The following is a transcript of the keynote speech that Adventist Church leader Ted N.C. Wilson gave at the opening of the 2016 LEAD conference in Silver Spring, Maryland, on Oct. 5, 2016. Read our reports about the conference here, here, and here.
We welcome each of you as members of the General Conference Executive Committee and other bodies meeting with us at one of the most unique, forward-thinking and proactive leadership conferences and summits that any of us will ever attend.
Seventh-day Adventist education is critical to the future mission of the church. Never before in the history of the church has there been so much at stake for Adventist education. The end of time is upon us, and Adventist education plays a key role in the last proclamation of the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14 and the fourth angel of Revelation 18. It is vital that we ask the question, “What is the purpose and mission of Seventh-day Adventist education?” There are many positive developments all over this globe in Adventist education. However, there are some very challenging signs of destabilization and drifting from the well-known Spirit of Prophecy model.
Since the church places such investment, time, effort, focus and interest in Adventist education because it produces precious employees, members and leaders, the devil works against it to neutralize God’s amazing educational model. The Adventist educational system produces pastors, teachers, professionals and many more for the advancement of God’s mission to the world. If the devil can neutralize the “model” and change it to dynamics of his own liking, he will have hijacked the very system God initiated to be a great blessing to His own Advent movement. God’s plans are beyond our imagination and are meant for God’s last-day remnant church.
The book Education has indicated on page 13: “Our ideas of education take too narrow and too low a range. There is need of broader scope, a higher aim. True education means more than the perusal of a certain course of study. It means more than a preparation for the life that now is. It has to do with the whole being, and with the whole period of existence possible to man. It is the harmonious development of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual powers. It prepares the student for the joy of service in this world and for the higher joy of wider service in the world to come.”
At this special LEAD Conference over the next two days, let’s look at the big picture — a “broader scope and a higher aim” — as well as the details. We need to examine and discuss various questions such as:
- What are the foundations of the Seventh-day Adventist educational system and why do we have them?
- What has made this system the envy of many?
- Why is there diminished support for Adventist education in some regions and stronger support in others?
- How are the costs of Adventist education creating challenges and reduction of schools in some regions?
- How are growth and acceptance creating different expansion challenges for some regions?
- What negative efforts are being made by some to change the Adventist educational system?
- How do we relate to accrediting bodies outside of the church when some of their goals may be in opposition to God’s amazing educational model?
- How do we provide for the millions of Adventist students who are not in our educational system creating some way for them to become part of God’s amazing model?
- Who is ultimately responsible and in charge of the Adventist educational system: you, others, or all of us?
- How do we select, develop and sustain humble and dedicated institutional leadership?
- What are the critical mission responsibilities for an institution, its officers, its board members and, in particular, the board chair?
- How do we nurture the hearts of students, faculty and staff in a culture of church and mission involvement — Total Member Involvement, Total Faculty Involvement, and Total Student Involvement in the mission of the church?
- How can we expand the critical and important role of the Adventist Accrediting Association?
- How can we raise the standard of spiritual and academic excellence in institutions?
- How can we develop a broad array of mission skills in students, staff and faculty?
- What are the downsides of becoming too “successful” as institutions?
- What happens when we rely too heavily on government subsidies or grants and what are the alternative options?
- What are the religious liberty and social threats against Adventist educational institutions?
- Why do we need guidelines, policies and teacher endorsement procedures?
- How are certain social issues in the world creating difficulties for Christian education?
- What was and is the real purpose of a Seventh-day Adventist educational institution?
- How can we best recruit and train the finest Adventist teachers for our educational system who are 100 percent faithful to the teachings of the church?
- What important roles do church administrators play? Are they active or passive roles?
- Can a global system stay together in its commitment to God’s model for education?
- And many more vital topics.
Follow God’s Model
We are all in this special educational system together — church administrators, educators, and church members. No one is exempt from taking responsibility for God’s model for Seventh-day Adventist education, which puts us into communion with the Master Teacher and Savior.
