It is positively amazing: this rare blend of voices throughout the world denouncing racism in word and deed through their supportive responses to the public protests in the United States. Surely this movement is more than human. I am convinced and encouraged that God is working in supernatural ways in aligning conditions for these final days of earth’s history.

With this I am compelled to an even greater degree to address the fact that after the shock and outrage at painful atrocities, such as the heinous killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and most recently, Rayshard Brooks, some seem ready to return to an unhealthy, inhumane business and ministry as usual, only praying and hoping for that better day of change somewhere in a nebulous future. Some meekly acquiesce to a misguided inertia that forbids responsibility to address these sins in this life and relegates harmonious human relationships to heaven and the new earth.

How Can This Be?

How can this be? I ask this of all of us who consider ourselves converted and reasonably mature spiritually. How can we claim justification and sanctification in Jesus Christ and turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to racism and its ravages in any form? How can we proclaim the gospel to all the world if we will not live it properly? Has the power of systemic racism rendered us numb? Do we just try to fly under society’s radar to avoid its ire? Have we fallen into a spirit of fear?

Yes, there have been improvements in our society over time. But there have been too many setbacks, and victory over the sin of racism is still very far away. Langston Hughes captures the journey for some of us in his poem, “Mother to Son,” in which he declares through the cadence and dialect of old southern vernacular, that however difficult the journey, we must continue to climb. God is calling us to new heights:

The church as an institution must acknowledge that racism and oppression exist and that racism and oppression are sin. There must be an honest admission that we all are susceptible to its effects.

Well, son, I’ll tell you:

Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

It’s had tacks in it,

And splinters,

And boards torn up,

And places with no carpet on the floor—


But all the time

I’se been a-climbin’ on,

And reachin’ landin’s,

And turnin’ corners,

And sometimes goin’ in the dark

Where there ain’t been no light.

So boy, don’t you turn back.

Don’t you set down on the steps

’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.

Don’t you fall now—

For I’se still goin’, honey,

I’se still climbin’,

And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Hughes’ poem is illustrative of Paul’s observation: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Cor. 4:8-10).

A Fearless Stand?

This unequivocal statement articulates both our firm belief and our obligatory responsibility to each other and to all humankind. Racism, classifying groups of people as either inferior or superior inclusive of its related practices, is clearly antithetical to our stated beliefs. Indeed, it violates all elements of biblical injunctions and models for human relationships. Jesus said that all people will know that we are His if we love one another as He loves us.

The converse is obvious: if we do not live this love for and with all human beings, it casts doubt on any claimed relationship with Jesus. Salvation is impossible without that relationship.

We people of the Book know the origin of racism. As with all other schemes of the enemy, we must reject it, call it out wherever it exists, and actively oppose it within the church and throughout society. We must be on guard to discern all of its cunning deceptions and must respond fearlessly in the spirit, authority, and power of Jesus, who calls us into His service “to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts” (Isa. 58:6, Message).1

We recognize racist myths and deceptions for what they are—slurs on the character of God, our common Father. Creationists by the millions have bought into Darwinian mendacity about ethnic differences ascribed to fictional stages of evolutionary development from animal to human. Even many who declare the equal value of all people act sometimes as if they believe God created different races or ethnic groups for different purposes, some for leadership or management, some for the performing arts, or athletics, or slavery, etc. Surely we people of the Book do not ascribe any credence to these.

So what is the problem? Fear, pride, desires for power and control?

I wonder about our theology: are we waiting for some supernatural power to impose a new relational order in which we as a body actually model our fundamental beliefs? While many individuals are faithful, should not a great majority of Seventh-day Adventist Christians exemplify the character of Christ? Who can say we should not lead society’s search for common justice?

We love Micah’s call to act justly, love mercy, and live humbly under God, not taking ourselves too seriously, but taking God seriously (see Micah 6:8, Message). We are called to act justly, not just think and preach about justice.

In avoiding this responsibility, many shrink behind admonitions to refrain from involvement in politics. But if secular society is pursuing and achieving constructs and dynamics congruent with God’s will and plan for human relationships, why would Christians resist their emulation? God has used secular powers repeatedly to do His will (see Isa. 45:1; Jer. 25:9; Dan. 2:21; 4:17).

Unfortunately, we have gone along with unsavory elements of public policy and the practice of oppression at times. We have held to divisive practices far beyond the need to preserve our church’s unique witness. Those postures cannot continue. A pervasive change has to come among the people of God if we truly aspire to the blessed hope.

