ohn Burden was almost beside himself as Christmas approached in the year 1909. Four years before he had played a pivotal role in acquiring the property that was now the Loma Linda Sanitarium with its affiliated School of Nursing. In the months since then, an ever-increasing stream of patients had presented themselves for treatment. The nursing program, too, had proved popular; nursing students had arrived at the school in such numbers that its future was now no longer in doubt. In December, as the year drew to a close, Burden wrote that there were 95 of “the most consecrated young people as I have ever seen together in school” on the Loma Linda campus, while the sanitarium registry listed “between forty-five and fifty patients.”1
So why was John Burden so disturbed? Four years after the purchase of the Loma Linda property he still did not know what kind of educational institution he was operating!
Only two weeks earlier, in late November, the Southern California Conference Committee had resolved:
“WHEREAS the . . . testimonies call for a school of our own entirely disconnected from worldly colleges, but founded upon a legal basis, which shall educate medical workers (other than nurses) of two different classes, namely:
“1st Many who shall receive no medical degree, to labor as medical evangelists.
“2nd A limited number of fully competent physicians, able to pass the test of the medical examining boards, to stand at the head of our school work.
“. . . the only wise course would be to plan for a five-year’s course of instruction which shall fully qualify competent physicians who may stand at the head of our medical work, the first three years of which course shall be designed to educate medical evangelists who shall receive no medical degree.
“. . . for the present we plan only to give the first three years of this curriculum.”2
So Burden was to mount a three-year “medical” training program—nonnursing—that with two additional years would qualify students to become fully licensed physicians. No wonder he was at his wit’s end! The Southern California Conference expected him to put forth a never-before-seen educational program to train health workers capable of evangelism and ready to become fully qualified physicians—if they chose to continue in school for another two years!
Why the Confusion?
The reason for this perplexity was Ellen White herself. She was now 83 years old. Only four months previously, at the General Conference convened in October at College View, Nebraska, she had instructed that in Loma Linda there was to be “an educational center . . . especially strong in the education of nurses and physicians.”3 This counsel clearly called for a medical school, but she had gone on to say, “Much good can be done by those who do not hold diplomas as fully accredited physicians. . . . Many, working under the direction of [fully accredited physicians], can do acceptable work without spending so long a time in study as it has been thought necessary to spend in the past.”4
Indeed, four months previously, it seemed that Ellen White herself was unclear about what the medical school was to become, for she had also said, “It will take some time to get a right understanding of the matter, but just as soon as we begin to work in the line of true reform, the Holy Spirit will lead us and guide us if we are willing to be guided.”5
No wonder John Burden was confused; if Ellen White herself was unsure of just exactly what the school in Loma Linda was to become, how could he be expected to proceed?
Help, however, was on the way. Three church leaders who had attended that same Nebraska General Conference session—I. H. Evans, E. H. Andross, and H. W. Cottrell—came to Burden’s aid. On January 25, 1910, all three addressed a letter to Ellen White at [St. Helena] Sanitarium, California, asking:
“What [do] you mean when you use the term ‘a medical school’?
“Some hold that . . . you mean a school where the Bible is made prominent . . . treatment of simple disease . . . using . . . medical knowledge as a means of introducing the Bible. . . .
“Others hold that you mean, in addition to the foregoing, a fully-equipped medical school . . . such as will qualify the students who take the course, to pass State Board examinations and become registered, qualified physicians for public work.”6
To this very pointed and very specific question Ellen White responded two days later:
“We must provide that which is essential to qualify our youth who desire to be physicians, so that they may . . . be able to stand the examinations required [and] . . . obtain a medical education that will enable them to pass the examinations required by law of all who practice as regularly qualified physicians.”7
Burden had his answer! Since Ellen White 100 years ago clarified what she meant by a “medical school,” more than 9,850 physicians have graduated from LLU, with one in five serving overseas. The “health message” has become a fully fleshed-out enterprise undergirded by the latest research findings, and “whole-person care” has become the guiding principle of the medical institutions that Ellen White herself started.
