Education and Career Choices

For us to find direction in education and career choices in today’s world, we must first understand the intrinsic nature of the Christian religion. The Christian religion is, in a superlative sense, both a spiritual and an intellectual religion.

Concerning the spiritual nature of Christianity, Ellen White wrote, “We need spiritual eyesight now as never before, that we may see afar off, and that we may discern the snares and designs of the enemy, and as faithful watchmen proclaim the danger. We need spiritual power that we may take in, as far as the human mind can, the great subjects of Christianity, and how far-reaching are its principles.” The Home Missionary, November 1, 1893.

“All professions of Christianity are but lifeless expressions of faith until Jesus imbues the believer with his spiritual life, which is the Holy Ghost.” The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 3, 242.

“Unless the mind is constantly exercised in obtaining spiritual knowledge and in seeking to understand the mystery of godliness, it is incapable of appreciating eternal things, because it has no experience in that direction. This is the reason why religion, by nearly all is considered up-hill business.” Pamphlet 098, 11, 12. [Emphasis added.]

Intellectual Christianity

Concerning the intellectual nature of Christianity, Mrs. White wrote, “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.” Testimonies, vol. 3, 160.

Although comparatively few people become intellectual Christians, it is God’s will for all to become intellectual Christians and for this to occur during childhood and youth: “It is the precious privilege of children and youth to yield their minds to the control of the Spirit of God and become intellectual Christians.” Lift Him Up, 91.

“All whom God has endowed with reasoning powers may become intellectual Christians.” The Medical Missionary, May 1, 1892. A similar statement was published in an article that Mrs. White wrote for the March 8, 1887, issue of Review and Herald.

“Jesus would have us learn in his school that we may become intellectual Christians.” The Signs of the Times, February 14, 1878.

“The greatest work of the teacher is to lead those under his charge to be intellectual Christians.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 1, 322.

Especially are the above facts true for any young person who wishes to prepare for full-time service in any branch of God’s closing work on earth, whether it be the gospel ministry, medical missionary work, literature work, Christian education, or work in one of the Lord’s institutions or a local church.

Spiritual Power Also

The minister, for example is constantly to increase in spiritual power. (See Review and Herald, January 21, 1902.) Not only this, but the minister is constantly to increase in intellectual power: “Nearly every minister in the field, had he exerted his God-given energies, might not only be proficient in reading, writing, and grammar, but even in languages. It is essential for them to set their aim high. But there has been but little ambition to put their powers to the test to reach an elevated standard in knowledge and in religious intelligence.

“Our ministers will have to render to God an account for the rusting of the talents He has given to improve by exercise. They might have done tenfold more work intelligently had they cared to become intellectual giants. Their whole experience in their high calling is cheapened because they are content to remain where they are. Their efforts to acquire knowledge will not in the least hinder their spiritual growth if they will study with right motives and proper aims.” Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 194.

Because of the nature of the Christian religion, we find that wherever Christianity developed in the world, in that place there were also developed schools for educational training. A Christian school was developed in Antioch, and schools were established in India, Africa, and Europe.

So, the first thing to understand about education and career choices is that God wants us to become strong both spiritually and intellectually. This will require us to obtain the educational training that the providence of God makes it possible for us to acquire. In my own family, when my grandparents became Seventh-day Adventists, the result was that even though they were not highly educated, all their children did become highly educated. This is also why Seventh-day Adventists, in general, are more highly educated than the average population. This is as it should be.

The problem comes, however, when we obtain the wrong kind of education, which eventually results in the children of Adventist parents, in the third or fourth or fifth generation, going right back into the worldly life from which their grandparents or great-grandparents came to become Seventh-day Adventists. Both Adventist and non-Adventist authors have amply documented this fact. (See, for example, The Fat Lady and the Kingdom: Confronting the Challenge of Change and Secularization, by George R. Knight, Adventist Book Center New Jersey, 1995, or Seeking a Sanctuary: Seventh-day Adventism and the American Dream, by Malcolm Bull and Keith Lockhart, Indiana University Press, 2006.) This fact also, in a great measure, explains the fact that every heaven inspired revival and reformation movement for the past 2,000 years has been dominated mainly by the common people, and relatively few highly educated people became part of it.

Common People

In Jesus’ day, it was the common people: “The common people heard him gladly.” Mark 12:37. In the days of the apostle Paul, it was the same. (See 1 Corinthians 1.)

In the time of the sixteenth century reformation, it was the same. The papal system for education made the following demand in Holland during the time of the reformation: “We forbid all lay persons to converse or dispute concerning the Holy Scriptures, openly or secretly, especially on any doubtful or difficult matters, or to read, teach, or expound the Scriptures, unless they have duly studied theology and have been approved by some renowned university.” E. A. Sutherland, Studies in Christian Education, The Rural Press, Madison, Tennessee, 1915, 97.

