Sermon delivered November 16, 1996

By Gordon Bietz, Pres. of Georgia-Cumberland Conf. of SDA

McDonald Road SDA Church, McDonald, TN.

Stupid Smart People

There's not a church, there's not a denomination that gives more attention to Christian education than the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Seventh-day Adventist' began their education program in 1853 with a five-family school in Buck's Bridge, New York. Officially the first denominationally sponsored school began with a single school in 1872, and a single college in 1874 in Battle Creek, MI. It's become one of the largest Protestant school systems in the United States, and probably in the world it is one of THE largest. Our church with three-quarters of a million members (750,000) in the United States operates a thousand one hundred thirteen (1,113) elementary schools, ninety-four (94) academies (secondary schools/high schools) and thirteen colleges and universities.

Think of a community, any community of about that size, and that's a little larger than Chattanooga, certainly, but operation that many schools and that much of a school system. It's really amazing. In the '90s, Seventh-day Adventists will spend eight billion dollars on Christian Education. Your local church is no exception to that. I haven't talked to Don Gettys, and I haven't looked at your church budget, but I would guess that fifty percent of your church budget, or thereabouts goes to support Spalding Elementary school, worthy student fund, and Collegedale Academy.

Seventh-day Adventists have a very high commitment at providing an appropriate Christian education for its young people. A very large portion of the tithe that you send to Georgia-Cumberland Conference is used for Christian education. The salaries of your teachers at Spalding Elementary School and Collegedale Academy; thirty-eight percent or so of those salaries are paid for by the conference office. So even though you have a large portion of your local church budget that goes for those salaries, the conference beyond that pays thirty-eight percent of those salaries.

We have a significant commitment to providing an environment of Christian education for our young people. And, actually, there's a good reason for that. In a study on education in the United States done a few years ago was titled, "A Nation at Risk." And of course the risk was that there was not good education going on even in the public sector. There is a major concern about education the United States today. At the same time that the world is looking, the United States is looking with concern at education. Our schools should be second to none. They ought to illustrate the appropriate combination of the academic, and the spiritual, and the physical. Train the young people to be good citizens not only of the kingdom of heaven but of the cities and states and the world they live in. Our education can't be simply measured by the S.A.T. scores or simply measured by comparing ourselves intellectually to others.

The Scriptures say, 1 Corinthians 3:18-21: "Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a "fool" so that he become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written; 'He catches the wise in their craftiness' (Job 5:13); and again; 'The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.' (Psalm 94:11) So then, no more boasting about men!

Are any of us self-deceived? "Do not deceive yourselves.." I repeat. "if any of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age." We have standards. we compare ourselves to others. We have tests. We can say, and I looked at the test results: we had a board of education Thursday of this week; I looked at the test results of all the students of the Georgia- Cumberland Academy and we are well above fiftieth level (percentile), above average in those standard norms as we compare ourselves with other students.

But that is not the real thing that Christian education is about. What suggestion does Paul have for the self-deceived person? If you think you are wise by the standards of this age, he says, "he should become a "fool" so that he can become wise." How do you become a "fool"? We know how to become wise, say, go to school and get an education and study. How do you become a "fool"? Do you forget everything? Is that how you become a fool? Is Paul suggesting that we forget some information that we know? Paul is not talking here about being able to answer questions on Jeopardy. He's not talking about having a low S.A.T. score. Wisdom and foolishness here are being used in a special way. This wisdom isn't understanding how computers work. Paul is not suggesting that you are ready for true wisdom when you can't answer the question; "Who's buried in General Grant's tomb?" Paul is saying that wisdom is more than information.

Wisdom by the standards of this age is not wisdom. Oh, it'll get you a job. It might get you to pass some exams. It might even get you an "A" in class. But it doesn't satisfy. Information without a moral frame of reference doesn't meet our needs. The worldly wisdom that Solomon pursued, Ecclesiastes 1:13: "I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven....I have seen all things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind." Solomon had the wisdom, didn't he? He pursued wisdom. He studied and explored, and what was it to Solomon? "A chasing after the wind." Meaningless.

