Chapter 30


Establishing Educational Institutions

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Healdsburg College/Pacific Union College
Avondale College
Madison College
College of Medical Evangelists/Loma Linda University
Step By Step
Educational Leaders Learned to Listen to Ellen White
Study Questions

“The truths of the divine word can be best appreciated by an intellectual Christian. Christ can be best glorified by those who serve Him intelligently.”1

Battle Creek College. A Battle Creek school for Adventist youth, locally supported, had been successfully conducted by G. H. Bell beginning in 1868. In April 1872 James and Ellen White called for an upgrading of this school into an advanced educational facility, the first attempt to have a school supported by the denomination. The primary purpose of this proposal was to educate teachers and preachers “to proclaim the third angel’s message.”2

As guidance for this school, Mrs. White wrote Testimony for the Church, No. 22, entitled, “Proper Education.”3 This document has been studied for more than a century by Adventist educators as a clear charter for Adventist education. Here she developed one of her fundamental principles of Christian education: the correlation between “the physical, mental, moral, and religious” aspects of education.4

The early years of Battle Creek College were turbulent. The principles of this 1872 testimony may have been understood in theory but neither administrators nor teachers seemed to know how to implement certain of the key themes. Among these were how to include a manual labor program in the school curriculum, how to make the curriculum Bible-oriented and not merely include Bible as an elective subject, and how to frame the curriculum with practical subjects, eliminating the classics as the main thrust.5

This false start led Ellen White to address the denominational leaders in December 1881. She opened her remarks with a clear message of concern: “There is danger that our college will be turned away from its original design.” Later she warned: “Our college stands today in a position that God does not approve.” She noted the “effort to mold our school after other colleges. When this is done, we can give no encouragement to parents to send their children to Battle Creek College.” To teach students only a knowledge of books could be done at any college. “A more comprehensive education is needed” that would include emphasis on character development, a daily reminder to give students a “sense of their obligation to God,” and a program to “unite physical with mental taxation.”

Mrs. White went on to spotlight the importance of right motivation in the work of both teachers and students: “The evils of self-esteem, and an unsanctified independence, which most impair our usefulness, and which will prove our ruin, if not overcome, spring from selfishness.”6

Dark days came when the college closed on August 10, 1882. Problems included personnel clashes as well as the perceived crisis that the young college had not met the purposes for which it had been established. One year later it was reopened with the clear statement that the college would “in all respects” harmonize with the instruction provided through the Spirit of prophecy.7

However, again it was easier to publish the school’s goals than to implement them. The turning point in the development of Adventist education came at the Harbor Springs, Michigan, educational convention in the summer of 1891. Ellen White made at least six presentations in addition to rereading her 1872 testimony on “Proper Education.” She renewed her previous emphasis on eliminating from the curriculum pagan and infidel authors and the courses in Latin and Greek classics. In addition, her emphasis on Bible teaching and history from the standpoint of prophecy as well as the spiritual qualifications of teachers seemed to take hold among the leading educators.

After the Harbor Springs educational conference, Mrs. White wrote six articles in the church paper reinforcing the strong positions she had taken at the conference. The battle of the curriculum was changing in her favor but it did not come immediately. The knife edge of educational reform was the defining difference between conventional classical education and the perspective of Christian education in the light of the Great Controversy Theme.8

Healdsburg College/Pacific Union College

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In 1881 the California Conference recognized the need for a west coast college. By April 1882 property was purchased in Healdsburg with Sidney Brownsberger, former president of Battle Creek College, as its first president. The school did not become financially secure, largely because of low charges to students. Ellen White counseled schools against attempting to attract higher enrollment by lowering fees, because of the “detrimental” effect this would have.9

Mrs. White’s involvement in acquiring the Angwin, California, property when the Healdsburg site proved to be inadequate revealed again how human effort plus divine affirmation leads to sound decisions. The circumstances that led from one possible location to another provide a textbook lesson on divine guidance. Ellen White wrote of the experience: “Now this lesson given us at this time of our great necessity was one of the most remarkable adventures in our experience.”10

