Southern Presbyterian Journal

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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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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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