even though Christian in name, has imbibed Papal principles.  Oberlin, breaking from the Papal system before 1844, “restored the Bible to its place as a permanent text book,” and pagan and infidel authors were thrown out.

9.  Any system of education that exalts the Bible will receive light on health reform, simplicity of dress, country life, etc.  Oberlin, preparing for the midnight cry before 1844, accepted light on these subjects.  Students discarded the use of flesh foods, tobacco, condiments, tea and coffee, rich pastries, hot breads, they used graham flour, discarded sloppy foods, expensive dress, jewelry, accepted the country as God’s home for man, etc.  These same reforms will be carried to completion by those who are preparing for the loud cry.

10.  Christian schools are content with simple, modest buildings and equipment, but must give great and mighty truth.  Papal schools must have massive buildings and elaborate equipment, but are content with little, or adulterated truth.  Jefferson and others dealing with big truths caught the idea of simple buildings.  The loud cry will be ushered in by schools content with simple buildings and equipment, but they will be doing a great work.

11.  Christian education is not content with only, learning things in the mind.  What is studied must be put into practice.  Manual training, is a part of every Christian school curriculum.  The Papal system is content to have its students learn and hold the knowledge without making any practical application.  Its students are ever learning, but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.  Manual training is not an essential part of their education.  Before 1844, reformers in education established many manual training schools where students were taught agriculture, horticulture, gardening, various trades, such as blacksmithing, carpentry, manufacture of cloth, printing, domestic science, dressmaking, care of the sick, etc.  They were breaking away from the Papacy, and were coming “into the line of true education.”  Since the loud cry will find many schools that have carried these reforms farther, the results will be greater.

12.  Christian training schools make provision for physical culture and healthful exercise by providing plenty of useful labor.  Papal education makes little provision for manual training, therefore athletics, sports, games and gymnasiums become the artificial substitutes for God’s plan for physical exercises.  Schools preparing students for the loud cry should complete the work they have started.

13.  Christian schools have for one of their most important objects the training of students to be self-governing, to take their places, not as dependent and devitalized members of the church, but as independent and original workers, under the direction of God’s Spirit, all co-operating in harmony with divine principles.  The Papal system makes no effort to train students to be self-governing, for such a training is fatal to the Papal church organization.  Self-government appeared as an integral part of educational reform before 1844.  Is it appearing in your school?

14.  Every Christian missionary should be a producer. In other words, he should be self-supporting.  No great religious movement can be started, or successfully carried forward, that has not an army of lay members who are active self-supporting missionaries.  Christian schools have no greater object than to train such an army. Papal schools must avoid this, for it is destructive to their system of organization for controlling men.  Christian schools before 1844 caught this idea of training missionaries for the midnight cry.  Church leaders suppressed this reform.  Christian schools before the loud cry will turn out an army of self-supporting workers.

15.  The needy places of the world are calling for self-supporting missionaries.  When the church opposed Oberlin’s training missionaries, and refused to give them a place in the regular work, thousands of them went to the Indians, to the freedmen, to the mountain whites, and to foreign countries, under the direction of the American Missionary Society, an organization created by self-supporting workers.

16.  Oberlin teachers, in order to make their school a success, sacrificed heavily in the matter of wages.  Her students were encouraged to go where God called, with little concern over the question of remuneration.  Oberlin considered it her duty as well as her pleasure to assist students to find their life work.

17.  Oberlin teachers shortened the time students spent in school, and made their study practical by correlating class work with the reforms they desired their students to accept.

18.  Opposition to Oberlin, while she was in the line of true education, brought to her friends and their means, and her attendance increased.

19.  Outside opposition is a serious matter to a Christian school, but so long as the school keeps in “the line of true education,” the opposition will only strengthen the reform.  But long continued internal opposition is destructive.  It was responsible for the downfall of the 16th century Reformation; it ruined the movement in 1844.

20.  The spirit of a parent is necessary to the prosperity and continued success of educational reforms.  Oberlin had this blessing in a marked degree.  Consider the advantage of having one teacher, strong as a reformer, on a faculty for fifty years.

Students, are you doing all you can to bring your school “into the line of true education?”

Three things to take away from the above points:

1)  That Sutherland had the highest regard for the Oberlin model of education prior to 1844.  The reason he did is that it was closely patterned after the Biblical model.

2)  That there is no substitute for that model and no bypassing it.

3)  That God has repeatedly shown He is well able to bring educational reforms inside and outside Adventism, and the good news is that He is doing both. Just as there was a great awakening in the early 19th century just prior to William Miller and the Midnight Cry, and Oberlin was at the epicenter of it, today at the start of the Loud Cry, the Lord is raising up an army of teachers and lay workers inside and outside of Adventism who understand more and more clearly the science of true education and who are implementing it.  Young people, look for reform coming to an institution near you.  But more than this, pray for it, make it your own and promote it at all odds and God will bless you.  It will make you part of the third angel's message – that grand and final reform movement of the Remnant.

Madison College closed its doors more than a generation ago but the science of true education is still the legacy of all, young or old, who will be inspired and molded by its spirit. 


Mark Shipowick is a dual Canadian and American citizen who lives in Summers County, West Virginia.  He is a lawyer by training, admitted in Ontario, Canada, and New York State, but also does a health outreach ministry and builds.