Whether laws change hearts or not, we need to be held to correct behaviors. Moreover, correct behavior must sometimes precede the internalization and ownership of laws and values. If we take to heart our fourteenth fundamental belief, toleration and facilitation of injustice among or around us is inconceivable or a function of hypocrisy.

Time for Action

The United States is under the world’s magnifying glass with a focus on the inevitably explosive consequences of its racism, the knee on the neck. A writer in the current issue of National Geographic likens the killing of George Floyd to the lynchings of days gone by and “the ultimate display of power of one human being over another.”2

The words of Frederick Douglass, former Maryland slave, scholar, orator, writer, social reformer, anthropologist, statesman, and friend of his Adventist contemporaries, spoken August  1857 in Canandaigua, New York, are apropos at this point. He said, “The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. . . . If there is no struggle there is no progress. . . . Power concedes nothing without a demand.”

When we see what the process of struggle looks like in the public arena, we wonder if the Adventist Church believes Douglass. We know that for gain there must be struggle, but ours should be one in which things are spiritually discerned and accomplished. The church as an institution must acknowledge that racism and oppression exist and that racism and oppression are sin. There must be an hones
t admission that we all are susceptible to its effects.

Humans are being born in this sin and shaped in its iniquity, and Adventism has become “so well-adjusted to [the] culture that [we] fit into it without even thinking” (Rom. 12:2, Message). Thank God this is not our unalterable fate! We can overcome by the grace and power of the Almighty, working both in and through us—and it must be both. While the slower of us try to figure it out, let us just do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

We must act. I pray that we muster the courage to return to historic Adventism when we led in the public square; when we fought against slavery, racism, and the marginalization of minorities. We need that now—in the pulpit, classroom, boardroom, hospital, mission field, private home, wherever. We as a church body need to preach and teach against racism and other oppressive structures, and in favor of healthy God-ordained human relations as much as against harmful substances and in favor of healthy eating. We need God’s Word as teacher, and Jesus, the Word made flesh, as the gold standard.

Jesus both in word and deed fought all forces of evil including racism and oppression. We see this in His deliberately orchestrated meeting with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well to the dismay of His disciples, who demonstrated unapologetically the accepted racist practices of their day. We hear His parable of the good Samaritan, calling the church to task—not to condemn, but to grow and to save.

And for our own times He has given His special messenger. She writes, “Many had lost sight of Jesus. They needed to have their eyes directed to His divine person, His merits, and His changeless love for the human family.”3 She urges, “The last message of mercy to be given to the world is a revelation of His character of love. The children of God are to manifest His glory. In their own life and character they are to reveal what the grace of God has done for them.”4 She encourages: “In visions of the night, representations passed before me of a great reformatory movement among God’s people. Many were praising God. The sick were healed, and other miracles were wrought.”5

My Faith Says Yes

This reform movement includes the eradication of racism and healing of its oppressive effects among us and the achievement of that love to which Jesus called us—that love by which the world will know we are Christians. Isaiah says: “Shout! A full-throated shout! . . . Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives. . . . To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people—law-abiding, God-honoring. They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’” (Isa. 58:1, 2, Message).

The Seventh-day Adventist Church is blessed with God’s complete message for these last days. We are a wonderful, worldwide fellowship of loving people. So this time, after the shock, the outrage, and the pain of the enemy’s atrocities, let us not return to an unhealthy, inhumane business and ministry as usual, only praying and hoping for that better day of change.

It’s time to get off our knees, like Joshua (Joshua 7:6-13); time to stop praying and move forward. So let us arise and “let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24).

I can feel the moving now.

  1. Texts credited to Message are from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
  3. Ellen G. White, Last Day Events (Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1992), p. 200.
  4. Ibid., pp. 200, 201.
  5. Ibid., p. 202.

Ella Smith Simmons is a general vice president, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland.

Who are you?" is a profound question.

We have no one clear answer. In fact, Jesus was many things to many people. To the paraplegic at the pool of Bethesda, He was a physical therapist (John 5:1-9); to blind Bartimaeus, an ophthalmologist (Mark 10:48-52); to the woman with the issue of blood, a faith healer (Matt. 9:20-22); to more than 5,000 hungry listeners, a miracle working food distributor (Matt. 14:15-21). That goes on indefinitely—attorney, social worker, preacher, prophet or counselor. Yet to all, Jesus was a teacher.