We may be able to answer the question, "Who was buried in Grant's tomb?" But so what? And if the question is considerably more significant, like, "What's the origin and nature of black holes?" Do not deceive yourselves. If anyone thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he is foolish. When we follow the standards of this age, when we are so degree-conscious that the letters after our name mean more than THE name, we have missed out on what education is.

Why did Solomon call it "a chasing after the wind?" Ecclesiastes 2:11: "Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun." Information, truth, knowledge, facts, Encyclopedia Britannica, all of that information that you can find on the Internet or wherever, is meaningless, a chasing after the wind, unless it is found in a moral frame of reference; unless it is rooted in a Christian context it is meaningless.

We live in an age of wonderful knowledge. You can get on the Internet with your computer today and get a huge bunch of information. How has that accessed information enhanced the moral standing of the people in the United States today? It hasn't, really, has it? What is our big problem in the world today? Is it not moral standing, moral conviction? In a survey of people that voted, fifty percent of them, as I recall, who voted for President Clinton, indicated that character and moral frame of reference was not that important. What does that say about the world that we live in? The big concern that we have in the world is morals and family values and character. Henry Brooks Adams said, "Nothing in education is so astonishing as the amount of ignorance it accumulates in the form of facts. Nothing is so astonishing as the amount of ignorance you can accumulate in the form of facts."

True education gives meaning to life, gives meaning to existence, puts facts in a context of meaning. Divine wisdom gives meaning to man's life. It's not abstract information about the universe. It's relevant information.

"But where can wisdom be found?" Job says, Job 28:12, "Where does understanding dwell? Man does not comprehend its worth' it cannot be found in the land of the living." If the land of the living doesn't find this information, this education, where is it then? Proverbs 2:6: "For the Lord gives wisdom, and from His mouth come knowledge and understanding." Proverbs 9:10: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding."

So the wisdom that the Lord gives us is the knowledge of salvation, again, it's the knowledge of who we are, why we are, what we are doing here. All of that Harvard, Yale, Internet data, means nothing outside the frame of reference of God's wisdom, religious wisdom.

Now, I'm going to say something else that's going to push this a little bit more for your minds. The same thing same thing that's true about worldly wisdom is true about religious wisdom or religious knowledge. You see, figuring our the distance to Mars and how to make candy that melts in your mouth and not in your hand, that kind of knowledge doesn't give life meaning. And it's also true about knowledge in religion. The accumulation of religious truth, no matter how true; the collection of religious facts, no matter how accurate; is no different than worldly wisdom - a chasing after the wind unless those facts are also rooted in salvation in Jesus Christ.

Romans 2:17-20: "Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; if you know His will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, and instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth--" Paul says to those Jewish people, "you think you're so smart, because you have all the knowledge, the religious knowledge." You know, we could substitute the word, "Adventist" there instead of Jew. In fact, let's paraphrase it, and let's do that. "Now you, you call yourself an Adventist. If you rely on church membership and brag about being the 'Remnant", If you know His will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law and the testimony, If you're convinced that you're a guide for the blind in healthful living, a light for those who are in the dark about the stat of the dead, and an instructor of the foolish who don't understand eschatology, a teacher of infants because you have the Spirit of Prophecy and your teachings are an embodiment of the knowledge and truth..." I think we could set the same phrases we could use.

What is the problem with religious knowledge? this truth information? Paul continues in verse 21: "you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?....As it is written: "God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." (Isaiah 52:5) Why is God's name blasphemed? Because claiming truth as a possession without living the truth in your life is blasphemy against God. We don't own the truth as something we store in our library. We must live the truth as something we experience in our lives. The truth as data, as information, as 27 fundamental beliefs that does not transform our lives is not really God's truth. Have you known people who have the knowledge of the truth and who are jerks. Who aren't friendly, who aren't kind, who aren't considerate, who aren't loving? Education that is the communication of the facts of life without the wisdom of living is not education, it is foolishness in the sight of God.

That's why Christian education as we have it in Spalding Elementary School, Collegedale Academy, Georgia-Cumberland Academy, Southern Adventist University needs to be an environment of transforming facts, of lives that are transformed by the information that we communicate, not simply the accumulation of information.

