ROBERT H. BOLL
Champion of Premillennialism
Robert Henry Boll was born in Germany, June 7, 1875. His early religious training was in the Roman Catholic faith. His family wanted him to become a priest. While yet a young lad, Boll immigrated to America, eventually
landing in Tennessee where he worked as a farm laborer. He was fortunate to find work with a Christian family. They not only taught him English, but the Word of God. Bro. Sam Harris took his confession and immersed him on April 14, 1895.
Desiring to attend college, young Boll was encouraged to consider the Nashville Bible School operated by David Lipscomb and James A. Harding. Although he was penniless and without family or friends to sponsor him, he walked some 25 miles to Nashville in a heavy rain. Through the generosity and kindness of Bro. Harding he was accepted and distinguished himself as a student. While in school he sat at the feet of giants in the faith such as Lipscomb, E. G. Sewell, T. W. Brents, Harding and J. W. Shepherd. He preached his first sermon at the Nashville jail in 1896. Upon gradation he spent four years traveling in evangelistic work. In 1904 he settled with the Portland Ave. Church in Louisville, KY. and continued there until his death in 1956.
Boll was a brilliant man. He continued his education at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, earning honors. He became proficient in Greek and Hebrew. His Bible knowledge was extensive and he was highly poplar as a preacher and writer among the churches in his early days. He was endowed with leadership ability and was a dominant force in the life of the church for some 50 years. So influential was he that for a 20 year period of time his doctrine threatened the stability of the entire brotherhood, both at home and abroad. He enjoyed a deep degree of love and loyalty from his friends. That he was able to withstand the powerful bombardment of the heaviest guns in the brotherhood is testimony to the strength of his resolve.
Boll's influence was enhanced and spread through his writing. In 1901, within a year of his graduation, he was a regular write for James A. Harding's paper, The Way. Soon he was an editor of Joe Warlick's Gospel Guide. In 1904 he was a contributing editor of the Christian Leader. In 1909 he was invited to join the staff of the Gospel Advocate and designated front-page editor. That post he held until 1915 when he was forced to reign because of his speculative teaching on millennial themes. At that juncture he purchased a monthly magazine name Word and Work and turned it into an organ for the promotion of his premillennial views and a communication link for his growing brotherhood of followers. He continued to edit the paper until his demise.
His Departure Into Premillennialism
F. L. Rowe, editor of the Christian Leader, was seeking to arrange a debate between one of our preachers and the notorious Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Millennial Dawn/Jehovah's Witness cult. Upon the recommendation of Bro. Boll and M. C. Kurfees, Bro. L. S. White of Denton, TX was chosen to meet Russell. The debate was conducted in Cincinnati in 1908. Rowe wrote of Russell, he "is a man of pleasing manner, and his mild, soft tones were admired by many." Kurfees judged that White did an excellent job of upholding the truth and refuting Russell. But Boll was enamored with Russell's style and embraced his millennial heresy. Bro. G. W. Riggs, recalled that while visiting the Boll, he found him eagerly reading one of Russell's books. Like most other premillennialists, Boll developed his own version.
With two years of the debate, Boll began a series of articles in the Gospel Advocate cautiously setting forth his millennial speculations. At first this did not raise a great concern since many of the pioneer preachers had held
post-millennial and premillennial views. Among those so believing were Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott, Robert Milligan, B. W. Johnson, and T. W Brents. While holding their views, they did not dwell upon them or seek to win a following to their views. In 1915 Boll launched a more ambitious series of lessons on Revelation which created a storm of opposition. The editorial staff of the Advocate agreed that if he did not cease to promote those views his articles would be rejected. The committed consisted of J. C. McQuiddy, F. W. Smith, H. Leo Boles, A. B. Lipscomb, M. C. Kurfees and G. Dallas Smith. All understood Boll to promise to hold his views on that subject as a personal opinion which he would not publish or promote. Thus he was reinstated, but almost immediately renewed his hobby. His resignation was called for and accepted.
To strengthen his position, Boll developed an ambitious program for propagating and disseminating his speculative views. He conduct a training school each winter for preachers, those aspiring to preach and congregational leaders. Those attending were thoroughly indoctrinated in his premillennial faith. Virtually all of the men who preached premillennialism among our churches were trained at Boll's feet. He also established the Kentucky Bible College which continued in operation for some 30 years..
With the able assistance of E. L. Jorgensen and Don Carlos Janes, Boll was able to recruit and send out a number of foreign missionaries. Most of those sent were missionaries of his millennial doctrine. A notable exception was Bro. J. M. McCaleb. The Boll-trained workers entered several foreign lands including India, Brazil, Japan and several nation in East Africa and affected the work being done.
