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Sabbath School History


Adventist Sabbath School work, the general equivalent of Sunday schools of other denominations, began in 1852 when James White wrote the first Sabbath School lessons. A Sabbath-keeping former Millerite preacher and one of the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist church, White organized the first regular Sabbath School around 1853 in Rochester, New York; another was organized by John Byington in Buck’s Bridge, New York in 1854; and the third was organized in 1855 by M. G. Kellogg in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Early Sabbath Schools had only two divisions, one for children and one for adults, called the Bible Class. Teachers placed much emphasis on the memorization of Scripture. In 1863, the first series of Sabbath School lessons adapted for children appeared. The same year the first adult Sabbath School lessons, written by Uriah Smith, another early Adventist pioneer, appeared in the Review and Herald.

There was little organization until G. H. Bell, a pioneer teacher in Battle Creek, became editor of the Youth’s Instructor in 1869. He introduced two series of lessons, one for children and the other for youth. He also published a plan of organization providing for a staff of officers and regular reports of attendance. He later introduced articles for teachers and officers. After demonstrating success in Battle Creek, Bell traveled to other places organizing Sabbath Schools and counseling officers.

Organization of Sabbath Schools began in California in 1877 with the formation of the first state Sabbath School Association. The formation of this society was followed in the same year by the organization of the Michigan State Sabbath School Association. In March 1878 the General Sabbath School Association was organized.

The first association outside North America was formed in 1883 in Switzerland and another in 1886 in England. In 1886 the name was changed to he International Sabbath School Association. When the General Conference was reorganized in 1901, the international Sabbath School Association became the Sabbath School Department of the General Conference.

In 1878, in Battle Creek, Michigan, the first division for smaller children was formed called “the Bird’s Nest.” In 1886 this became the kindergarten division. In 1879 the first Branch Sabbath Schools were organized.

A major reorganization of the Sabbath School Department took place at the 1985 General Conference session when it became a part o the newly created Church Ministries Department. At the 1995 General Conference session, the Church Ministries Department was dissolved and the Sabbath School department was reestablished in combination with Personal Ministries. Today it is know as the Sabbath School/Personal Ministries Department of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

Sabbath School Publications

From the beginning, Seventh-day Adventist Sabbath Schools have had their own lessons and papers. The first set of lessons appeared in 1852 in the Youth’s Instructorwith a single set of lessons designed for “children,” a term including everyone except adults. Today, Sabbath School lessons are produced by the General Conference Sabbath School/Personal Ministries Department and published in many languages.

Adults. The first Sabbath School lessons were written by James White. He published the first four in the initial issue of the Youth’s Instructor in 1852. According to some historians, White, while eating lunch beside the road, used the top of his hat for a table on which to write material. The series begun by White consisted of 19 Sabbath School lessons. In 1853, 17 lessons on Daniel from a publication of J. V. Himes, another early Millerite preacher, were used. These were followed by eight lessons on the sanctuary doctrine. In 1854 R.H. Cottrell prepared a one year set of lessons in book form, entitled The Bible Class. William Higley wrote a series of lessons on Daniel in 1859. No new lesson appeared until 1861 when Uriah Smith authored a series of 32 lessons for adults, again dealing with biblical prophecy.

In 1886, a series of lessons designed for adults began publication. These became the Senior Sabbath School Lesson Quarterly in 1889. In 1973, the name was changed to Adult Sabbath School Lessons, and in 1996 to Adult Bible Study Guides. The most studies Bible book from 1886 to the present has been The Acts of the Apostles. The most studied topic has been The Life and Teachings of Jesus. In 1985 a new curriculum approach began the development of Bible Study Guides for each book of the Bible. Since 1991 these book studies have been interspersed with topical studies.