Avondale College

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When Ellen White went to Australia in 1891, little did anyone foresee how great the impact of its new institution of higher learning would have on the denomination’s worldwide educational philosophy. No other Adventist school has been more favored by the presence and counsel of God’s messenger to the church. Behind her were the struggling American schools, wobbling into the future trying to combine conventional education principles with the reforming principles of education driven by the Great Controversy Theme.11

Early in 1894 Mrs. White wrote the mandate for the new Australian school, entitled “Work and Education.”12 In the opening paragraph she raised the central questions regarding this and other schools: “How shall they be conducted? What shall be the education and training of the youth? Where shall our Australian Bible School be located?”

Then she proceeded to answer her questions. She reemphasized that the purpose of Christian education is to prepare students to meet the Lord. This kind of aim means students must rethink their recreational activities, that the school must be located “a wide distance from the cities,” that useful work must be a part of the curriculum, that only the best work-habits are acceptable, that “dullness and ignorance are no virtue,” that for Australia “there is hope in the soil,” and that physiology must be in the curriculum for all.13

Ellen White was learning through experience as well as through visions. In 1898 she wrote that Adventist education must include “a different order of things,” but that “it has taken much time to understand what changes should be made.”14 In September of 1898 she wrote that “our school must be a model school for others.”15 In 1899 she said that God had designed Avondale to be “an object lesson” and not “to pattern after any school that has been established in America, or after any school” in Australia.16 In 1900 she penned that the Avondale school was “to be a pattern school.”17

Ellen White never used the expression “educational blueprint.”18 Though using such words as “model,” “object lesson,” and “pattern,” she did not mean that Avondale was to be rigidly copied in every detail: “The Lord has not designed any one, special, exact plan in education.”19 Regarding the new school at Madison, Tennessee (described below), she wrote that “no exact pattern can be given for the establishment of schools in new fields. The climate, the surroundings, the condition of the country, and the means at hand with which to work must all bear a part in shaping the work.”20 As with her counsel in other areas, such as health, she outlined basic principles, not inflexible rules.21 Model schools, patterns, and object lessons are just that—they manifest basic principles that may require adaptation to local conditions.

To son Willie in 1897 she emphasized that “no breezes from Battle Creek are to be wafted in.” Living adjacent to the campus, she still felt that she “must watch before and behind and on every side to permit nothing to find entrance that has been presented before me as injuring our schools in America.”22

Madison College

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Ellen White had much to do with locating the site for Madison College in 1904. She had been telling her colleagues that the school must be near Nashville, Tennessee. When a 400-acre property in Madison, seventeen miles from Nashville, became available for about $12,000, she asked to see it. Though some were not impressed, she reported that “it was a favorable location for the work” and must be purchased.23

Madison College was the only institution on which Mrs. White served as a member of the board of directors. She wanted to make sure that the bitter lessons learned at Battle Creek and the new school at Berrien Springs, Michigan, would not be repeated at Madison. One of the clear goals of the founders, Edward A. Sutherland and Percy T. Magan, was that “the more closely conditions in the school approximated the conditions students would face when they went out to teach, the more easily would they adjust to their vocations.”24

Perhaps for the first time, student labor, rather than cash, was accepted for tuition. All the staff and faculty worked with the students in developing industries that would provide income. The vast majority of the student body expected to serve in some capacity in the rural South. By 1915, thirty-nine of these self-supporting schools had been developed by Madison College graduates.25

College of Medical Evangelists/Loma Linda University

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The establishment of this world-renowned medical institution would never have happened without the vision, courage, and continuing support of Ellen White. Richard Utt well said: “The rise of Loma Linda University was not so much fraught with the inevitable as with the impossible. That the feat was accomplished at all was due to a rare recipe of faith, works, and struggle, liberally laced with the improbable, the miraculous, and the heroic.”26

In 1905 sunny southern California had two Adventist health centers—one at Paradise Valley, near San Diego, and another at Glendale, near Los Angeles, both of them founded on Ellen White’s strong insistence and help in finding the initial funding.27 Though popular, both institutions were deeply in debt.

