R. C. Bell, Divine Dynamics, and the Holy Spirit

R. C. Bell (1877-1964) attended the Nashville Bible School from 1896-1901. James A. Harding took Bell with him as a faculty member at the newly founded Potter Bible College in 1901. Later Bell would teach at several different colleges among Churches of Christ and eventually ended up at Abilene Christian College as a beloved teacher.

In 1959, Bell was asked to give a lecture on “A Lifetime Spent in Christian Education” and he used the opportunity to lament the shift among Churches of Christ that distressed him. In his autobiographical article in the 1951 Firm Foundation he had warned that the church needed a new infusion of the kingdom theology of James A. Harding in order “to save [it] from changing divine dynamics to human mechanics” (“Honor to Whom Honor is Due,” Firm Foundation 68 [6 November 1951], 6). Now, in his closing years, describes what is lacking among Churches of Christ in 1959.

The whole speech is available in another post. Below I have excerpted a few significant parts below.

“Especially, [Harding’s] soul-kindling faith in God as a personal Friend matched the wave length of my eager, hungry heart. I caught his contagious enthusiasm for God as a Father who personally identifies himself with each of His own, and for the Holy Spirit as a Comforter who personally resides in and empowers every Christian, slowly enough.  However, [his] conception of Christianity as “a divine-human encounter,” in which immediate spiritual communion between God and man is established and perpetually maintained, gradually, became also my conception of Christianity.

“I also knew that in such vital matters as Christians being crucified to the world and the world’s being crucified to Christians (Gal. 6:14), and as Christians really believing with all their hearts that the Holy Spirit was working personally in them to help their infirmity, to pray unutterable prayers for them, and to make all things work together for their good (Rom. 8:26-28) so that they, ever mindful of the Lord’s presence, might be anxious about nothing, praying in everything, thankful in anything, and possess ‘the peace of God, which passeth all understanding’ (Phil. 4:5-7), the primitive church was not being fully restored. In short, I knew that church of which I was a member was not identical in all things with the church of the New Testament.

“With more and more lived faith, as the years passed and I myself increased in spiritual stature, I taught, first, that the personal presence and conjoint working of the ‘Three-personal God’ (Father and Son and Spirit) in and through cooperating Christians is at the very heart of Christianity; and second that Christianity, primarily, consists, not in what Christians do for Christ, but in what Christ does for Christians.

“When Christians fail to make use of the sanctifying portion of Christianity, as though it were an optional adjunct instead of the built-in essential which it is, they harden into harsh, unloving, unloved, self-sanctifying, unlawful legalists and defeated Pharisees, biting and devouring one another as the Galatians were doing (Gal. 5:13-15). A man’s unchristian self-effort to justify himself no more certainly leads to arrogant self-righteousness than does the same kind of effort to sanctify himself.”



10 Responses to “R. C. Bell, Divine Dynamics, and the Holy Spirit”

  1.   John King Says:

    Wow! What a shame more of us were not exposed to such influential thinking at younger ages.

  2.   Steven Says:

    I love the italicized “personally” in his first paragraph. Was that your italics or his?

  3.   Bob Bliss Says:

    Since my baptism (1973) I thought through the various presentations and books on restoration history that what I was hearing today in the local church was pretty much what has been taught uniformly since Campbell and Stone. Last August I took American Restoration History with Dr. Robinson at Harding School of Theology. Wow was I surprised. Thanks for reminding us about all that has been taught in the Stone-Campbell Movement from the beginning.

  4.   riverwindfire Says:

    I agree with John King – wish we had heard this kind of thinking back in my more formative years in the RM (the early 1970’s). It’s taken me considerable time and effort to unpack the older human-dominated approach to faith, and to approach something closer to a Biblical balance. Thanks for posting this, John Mark.

  5.   Billy Mize Says:

    Thank you for reminding us of this great hero of faith. I did not know brother Bell well. In fact, I encountered him on only two occasions. I was a “preacher boy” at Abilene Christian College,
    ’53-’58, and brother Bell substituted for brother John P. Lewis in a course on the gospels. I assume he was in his seventies at the time. The only thing I remember him saying on that occasion was that he was confident he would learn more in the first five seconds of eternity than he had learned all of his life on earth. Later in 1962, the College Church in Abilene, TX sponsored us to return to Alaska and work with a new congregation in Kenai, AK. On the Sunday the College Church sent us on our mission, brother Bell gave me two or three signed tracts signed he had written and encouraged us regarding our new work.

  6. Profile photo of K Rex Butts  K. Rex Butts Says:

    Wow! That last paragraph cited…he hit the nail square on the head.

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