JN Darby and the so-called Plymouth Brethren

I am often asked about John Nelson Darby and his relationship with the so-called Plymouth Brethren or Exclusive Brethren. This is a subject I can speak of only with sadness, humility and ‘eating the sin-offering’

Darby was totally opposed to sectarianism, so anything that smacked of a humanly organised church was anathema to him. He did not ‘found’ the Plymouth Brethren as such.

Why John Nelson Darby would have left the Exclusive Brethren Sect


I am often asked about John Nelson Darby and his relationship with the so-called Plymouth or Exclusive Brethren.  This is a subject I can speak of only with sadness, humility and ‘eating the sin-offering’

Darby was totally opposed to sectarianism, so anything that smacked of a humanly organised church was anathema to him. He did not ‘found’ the Plymouth Brethren as such.

In the 1800’s a lot left the establishment and other sects and the those Christians came together in simplicity.  The term ‘brethren’ – small-B  – was used among them, and at that time Darby who was the most prominent, was in Plymouth –  hence the name.  In the course of time the Plymouth Brethren developed and what did that become?   Another sect!  I have read letters (in French) of JND in his latter days and he talked about leaving the brethren.

Taylor Hales Exclusive Brethren – the Plymouth Brethren Church

If you have read anything about the brethren you will now see a microcosm of Christendom.  At one extreme there are the Taylor-Hales Exclusive Brethren, who frankly have every feature of a sect – some say even a cult, though I would not go that far, since fundamentally they believe the simple gospel.  They have a public profile in which they now call themselves the ‘Plymouth Brethren Christian Church’ (PBCC) with hierarchical leadership, strict rules, central organization, their own schools and businesses.  They practice an extreme level of separation, for example, forbidding normal relationships between split families. Sadly money and alcohol feature widely, and they have made headlines for the wrong reasons.   This trend developed during the 1960’s when I was a boy, and I can be thankful to God to have been delivered from it in a crisis in 1970.  My wife was too.  This sect is relatively strong in UK, Australia (where it is headquartered), New Zealand, and parts of USA/Canada and West Indies. What makes me sad is to think of the number of sincere lovers of the Lord caught up there, some of whom I knew in my earlier life.  I am sure John Darby would have been heart-broken – but with his knowledge of man after the flesh, not surprised – to see what that sect has come to.  I am absolutely certain that Darby would have had nothing to do with the Plymouth Brethren Church.

Open Brethren and Others

At the other end are the Open Brethren, which in many ways are similar to the Baptists but without pastors.  Meetings are independent of one another, some stricter than others; some have embraced the charismatic movement.  They are heavily involved in missionary work.

Then sadly there are a few dozen little groups in between!  Some groups Kelly-Lowe-Glanton/Continental and Tunbridge Wells groups are quite strong in America, and the former in Continental Europe. It has been due to man’s failure that there are so many –  “I don’t agree with you so I’ll leave – and I’ll take some with my views” and division spreads with a lot of personal feeling.  That is not of God.  Oh that there could be healing!  But if we tried humanly to put groups together that would not be of God either.

Where I Stand

I can be thankful therefore, that in the goodness of God, I can enjoy happy normal Christian fellowship a few of the Lord’s people, many of which have come from other brethren groups, scattered through several countries with:  no headquarters (other than heaven), no leader (but Jesus), no written statement of beliefs (other than the Bible), and no name – (Can’t use Plymouth Brethren any longer, thank God).  I can say, that there is a general desire to be faithful to the Lord working things out simply.  Of course Satan is ever active to get us on the old human paths of human effort, legality or looseness, but the power of the Holy Spirit is felt, restraining what is wrong, and causing saints to enjoy a living ministry and amazing experience in the Service of God.

There is more about the Brethren on Wikipedia –with many inaccuracies.  Also on the site My Brethren , even if I do not concur with the editorship in everything!

Author: Sosthenes

Once the ruler of the synagogue at Corinth Then a co-writer of a letter by Paul - just a brother - no longer an official Now a blogger seeking to serve the Lord by posting some words that the Lord has given His Church.

4 thoughts on “JN Darby and the so-called Plymouth Brethren”

  1. Brother William fromUSA writes:

    I’m from the United States so we’ve likely never met. I grew up in the Plymouth Brethren movement, specifically the closed or exclusive brethren. I took about a decade off while in the military but am back to my old habit of binge reading and articulating opinions. I appreciate being added to your mailing list however frequent or infrequent it may be. Right now I’m crossed between attempting to rejoin the brethren or go my separate way. Naturally your comment about Mr. Darby jumped out at me for this reason. I’ve interacted with many denominations and they have many practices established by years of tradition but no recognizable foundation in the Holy Scriptures. If the underlining goal is to meet “simply” as is the premise of the brethren then if the brethren stray presumably it is never too far.

  2. Thank you for your enquiry on adayofsmallthings.com as to JND and leaving the brethren. I got into this project after a brother asked me to assist him in translating some 450 letters from French into English. It was in a letter in French at the end of his life, but I can’t find it at the moment. With current technology I should be able to and will let you know.

    Thank you for your interest in my website A day of Small Things – http://www.adayofsmallthings.com . It is good if we can share Christian experiences – that is fellowship. It is wonderful thing if, as being of the body of Christ, redeemed by the blood of our Lord Jesus, and rejoicing in the gift and power of God’s Holy Spirit we can share things. We can, like the Thessalonians ‘serve the living and true God and wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come’ (1 Thess 1:9-10).

    We are told to go forth to HIM. We are not told to join a church. So many churches are membership organisations. That is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG! Gather to the Lord’s Name – separate from what is evil. He is in the midst and He remains the gathering point and love for Him (He is the Truth) and for one another keeps is together. We don’t need rules.

  3. Dear Gail

    Thank you very much for your note. Thank God our Lord does not see His church in terms of sects. There is one body. Sects belong to this earth: His bride belongs to heaven.

    Christian love

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