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Darby And World Politics

Michael Hardt

Appeared in Toward the Mark (10/03) and in Folge Mir Nach (09/03)

Most readers will remember having seen, at some stage, an article or a book by a certain Mr. John Nelson Darby. Some may even have his 40+ volume collection at home. 'Quite a difficult read' say some. 'Mysterious' and 'theoretical' say others. Again others are thrilled.

Darby in the Papers

How come, then, that so many people suddenly speak about him? The French newspaper 'Le Monde'[1] mentions him, and he is no longer a stranger to the pages of the 'Business Week'[2] and the 'Time Magazine'. His name starts to emerge in the media in European countries and elsewhere. Some call him a '19th century Anglican heretic', some the 'Founding Father of Christian Fundamentalism', and the terms used by some to describe Mr Darby are so derogatory that I prefer not to repeat them here.

Again others make him responsible for the war in Iraq. John Nelson Darby has a big influence on George Bush, they say, and on millions of Americans, and on the course of world history. How come?

John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) spent his life studying the Bible and spreading the truth. In his time, conferences took place and the biblical doctrine was examined. Many devoted much time and energy to intense study. With prayer and in dependence on the Lord they searched the Scriptures - and God answered. So it happened, that a series of biblical truths were re-discovered. Among them, there were, in particular, the following:

  • .that the Bible is the Word of God, and reliably predicts future events
  • .that many prophecies in the Old Testament refer to Israel and to the geographic location known as Israel, in a literal way (and not to the church in some 'spiritualised' figurative way)
  • ..that the biblical promises for Israel are for the earth whereas the church possesses heavenly blessings and a heavenly calling.
  • .that the Lord Jesus will return, and can return any time now, to take the believers to Himself (the 'rapture')
  • .of the doctrine of 'dispensations' (different consecutive periods, which always start with failure and end in judgement). The 'rapture' will end the current 'dispensation'. Then the prophetic clock will start ticking again and the 7-year tribulation period will start. Then the appearing of Christ in power.

J N Darby demonstrated that one needs to take into account the dispensations in order to understand the Bible properly, especially prophecy and the truth of the church. His teaching became wide - spread. A movement that became very influential, especially in America, and which essentially builds on Mr Darby's re-discoveries, is now know as 'dispensationalism'. A series of books, published in multi million editions, contributed their part to the spreading of these truths (with a greater or lesser degree of accuracy). It is estimated that, today, 20-40 million Americans subscribe to dispensational teaching.

What does all this have to do, then, with the present situation in the Middle East? Why are big newspapers getting interested? And: is this good news?

Is this good news?

To take the last question first: good news it hardly is. You may be disappointed, but it is not good news at all for Bible believing Christians, but rather an attack on them and on their faith and, ultimately, on their Lord. And this how, in a nut-shell, this attack works:

J N Darby taught, so they say (correctly), that the Bible is to be taken literally and that it predicts future events, especially the return of the Jews to the land of Israel (remember that the modern state of Israel was founded only in 1948), and the battle of Armageddon[3] (this is the battle, which will take place, probably in the area of Haifa, northern Israel, when the Lord Jesus returns to the earth in power). Further, they argue (correctly, still) that J N Darby taught that the believers would be 'raptured' seven years before this battle. But then they assert (wrongly), that Christians who are faithful to the Bible - especially those who follow Mr. Darby's teachings - therefore try to accelerate the battle of Armageddon or even to force it through a war in the Middle East.

This might appear absurd to any believer who has - even only a faint - idea of what Mr Darby actually taught. The Lord Jesus said clearly, that the Father has 'placed in his own authority' the timing of these events (Acts 1:7). How absurd to think that the Lord's return to take us could be accelerated by starting or supporting a war!

Is the attack entirely unfounded?

Sadly not. In fact, various groups of Christians have, again and again, stood up to support Israel and the settlements of Jews in biblical 'Israel', partly through financial support, partly through collaboration with conservative Jews. In this way, a powerful movement (Christian Zionism) was formed.

Such initiatives may be well meant. But now we see, how easily they can back-fire and become counterproductive. They achieve the opposite of what they intended and give lots of ammunition to those who oppose the Christian faith. These opponents can now point out (sadly, not wholly without basis) that Christians are trying to 'help' fulfilling the prophecies. First through their support, at the time, for the establishment of the State of Israel, and now through their desire to provoke an 'Armageddon'.

And this is exactly what J N Darby never taught. Firstly, because he insisted that Christians have a heavenly calling and should not get involved in earthly things, especially in politics. Secondly, he insisted, again and again, that Christians should wait directly and constantly on their Lord (already those alive then in Thessalonica[4]). But this seems to be forgotten easily, or conveniently, by Mr Darby's modern accusers. So it is claimed that Christians would welcome an 'Armageddon', because

  • they would disappear before it happens, therefore:
  • the earlier this happens, the earlier they will be transported to heaven, and
  • 'their Jesus' would then set up His Kingdom.

This is how today's reporters, theologians and politicians put it.

With this line of argument, those who oppose the Bible have enough fuel for the fire. Suddenly, the Christians are dangerous. Not the nominal ones, of course, but those who believe that the Bible is inspired and actually means what it says.

What is behind the attack?

In the final analysis it is an attack against the truth. At last, a good reason has been found to take action against it. The truth has been uncomfortable for a long time. Why? Well, there are a number of biblical facts, which people do not want to know about:

  • the depravity of man (this is exactly the central point in the doctrine of 'dispensations' that, each time, it 'goes wrong' and ends with judgement)
  • the coming judgement of God
  • the authority of the Bible
  • the necessity of the work of redemption (on the basis of which some will be spared judgement and will be 'raptured' whereas those not accepting it will be judged).

The deepest reason, of course, is the hatred against Christ Himself which motivates this attack.

What can we do?

How can we react faced with these changes in our society? One possibility (and we should expect that some will opt for it) is to resort to relativism by conceding that the Bible only means what you want it to means, and only if it is acceptable to the majority... As soon as we subject the Bible to science and philosophy, they will leave us in peace. For any who wish to remain faithful to the Lord this is not an option.

On the other hand one could be overly worried or return fire through various kinds of initiatives in order to try to 'fight our corner' in a political way. But the Bible does not ask us to do this. But here are a few ideas how we could and should react:

  • We should impress upon ourselves that the Bible has been inspired, verbally[5], and is the unerring word of God, whose predictions will be fulfilled.
  • We do not interfere with the events of this world. We can observe them, and do so with the assurance that the Lord will return. Then there will be a sudden end to the opposition (which is certainly going to increase)
  • We remember that these events (tribulation, Armageddon, etc.) (i) will certainly happen, but (ii) only after the rapture. Therefore, we do not try to interpret current events as fulfilled prophecy[6].
  • We do not pretend to know dates and times which are not revealed in the Bible.
  • We can take this opportunity as an occasion to have a look at some of Mr. Darby's books and articles and try to work out what he actually did say. If someone wants to start with a smaller and not-so-difficult-to-understand booklet, you can order a copy of the pamphlet 'What do I learn from Scripture?'.

Here is a little 'taster': "I learn..

  • that they [believers] are converted to wait for God's Son from heaven
  • that Christ will come again to receive us to Himself
  • that God has appointed a day in which He will judge this habitable world in righteousness by that man whom He has ordained"

This is not that difficult to understand, after all, is it?

We should ask ourselves whether we would be ready, should the opposition against the truth increase, to endure disadvantages because of it. We should also concentrate more on our heavenly calling and on the gospel, the good news, which people need so urgently.