Education, page 14, says, “In a knowledge of God all true knowledge and real development have their source. … The mind of man is brought into communion with the mind of God, the finite with the Infinite. The effect of such communion on body and mind and soul is beyond estimate. In this communion is found the highest education. It is God’s own method of development.”
It is vital that church administrators take a very proactive approach to the institutions under your care and supervision to make sure that God’s own method of development is truly being carried out. Many of you are board chairs or members of boards. You need to know about the institution, ask questions of the institutional leadership and faculty, probe and correct difficult situations, applaud and nurture the proper things you see happening. This is not only your privilege, it is your obligation. Seventh-day Adventist educational institutions were organized for the salvation of young people and their participation in the mission of the church and for no other reason. They are a vital part of your mission for your region.
Be willing to stand up and be counted when it is necessary to make some statements, realign a situation going in the wrong direction or probe to find out about needed information. As leaders in the Seventh-day Adventist educational system, whether you are an institutional administrator, faculty or staff member or member of the board of trustees, you have a responsibility to keep the institution focused on its biblical and Spirit of Prophecy goals. If you fail to say something, do something or correct something, you will contribute to the demise of God’s amazing model for Seventh-day Adventist education and mission. This meeting and your participation is critical. Allow the Holy Spirit to fill this auditorium and your own mind as we engage in the important work ahead. God is counting on you and your willingness to open your heart and follow His instructions and model. Not doing so will spell doom to His plans for your institution. Let us be praying much during this special LEAD conference on education.
Zedekiah’s Capitulation to Public Opinion
2 Kings 24 and 25 as well as Jeremiah 37 to 39 share a story that is all too familiar even today. A story of spiritual weakness and capitulation to public opinion as opposed to standing for truth and God’s Word. We are called to complete commitment to God’s special work and standing for the right though the heavens fall. 2 Kings 24:17-18 begins the story of Zedekiah’s reign as king of Judah at 21 years of age. He was in a precarious position, to say the least, having been installed as king by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, after the captivity of Jerusalem.
Verse 19 gives the awful report of habitual conduct by so many kings of Judah and Israel: “He also did evil in the sight of the Lord.” What followed, shown in verse 20, was rebellion against Babylon. Rebellion is the natural result after following an evil pathway. So, 2 Kings 25:1 indicates “that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army came against Jerusalem and encamped against it.” The siege took place for almost two years with famine raging in Jerusalem.
Jeremiah 37 picks up the story showing why they were in such trouble. It is a lesson for us today as we face the final opportunity to proclaim Christ’s love, His righteousness, His salvation, His message of Christian education, His health reform message, His three angels’ messages, His sanctuary message, and His soon Second Coming. If we listen to God’s messengers in His Holy Word and the Spirit of Prophecy, we will have success. If we don’t, we will suffer the consequences as Zedekiah did. Jeremiah 37:2 says, “But neither he nor his servants nor the people of the land gave heed to the words of the Lord which He spoke by the prophet Jeremiah.”
Prior to the besieging of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, the rebellious Judeans had refused to listen to God’s prophet, Jeremiah. When it appeared that the Egyptians would come to the aid of Judah and the Babylonians withdrew for a time, Jeremiah attempted to leave Jerusalem for his property in the land of Benjamin. However, some thought he was defecting to the Babylonians and took him to the princes of Judah who struck him and put him in prison.
King Zedekiah secretly took him out of the dungeon and asked him, noted in Jeremiah 37:17, “‘Is there any word from the Lord. And Jeremiah said, ‘There is.’ Then he said, ‘You shall be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon!’” Jeremiah then asked Zedekiah why he had been put into prison. He pled for proper treatment. Zedekiah had a very weak moral character. However, he did listen to Jeremiah’s plea and at least put him in the court of the prison providing him with some regular food rather than putting him back in the dungeon. But Zedekiah had no backbone. He was consumed with public opinion and being politically correct. He did not truly hear the voice of God because he and the people had refused to listen to God’s messengers. He did not understand that you must “stand for the right though the heavens fall” as we read in the book Education, page 57.
