Nelson Bell

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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.

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In the early years of the second World War, the Japanese invasion of China forced missionaries from the Chinese field, including medical missionary L. Nelson Bell. Returning to the States, Bell found his Southern Presbyterian denomination in spiritual decline and slowly falling over into modernism and unbelief. As Dr. Bell settled in the Asheville, N.C. area, he joined with other like-minded men who had been discussing the denomination’s problems and who, since 1936, had been planning to establish a magazine as a voice for sound Biblical principles.

May 2, 1942 marks the first issue of The Southern Presbyterian Journal. Authors for that first issue included Dr. William Childs Robinson, Rev. E. Edwin Paulson, Rev. Robert F. Campbell, General Douglas MacArthur, Rev. Samuel McPheeters Glasgow, Rev. D.S. Gage and Rev. Daniel Iverson.

William Childs Robinson wrote the lead article, in which he set out four “banners” or defining principles of historic Presbyterianism, principles which had been formerly emulated among Southern Presbyterians. These four banners were loyalty to Christ as King, the Bible as the Word of God written, the Westminster Standards as an expression of sound doctrine, and lastly, the banner of the Great Commission. These were the values that the new magazine espoused as it sought to call the denomination back to faithfulness.

For forty-five years, the Journal faithfully proclaimed these values. In 1959, L. Nelson Bell stepped down as editor and was succeeded by Dr. G. Aiken Taylor. At that same time, the word Southern was dropped from the magazine’s name, reflecting Dr. Taylor’s wider focus on the breadth of conservative American Presbyterianism. And within a few more years, The Presbyterian Journal was increasingly involved in the events leading up to the formation of the Presbyterian Church in America, in December of 1973. The Presbyterian Journal continued on for another fourteen years, finally closing with the March 18, 1987 issue.

Click here to download a PDF file of that first issue of The Southern Presbyterian Journal.

Words to Live By: In the opening editorial of that issue, L. Nelson Bell wrote:

The civilization of which we are a part is perched precariously on the edge of an abyss. This is obvious to all, whether in or outside of the Church. The tragedy is that, in part, the Christian Church is to blame.
It is to blame in so far as it has left its God-given task of preaching the Gospel of salvation from sin through the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is to blame in so far as it has turned from faith in, and the preaching of, the Bible as truly and wholly the Word of God, condoning preaching and teaching calculated to question or destroy this precious faith.
It is to blame where it has substituted for the Gospel of redemption a programme of social reform.
It is to blame to the extent to which it has stepped out of its spiritual role, to meddle as the Church, in political and economic matters and affairs of State.
It is to blame where, as has so often been the case, the Gospel message has been diluted and made pleasant to the taste of unregenerate man; denying the fact of, and the heinousness of sin, and the certain doom of the unrepentant sinner.
But despite these failures of the Church, a return to a faithful ministry of the Truth can yet, by the power of the Holy Spirit, provide the spiritual and moral stamina which is essential for world stabilization. To this spiritual awakening and revival THE JOURNAL is dedicated.

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The End of an Institution

spj02The first issue of The Southern Presbyterian Journal appeared in May of 1942.  Dr. L. Nelson Bell, Dr. Henry B. Dendy and a handful of like-minded men had founded the magazine to combat the liberalism that was beginning to influence the Southern Presbyterian Church [the Presbyterian Church in the U.S., or PCUS].  The Journal began in Weaverville, North Carolina, but later moved to Asheville, North Carolina.  The magazine continued under the name The Southern Presbyterian Journal until 1959, at which time the name was changed to The Presbyterian Journal. This name change coincided with a change of editors. Henry B. Dendy had originally signed on as editor at Bell’s urging. As he stated at his resignation, “the temporary position stretched out to over seventeen years.” Dendy continued to serve as managing editor and business manager as the post of Editor was handed over to the Rev. G. Aiken Taylor. That change was effective with the October 7, 1959 issue (Vol. 18, No. 23). Taylor was committed to continuing Nelson Bell’s agenda:  awakening Southern Presbyterians to the decline of their church.  However, Taylor had a different result in mind.  He despaired of reforming the PCUS and set about working toward a large, non-regional, conservative Presbyterian denomination.