But God was not finished with southern California. Through His promptings, Mrs. White called on John Burden,28 the “founder” of the Glendale sanitarium, to look for property near Redlands. Incredible as it sounded to 1,400 church members in the local conference and their leaders who had been warned not to go further into debt, God’s messenger had spoken again: “Redlands and Riverside have been presented to me as places that should be worked. . . . Please consider the advisability of establishing a sanitarium in the vicinity of these towns.”29 The story of the acquisition of the Loma Linda property, the remarkable faith of men like Burden, the sobering witness of funds that would arrive unexpectedly at the very moment needed, of men and women who mortgaged their homes and took out bank loans—all this is a matter of record.30

In the telling of this extraordinary story, the visible and invisible presence of Ellen White is as pervasive as sunshine at noonday. When all seemed bleak, she would counsel: “This is the very property that we ought to have. Do not delay; for it is just what is needed.”31 After seeing the buildings for the first time, she exclaimed: “I have been here before. . . . This is the place the Lord has shown me. . . . The Lord has not given us this property for any common purpose.”32

A few weeks later when church leaders manifested little enthusiasm for her counsel, Ellen White wrote to Burden: “Do not be discouraged if in any wise there is some cutting across of your plans, and if you are somewhat hindered. . . . I have seen the hold-back principles followed, and I have seen the displeasure of the Lord because of this. If the same spirit is manifested, I shall not consent to keep silent as I have done.”33

In fact, during conference business meetings that would have a significant bearing on the future of the struggling Loma Linda concept, Ellen White would sit on the platform so that she could hear the intent of each motion and ensuing discussion. She wrote that she was “old enough to be excused from such burdens” but “she feared that some action might be taken that would in the future bring about confusion.”

One of the proposed motions sounded innocent enough but her years of experience helped her to see its danger: some wanted to change the constitution so that “every church member might become a delegate to the conference meetings.” She spoke out: “Read that motion again, if you please.” Then she commented, “Such a motion as that was made years ago, and the matter was distinctly opened before me. . . . The motion has never carried at any time, because it is not in harmony with the mind of the Lord.” The resolution was withdrawn.34

After the land had been purchased, some church members thought that additional funds surely would be needed for developing the school. They urged that a portion of the seventy-six acres be sold for building sites. Immediately Mrs. White gave a resounding No! In fact, she urged the purchase of many more acres, another astounding challenge. With board members with her, she looked off into the valley toward the railroad and Colton Avenue. With a wave of her hand, she said, “The angel said, ‘Get all of it.’” When others remonstrated, she said, “Well, we shall be thankful for what we have.”

But the challenge seemed too much. Three years went by. Most of the land had doubled in price when steps finally were taken to acquire needed property. In 1911 further land became available. Again, there was hesitancy. In her eighty-fourth year Ellen White personally pledged $1,000 toward its purchase, and closed her appeal with these words: “I am highly gratified as I look upon the land we already have. This will be one of the greatest blessings to us in the future—one that we do not fully appreciate now, but which we shall appreciate by and by. I hope that you will get the other land that I have spoken of, and join it to that which you already have. It will pay you to do this. As I have carried the burden of this place from the very beginning, I wanted to say this much to you. Now I leave the matter with you; and let us work in harmony.”

In a few days several board members took out personal bank loans to secure the property. Ellen White was delighted, writing to Burden that “the piece of land we must have, for it will never do to have buildings crowded in there. Do not fail to carry through the purchase of it. Do your best, and I will do my best.”35

But she was also interested in the kind of institution to be established at Loma Linda. It should be more than a sanitarium. Earlier in 1905, she wrote: “This place will become an important educational center.”36 This was a new and lofty goal for Loma Linda—a school too! Yet the question remained, what kind of school?