Teacher was the title given to Jesus most often, and one He seems to have valued most. The Greek term used is didaskalos. Of the 90 times Jesus was addressed directly in the gospels, 60 times He was called Teacher. John reports that Jesus referred to Himself as teacher (John 13:13, 14). Following His resurrection Jesus sent His disciples “into all the world” (Mark 16:15) to teach all nations (Matt. 28:19, KJV). Yet James reminds his readers that teaching is tough business that requires the highest preparations and is subject to the strictest scrutiny. I like The Message paraphrase of James 3:1, 2: “Don’t be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards. And none of us is perfectly qualified.”1

Teachers in the New Testament Church

Although James unmistakably warns against becoming teachers, teachers were prominent in the early church. Paul ranked the gift of teaching very high among the spiritual gifts, and suggested that the Holy Spirit qualifies teachers (Eph. 4:11).2

A teacher, didaskalos, in the New Testament is one who teaches about the things of God and the duties of humanity; one fitted to teach (Heb. 5:12; Rom. 2:20). The noun is based on the Greek verb didáskō, “to teach,” which appears in the New Testament 97 times.3

The book of Acts and New Testament epistles highlight the office and role of teacher. We know of teachers in Antioch (Acts 13:1) and are told that the gift of teaching is a significant part of God’s empowerment of the church (Rom. 12:7; Eph. 4:11; 1 Cor. 12:28, 29).

Jesus recognized the power of genuine relationships for enhancing teaching and learning.

Given all this, we wonder why James cautioned against teaching. James, likely Jesus’ own brother, certainly a faithful follower of Jesus and a leader in the early church, must have been aware of the value and many authoritative commands to teach. How could he discourage any from becoming teachers?

Jesus’ story of the good shepherd in John 10:1-3 helps to resolve this tension. Perhaps James is directing his warning to false shepherds/leaders/teachers only. As in Jesus’ parable, the true shepherd has valid access to the sheepfold and the sheep, whereas false shepherds are denied access.4 Sheepfolds in first century A.D. Palestine often adjoined a house; therefore the access gate was through the door of the house. In the open countryside sheepfolds were set in natural caves or fieldstone enclosures with an opening at one end just the size for the shepherd to block it with his body while sleeping.5

Scholars agree that a flock of about 100 sheep required an under-shepherd to guard it at night and serve as gatekeeper. A false shepherd’s attempts to gain illegitimate access to the sheep through the gate, door or other means, climbing over a wall or fence, were to be confronted and blocked.6

In Jesus’ parable, the doorkeeper is the shepherd’s undershepherd who represents the disciples of Jesus. Jesus designated His disciples as true teachers who have legitimate access to the sheep and who will be held accountable for the sheep.

High Calling = High Accountability

Paul and Peter both warn against pseudodidaskaloi, that is, insincere, unprepared, false teachers (2 Tim. 4:3; 2 Peter 2:1, 2, 19). Paul emphasizes the requirement of consistency between teaching and lifestyle for teachers (1 Cor. 4:17). Teachers are held to a higher standard of responsibility and maturity (Heb. 5:12). Clearly, teaching in Scripture is not limited to imparting intellectual knowledge. Bible knowledge is never an end in itself! “It is to produce love, faith, and godliness in our lives.”7

In his commentary on the Epistle of James, biblical scholar Douglas Moo suggests that many sought the status of teacher without the necessary moral, and perhaps intellectual, qualifications. Unfit teachers were a major cause of what James characterizes “as the bitter partisan spirit (cf. 3:13-18), quarreling (4:1), and unkind, critical speech (4:11)” that too often typified the Christian community. Since teachers are responsible for the spiritual welfare of those to whom they minister, the Lord will scrutinize them more carefully than others. Teaching as a divine gift requires careful stewardship.8

Paul declares the overarching aims of teaching in Colossians 1:28: “We proclaim Him by instructing and teaching all people with all wisdom so that we may present every person mature in Christ” (NET).9 This must be the aim of every teacher in every Seventh-day Adventist school and university.

Those who teach must understand their responsibilities and terms of their evaluation. God’s expectations and judgments of teachers, to whom He has given much, are greater than those of others.10

James includes himself as a teacher and one prone to the dangers and mistakes of the high office. He exemplifies the spirit of genuine humility that he urges upon others. He demonstrates the wisdom and skill of a true teacher! He reflects Jesus’ model.

