One of my favorite passages of Scripture is John 6:66-69. Jesus has just fed the 5,000, with five loaves and two fish. The people were excited by the thought of someone who could do that. In their minds, He was their Savior-which He was-just not the kind of Savior they wanted. They wanted a Savior from the Romans; Jesus wanted to save them from something far worse than the Romans. He wanted to save them from sin and Satan. But they were not interested in that.
When those who had been His followers figured that out, the Bible says, many of them left Him and “walked no more with Him”. Jesus then turned to His closest disciples and said “Will you also go away?” Peter-who was usually the first to speak-spoke first again-only this time, He said the right thing. He said-and this is my favorite part-“Lord, to whom shall we go?” In other words, “If we leave you-where else are we going to go?”
I have often thought about those words as I remember visiting my older members in the early days of my ministry in the Virgin Islands (of course, I was very young-just out of Oakwood-so everyone seemed older to me). I would ask them in those visits “How are you doing-you holding on?” I can still hear them, in their West Indian accents” Pastor-what else am I going to do? Where else am I going?”
That was 40 years ago. Almost all of those faithful saints are gone now-resting in Jesus. But I am still moved and inspired by their faith and their commitment to their God and their church.
Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? For we believe and are sure that Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God”. In other words, Peter was saying, “They might leave. But we still believe in You, Jesus. We still believe.”
For much of this country, school started about a month ago. For me, this is the first time in a long time-and only the second year in my life since first grade, I have no direct involvement with a Seventh-day Adventist educational institution. With the exception of one year, every other year of my life since the day I walked into Mrs. Katherine Palmer’s first and second grade classroom in Ramah Jr. Academy in Cleveland, Ohio, I have been involved in Seventh-day Adventist Christian Education as a student, a Pastor, a teacher, a parent, a grandparent and a church administrator.
I wrote church school tuition checks for 26 years, as a parent and a grandparent-and I absolutely do not regret a day or a dollar of those 26 years. I believe in Seventh-day Adventist Christian Education.
That does not mean that I am not blind to the challenges associated with Seventh-day Adventist Christian Education. Some of the most frustrating and painful experiences in my life and in my ministry have to do with church school. I went to a boarding school that was 90% white in the 1970’s. That was often not a pleasant experience. There was sometimes blatant racism.
I still recall as a student in that academy being the home plate umpire for an academy softball game. Both I and my fellow umpires-all of whom were white-forgot how many outs there were in a particular inning. Though the white umpires forgot as well, I was singled out. Though this happened 1,000 years ago, I still can hear one of the popular white students yell from the outfield, “He (meaning me) can’t count. He’s from the ghetto.”
The white students laughed, and though there were several faculty members present-none of them said a word. Now, I would never tell you that my boarding school experience was all bad-that would not be true. I am writing this from a hotel room in Indiana-just down the road from Andrews University. I have a very good friend from academy, who is white and who lives there. The only reason why I did not call them is because I got out of my meeting at Andrews late last night and I did not want to disturb them.
I made some friends for life from my time in that school that was 90% white. But-I also have some scars for life as well. Our schools are not perfect.
In addition to sometimes being racist, Seventh-day Adventist schools can too often be underfunded, underequipped, understaffed and ill-housed. I still remember during my time in the conference office trying to call a gifted Pastor to a particular church. He had school-aged children, who attended a very good Seventh-day Adventist school where he was pastoring. He came to the city where we were trying to call him, pulled up to our school there and was summarily unimpressed. I spent the first hour of our conversation trying to talk him out of turning down our call solely because of the school there. Our schools are not perfect.
But here is why I still believe in Seventh-day Adventist Christian Education:
- Our schools are still God’s schools. Just as it is not always popular anymore to believe that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the remnant church of Bible prophesy, it is not always popular to believe that Seventh-day Adventist schools are God’s schools. In fact, I recall making the statement about a Seventh-day Adventist school (one that was having some major problems), saying that this was “God’s school”-and being immediately challenged by an Adventist employee.
I have learned over the years that there is not a lot I can to do to persuade a Seventh-day Adventist who believes that the Seventh-day Adventist church is not the remnant church and/or believes that Seventh-day Adventist schools are not God’s schools. What I can say is that if I did not believe the Seventh-day Adventist Church was God’s remnant church, then I would not see any reason to belong to it.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church collectively spends hundreds of millions (or more) on Seventh-day Adventist schools. I see absolutely no reason to do that if our schools are not God’s schools. I know as an administrator, I gladly signed off on a million dollars plus every year for Adventist Education in our budget. There was absolutely no reason to do that unless I believed that these were God’s schools, designed to help prepare His children for His kingdom. If our schools are not God’s schools, then why are we operating them?