Subtle Churchwide Effects
There has been, however, a more pervasive and subtle effect, as well. As a conservative Protestant denomination, the fledgling Adventist Church could point to certain doctrinal distinctives. Those, in themselves, would be insufficient to make it visible in the religious turmoil roiling the United States in the early twentieth century. The same could be said of the church’s commitment to education and healthful living. There were other churches with similar commitments. A church, however, that viewed education as God’s calling and healthful living as a religious imperative—a church that was willing to carry these two ideas to their logical conclusion and establish a medical school—that was something clearly different.
Operating a fully accredited, state-recognized medical school meant, of course, that all Adventist colleges would, in turn, require accreditation—if their graduating students were to be accepted into the medical course at the Loma Linda school. But there were other, less obvious, effects. Physician graduates would assume leadership roles in local congregations as elders and deacons. In many small towns as “leading citizens,” they would give credibility and influence to the local Adventist church. They would provide financial support to the church and the church school. They would serve as members of conference and union committees.
Surprisingly, because of the Sabbath school, these trained physicians would come to exert a pervasive influence over not just the “health message,” but also the theological direction the fledgling Adventist Church would take. In virtually every church where physicians were counted among the members, they taught one or more of the Sabbath school classes. This meant that on a weekly basis the local pastor and the local doctor each had a forum for Bible study. In the smaller churches, of course, the local doctor would often take the pulpit when the pastor was preaching elsewhere. It is more than likely that it was while teaching the weekly Sabbath school lesson that the town doctor convinced the youth of the church that a college degree was in their future and that empirical, scientific evidence was valuable and trustworthy.
Physicians’ influence on the developing church likely accounts for many of the unique characteristics that Adventism shows today. Adventists respect science. Youth in the church who aspire to a career in science find that their local congregations are encouraging and supportive. Living healthfully is viewed not only as a good idea but as a religious ideal, as well. Scientific research is viewed approvingly as “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.” Ellen White’s concept of “medical school” has ensured that when young church members in their formative years are exposed to these concepts, they will often encounter them in the form of role models—physicians who are fellow church members.
The Church Without LLU?
What would the Adventist Church look like at the start of the twenty-first century without a medical school at Loma Linda, “such as will qualify the students who take the course, to pass State Board examinations and become registered, qualified physicians for public work”? What would have happened if Ellen White had given a different answer to “What [do] you mean when you use the term ‘a medical school’?”
Might she have given a different answer? Not likely! Only four years before, in 1905, The Ministry of Healing had been published. Its pages confirm Ellen White’s understanding of the role of a Christian physician. For her, health care was a ministry.
“The Savior ministered to both the soul and the body. The gospel which He taught was a message of spiritual life and of physical restoration. Deliverance from sin and the healing of disease were linked together. The same ministry is committed to the Christian physician [emphasis supplied].”8
“To the physician equally with the gospel minister is committed the highest trust. . . . Every physician is entrusted with the cure of souls [emphasis supplied].”9
“Physical healing is bound up with the gospel commission. In the work of the gospel, teaching and healing are never to be separated [emphasis supplied].”10
Not only did she view health care as a ministry, she placed the calling of a physician on par with—and sometimes higher than—the calling of a gospel minister:
“Not even to a minister of the gospel are committed possibilities so great or an influence so far-reaching.”11
That was why the School of Medicine was established in Loma Linda 100 years ago. That remains the reason for its existence today.
1 Ellen G. White, Loma Linda Messages; Divine Instruction, The Blueprint Through the Inspired Pen of Ellen G. White, vol. 1, Leaves of Autumn Books, Inc., (Payson AZ), p. 471 (document 826).
2 Ibid., p. 458 (document 807).
3 Ibid., p. 440.
4 Ibid., p. 69.
5 Ibid., p. 446 (document 785).
6 Ibid., p. 483 (document 846).
7 Ibid., pp. 484, 485 (document 846).
8 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing, p. 111.
9 Ibid., p. 119.
10 Ibid., p. 141.
11 Ibid., p. 132.
B. Lyn Behrens, M.B., B.S., immediate past president of Loma Linda University; and Brian S. Bull, M.D., chair and professor, Department of Pathology and Human Anatomy, LLU School of Medicine; are both former deans of the School of Medicine. Dr. Behrens served from 1986-1991; Dr. Bull from 1994-2001. This article was published April 22, 2010.