We have both corporate and individual responsibilities for all teaching within the church. This is why we hold each other accountable, for one branch can spoil the whole body. My cousin Susy taught me a valuable object lesson in this regard. She developed diabetes and had to have her leg amputated. The whole family was devastated at this prospect. But Susy remained joyful throughout the ordeal. She said that it was far better to cut off the leg and save the life than to save the leg and lose the life. While we affirm our faithful teachers, regardless of differences, we may have to remove some from the sheepfold.

24 1 1

Learning From Jesus

Teaching was central to Jesus’ ministry. According to one commentator, Matthew alone reports at least 226 of His lessons.They are structured in five teaching blocks (Matt. 5-7; 10; 13; 18; 23-25),11 with the Sermon on the Mount the first and longest of these teaching blocks. All the Gospels portray Jesus as the highest quality teacher (e.g., Matt. 8:19; Mark 4:38; Luke 3:12; John 1:38; etc.) who taught with immediate and distant purpose.

He recognized that a teacher must learn from the past, yet also prepare for the future. George Knight asserts, “The Christian church may be seen as both a conservative social force and an agent of social change. It is conservative in the sense that it seeks to transmit the unchanging truths of Christianity across time, but it is reforming in that it sees itself as the agent of a righteous God in a world of sin.”12 Teaching then should be for transformation, metamorphoses for individuals and, through them, their societies.13

So what did Jesus teach about teaching? Jesus focused His content on the identity of God, the character of God, and the duty of humankind to God and to others. This must be the foundation from which all disciplines of study emerge.

The instructional methods Jesus modeled matched the content and the learners’ styles. Jesus recognized and responded to what we now know as multiple intelligences, or different ways of perceiving, knowing, and learning.

Howard Gardner’s 1983 theory of multiple intelligences suggests that the traditional notion of intelligence, based on IQ, is far too limited. People learn in different ways and, thus, should be taught in different ways in alignment with their unique, dominant learning styles. Educators should recognize several intelligence styles (also known as types of smart). These include: (1) linguistic intelligence (“word smart”); (2) logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”); (3) spatial intelligence (“picture smart”); (4) bodily-kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”); (5) musical intelligence (“music smart”); (6) interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”); (7) intrapersonal intelligence (“self smart”); and (8) naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”).14

A ninth, “existential intelligence,” is sensitivity and capacity to tackle existential questions, dealing with the meaning of life, why we die, and how we got here.15 Beyond these is “spiritual intelligence.”

The Power of Spiritual Intelligence

Spiritual intelligence includes self-awareness, spontaneity, living vision- and value-led lives, a wholistic attitude to life, compassion, the celebration of diversity, the ability to stand on one’s convictions, humility, the ability to ask deep questions and consider the why of things, the capability to reframe and see the big picture, the positive use of adversity, and a sense of vocation and calling.16

Ellen White undoubtedly understood spiritual intelligence. She observed, “If there were more praying among us, more exercise of a living faith, and less dependence upon someone else to have an experience for us, we would be far in advance of where we are today in spiritual intelligence. What we need is a deep, individual heart and soul experience.”17

Jesus’ teaching methods were designed and employed to reach all types of learners, and seemed to focus on spiritual intelligence as both their origin and aim for all ways of knowing. These included His use of stories, parables, and object lessons. While the use of parables was widespread in His time, Jesus’ parables differed from those of others in a number of significant ways. Jesus used everyday incidents and common objects as fundamentals for teaching essential practical lessons along with deep theological truths.

His parables and devices were vivid and employed provocative and attention-grabbing concepts, such as the story of the good Samaritan, which was a foreign concept to His hearers.18 He also used real-life narratives tailored to the students’ situations and needs. Remember the woman at the well of John 4, and how Jesus approached her, got her attention, questioned her, and finally zeroed in on her life history and circumstances, leading her to recognize His identity and become His disciple.

Jesus often used questions as teaching tools for cultivating analytical reasoning and developing spiritual intelligence. He asked questions at decisive points in a teaching episode (John 1:50) and cued His learners to alertness for important lessons (John 3:12).

Perhaps above all, Jesus recognized the power of genuine relationships for enhancing teaching and learning. He always sought to build relationships with His students. Jesus initiating a relationship with Zacchaeus is classic.

Jesus’ method, writes Philip Saaman, “is a true expression of Christ’s character. Transcending time, culture, race, religion, and geography, it has universal appeal. It is indeed Christ’s boundless and dependable way of finding a path to the human heart.”19

Beyond didaskalos, Scripture includes many terms denoting teaching. The variety and extent of this biblical vocabulary make it clear that teaching is at the heart of God’s plan for redemption.