There are lots of very bright people who have lots of wisdom, who have no common sense, who have no religious inclination, who have no relationship with Jesus.

Jesus makes the same point as Paul does. Luke 11:52, "Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who are entering." Woe to the experts of the law, woe to you who teach all this knowledge because you have the knowledge but you have not entered in, the knowledge has not changed who you are. You don't live like Jesus lived. The experts in religious knowledge, the preachers, the teachers, the conference presidents, took away the key to knowledge. They stood around with the key because they had the facts, they had the truth, they had the Bible, they had the doctrines, but they didn't enter in, They didn't transform their lives. It didn't make them loving, kind people. They weren't able, with that knowledge to create churches, communities of faith where people loved each other, where the sick were healed, and where the gospel was communicated.

"Christ," Ellen White says in Ministry of Healing "could have imparted to men knowledge that would have surpassed any previous disclosures and put into the background every other discovery. He could have unlocked mystery after mystery and could have consecrated around these wonderful revelations the active earnest thought of successive generations until the close of time but He would not spare a moment from teaching the science of salvation." Jesus could have been a combination of Socrates, Plato, Einstein, Aristotle, all wrapped into one. And concentrated around those thoughts that He gave the minds of everyone for eternity but He couldn't spare a moment from teaching the science of salvation. That is the core of religious education. That is the core of what we must do, not only in our schools, but in our churches: that is, teaching people how to live and how to know Jesus, and how to share that knowledge with others.

All information, whether it's religious or secular information without being in that framework of the science of salvation is meaningless-a chasing after the wind.

So what makes Christian education? Our kids learn the same math, geography, and English. Is it Christian education when it's two angels plus two angels equals four angels? Dopes that make it Christian education? Or when you study geography you're studying a map of the Holy Land? Does that make it Christian education? Or studying the Bible instead of Shakespeare? No. it's not different because of the different facts that are presented. It's different because of the teachers that present those facts. Christian teachers teaching young people how to live a Christian life in the world that we live in. Making the facts relevant to how we live. That makes Christian education.

Occassionally when the rulers and leaders in Jerusalem came across these uneducated fishermen, you remember that story, they called them in to talk to them. Acts 4:5 describes one of those meetings. "The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest's family." They were having a meeting to consider what these disciples were teaching. It was a meeting of the power brokers in Jerusalem. It was a joint meeting of the house and the senate and the president. The bigwigs had gathered together. They had Peter and John brought before them and they began to question them. It was an inquisition. The best and the brightest, those who had been to Harvard and who had been to all the fancy schools were there. And they were quizzing Peter. Acts 4:13: "When they saw the courage of Peter and John and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus." That's wisdom. That's education. That was the eternal significance. When you've been to our schools other people may say you have courage and take note that you've been with Jesus.

If education is to be of infinite value it must put one in touch with the Infinite.

   Bert, the bear of Fenton Forest, loved honey.  So he decided he would
study up  on honey and see how it was manufactured.  Now, when Bert decided
to do something, he never did it half-way, he spent days with a comb of
honey, studying the intricate construction techniques.  He studied it in the
field, he studied at Big Tree Tech.  He studied in the library.  He studied
in his den.  He was getting a PhD in Honey-ology.  He was always researching
some new thing about bees and honey.  You could ask him anything about honey
or bees, and he knew the answer.  Gruff, the bear, his brother came over to
him one day with honey dripping out of his mouth and over his jowls.
   "Come on, I've found a hive.  It's really good."
    "I can't go now," replied Bert, "I've just learned some new information on
hive construction." 
   "Hive construction!" Gruff said.  "Forget it.  Come with me and we'll have
some hive destruction!  Let's eat!"
   "No, I need to learn this," said Bert.

   So Gruff went off to eat and Bert memorized the geometry of wax cells. 
And wise old Owl said, "Knowledge may fill the mind, but isn't worth much
unless it also fills the stomach."

And so religious knowledge may fill the mind, but until it fills the heart, It is a chasing after the wind.



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