What is a Darbyite?

James exhorted long ago, “So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty” (James 2:12). The lives of believers will be judged by the Lord and this includes their words. Be careful, dear Christian, of your words and how you speak of other Christians.

Today some seem to love to accuse others of being Darbyites. This has become a pejorative term, a way to slander another.

So what is a Darbyite? John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) was a well-educated man who became a prominent Bible teacher in England. He traveled widely, spoke often and wrote voluminously. He knew Greek and Hebrew and translated the Scriptures into English, German and French. He also wrote some beautiful hymns. He had a massive intellect and a very real love for the Lord.

Darby was one of several prominent brethren in England and Ireland who was interested in a revival of New Testament simplicity for the churches. Sadly a division erupted and Darby became a founding father of an exclusive branch of the assemblies. Through his labors these spread to Europe and North America.

What were some of this interesting and controversial man’s ideas? First of all, he believed the church was in ruins and could not be recovered to function as it did in New Testament days. Only Apostles could appoint elders. Therefore, no church today should have elders. The men in such groups function as a body, with perhaps one man dominating the work. Those who believe churches should have elders are not Darbyites. Muller, Chapman and Groves were among early brethren who opposed Darby in this.

Darby also believed in a confederation of assemblies. Only those who were part of that association could break bread (the Lord’s Supper) in their churches. Those who welcome all true believers at the Lord’s table are not following the tradition of Darby.

Mr. Darby also systematized and propagated a strongly dispensational view of Scripture. Along with this he was an avid student of prophecy and taught a pre-tribulation rapture of the Church. This teaching was encapsulated and popularized in the Scofield Bible. Again many of the early brethren disagreed with Darby on his views.

John Nelson Darby has been with the Lord for over 100 years. By now we can be sure that all of his theology is perfectly orthodox, as ours will be one day!

Christians of various persuasions hold all, some or few of his views. Very few of the men called Darbyites today would accept all of his ideas. Darby was a Christian who loved the Lord, a godly man. Why villify his name today even though one may disagree with some of his theology?

And let us guard against slandering believers. It is better to spell out specific doctrinal differences than to cast guilt by association. One’s tongue can destroy a brother’s reputation. “Beloved, let us love one another” (I John 4:7).