The story sadly unfolds in Jeremiah 38 where some of the leaders heard Jeremiah’s fateful prediction and claimed that this was bringing discouragement to people so the solution was to kill the prophet. Weak Zedekiah said to these leaders in verse 5, “‘Look, he is in your hand. For the king can do nothing against you.’” As leaders in God’s cause at the end of time, for certainly Jesus is coming soon, are you going to say to those who wish to sacrifice God’s instructions, principles and model for Seventh-day Adventist education given by his prophet Ellen G. White, “Go ahead and do whatever you want in this institution because I, as a Seventh-day Adventist leader, cannot do anything against you.”
My dear friends and leaders, you have a sacred responsibility to “stand for right though the heavens fall.” Don’t flinch. Don’t waver. Lean on the Lord and do the right thing. Make Seventh-day Adventist education flourish through listening to God’s prophets.
Verse 6 says, “So they took Jeremiah and cast him into the dungeon of Malchiah the king’s son, which was in the court of the prison, and they let Jeremiah down with ropes. And in the dungeon there was no water, but mire. So Jeremiah sank in the mire.” Sometimes, if you proclaim God’s truth you will end up in the mire. But rescue by God is on the way!
Ebed-Melech, an Ethiopian leader in the court and a believer in the true God, pled before King Zedekiah. Thank God for Ethiopians like Ebed-Melech and others like him today who will plead for that which is “right though the heavens fall.”
The king was touched and told him to take some men and rescue Jeremiah. Later Zedekiah again calls Jeremiah to him to tell him the truth about what will happen. Jeremiah says that if I tell you the truth you will put me to death. Zedekiah promises that he will not. Jeremiah said, in verse 17, reporting the direct words of God, “If you surely surrender to the king of Babylon’s princes, then your soul shall live; this city shall not be burned with fire and you and your house shall live.” Jeremiah went on to say that if Zedekiah did not surrender that Jerusalem would be in the hands of Babylon, that the city would be burned and Zedekiah would not escape.
Jeremiah pled with Zedekiah in verse 20, “Please, obey the voice of the Lord which I speak to you. So it shall be well with you, and your soul shall live.” Secretly, Zedekiah seemed to believe Jeremiah and wanted to obey but he was so weak morally, so afraid of the power of others, was such a coward and was so politically correct that instead of listening to the Word of God, he told Jeremiah not to tell any of the princes what had transpired and Jeremiah went back to prison until the fall of Jerusalem.
God was wanting to show mercy on Zedekiah and Judah even at the last minute if they would choose to submit to God’s requirements. In tears, Jeremiah pled with Zedekiah to listen to God’s opening of mercy and surrender to the Babylonian army. However, Prophets and Kings, pages 457-458, details the sad decision of Zedekiah: “But the king had started on the wrong course, and he would not retrace his steps. He decided to follow the counsel of the false prophets, and of the men whom he really despised, and who ridiculed his weakness in yielding so readily to their wishes. He sacrificed the noble freedom of his manhood and became a cringing slave to public opinion. With no fixed purpose to do evil, he was also without resolution to stand boldly for the right. Convicted though he was of the value of the counsel given by Jeremiah, he had not the moral stamina to obey; and as a consequence he advanced steadily in the wrong direction. … If Zedekiah had stood up bravely and declared that he believed the words of the prophet, already half fulfilled, what desolation might have been averted! … The people would have respected his courageous spirit, and those who were wavering between faith and unbelief would have taken a firm stand for the right.”