A few weeks later she spelled out the new center’s direction: “He [God] is opening ways whereby your children can be given an education in medical missionary lines without endangering their souls. . . . In a short time we shall have facilities for giving the necessary requirements.” By December 10 she had written: “In regard to the school, I would say, Make it all you possibly can in the education of nurses and physicians.”37

For a denomination to hear this challenge at the time when Battle Creek Sanitarium and the attached American Medical Missionary College was still an open wound, seemed too much. Perhaps a sanitarium at Loma Linda, but a medical school? All that most could think of was the financial burden that for years had overwhelmed Dr. Kellogg and the denomination.

But the Lord’s messenger was courageous and compelling. Those who had learned to trust her in the past proceeded to do what seemed impossible for a small denomination of 91,531 members in 1906. The Lord was leading His people as fast as they were able to grasp what He had in mind for the institution at Loma Linda.

At the General Conference session in Washington, in June 1909, Ellen White addressed the delegates who had barely recovered their breath from the expense of moving two major institutions to the nation’s capital. Among many topics was Loma Linda’s destiny “to be not only a sanitarium, but an educational center,” especially for the training of “gospel medical missionary evangelists,” and that it was “very essential that a right beginning be made.”

Step By Step

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Later in her address she showed again that her own mind was being led step by step by the Lord. She declared that “we should not at this time seek to compete with worldly medical schools. Should we do this, our chances of success would be small. We are not now prepared to carry out successfully the work of establishing large medical institutions of learning. . . . At Loma Linda many can be educated to work as missionaries in the cause of health and temperance. Teachers are to be prepared for many lines of work.”38 Here she was painting, with broad strokes, not only a medical school but an educational facility that would prepare young people to meet the opportunities in “many lines of work.”

The Lord is very kind, even to prophets; if He had revealed everything to Ellen White in 1905 that He would be helping her to grasp and communicate in 1909, perhaps she would have doubted her own mind and His instruction. As others made plans to develop a medical program for nurses and gospel medical missionary evangelists, they continually consulted her about questions along this untried path.

When asked whether medical students should get basic training at Loma Linda and get the “finishing touches . . . from some worldly institution,” Mrs. White replied: “God forbid that such a plan would be followed.” Responding to further questions, she said: “If the Lord gives you light, well and good, we will be glad to receive it; if not, then we will wait. . . . When we take hold upon God, and trust in Him, He will work in our behalf. But whatever the consequences may be, we are in regard to our faith to stand distinct and separate from the world.”39 She had learned well the painful lessons of Battle Creek.

Very clear on the purposes of the denomination’s second medically-oriented school, she told the leaders that students at Loma Linda were to study under “carefully selected educators” who would teach them “to plow deep into the Word of God.”40

In developing a State charter for a medical school, she gave further counsel: “If you can gain force and influence that will make your work more effective without tying yourselves to worldly men, that would be right. But we are not to exalt the human above the divine.”

In November 1909 she wrote: “We cannot submit to regulations if the sacrifice of principles is involved, for this would imperil the soul’s salvation. But whenever we can comply with the law of the land without putting ourselves in a false position, we should do so. Wise laws have been framed in order to safeguard the people against the imposition of unqualified physicians. These laws we should respect, for we are ourselves protected from presumptuous pretenders. Should we manifest opposition to these requirements, it would tend to restrict the influence of our medical missionaries.” On December 9 a State charter was secured authorizing the College of Medical Evangelists to grant degrees in the liberal sciences, dentistry, and medicine.41

A few months later, perplexities still lingered. The school board faced enormous expenses and needed affirmation from Ellen White before they made any further commitments. Their concerns, addressed to her on January 26, 1910,42 included these thoughts: “We are very anxious to preserve unity and harmony of action. In order to do this, we must have a clear understanding of what is to be done. Are we to understand, from what you have written concerning the establishment of a medical school at Loma Linda, that, according to the light you have received from the Lord, we are to establish a thoroughly equipped medical school, the graduates from which will be able to take State board examinations and become registered, qualified physicians?”43

Within twenty-four hours Ellen White responded, in part: “The light given me is, We must provide that which is essential to qualify our youth who desire to be physicians, so that they may intelligently fit themselves to be able to stand the examinations required to prove their efficiency as physicians.”44

At that same meeting it was recommended that all North American unions plus the General Conference participate in sharing the expenses of the embryonic College of Medical Evangelists. This income would be in addition to that from tuition and private donations. Many speeches of renewed confidence followed.