taylorgaikenNo one was more instrumental in organizing the Presbyterian Church in America, and making it a national denomination, than Aiken Taylor.  Ironically, the formation of the PCA—the Journal’s main goal as far as Taylor was concerned—caused the beginning of a long decline in circulation.  As more and more Journal readers became PCA members, there was decreasing need for a periodical designed to warn of liberalism in the PCUS. Dr. Taylor left the Journal in 1983 [to serve as president of the Biblical Seminary of Hatfield, PA], and he died shortly after his departure.  Dr. William S. Barker became editor, but the Journal continued for only a few more years.  Its last issue was that of March 18, 1987.

Pictured above right—the original home of the Southern Presbyterian Journal.
At left, Dr. G. Aiken Taylor.

Words to Live By:
While Presbyterian newspapers and magazines have rarely been financially viable, there remains a place for denominational and trans-denominational news services. The PCA has byFaith; the OPC has  New Horizons; the RPCNA has the RP Witness; and the Associated Reformed Presbyterians have the  ARP Magazine. Whether in print or digital format, these services provide a much-needed connectionalism between a denomination’s churches and members. They can make us aware of ministries and opportunities for service, as well as informing our prayers. In short, they strengthen the necessary connections that undergird each denomination. And for this reason, these publications deserve your prayers and support. Subscribe if you can to the print format, and encourage your church to make issues available to its members. Bookmark the web link and visit weekly to stay abreast of the news within your denomination. Better, visit the other links provided above and get to know your brothers and sisters in other denominations. Pray for them too, for they are your brothers and sisters in Christ, engaged with you in this great spiritual battle to proclaim the Gospel and extend God’s kingdom across the whole earth.

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Here We Stand

declarationOfCommitmentThere were four organizations that were formative of the Presbyterian Church in America. They were:
1. The Presbyterian Journal,which began in May of 1942. Founded by a group of conservative Presbyterians, including L. Nelson Bell, the Journal was founded to work against the liberalism infecting the Presbyterian Church, U.S. (aka, Southern Presbyterian Church).
2. The Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, founded by the Rev. William Hill, Jr., conducted revivals in PCUS churches.
3. Concerned Presbyterians,a laymen’s group
4. Presbyterian Churchmen United (PCU), an organization of conservative pastors in the PCUS.

Originally published on October 4, 1969 by the Presbyterian Churchmen United (PCU), the Declaration of Commitment was a clarion call issued to the ministers and people of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (PCUS)—a call for recommitment to the Word of God and to the Reformed Faith, signed by over 500 ministers and published in over 30 major newspapers.

DECLARATION OF COMMITMENT

To the membership of the Presbyterian Church, US, in light of the questions and concerns being expressed in the Church as to the nature of our faith and order, we, the undersigned ministers declare our conviction:

—That the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ turns men from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. By coming to faith in Him alone is there genuine reconciliation between man and God and man and man.

—That the Holy Scriptures are the infallible Word of God, and that these Scriptures commit the Church to a mission whose primary end is the salvation and nurture of souls.

—That Christian faith must bear fruit if it is to remain virile. These fruits vary from believer to believer. But common to them all are evidences of love, concern and neighborliness, toward all races of men without partiality and without prejudice, especially to the poor, the oppressed and the disadvantaged. The man of faith views all men as neighbors and himself as debtor, for Christ’s sake.

—That, for the implementation of the above principles, in obedience to our ordination vows, we must strive to preserve a confessional Church, thoroughly Reformed and Presbyterian. Thus, our support of or opposition to any proposed union will be determined by these considerations.

—That, being fully committed by our ordination vows to the system of doctrine set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, we must oppose all efforts to change in substance or otherwise debase our historic doctrinal commitment.

