Memory, Meaning & Faith is a blog covering Christian history – including Adventist studies, the church and society, historical theology, biblical backgrounds, history of interpretation, and archaeology in light of contemporary issues. They are sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University.
“Our College” Today
By Nicholas Miller
It is not news that there is a public controversy regarding the teaching of life’s origins at La Sierra University (LSU). The matter has kept websites and blogs buzzing and been commented on by official church publications, most notably, to the surprise and dismay of some, the Adventist Review.
The latest volley in the controversy came in a statement recently released by the Michigan Conference. The statement revealed that the executive committee had removed LSU from the approved list of Adventist colleges to which the Michigan Conference would apply conference employee education benefits.
The conference leadership warned its members of “apostasy” at the California university, and advised them not to send their children to LSU for study. The reason for this was that the conference leaders did not believe that “La Sierra can currently be trusted to be supportive of Seventh-day Adventist spiritual values especially in reference to faith in the biblical understanding of creation, and thus the authority of Scripture in the life and practice of the believer.”
Reaction to the Michigan Conference action has been swift and predictably mixed. Some have applauded it as a strong stand for truth. Others have attacked the decision as “shocking, insulting and a basic denial of educational options.”
On his blog, Advent Hope, Pastor Bill Cork agrees with the Michigan Conference’s basic concerns, but questions whether a public statement is the appropriate response. He also raises the question as to whether there is any historical precedent for church leaders publicly criticizing an institution that was considered to be straying from church teaching.
This is a good question to consider on a church history blog. History cannot provide precise parallels. (History never entirely repeats itself.) But a number of incidents surrounding Battle Creek College offer some insights into the question. Ironically, the story also involves the Michigan Conference, this time on the receiving end of concern.
1881 Battle Creek Curriculum Crisis
Established in 1874, Battle Creek College had undergone some challenges in its leadership. In 1881, a new president was installed who was new to the Adventist church. A greater emphasis was placed on the study of both the classics and the sciences – to the detriment of Biblical instruction.
During the summer of 1881, Ellen White wrote a testimony regarding the College to be publicly read at the Michigan Conference camp-meeting. Instead, the testimony was read at the even more public venue of the General Conference session in December of that year. Relevant portions of that testimony can be read at my earlier posted quote. (The full message can be found at Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, pp. 21-36.)
A main concern of Ellen White was the emphasis on the sciences at the expense of the Bible. She showed a special interest in maintaining a clear teaching on creation. “In God’s word alone,” she asserted, “we find an authentic account of creation” (5 Test., 25). She displayed a willingness to both publicly rebuke the leadership of the college and to warn church members of the problems at the College. “We can give,” she memorably warned, “no encouragement to parents to send their children to Battle Creek College” (5 Test., 21). She proposed that if the College was not returned to the Biblical-centered model, that the church should “sell it out to worldlings” and “establish another school upon the plan which God has specified” (5 Test., 25-26). (Read more)