The Death of the Church Victorious, by Pastor Ovid Need, is an exceptionally important book for our times, and especially for Bibb County.
Two hundred years ago, a theological school of thinking, originally known as Darbyism, began to take hold in churches across American and Europe. Up to this time, these churches proclaimed a victorious gospel: Jesus Christ was King, and it was the duty of every man and woman to live out his Christian faith throughout his life, business, politics, family, church, government, etc.; and it was the duty of the church, as a whole, to Christianize the nations of the world, bringing the Word of God to bear on all issues of life, faith, and practice.
However, in the mid 1830s, a theological system was developed which, successfully, has been a seemingly-fatal strike to the heart of faithful, victorious, Biblical Christianity. This theology has as its origin an obscure Jesuit text, which was translated into English in the early 1800s by one Edward Irving. Irving gathered around himself a small group of men, to whom he taught this doctrine (and they in turn, others). Throughout the next 50 years, this doctrine took a death grip in numerous countries throughout the world, including the United States, most notably through the work of one John Nelson Darby.
The Death of the Church Victorious chronicles the development of this theological system.
Central to Darbyism were several tenets, several of which proved to be absolutely destructive for the world. An incomplete list follows.
First, Darby rejected the Bible as God’s inspired Word. He wrote:
I do not receive the Bible, that is, a revelation of God from the hands of men. I receive paper and ink. The revelation I receive of God directly—“They shall all be taught of God.” The revelation is the divinely-wrought conscience, and, I repeat, in the conscience…” (J.N. Darby, cited in Ovid Need, The Death of the Church Victorious [Lafayette, IN: Sovereign Grace Publishers], pp. 369-370)
Second, because Darby believed that the Word of God as we have it today is not inspired, he did not hesitate to deem certain verses ungenuine, and at times reworded verses to support his system. He relegated entire portions of Scripture off to the side as wholly irrelevant for Christians today.
Third, Darby held to a peculiar system of Bible study: open a concordance, pick a word, read all the verses with the word regardless of context, and make a few comments on each verse. This system of context-less “Bible study” occurs frequently in Darby’s writings and teachings.
Fourth, the theological understanding developed over the previous 1800 years was completely rejected as invalid, in favor of Darby’s new method of “Bible readings.”
Fifth, Darby was consumed with the immediate return of Christ, and a strong mark of all Darbyism since then is an unholy obsession with unfulfilled prophecy. Christians were taught that true Christianity meant waiting to be snatched away any moment; it was vain to do anything constructive, because the Lord could return at any moment. Rather than doing those things that we do know, the vast majority of their writings are centered around the things we do not know (Deut. 29:29).
Sixth, continuing from the last point, Darby taught that it was sinful to engage in anything to change the culture, i.e., to bring the Gospel of Jesus to bear on civil matters, mathematics, science, business, etc. Darby wrote:
But meanwhile what are we to do as regarding setting the world right? Nothing, and this the flesh cannot understand. (ibid., p. 399)
In teaching this point specifically, Darby inadvertently laid the groundwork for the Holocaust, Communism, and more, because he explicitly taught (through George Müller in Germany, Hudson Taylor in China, and others elsewhere) that the Christian duty consisted of doing nothing but waiting for the imminent return of Christ, to save them from all their troubles. This meant that wicked tyrants and dictators could rise to power unopposed, since no Christian would be concerned with their policies.
Need writes of this, in an exceptionally important and telling passage:
…notice that the message taken to the four corners of the world [through Müller and other missionaries such as Hudson Taylor] was one of hopelessness and defeat. Taylor and his mission work, though saving many souls, delivered to the Chinese a hopeless message of defeat—Taylor, with the help of Müller’s [Scriptural Knowledge Institute], neutralized Christianity, leaving the Chineese “helpless against the military onslaught of the Communists.” Fully expecting an imminent “rapture,” multitudes of Chinese Christians were tortured and slaughtered. On the other hand, non-millenarians fled. Hiding safely in the mountains, they kept Chinese Christianity alive. Moreover, China’s modern attitude toward forced abortion must, at least in part, be attributed to those who taught a generation of Chinese Christians that it was a sin to be involved in social programs and issues.
When Christians withdraw from involvement in social programs, they give them to the ungodly by default. (ibid., p. 199)
(Regarding abortion, the exact same may be said of today: because Darby convinced the world that true Christianity is emphatically not involved in social work, civil government, lawmaking, etc., Christians abandoned those areas, and the result is the murder of 40 million babies.)
To continue with our list, a seventh point: Darby held that Satan could only tempt the flesh, i.e., he could not successfully influence a Christian’s mind. This, naturally, meant that Darby held man’s mind and emotions to be uncorrupted; and coupled with our second point above, shows that Darby believed his mind, emotions, and affections, his “conscience,” to be the revealed will of God, not the Bible.
Eighth, Darby utterly rejected God’s Law as a standard of living for believers. In addition to twisting Scriptures, he wrote that Christians today must be like Christ, but never defined what that meant. He always left it very vague. Darby proclaimed that it was sinful for men to look to God’s Law for moral direction; they were to look to their consciences, knowing that the Spirit would teach them without God’s Word, for right and wrong.
Ninth, Darby was radically intolerant of anyone who disagreed with his system. Salvation and faithfulness were seen in terms of faithfulness to Darby’s system, not in terms of faithfulness to Jesus Christ; he was more concerned with converting persons to agreeing with him than he was converting lost souls to Jesus Christ. Darby hated the Baptists and others; this attitude of radical intolerance for people who think differently has been frequently passed down to modern Darbyists. (I know of one modern Darbyist who is extremely intolerant of any other Biblical understanding, and refuses to have basic, reasonable, or logical conversations with anyone who disagrees.)
Thus we have nine central themes to Darby’s theology. There are more.
Need also chronicles the historical setting in England and the United States at the time, and details how the the generally depressed social atmosphere (as a result of wars) inclined the people to a system of religion that provided escape from their challenges. Men looked at the Word of God and began interpreting it in light of events surrounding them, instead of interpreting current events in light of God’s Word.
The Death of the Church Victorious is thus an important history, the first of its kind. Because Need is extremely liberal with his citations, the conclusions that he reaches on the subject are inevitable. This book is very important for Bibb County because Darbyism, although in a slightly milder form known today as Dispensationalism, can be found everywhere in our county. The vast majority of pastors and families in our county likely have no idea that this is the history of the popular theology. This history, which should not have been forgotten, was lost.
But now that we have the truth before us, we must take heed to it. We will be responsible for how we handle this. Will we accept what the false prophet Darby espoused, even though completely contrary to Scripture? Or will we diligently search out the matter to see what the Bible truly teaches?
“Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Rom. 8:37)
“The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?” (Jer. 5:31)