There is no other school system, anywhere-regardless of how academically excellent it is-that is designed to help prepare God’s children for His kingdom. And if our schools are not doing that-and someone else’s are-then we need to close ours down and send our children there. Because to me, the single most important thing a school does is to help prepare children for the kingdom. Preparing children for this life is very important. If our schools do not prepare our children for life on this earth, then we have failed, that school should be closed and our children are in trouble.
But if our children are not prepared for the next life-the kingdom of God, then, they are not just in trouble-they are lost. It is just that simple. Which leads me to the next reason why I still believe in Seventh-day Christian Education:
- Our schools are the only schools whose purpose is to re-affirm the kingdom principles that godly parents teach at home. Public schools do not re-affirm Seventh-day Adventist Christian values-they could not, even if they wanted to do so-because of the separation of church and state.
There are any number of good parochial schools who are serious about teaching Christianity; my daughter taught in one such school for 10 years. They have some wonderful Christian people in them. On more than one occasion I would see my daughter’s teaching colleagues at my daughter’s church with her on Sabbath.
The problem is that inevitably, in schools like that, there will be multiple occasions when what is being taught there conflicts with what the Bible is teaching. That happens-not just in my daughter’s school-but in every other school that is not a Seventh-day Adventist school.
The reality is that public schools (which also contain a number of fine people) can’t teach our children the biblical principles that the Bible teaches. Private schools and parochial schools won’t teach them all of those principles; if private and parochial schools wanted to teach Adventist principles and doctrines, then they would be Adventist schools.
It has become very popular for parents to say, ”My children can get those principles at home-from me”. No one will ever get an argument from me on that. Not only can children receive kingdom principles at home, they should receive them there first. Christian schools were never designed to take the place of Christian homes.
I would submit, however, that Adventist schools-and Adventist churches-have roles in the lives of our children that cannot be replaced, either. The home is the most important entity-by far-but if Christian homes were all our children needed, then why would there be a need for schools and churches?
Moreover, even if one believes that Christian homes are all our children need, isn’t it a problem when what our children are learning is not affirmed in the place where they spend the majority of their waking hours? From the time our children begin going to school, they spend the majority of their waking hours with other people besides us. The older our children get, the more influence other people have on them. Wouldn’t it be better if those other people believe the same things that we believe?
- Lastly, I still believe in Seventh-day Adventist Christian Education because I can personally attest to what it has done for me and my family. I came from a family where my parents were absolute Christian Education die-hards. My father spent years as the Business Manager of our church school in Cleveland. He was on the school board for years.
While he never said it to me, it became very clear as I looked back on it as an adult, that when there were teachers in our school who weren’t doing their jobs well-and occasionally, there were-my father’s position was “My children aren’t leaving this school because some teacher isn’t doing their job-the teacher is leaving this school because they aren’t doing their job.”
My parents made enormous sacrifices so that my sisters, my brother and I could be educated in God’s schools. The only 2 homes that we lived in during the time that I lived with my parents were both bought primarily for their proximity to church school; Ramah in Cleveland and Oakwood in Huntsville.
All of my siblings went to Adventist schools-from grade school on to college. When those of my sibling’s children became of school-age, they went to Adventist schools-from grade school to college. And when our children’s children had school-age children, they put them in church school, where they are today.
None of those schools were perfect. Occasionally, my children would have teachers that were not as good as they should have been. There would be some times when the schools they attended were weak in certain subject areas. But we left them in those schools and tried to fix the problems from the inside.
Both of my children were blessed to get good grades in college, graduate in 4 years and go on to obtain Masters Degrees. They are both professionals; in fact, my daughter now teaches in one of our schools-the same church school that she attended as a child. Most important to their mother and me-they are members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in, as we used to say back in the day-“in good and regular standing”, along with their spouses.
I praise God that the same thing is true of my oldest sister, her husband, their son, his wife, their 3 children, my brother and his wife and my youngest sister. We are all members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Is that just because of Christian Education? No, but I tell you what did happen. My sisters, my brother and I are still Seventh-day Adventists today because we were richly blessed to have 2 parents who were determined to do everything they could do to see their children saved.
My parents-who are gone now-believed that doing everything they could do meant sending their children to God’s schools. I still believe that, too.
By Ps. Dana Edmond