Sunday, March 12, 2006

J. N. Darby on the Evil of Clericalism

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist has quoted J.N. Darby on the Evil of Clericalism. Here is an excerpt from his post. It is better to read the whole thing in context.

    The statement which I make is this, that I believe the notion of a Clergyman to be the sin against the Holy Ghost in this dispensation. I am not talking of individuals wilfully committing it, but that the thing itself is such as regards this dispensation, and must result in its destruction: the substitution of something for the power and presence of that holy, blessed and blessing Spirit, by which this dispensation is characterised, and by which the unrenewedness of man, and the authority of man, holds the place which alone that blessed Spirit has power and title to fill, as that other Comforter which should abide for ever.
    If the notion of a Clergyman has had the effect of the substitution of anything which is of man, and therefore subject to Satan, in the place and prerogative of that blessed Spirit exercising the vicarship of Christ in the world, it is clear, that however the providence of God may have overruled it, in the ignorance which He could wink at, it does, when stood upon and restedin against the presence and work of the Spirit, become direct sin against Him- pure, dreadful, and destructive evil- the very cause of destruction to the church. I must be observed to say nothing whatever against offices in the church of Christ, and the exercise of authority in them, whether episcopal or evangelical in character. It were a vain and unnecessary work here to prove the recognition of that on which the Scripture is so plain. But they are spoken of in Scripture as gifts from on high: 'He gave some apostles' Eph.4:5, 7, 11; so in 1 Corinthians 12, they are known only as gifts. My objection to the notion of a Clergyman is, that it substitutes something in the place of all these, which cannot be said to be of God at all, and is not found in Scripture. Now, I believe the whole priciple of this to be contained in this dispensation in the word clergyman, and that this is the necessary root of that denial of the Holy Ghost which must, from the nature of the dispensation, end in its dissolution.
I was brought up with this teaching and I am still very sympathetic to it. However, I last attended an Exclusive Brethren assembly where this belief was strictly held, at the age of 16. I assume that we were excommunicated but since we no longer attended that meeting, I am ignorant of the details. After that my family attended Open Brethren assemblies, where there is a trend towards having trained clergy.

Darby's teaching here strikes a chord, and is consonant with the priesthood of all believers. But in practise it leads to not only an anti-clerical stance, but for most an anti-academic stance. It is one thing to say that we can understand the teaching of Bible on salvation without any academic study. My own father did not attend school past the age of 16, but he is widely read in church history, the early church fathers and Bible interpretation.

However, the Exclusive Brethren that I left did not have anyone trained in Greek and Hebrew when I left. University attendance was frowned on for both girls and boys. Our family was one of the exceptions. In fact, my family was told that a university education would spoil us all. My older sisters bore the brunt of that attack. Whether they were 'spoilt' or not, I never knew. The circumstances under which we left are recorded here and here.

No earthly organization is perfect. There is much that I respect in the Brethren tradition. I follow Dyspraxic Fundamentalist because he is blogging the heart of Brethren teachings, and he is going outside his comfortable self.

Every church and every relationship is made up of human members. There is no one right way here on earth. We have to act with integrity and accept that no one person or human organization has a corner on God's truth.


Kevin Knox said...


1) I had no idea Darby thought that. Since I became amillenialist 25 years ago, he became something of an negative figure to me.

2) I have been drawn in the direction of anti-clergy for a long, long time, but run into the same problem you describe. Anti-intellectualism is just horrible for the church.

3) Your conclusion is fabulous.

Thank you.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Hi Codepoke,

I somehow don't think that I will ever blog about prophecy. However, I find it useful to explore my roots and I certainly don't write off everything Darby stood for.

Matthew Celestine said...

Suzanne thanks for posting this here.

Darby himself was hardly anti-intellectual, nor were all of his successors. Nevertheless, anti-intellectualism does seem to be a distinctive Brethren feature.

I have a lot of difficulty with the idea that academic study is essential to understanding the Scriptures. If this makes me anti-intellectual then I am prepared to accept that tag.

Every Blessing in Christ