Testimony of Bob Holland
A death aroused me to my need for God. My maternal grandmother Lena died in March 1957, when I was 14 years old. I had not seen her very often, but I knew she had been a devout Christian all her life, and a Seventh-day Adventist since the 1940s. I knew she had continually prayed for me and for her other grandchildren. The Lord used Grandma Lena’s death to awaken an emptiness and spiritual longing in my young heart.
Although I had not been raised in church, I became aware that God was speaking to me. I started listening to Christian radio broadcasts like “Youth For Christ” and “Thru The Bible.” I began to read the Bible, and to look for Christian books when I was exploring second-hand bookstores in downtown Cincinnati.
Life in our home was difficult and disheartening. My parents were both serious alcoholics, but they denied that that their drinking was a problem, or the cause of our family’s constant chaos. Due to their irresponsible lifestyle, we were always poor; my brother and I did without a lot of things that were essentials for other families. My father often physically abused my mother and my brother and me. When he was sober, Dad was a quiet, courteous gentleman. When he was drunk, he became a raging monster. We never knew when violence would erupt. I would often come home after school to find my mother severely beaten and bruised. It is a wonder he didn’t kill her in one of his drunken fits. Over the years my parents had come to hate and distrust each other, but they had a pathological need to stay together. My younger brother and I lived in constant dread and emotional turmoil. I tried to be the adult of the family, even though I was a child.
Attempting to shut out the grim reality of our shattered family life, I escaped into a world of books and learning. I earned top grades in school, and read voraciously. Only after I was an adult, in therapy, was I able to acknowledge that I had been an emotionally and psychologically abused and neglected child.
About a year after my grandmother’s death—one Sunday in July 1958—I informed my parents that I intended to go that evening to a little storefront Freewill Baptist church in the neighborhood, to become a Christian. With whiskey in hand, they passively said they would not oppose my decision. I walked into the church that evening, and told the man at the door that I had come to give my life to Jesus. He led me to a seat on the front row. After the gospel message, when the young pastor, Harold Harvey, gave an invitation to accept Jesus, I immediately arose and knelt at the altar to pray. That night, I was born again into the Kingdom of God! Soon after that, on August 3, 1958, Pastor Harvey baptized me in the Little Miami River, outside of Cincinnati.
As a new Christian, I was eager to understand the Scriptures. I was a blank slate, a naïve teenager with little knowledge of what the Bible taught. So, when a Seventh-day Adventist colporteur knocked on our door a couple of months later, I bought a Bible storybook from her on a time-payment plan. She returned weekly for my meager payments, and I began to ply her with questions about the Bible.
Things took a serious turn one evening when I asked the Adventist lady, “What is the Mark of the Beast?” She began a series of Bible studies with me, and after a few weeks I had decided to become a Seventh-day Adventist. My Baptist pastor warned me that the Adventists rely on books other than the Bible for their beliefs, but he was not well prepared to prove his case, and that strengthened my confidence in Adventism. In April 1959, at the age of 16, I was re-baptized as an Adventist in the Cincinnati SDA Church. Even though I had experienced Christian baptism only nine months before, the Adventists did not accept my first baptism as valid and required me to be re-baptized. That should have been the first red flag that something was amiss, but what did a 16-year old kid know? I had abandoned my Baptist friends and had no spiritual support at home. I was on my own.
I quickly became a 100%, totally devoted Seventh-day Adventist. Convinced by their proof texts that they were God’s last-day Remnant Church, I accepted whatever they taught me as “The Truth.” By the next school year, with financial help from some church members, I enrolled in the junior class at Mount Vernon Academy (MVA), about 150 miles from Cincinnati. By getting me into a boarding academy, Adventism rescued me from a destructive home environment and gave my life some structure. I am grateful for that. (Years later, my brother John, who is six years younger than I, confessed that he had felt I abandoned him, then a 10-year old, to cope with the bad home situation alone. He escaped it when he was 17, by joining the Army.)
The SDA colporteur who had “converted” me became my surrogate mother. She was an Eastern European immigrant, an old-fashioned, traditional Adventist. She was legalistic, controlling and judgmental. It is no surprise that I fell in with the historic, traditional SDA camp. I became a total devotee of Ellen G. White’s writings. I adopted as my personal mission statement something Ellen White wrote in Fundamentals of Christian Education, page 289: “When we reach the standard that the Lord would have us reach, worldlings will regard Seventh-day Adventists as odd, singular, straight laced extremists.” I spent the next 30+ years trying to conform to that view of Christian living. Do I need to tell you I failed miserably? Legalism doesn’t improve us; it only creates despair.
