December 15: L. Nelson Bell on the Social Gospel
Understanding the Social Gospel —
It was in the old Southern Presbyterian Journal of December 15, 1947 that its editor, the Rev L. Nelson Bell, answered a letter from a reader on this matter of the social gospel. That reader had written a letter to the magazine which sought to chastise Christians for not engaging in the social gospel. Dr. Bell answered this letter with clarity and insight. Listen to his words:
“(The reader) is confusing the ‘social gospel’ (which is ‘another’ gospel) with the application of the social principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ by Christians. . . . The “social gospel” is a gospel of good works. It is making social reform an end in itself . . . It denies sin as the underlying cause of social injustice. It completely ignores the redeeming work of Jesus Christ as the only ultimate solution of world needs.
“On the other hand, Christian participation in and the application of the social implications of the Gospel puts the redemption of the individual soul from sin through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as of first importance and all social efforts as but a means to that end.
“We are convinced that many evangelicals need to more properly evaluate the social implications of the Gospel and to act on them; and, we feel we should co-operate with all who put such work in its rightful relationship to the Gospel.
“. . . our concern and our opposition is directed towards those who no longer look on a man out of Christ as a lost sinner. It is against those who look on sin, not as sin but as a maladjustment which can be eliminated by individual and co-operative effort, through education, improved environment and social uplift.
“The Bible promises economic and social advantages, but they come only by the way of the Cross of Jesus Christ.”
The entire comment by the former Presbyterian missionary to China, Dr. Bell, can be read on the PCA History Center’s other blog, The Continuing Story, but for this writer, this article sets forth in unmistakable terms the difference between the social gospel and the application of the social principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Words to live by: Let us by all means place an emphasis upon loving our neighbor on a horizontal plane, but first and foremost the question is, do you love God as a result of having trusted alone in God’s only Son, for your salvation. That is the primary question. It is as we are born again, that we can show forth God’s love to others in their physical needs, not only to meet them, but also show them how they can be forgiven of their sins, and be given eternal life forever, all as a result of Jesus Christ’s substitutionary death on Calvary’s cross for us.