Youth Lessons. In 1869 G. H. Bell, an early Adventist educator, wrote a series of lessons for youth based on the book of Daniel. These were eventually published in eight yearly volumes and were used for 25 years. During the years 1864 through 1888 youth lessons appeared regularly in the Youth’s Instructor. For some time the lessons surveyed the biblical history of both the Old and New Testaments. Later, the focus shifted to studies on doctrines under the title “Important Bible Subjects,” and dealt with the doctrine of the sanctuary, the covenants, the Sabbath, and related Seventh-day Adventist beliefs.

Currently, two sets of Bible Study Guides are available for young people, Cornerstone Connections for age 15-18, and Collegiate Quarterly for age 18-35.

Children. In 1863, an Adelia Patten wrote a two-year series of lessons for children. From 1864 through 1888 children’s lessons appeared in the Youth’s Instructor, most built around biblical history and narrative Bible stories. In 1869 G. H. Bell wrote a series of lessons for children. In 1890 Our Little Friendbegan carrying the Sabbath School lessons for children. Sabbath School quarterlies for primary and junior ages were started in Australia in 1911-1913, and soon expanded to include the rest of the English-speaking world. From 1933 to 1936 a series of five volumes called Bible Storiesfor the Cradle Roll appeared. Other curriculum materials for children appeared periodically, both from the General Conference Sabbath School Department and from active teachers and personnel in local Sabbath Schools around the world.

By the year 2000 a new children’s curriculum will be available to the world field. Currently under development, it will be the first international children’s curriculum developed by the church. The product of creative thinking and evaluation by many people from all the world divisions, the new curriculum will stress four core aspects of the Christian faith: Grace, God’s part in the plan of salvation; Worship, our response to God’s saving initiative; Community how God’s grace compels us to live together in harmony as the family of God; and Service, the natural response of the true Christian to reach out in soul-winning and service to others.

Teacher Training. In 1885 the Sabbath School Worker, a journal of instructions and ideas for Sabbath School personnel, began. It was published until 1985, when it was replaced by various other journals sponsored by the Church Ministries Department. From its beginnings, the Sabbath School Department has offered teacher training to Sabbath School teachers around the world.

Sabbath School Offerings. Weekly and special periodic offerings for the worldwide missionary work of the church and the expense offering for the local Sabbath School are received in Sabbath School. The earliest plan for Sabbath School offerings was introduced in 1878, when the first annual session of the General Sabbath School Association urged the use of penny boxes placed near the door to receive funds for operating expense.

In 1885 the Sabbath Schools made their first gifts to missions. In the first quarter of that year the Oakland, California, Sabbath School gave all its income to aid in the establishment of the Australian Mission. Several state Sabbath School associations proposed sending part of their offerings to help establish the mission. A little later W.C. White, former president of the International Sabbath School Association, asked the schools to give a portion of their contributions to missions. This was the beginning of an ever-increasing stream of financial support that has flowed from the Sabbath Schools to the world fields.

In 1890 the Sabbath Schools contributed a significant amount of money to build the missionary ship Pitcairn. . When the Pitcairn sailed with its first missionaries to the Pacific islands in 1890, a new era in Sabbath School mission offerings began. In 1909 it was recommended that all the regular contributions, except on one or two Sabbaths in the quarter reserved for expenses, be given to worldwide mission work.

With the establishment of the Church Ministries Department in 1985, the responsibility for Sabbath School offerings passed to the Stewardship Department of the General Conference, though they remained part of the regular Sabbath School program. Later, the General Conference treasury assumed the responsibility. Currently, the Office of Mission Awareness at the General Conference is responsible for the worldwide Sabbath School offering system. These offerings, nevertheless, remain part of the weekly Sabbath School program in local churches.

The Regular Sabbath School Offering for Missions. In 1909 the General Conference recommended that the Sabbath School give all offerings to missions, providing for their expenses in some other way. Goals and devices to record the amounts were introduced to stimulate the missions offerings. By 1913 all regular Sabbath School offerings were going for missions and a special offering was taken for expenses.