The historian also relates what happened: “To the ineffable disgust of the conservatives in church and state here were men with little education, utterly devoid of Hebrew, of lowly station—hatters, curriers, tanners, dyers and the like—who began to preach, remembering unreasonably, perhaps, that the early disciples selected by the Founder of Christianity had not all been doctors of theology with diplomas from renowned universities.” Ibid.

It was the same in the second advent movement during the nineteenth century. Most of the converts were from the common people, because the educational systems were so corrupted with false philosophy (see Colossians 2) that by the time people became highly educated, they, first of all, were not of a mind-set to accept unpopular Bible truth, and, secondly, they were often mentally and spiritually incapable of doing so. A person who is not spiritual cannot understand spiritual things. (See 1 Corinthians 2.)

This also explains why, today, the vast majority in the revival and reformation movement in the second advent movement are from the common people; only a very few highly educated people are involved. The entire tenor and philosophy and training of the educational experience of many has prepared them to stay with well-established and highly developed organizations or philosophical groups, and when God leads His people farther out of and away from either Egypt or Babylon, they are unprepared, unwilling, and even unable to walk into new territory where their fathers have not been.

The Relationship

Ellen White explains the relationship between education, the inability to be part of a revival and reformation movement—when God is leading His people into new territory—and the failure to be able to distinguish between truth and error as follows:

“For ages education has had to do chiefly with the memory. This faculty has been taxed to the utmost, while the other mental powers have not been correspondingly developed. Students have spent their time in laboriously crowding the mind with knowledge, very little of which could be utilized. The mind thus burdened with that which it cannot digest and assimilate is weakened; it becomes incapable of vigorous, self-reliant effort, and is content to depend on the judgment and perception of others. . . .

“The education that consists in the training of the memory, tending to discourage independent thought, has a moral bearing which is too little appreciated. As the student sacrifices the power to reason and judge for himself, he becomes incapable of discriminating between truth and error, and falls an easy prey to deception. He is easily led to follow tradition and custom.” Education, 230.

Anyone who has, for example, studied the history of Nazi Germany should know that the Nazis were very successful in getting highly educated people to follow their agenda. The above statement from the book Education explains why that was so.

This fact will be with us until the end of time, and it will help us to understand what will happen in the very last days:

“The days are fast approaching when there will be great perplexity and confusion. Satan, clothed in angel robes, will deceive, if possible, the very elect. There will be gods many and lords many. Every wind of doctrine will be blowing. Those who have rendered supreme homage to ‘science falsely so called’ will not be the leaders then. Those who have trusted to intellect, genius, or talent will not then stand at the head of rank and file. They did not keep pace with the light. Those who have proved themselves unfaithful will not then be entrusted with the flock. In the last solemn work few great men will be engaged. They are self-sufficient, independent of God, and He cannot use them. The Lord has faithful servants, who in the shaking, testing time will be disclosed to view. There are precious ones now hidden who have not bowed the knee to Baal. They have not had the light which has been shining in a concentrated blaze upon you. But it may be under a rough and uninviting exterior the pure brightness of a genuine Christian character will be revealed. In the daytime we look toward heaven but do not see the stars. They are there, fixed in the firmament, but the eye cannot distinguish them. In the night we behold their genuine luster.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 80, 81.

“As the time comes for it [the third angel’s message] to be given with greatest power, the Lord will work through humble instruments, leading the minds of those who consecrate themselves to His service. The laborers will be qualified rather by the unction of His Spirit than by the training of literary institutions.” The Great Controversy, 606.

A Dilemma

So, we are faced with a dilemma, and it is this: Education is highly desirable. God wants all of us to become intellectual Christians, and we should be seeking to become intellectual giants, gaining the greatest amount of education which the providence of God guides us to obtain. But, obtaining an education in educational institutions is very dangerous for the following reasons: (1) At the vast majority of educational institutions you will be taught worldly philosophy which is directly contrary and opposed to the Word of God. It will be impossible for you to sit in classes day after day and listen to this philosophy without it having a permanent effect on your mind, your thinking, and your life. (2) Many educational institutions focus on educating the memory to the exclusion of the other faculties of the mind, producing the result cited previously in the book, Education, page 230. (3) Unfortunately, those educational institutions that do not teach worldly philosophy often have one of the following problems: (A) Its educational classes are corrupted with fanaticism. That is, information is being taught that cannot be backed up by good scientific research or biblical research. (B) There may be just a plain lack of sufficient ability to help you actually become highly educated. Obviously, an educator cannot educate you to a level higher than that which he or she has attained. Many educators today actually are not intellectual giants themselves; consequently, they cannot help you to become one. A teacher who is not spiritual cannot help you to become a spiritual person. (C) Some institutions lack the ability to prepare you to support yourself in this world.