I. H. Evans, a vice-president of the General Conference, summed up the unanimous mind of the large committee (this recommendation was voted without dissent): “When the statement from Sister White is read, I am sure that the majority of our brethren will feel as we feel tonight—that the Lord has spoken, and we will obey. . . . Past experiences should strengthen our faith at this time and help us to move forward courageously in heeding the words of counsel which the Lord has given to us through Sister White. We have before us tonight a plain, straightforward statement from Sister White in regard to the establishment of a medical school. There is no guesswork about it; there is no equivocation; there is no false construction that need be put upon these words. The question is, Will we follow the counsel given?”45

Logical questions remained: Where would Adventists find qualified physicians to be teachers? Where would the enormous funds to operate a first-class medical institution, including nursing, medicine, dietetics, and years later dentistry, be found? But leaders had been learning how to lead as they broke new ground. Ellen White had been leading them into the untried many times before.

Here again, as we have seen often in the development of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the principle of divine-human cooperation prevailed. Clearly, God does not plan to do for men and women what they can and should do for themselves. He leads, but people are to trust in His general principles and make their decisions accordingly. That is how believers grow and become prepared for future challenges. It is the parable of the talents operating on a larger scale. When the appointed head of the new school, W. E. Howell, asked Mrs. White for more details so that no mistakes would be made from the start, she replied: “We cannot mark out a precise line to be followed unconditionally. Circumstances and emergencies will arise for which the Lord must give special instruction. But if we begin to work, depending wholly upon the Lord, watching, praying, and walking in harmony with the light He sends us, we shall not be left to walk in darkness.”46

In 1905 Ellen White’s final book on health principles, The Ministry of Healing, appeared and was closely studied at Loma Linda. More material on gospel medical work was printed in volumes eight and nine of the Testimonies. In 1932, Medical Ministry, a compilation of many letters to physicians that focused on the divine purpose in health education and practice, was published.

Those men and women in 1910 should be paradigms and templates for all Seventh-day Adventists until the end of time. They listened to the messenger of God whom they had learned to trust. They knew that the only question that needed to be answered was I. H. Evans’s question: “Will we follow the counsel given?”

Educational Leaders Learned to Listen to Ellen White

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When one reviews the first fifty years after Ellen White published her first testimony on “Proper Education,”47 in 1872, several common characteristics appear: (1) the closer a school followed inspired instruction, the more efficient and productive its program became; (2) the administrators who broke new ground in educational reform believed strongly in the inspiration of Ellen White; (3) when administrators and faculty taught these principles, by precept and example, the student body responded positively.

Whenever school staffs were ambivalent regarding educational reform, students would catch the ambiguity and express their frustration in some unconstructive way. The troublesome experiences of Battle Creek College would stand forever as an object lesson of the negative consequences of unsureness in responding to inspired counsel.48


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1. Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 45.

2.Review and Herald, May 20, 1873.

3.Testimonies, vol. 3, pp. 131-160; Fundamentals of Christian Education, pp. 15-46.

4.Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 15; Bio., vol. 2, p. 376.

5.SDAE, vol. 10, pp. 72, 73.

6.Testimonies, vol. 5, pp. 29, 30.

7.“Proceedings of the S.D.A. Educational Society: Eighth Annual Session,” SDA Yearbook, 1883, p. 52; Bio., vol. 3, pp. 187-191.

8.Early Adventist Educators, pp. 35-39.