The Sabbath School currently sponsors four offerings:
* The regular Sabbath School mission offerings .
* Thirteenth Sabbath Offering . On the last Sabbath, usually the thirteenth Sabbath of each quarter, a special offering is taken, and a percentage is applied to certain preselected mission projects.
* Birthday-Thank Offerings . Members are asked to bring a token of thanks for another year of life or for a specific personal blessing received. As early as 1890 Ellen White wrote: “On birthday occasions the children should be taught that they have reason for gratitude to God for His loving-kindness in preserving their lives for another year.”

Again she wrote in 1894: “Not only on birthdays . . . but Christmas and New Year’s should also be seasons when every household should remember their Creator and Redeemer. . . . do not let the day pass without bringing thanksgiving and thank-offerings to Jesus.” –Adventist Review & Sabbath Herald, November 13, 1994.

* Investment Fund. Members are invited to make an “investment” for missions in some earning project, and give the proceeds as a special offering. The investment idea was followed as early as the 1880s when certain church members dedicated such projects as an acre or more of a crop, some cattle, or some cash to provide camp-meeting equipment.

At the Spring Meeting of the General Conference Committee of 1925 the plan was named “Investment Fund” and made part of the Sabbath School system with the understanding that the money received would go into the regular mission budget.

Highlights of Sabbath School History
* First Sabbath School; Rochester, N.Y., founded by James White
* First series of Sabbath School lessons adapted for children. First Adult

Sabbath School lessons written by Uriah Smith.
* State Sabbath School Associations formed in California and Michigan
* General Sabbath School Association organized.
* First Branch Sabbath Schools organized.
* First Sabbath School mission offering; contributed by Oakland, California,

for Australian Mission. Sabbath School Worker begins publication.
* First Kindergarten Division, Battle Creek, Michigan
* Senior Sabbath School Lesson Quarterly begun. First Sabbath School

quarterlies printed in languages other than English: Danish, Swedish, French, and German.
* International Sabbath School Association replaced by Sabbath School

Department of the General Conference.
* Plan for weekly Sabbath School mission offerings adopted.
1911 Primary quarterlies begun in Australia.
1912 First Thirteenth Sabbath Offering taken. First Mission Quarterly printed.
1913 Junior quarterlies begun in Australia.
1919 Birthday-Thank Offering introduced.
1925 Investment Plan adopted.
1952 Centennial of Sabbath School.
1956 First Sabbath School Manual published.
1982 Cornerstone Connections begins publication; Sabbath School lessons for teens.
1995 Sabbath School/Personal Ministries Department established.


Mission of the Sabbath School
The Mission of the Sabbath School is to be a system of local church religious education that builds faith and practice. The Sabbath School is based at the local church. It builds faith through the study of the Scriptures and the doctrines and teaching of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It builds practice through the application of Biblical principles and the teaching of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to the individual lives of the Sabbath School members.

Objectives of the Sabbath School
The Sabbath School has four specific objectives:
* Study of the Word.
* Fellowship
* Community Outreach
* World Mission Emphasis


These four objectives are the basis for every activity of the Sabbath School in all divisions.
* Study of the Word. The Sabbath School will help the students understand the gospel and make a personal commitment to it. It will help them grow spiritually through study of the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. It will help students develop a prayer program and teach them how to interpret and apply the principles of the Scriptures to their lives.
* Fellowship. The Sabbath School will foster fellowship among members in the weekly Sabbath School program, develop projects for recruiting new members and integrating them into church life, and find ways of restoring inactive members.
* Community Outreach. The Sabbath School will help its students catch a vision of the church’s mission in the community, train them for service, and inspire them to witness. It will develop programs to involve them in soul-winning activities.
* World Mission Emphasis. The Sabbath School will present a clear vision of the global mission of the church. It will promote a personal, systematic, and self-denying commitment to the support of world missions, and foster in all a desire to help fulfill the gospel commission.

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