This last statement, about being prepared to support one’s self in this world, must never be forgotten. A student who graduates from school—not primary school or high school, but a school of higher education—should never have to work as an unskilled occupational worker. Ellen White wrote: “True education is that which will train children and youth for the life that now is, and in reference to that which is to come; for an inheritance in that better country, even in an heavenly.” Fundamentals of Christian Education, 328.

“The custom of supporting men and women in idleness by private gifts or church money encourages them in sinful habits, and this course should be conscientiously avoided. Every man, woman, and child should be educated to do practical, useful work. All should learn some trade. It may be tentmaking, or it may be business in other lines; but all should be educated to use the members of their body to some purpose, and God is ready and willing to increase the adaptability of all who will educate themselves to industrious habits.

“If a man in good physical health has property, and has no need of entering into employment for his own support, he should labor to acquire means that he may advance the cause and work of God. He is to be ‘not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord.’ [Romans 12:11.] God will bless all who will guard their influence in regard to others in this respect.” “Ellen G. White Comments,” Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 7, 912.

“Every youth, on leaving school, should have acquired a knowledge of some trade or occupation by which, if need be, he may earn a livelihood.” Education, 218.

Because of the apostasy—the falling away or departing from the truth God has revealed to his people—in the educational institutions of all protestant churches of which the author is aware, Seventh-day Adventist young people today are faced with a greater dilemma than any Adventist generation since the beginning of the second advent movement.

Waldensian Example

It has often become necessary for Adventist young people who need and want education, and who are seeking education, to do what the Waldenses had to do during the dark ages: “While the Waldenses regarded the fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom, they were not blind to the importance of a contact with the world, a knowledge of men and of active life, in expanding the mind and quickening the perceptions. From their schools in the mountains some of the youth were sent to institutions of learning in the cities of France or Italy, where was a more extended field for study, thought, and observation than in their native Alps. The youth thus sent forth were exposed to temptation, they witnessed vice, they encountered Satan’s wily agents, who urged upon them the most subtle heresies and the most dangerous deceptions. But their education from childhood had been of a character to prepare them for all this.

“In the schools whither they went, they were not to make confidants of any. Their garments were so prepared as to conceal their greatest treasure—the precious manuscripts of the Scriptures. These, the fruit of months and years of toil, they carried with them, and whenever they could do so without exciting suspicion, they cautiously placed some portion in the way of those whose hearts seemed open to receive the truth. From their mother’s knee the Waldensian youth had been trained with this purpose in view; they understood their work and faithfully performed it. Converts to the true faith were won in these institutions of learning, and frequently its principles were found to be permeating the entire school; yet the papal leaders could not, by the closest inquiry, trace the so-called corrupting heresy to its source.” The Great Controversy, 69, 70.

Dilemma Faced

If you or one of your loved ones is facing this dilemma and need to obtain an education at a state university or technical school, following are a few things to remember:

  1. The Word of God—the Bible—is the basis of true education in this world, so if you want to be truly educated, as a historian of Oberlin College wrote of that institution, “The Scriptures, both in the English version and in the original tongues, were considered to possess the highest educational value; and as such they should be studied first, last, and everywhere between.” Sutherland, 20. Whether God is calling you to be a physician, a lawyer, a scientist, a business person, or a technical worker, the Bible is the basis of true education, and it must be studied diligently every day if you want to receive a true education, even if you are attending a state university.
  2. It is dangerous to attend a state university for any reason unless you are thoroughly rooted and grounded in Bible religion first. (Notice the Waldensian practice as given above from The Great Controversy.) It would be better to forfeit getting an education rather than lose eternal life, as has happened to countless millions of people in the educational institutions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
  3. Obtain counsel concerning your plans from godly parents and/or ministers or gospel workers. Do those who know you best and love you believe that you could be successful in resisting the temptations that would certainly come to you in an institution of learning in this world?
  4. Listening to error is never harmless, even in a “Christian” university or a self-supporting Seventh-day Adventist school. There are some courses of study that would, much more than others, expose you to worldly philosophy and error of all kinds. It is beyond the scope of this article to explain this, but you would want to obtain counsel from godly educators about this before making a decision.
  5. If you are in a program of learning at a university or other school that is so rigorous that you do not take time to pray and study God’s Word every day and attend religious services (Hebrews 10:23–25), you are in grave danger of losing your way spiritually. No educational advantages in this world are worth your losing eternal life.
  6. Be sure that you become fully educated. It is beyond the scope of this article to explain what it means to be fully educated, but the book Education, by Ellen White, explores the major areas of mental, physical, and spiritual development that you need if you are going to be fully educated. Be sure that you do not miss out by being only partially educated in some school in this world while some vital, essential part of your education is missing because the educational institution you attend does not teach it.