9.“In some of our schools the price of tuition has been too low. This has in many ways been detrimental to the educational work. . . . The school should have a sufficient income not only to pay the necessary running expenses, but to be able to furnish the students during the school term with some things essential for their work. . . . Properly increasing the tuition may cause a decrease in the attendance, but a large attendance should not be so much a matter of rejoicing as freedom from debt.”—Testimonies, vol. 6, pp. 210-212; Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, pp. 69, 70.

10. Bio., vol. 6. pp. 176-188; see also W. C. Utt, A Mountain, a Pickax, a College (Angwin, Calif.: Alumni Association of Pacific Union College, 1968). Also, in the spring of 1882 South Lancaster Academy was founded, the precursor of Atlantic Union College, South Lancaster, Massachusetts.

11. See Schwarz, Light Bearers, pp. 202, 203; Milton Hook, “The Avondale School and Adventist Educational Goals, 1894-1900,” (Ed. D. dissertation, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, MI, 1978). See pp. 256-263, 344.

12. Fundamentals of Christian Education, pp. 310-327.

13. Ibid.

14. Manuscript 56, 1898 (in Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 126).

15. Manuscript 186, 1898, cited in Bio., vol. 4, p. 353.

16. Life Sketches, p. 374.

17. Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, p. 349.

18. Knight, Myths, pp. 18, 19.

19. Selected Messages, book 3, p. 227.

20. Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, p. 351.

21. See Selected Messages, book 3, pp. 285, 286.

22. Letter 138, 1897, in MR, vol. 20, p. 215.

23. Bio., vol. 5, p. 345.

24. Schwarz, Light Bearers, p. 246. See Ira Gish and Harry Christman, Madison: God’s Beautiful Farm (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1979).

25. Schwarz, Light Bearers, pp. 244-247.

26. Richard Utt, From Vision to Reality (Loma Linda, Calif.: Loma Linda University Press, 1980), p. 9.

27. See pp. 189, 190.

28. Ellen White described Burden as a man “of more than ordinary business acumen.”—Utt, The Vision Bold, p. 179.

29. Letter 89, 1905, to J. A. Burden, manager of the Glendale Sanitarium, cited in Bio., vol. 6, p. 11.

30. See Bio., vol. 6, pp. 11-32, 78, 79, 345-349, 376, 377; Robinson, Our Health Message, pp. 363-413; Utt, The Vision Bold, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1977), pp. 175-201.

31. Letter 139, 1904, cited in Bio., vol. 6, p. 16.

32. Bio., vol. 6, p. 18.

33. Ibid., p. 22.

34. Ibid., pp. 26, 27.

35. Ibid., p. 349.

36. Ibid., p. 273.

37. Ibid.

38. Ibid., p. 275.

39. Ibid., p. 276.

40. Schwarz, Light Bearers, p. 320.

41. Bio., vol. 6, p. 275; Schwarz, Light Bearers, pp. 320-322.

42. Later published in Review and Herald, May 19, 1910.

43. Bio., vol. 6, p. 279.

44. Ibid. See also, Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, p. 480; Medical Ministry, pp. 57, 69.

45. Ibid., p. 287.

46. Letter 192, 1906 to S. N. Haskell, cited in Robinson, Our Health Message, p. 368.

47. Fundamentals of Christian Education, pp. 15-49.

48. Schwarz, Light Bearers, pp. 199, 200, 328.

Study Questions

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1. What were the fundamental problems that seemed to plague Battle Creek College until it was moved to Berrien Springs, Michigan?

2. How do you perceive the “evils of self-esteem and an unsanctified independence” to be especially destructive in an educational system?

3. Why did Ellen White counsel school leaders not to lower fees in order to attract a higher enrollment?

4. Why was Ellen White so insistent that Avondale College be located in a rural environment?

5. In what way was Avondale College to be a “pattern school”?

6. What was the larger vision that Ellen White had for the purpose and future of the educational center at Loma Linda, California?

7. Review the steps that led to the establishment of a medical school at Loma Linda, California. Note the extraordinary faith and courage that were needed at each step.

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