Transformed Teacher

The measure of effective teaching—that is, what Jesus taught about teaching—is not about how much a person knows, but who he/she is as a teacher and how well he/she lives the gospel message, the heart of all education. It is grounded in the love, faith, and godliness of the teacher’s life. It links truth with life. It is the kind of teaching that has as its product loving, trusting, and godly men and women.20 The development of body, mind, and soul to restore human beings to the image of their Creator is the work of redemption and the object of education, the great object of life.21 This is the highest of callings for which God endows with the highest of gifts.

  1. From The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
  2. Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), pp. 148-152. Cf. also 1 Cor. 12:28; Acts 13:1; and Rom. 12:7.
  3. H. R. Balz and G. Schneider, eds., Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), vol. 1, p. 317.
  4. A. T. Lincoln, The Gospel According to Saint John (London: Continuum, 2005), pp. 293, 294.
  5. Andrews Study Bible Notes (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 2010), p. 1396.
  6. Lincoln.
  7. Lawrence Richards, The Teacher’s Commentary (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor, 1987), p. 967.
  8. Moo.
  9. Scripture quotations marked NET are from the NET Bible, copyright 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, LLC. All rights reserved.
  10. J. R. Blue, “James,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed.J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor, 1985), vol. 2, p. 827.
  11. “Listening to the Teachings of Jesus Christ,”
  12. George R. Knight, Philosophy and Education: An Introduction in Christian Perspective, 4th ed. (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 2006), pp. 249-257.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Thomas Armstrong, Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, 3rd ed. (Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2009).
  15. Ibid.
  16. D. Zohar, Rewiring the Corporate Brain (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1997).
  17. Ellen G. White, Fundamentals of Christian Education (Nashville: Southern Pub. Assn., 1923), p. 531.
  18. Andrews Study Bible Notes, p. 1267.
  19. Philip G. Samaan, Christ’s Method Alone: Christ’s Way of Relational Witnessing (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 2012), p. 36.
  20. Richards, pp. 966, 967.
  21. Ellen G. White, Education (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1903), pp. 15, 16.

A lifelong educator, Ella Smith Simmons serves as a vice president at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully” (2 John 8).

It was far too early for us to be up and out of our hotel room. Nevertheless, Evan, our older grandson, wanted desperately to participate in the 5K run sponsored by the North American Division health ministries department during the San Antonio, Texas, General Conference session this past summer. Evan really wanted to do this, so we, his faithful grandparents, along with devoted little brother Connor, went out into the early-morning darkness to support him. All went well at check-in and bibbing, and before long the competitors were off and running. Evan was near the front of the excited sea of runners.

My husband, Connor, and I ran alongside the racers to photograph our precious Evan. But he was much too fast for us and was out of sight in a few fleeting minutes. Though we wanted to get action shots of Evan running the course, we soon realized we couldn’t intercept him as we’d hoped. So we positioned ourselves at a perfect spot near the finish line to watch him make his final approach.

Our spot was in a clear open area, so Evan could see us from his downhill path to the finish. It was not long before the first runner rounded the final corner and made his way to the finish. Our anticipation heightened as we cheered on other runners while waiting for Evan to arrive.

Time passed. Many runners now had passed our spot and crossed the finish line. After a while we began to question Evan’s delay. Soon it was evident that all the runners had arrived, and the walkers were now approaching the finish line. Where was our Evan? He was an experienced long-distance runner, and so we had anticipated a much earlier return. We questioned whether he had gotten by without our notice. After a while the last group of participants began their descent toward the finish, but Evan was not among them. Had he had an accident? Was he still out on the course?

We now began to worry. Before giving in to our worst fears, we split up to search. We searched carefully until a friend called to assure us that Evan was indeed waiting for us in the finish area. At last, there he was! We had missed great action shots and videos, but we had our Evan. While comforted, we were taken aback that while we faithfully cheered and encouraged many others on to the finish, we missed the one for whom we had been patiently and carefully watching.

How could we have missed him? We knew what he looked like, knew what he was wearing, knew how he runs, and much more.

Yet we missed him.

Could it be that as we await our Lord’s return, and encourage many others in life’s race, that we, people of the Second Advent hope, could miss Jesus when He comes for us? It happened at the first advent, and surely it can happen again.

Let’s be certain that as we watch, we are sure to actually see the One for whom we’ve waited.

Ella Simmons is a general vice president of the General Conference.