Beasts, Blacklight, and Eternal Love
The Protestant Reformation and Adventist Education
Curtains drawn, lights dimmed, an anxious hush reverberated through the sixth-grade classroom. The Bible teacher’s rich baritone bellowed, “Turn your lives over to Jesus! He is coming soon!”
Fear and Love
Fear gripped my heart as I watched, spellbound, mesmerized by images of multiheaded, fork-tongued beasts and creatures swathed in blacklight, seemingly floating on air. This was real! The end of the world was near! I needed to give my heart to Jesus.
Forty minutes later, curtains opened, lights on, our sixth-grade classroom looked familiar once again: a maze of desks and chairs, books and binders, pencil shavings and chalk dust. Bible class was over, and we were free to run outside and enjoy recess.
Yet the unsettling nature of the images refused to go away. Years later, haunted by those images, I could not remember much of what my well-intentioned Bible teacher said, but I remembered the timbre of his voice. The urgency. He believed with all his heart that the end of the world was near.
This fear began to abate during a pivotal Week of Prayer in the middle of my tenth-grade year. Different speaker. Different tone. “Come to Jesus,” he pleaded. “He loves you just as you are!” That week, after listening to stories of how much Jesus sacrificed for me personally, I saw for the first time a Savior who loved me, called me to serve, and had a plan for my life—not only an earthly plan, but an eternal one, as well.
Legacy of the Reformation
When Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli first read the Bible for themselves and realized that God loved humanity not because of their good works, but because God, by His very nature, is love, it transformed their world—and the whole world—forever. They were compelled to share, serve, and love with fidelity.1 And, the more they studied, the more their devotion to God increased.
The Reformers paved the way for what millions now embrace.
Invigorated by newfound truth, these Reformers paved the way for what millions now embrace as sola scriptura—truth is established by Scripture alone; sola fide—we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ alone; sola gratia—we are saved by grace alone; solus Christus—Jesus Christ, alone, is our Savior; and soli Deo gloria—we live and exist for the glory of God, alone.2 Fear dissipated in the presence and awareness of God’s eternal love. Today, we believers embrace these truths born out of their struggle.
Adventist Education and Eternal Love
What, then, does this have to do with Adventist education? Adventist education rests on the gospel truth that God is love (1 John 4:8), and that the foundation of an Adventist Christian education is love: “Love, the basis of creation and of redemption, is the basis of true education.”3 Understanding that true education and redemption perform the same function,4 Adventist education seeks to share with everyone, whether directly (as in the classroom), or incidentally (as in day-to-day existence), the truth of God’s love, faithfulness, and abundant grace, as revealed in His written Word, and exemplified by Jesus Christ, God’s Word incarnate. Adventist education seeks to reciprocate God’s faithfulness to us in salvation, by faithfulness to Him in communicating His love to all.
Fidelity, another word for “faithfulness” (from the Latin fides [faith] and fidelis [faithful]), denotes loyalty, devotion, and accuracy, the degree to which a copy of something reflects the original.5 Charles Hodge notes that fidelity requires three obligations: (1) knowledge; (2) grounds (reason/rationale); and (3) an understanding of how obligations supersede everything else.6 The word “obligation” brings to mind those things we have to do, rather than those we want to do. Another definition, however, is a debt of gratitude, a commitment to someone or something to whom or for which a great debt is owed.
Adventist educators know the One to whom we owe a great debt. Our faithfulness to Him is demonstrated in service. A knowledge of who God is and what He would have us do—in our relationship with Him and with those around us—is necessary for each of us as we participate in the partnership of education and redemption. There is comfort and assurance in knowing that God sought to know us long before we knew Him: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” (Jer. 1:5). We love God because He first loved us, not out of mere obligation, but because we want to! In Him we find purpose and life: He came “that [we] may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
And there is more, more than just love and service. George R. Knight reminds us that Adventist Christian education has another role to play: an apocalyptic one. He writes: “The third aspect of Adventist educational identity relates to its grasp of the denomination’s apocalyptic understanding and the implications of that understanding for worldwide mission and the Second Advent.”7
We have a Great Commission—a biblical mandate that is more than humanly determined: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). The call extends “to every nation, tribe, language and people” (Rev. 14:6).
True Christian education answers and echoes Christ’s call to partner with Him in the highest noblest work possible: that of building characters for heaven.
Yes, we are called to love as Christ loves; we are compelled to serve out of gratitude for what Christ did for humanity. But true education is called to do more. True Christian education answers and echoes Christ’s call to partner with Him in the highest, noblest work possible: that of building characters for heaven8—characters trained to seek after God’s heart, willing to be transformed by His Spirit; prepared to face the challenges of the times with confidence, assurance, and power rooted in God’s Word; unafraid because they know how the story ends, but, by the same token, driven by a sense of urgency to let the whole world know.
During a required Daniel and Revelation course in college, and under the tutelage of a caring, erudite professor, I began to comprehend more clearly the love story between God and humanity. The fear-inducing images of beasts shrouded in ultraviolet light transformed into big-picture symbols: messages of hope, assurance, and God’s ultimate plan for every individual, regardless of birth or status. That descendant of the Reformation, and practitioner of truly Christian Adventist education, urged the entire class to read the apocalyptic passages for ourselves. And with each assignment and careful instruction, understanding bloomed.
500 Years and More
For Christians this collective journey toward understanding continues. Five hundred years beyond Martin Luther and the Reformers, Bibles are no longer chained to podiums. We read and listen to them on our own computers and mobile devices, and by faith accept the rule of Scripture in our lives, even while many still struggle to accept God’s unconditional love. But Adventist Christian inheritors of Reformation truth rest in the assurance of God’s saving, keeping love, and rejoice in Christ’s witness to “what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:16).
As an Adventist educator I know, without fear or doubt, that God loves me. My purpose is tied up in His. Where authentic Adventist education is disseminated, teachers and students experience this love for themselves, and grow in appreciation of the true character of God in ways that nurture and cultivate their eternal love for Him (see Deut. 6:4-9). Teachers “see in every pupil the handiwork of God”9 that they are preparing for another school—the Eden School—where we all shall delight together in reflecting “throughout endless ages the light of the knowledge of His glory.”10
- See Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub Assn., 1911), pp. 120-125.
- Justin Holcomb, The Five Solas: Points From the Past That Should Matter to You, http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/the-five-solas-of-the-protestant-reformation.html.
- Ellen G. White, Education (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1903), p. 16.
- Ibid., p. 30.
- Charles Hodge, D.D., “Fidelity in the Service to God,” http://biblehub.com/sermons/auth/hodge/fidelity_in_the_service_of_god.htm.
- George R. Knight, “Education for What? Thoughts on the Purpose and Identity of Adventist Education,” The Journal of Adventist Education 79, no. 1 (October-December 2016): 11.
- Ellen G. White, True Education: An Adaptation of Education (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2000), p. 13.
- Ellen G. White, Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1913), p. 229.
- E. G. White, Education, p. 22.
Faith-Ann McGarrell is editor of The Journal of Adventist Education.