After two years at MVA, I graduated in the Class of 1961, and moved on to Andrews University in Michigan. I had decided to study for the Adventist ministry. At college, I majored in Religion and Speech, with minors in Biblical Languages and Secondary Education. My years at Andrews were pleasant, successful ones. I continued to be a “true believer.” I met my future wife there. I graduated with a B.A. degree in 1966 and immediately began graduate studies at the SDA Theological Seminary, on the Andrews University campus. In 1970, I graduated from seminary with a Master of Divinity degree in Systematic Theology. (I should have been in the graduating class of 1968, but I began my ministry in Ohio before I had completed one required course, which I later took at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.)
I worked as an academy Bible teacher and pastor for about 4 ½ years. But by 1972, we had marital problems, and I resigned from the ministry. In an effort to save our marriage, my wife and I moved to Southern California, where our son was born a year later. I continued to work at Adventist institutions for the next eight years, in academic and administrative capacities. But our marriage ended in divorce in 1978. For several years I was backslidden, and fell into a sinful lifestyle. I formally resigned from membership in the SDA Church in the late 1980s. My decision to quit the church was due more to my anger over my own spiritual failures and the church’s legalism than it was about any doctrinal convictions.
Even though I had left Adventism, it still was a stronghold in my mind. For the next ten years, I did not attend church anywhere. For a time, I pursued New Age philosophy, and used to say I was “practicing my spirituality in a non-religious way.” In reality, I was running away from God and trying to justify my life of open sin.
I identify with the words of Francis Thompson’s poem “The Hound of Heaven.” “I fled Him down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind.” But, as Thompson describes, God pursued me “with unhurrying chase, and unperturbed pace, deliberate speed, majestic instancy.” Eventually, the Lord used extremely harsh circumstances and a health crisis to bring me to the end of myself. I was at the bottom, looking up. He finally had my full attention again, and I surrendered to Him. The prodigal son had returned home.
At the urging of an SDA friend, I began attending a local SDA church again. However, even though I was back among old friends who treated me well, over the next year and a half I realized that Adventism had not changed during the decade I had been away from it. More importantly, I had begun to read the Bible in a fresh way, and through my studies, I had come to realize that the doctrinal foundations of Seventh-day Adventism were shaky and significantly unbiblical. The pivotal moment of decision came one Sabbath morning, as I sat in a church discussion group in Riverside, California. The class was led by one of my old Andrews University professors. His remarks about what the Gospel includes made me suddenly realize that Adventism indeed teaches “another gospel.” I knew what I had to do. I got up and walked out of that Sabbath School class and out of that church. The next week I was visiting a “Sunday church” and began a serious hunt for a church home. I eventually found a large non-denominational congregation led by a compassionate Australian pastor who taught the Gospel. I sought his counsel. He understood that I had been injured by cultic religion, and he encouraged me to take time to heal. I stayed in that congregation for the next twelve years. I also got involved with the new Former Adventist Fellowship group that met every Friday night in Redlands.
I now am retired and live in north Idaho. I am blessed to have found a Calvary Chapel ministry here with a humble pastor whose every message is centered on Jesus Christ and His Gospel. I am constantly reminded that I am nothing and Jesus is everything. His work of deliverance is complete—there is nothing I can contribute to it. All I can do is gratefully accept it and surrender to the leading of the Holy Spirit. I am far from perfect or special. I am simply a great sinner who has been saved by Grace. “ In my hand no price I bring, simply to Thy Cross I cling.” I can think of no higher calling than to be an ordinary, born-again believer who trusts in Jesus alone for salvation. The only church membership I desire to hold is in the universal Body of Christ.
Jesus is my Sabbath. I rest in what He, my Substitute, accomplished on the Cross. He says to each of us, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30, ESV).
Salvation is not at all about belonging to some denomination or worshipping on a particular day of the week. It is about a personal relationship with Jesus as one’s Lord and Savior. If you don’t already know Him, why not change that today? He is waiting for you. When you truly belong to Him, I guarantee He will lead you into all truth. Trust Him to keep His word.
Bob Holland, August 7, 2012