The millennial message was spread abroad and Boll's followers were indoctrinated by means of his numerous books and tracts as well as his Word and Work paper. Among his literary works were The Second Coming; Unity and Creeds; The Millennium; The Kingdom of God; Is Prophetic Teaching Essential?; The Freedom of Simple Christians; Lessons on Daniel; The Revelation and Lessons on Hebrews. Most of his works reflected his premillennial bent to one degree or another. Through his literary work a distinct body of doctrine evolved, around which his followers rallied. Thus a splinter group was formed called themselves Churches of Christ, but having millennial theology as their creed.
In 1927 H. Leo Boles engaged R. N. Boll in a written debate on "Fulfilled Prophecy." The discussion was carried on the pages of the Gospel Advocate and Word and Work and later published in book form. Among the propositions discussed was "The Scriptures teach that the coming of Christ is premillennial and imminent."
The back of the millennial movement in our brotherhood was broken by the combined efforts of H. Leo Boles, C. R. Nichol, R. L. Whiteside, E. R. Harper, Gus Nichols and Foy Wallace Jr. To the latter goes the credit for
delivering the coup de grace. This was primarily achieved during his short tenure as editor of the Gospel Advocate, 1930-1934, and in his two debates with Charles Neal. The first Wallace-Neal debate was held in Winchester, KY., Jan. 2-6, 1933. It was published in book form. Neal affirmed "The Bible clearly teaches that after the second coming of Christ and before the final resurrection and judgment, there will be an age or dispensation of one thousand years during which Christ will reign on the earth."
Not only did Bro. Boll subscribe to premillennialism, he held much in common with denominational teachers on other fundamental themes. In his tract Grace and Obedience, he states, "if we are saved by grace at all we are saved by grace only—not by grace plus something else, but only by grace..." Concerning salvation he wrote, "If then we are asked what it is that God demands of the sinner, the answer is, simply, faith. The reason God demands just that and nothing else is that faith is the one, that is non-meritorious."
Cut off from our brotherhood, Boll reached out to fellowship those of the Christian Churches and even denominational preachers who shared his premillennial faith. In debates with our brethren he was often seen seated at the table with the sectarian preachers who were millennialists.
The Secret of His Power
Few false teachers have shaken the brotherhood as did Robert H. Boll. For some 30 years we were agitated by of his harmful influence. Among the factors of his power that people have noted were his intellectual power, his knowledge of the Bible, his peculiar theology, his skillful use of the printed page and his school. In addiction Boll surrounded himself with loyal, capable men who followed him, without question, to the end of the trail. Men like Don Carlos Janes, El. L. Jorgenson, H. L. Olmstead and others held up his hands and carried the seed of his cause far and wide. Boll was a man of the people. He attracted followers from every strata of life. He
enjoyed the admiration of people of wealth. Bro. J. H. Stribling liberally underwrote his endeavors. Common folk also down a down-to-earth friend in Boll. Although his following was never large in numbers, they were a loyal band who stayed with him even when he was rejected and shunned by the majority of preachers and elders. One of Bro. Boll's greatest strengths was his graciousness Rather than his logic, eloquence or scholarship it was his kind and gentle way with people that won his following. Even those who strongly disagreed with his doctrine found it hard to dislike the man. Boll was a determined men. He was dedicated to his work. When convinced of his doctrine, he was unmoveable even if it cost him the fellowship of most of the
The tragedy is that Robert H. Boll devoted his tremendous talents and influence to promoting a false view and building up a splinter group devoted to himself. We cannot but wonder what great good would have been accomplished had the man been content to preach the simple gospel of Jesus and call men to the Master rather than dwell on his millennial speculations.
The observant reader will notice some striking similarities between the message and method of Bro. Boll and some of our leading promoters of change.
H. Leo Boles, and Robert H. Boll, Unfulfilled Prophecy, A Discussion on Prophetic Themes, Nashville, Gospel Advocate, 1928.
Leo L. Boles and J. E. Choate, I'll Stand on the Rock; A Biography of H.
Leo Boles, Nashville, Gospel Advocate, 1965, pp. 389-403.
_______R. H. Boll, Has Been Pastor of Church of Christ Here for 50 Years.
Louisville Courier Journal, Jan. 15, 1954.
Eva Estelle Moody, Catalog of the Boll Memorial Library, Biographical Sketch,
n.d., n. p.
Charles M. Neal, Foy Wallace, Jr., Neal-Wallace Discussion on the
Thousand Years Reign of Christ. Oklahoma City, Foy E. Wallace, Jr. Publications, 1933.
Phillip Querido, "Pastor Starts 51st Year in Same Pulpit, Louisville Times, Jan.__1954.
Robert C. Welch, R. H. Boll: Premillennial Visionary in They Being Dead
Yet Speak, Florida College Annual Lectures, 1981, Temple Terrace, Florida, Florida College Bookstore, 1981.
Earl Irvin West, The Search for the ancient Order, Vol 3, 1900-1918. Indianapolis, 1979, pp. 389-403.