My fellow leaders, do you see how your actions of faith and humble leadership will convict people of truth as it is in Jesus? Zedekiah stands out as a prime example of following public opinion rather than the Word of God and His prophets. The result was, described in Jeremiah 39, that Babylon besieged Jerusalem and it fell. Zedekiah was caught. His sons were killed before his eyes, then his eyes were put out and he was taken to Babylon in chains. Jerusalem was burned and the people were taken captive. All because they would not listen to the words of God and His prophet.
Crossroads of Adventist Education
Today, we stand at a crossroads in Seventh-day Adventist education. Will you listen to the world and its public opinion, or will you commit yourself to following God’s instruction in the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. God’s model of education is so positive and so wonderful. Cherish it and nurture it! His model is an unbelievable blessing. We see evidences of this blessing in so many places around the world. Don’t take it for granted. Praise God for the model and offer it to as many students as possible.
Don’t let anyone in your region change God’s instructions for Seventh-day Adventist education under your supervision. Stay on God’s side, not the world’s. Do not allow regional non-Adventist accrediting bodies to dictate what the principles are for your existence. Kindly explain and clearly state the foundation of your biblical principles governing your institution and most likely the regional accrediting bodies will congratulate you and accept the governing principles you lay out for your institution. Strongly maintain and defend the position to have only Seventh-day Adventist church members as members of institutional boards of trustees. Do not allow non-church members to be members of your institutional boards. Try your best to have only dedicated Seventh-day Adventist teachers as part of your faculties. Increase your efforts for evangelistic and spiritual emphasis on your campuses by every means possible including increased presence of campus chaplains. Use your students in strong efforts to increase Christ’s presence on your campuses and involve students in reaching out to secular campuses in public campus ministry as ambassadors for Him.
Recognize that there may be those who have plans to take our schools out of the hands and control of the Seventh-day Adventist Church by following current worldly education practices. Don’t allow it. Stand for the right though the heavens fall.
Give strong support and loyalty to the education department of the Seventh-day Adventist Church structure worldwide. Increase your encouragement, support and respect for the Adventist Accrediting Association (AAA), the International Board of Education (IBE), and the International Board of Ministerial and Theological Education (IBMTE).
Seventh-day Adventist schools were established for one purpose only — helping students know Christ as their Savior so they can participate in the mission of the church. They are to focus on their relationship with Christ as He directs them in revival and reformation. Leaders, resist with all diligence, any attempt to change the course from God’s instructions in the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. Rather, seriously restudy in administrative and faculty settings the precious and heavenly instructions in the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy and make them the centerpiece of your educational plans. Recruit administrators, faculty and staff who love Jesus supremely and are 100 percent faithful to God’s Word and the 28 Fundamental Beliefs of this church.
Administrative leaders, whether you are in an institution or in church leadership, stand firm for the educational model instructed by God. I will be very direct: Board chairs, union and division presidents, you are ultimately responsible to do all you can to make sure your boards and institutions stay on the right course for God’s educational model. Stand firm though the heaven’s fall. Don’t be a Zedekiah. Be a Jeremiah, a Daniel, an Esther, a Joseph, a Moses, an Elijah and stand against the winds of public opinion and worldly political correctness. By the grace of God in these last days of Earth’s history before the soon appearing of our Lord, let our Seventh-day Adventist schools and educational system flourish through God’s blessing as did the schools of the prophets as you follow God’s amazing model and thus show the purpose and mission of Seventh-day Adventist education.
May the Holy Spirit lead us during this special conference and may prayer be an integral part of our deliberations. As we leave the conference, let us be wholly dedicated to God and the instructions of His prophets in His Holy Word and the Spirit of Prophecy so that young people across this globe in every division and territory will be spiritually prepared through the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish the last final proclamation of the three angels’ messages in word and in practical deeds showing Christ’s righteousness, His love and His plan of salvation. Let faculties, staff members, students, administrators, board members all be part of Total Member Involvement in finishing God’s work so we can see the second coming in the clouds of glory and we can go home to heaven to be forever with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ: the Master Teacher! Amen!