—That we are in the same context by vow committed to historic Presbyterian polity with its representative system and its parity among teaching and ruling elders. Thus, we are forced to oppose any efforts to take our Church into the massive organization envisioned by COCU [i.e., Consultation on Church Union.]

—That, should the basic theology or polity of the Church be altered or diluted, we shall be prepared to take such actions as may be necessary to fulfill the obligation imposed by our ordination vows, to maintain our Presbyterian faith.

Words to Live By:
In this clarion call, over 500 pastors called for the Church to remain true to the Reformed Faith, to remain a confessional and Presbyterian church, in doctrine and in polity. They staked out a position with this document, standing against a proposed ecumenical merger which would have taken their denomination into liberal and unbelieving waters. And they made it clear that they would not be party to such a merger but would honor their ordination vows.

Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.” – (2 Thess. 2:15)

“Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” – (2 Timothy 1:13)

Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) – Hebrews 10:23)

Image source: News clipping from the Paul G. Settle Manuscript Collection, Box 256, file 27, at the PCA Historical Center. Date [circa 1969] and source of the clipping not known.

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BellLNIn the early years of the second World War, the Japanese invasion of China forced missionaries from the Chinese field, including medical missionary L. Nelson Bell. Returning to the States, Bell found his Southern Presbyterian denomination in spiritual decline and slowly falling over into modernism and unbelief. As Dr. Bell settled in the Asheville, N.C. area, he joined with other like-minded men who had been discussing the denomination’s problems and who, since 1936, had been planning to establish a magazine as a voice for sound Biblical principles.

May 2, 1942 marks the first issue of The Southern Presbyterian Journal. Authors for that first issue included Dr. William Childs Robinson, Rev. E. Edwin Paulson, Rev. Robert F. Campbell, General Douglas MacArthur, Rev. Samuel McPheeters Glasgow, Rev. D.S. Gage and Rev. Daniel Iverson.

William Childs Robinson wrote the lead article, in which he set out four “banners” or defining principles of historic Presbyterianism, principles which had been formerly emulated among Southern Presbyterians. These four banners were loyalty to Christ as King, the Bible as the Word of God written, the Westminster Standards as an expression of sound doctrine, and lastly, the banner of the Great Commission. These were the values that the new magazine espoused as it sought to call the denomination back to faithfulness.

SPJ_May_1942For forty-five years, the Journal faithfully proclaimed these values. In 1959, L. Nelson Bell stepped down as editor and was succeeded by Dr. G. Aiken Taylor. At that same time, the word Southern was dropped from the magazine’s name, reflecting Dr. Taylor’s wider focus on the breadth of conservative American Presbyterianism. And within a few more years, The Presbyterian Journal was increasingly involved in the events leading up to the formation of the Presbyterian Church in America, in December of 1973. The Presbyterian Journal continued on for another fourteen years, finally closing with the March 18, 1987 issue.

Click here to download a PDF file of that first issue of The Southern Presbyterian Journal.

Words to Live By: In the opening editorial of that issue, L. Nelson Bell wrote:

The civilization of which we are a part is perched precariously on the edge of an abyss. This is obvious to all, whether in or outside of the Church. The tragedy is that, in part, the Christian Church is to blame.
It is to blame in so far as it has left its God-given task of preaching the Gospel of salvation from sin through the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is to blame in so far as it has turned from faith in, and the preaching of, the Bible as truly and wholly the Word of God, condoning preaching and teaching calculated to question or destroy this precious faith.
It is to blame where it has substituted for the Gospel of redemption a programme of social reform.
It is to blame to the extent to which it has stepped out of its spiritual role, to meddle as the Church, in political and economic matters and affairs of State.
It is to blame where, as has so often been the case, the Gospel message has been diluted and made pleasant to the taste of unregenerate man; denying the fact of, and the heinousness of sin, and the certain doom of the unrepentant sinner.
But despite these failures of the Church, a return to a faithful ministry of the Truth can yet, by the power of the Holy Spirit, provide the spiritual and moral stamina which is essential for world stabilization. To this spiritual awakening and revival THE JOURNAL is dedicated.

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