Ian Paisley – end of an era…

Ian Paisley had a considerable effect on my life and thought. In the late 1960s when I went to Uni, I was still pretty vague about Church-and-State issues, and most of what I did think was liberal secular rather than biblical in nature. Then I encountered the resurgent Ulster Troubles with in effect ‘Evangelicals like me’, people with whom I clearly shared a great deal of common beliefs, behaving in ways which appalled me but which they claimed were very much biblical. I had to ask myself if they were right – in which case, to be honest, I might have concluded that if that was authentic Christianity, I didn’t want anything to do with it…!

As I’ve recounted elsewhere on the blog, I came up with the (still unusual) analysis that the problem was not in the disagreements between Catholic and Protestant, but in their agreement that you were supposed to run a ‘Christian state’. Take out that factor and you simply had disagreements which could be conducted without bombs and guns and so on. But with that ‘Christian state’ idea, it wasn’t really possible to have peace – both sides wanted their version to be the favoured version in the state, both wanted the other side to be discriminated against, and both naturally wanted not to be discriminated against themselves; and this had everyday practical results which led to the fighting we saw in the ‘Troubles’. (History had meant that in Ulster/Eire things had always remained stressed so that the less fraught situation of mainland UK was unable to develop).

Following from that analysis, I discovered that the New Testament doesn’t in fact teach that ‘Christian country’ idea, which in fact goes back to 3-4 centuries after Jesus, but teaches a somewhat different relationship between the Church and the surrounding world. This in turn led me to the major Christian group which practises the NT teaching, the Anabaptists of the Reformation era and their modern descendants – for more detail see elsewhere on the blog.

Ian Paisley I feel ambivalent about. I have little doubt that he was a genuine Christian of good intentions; but his upbringing in Northern Ireland meant he was in a way ‘trapped’ by the prevalent ‘Christian state’ thinking, and couldn’t get outside it – and so sadly much of his life and effort was wasted on pursuing the goal of a ‘Protestant country’ and leading people there into what were unfortunately unChristian activities rather than the really devoted defence of the faith that they believed it to be.

I’ll probably write more about this in the near future – I wanted to respond to the news of Ian Paisley’s death, but I didn’t want to do a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction without some deeper thought about it….


2 thoughts on “Ian Paisley – end of an era…

  1. Looking at the appalilng effect of Roman Catholicism on Eire in the 20th century and to this day, “Never! never! never!” was and is my sentiment too. Magnified by not being able to trust Westminster not to sell Ulster out. You’ll remember me telling you about hearing Reverend Paisley pastoral reminiscing on the radio and being surprised at the contrast to the Unionist politician we all remember near-frothing on the six o’clock news. Not a two-dimensional character and not a two dimensional situation.

    Himself and McGuiness got into government and, what do you know? They got on like a house on fire. What happened to the so-coalled ‘moderates’? Turns out it was them that did best out of a situation stoked on hate. Now peace has broken out their support has melted.

    I don’t think Reverend Paisley’s Presbyterianism supports your thesis at all. The opposite in fact; they cannot tolerate their own Elders telling them what to do or what to believe but they don’t try and impose themselves on others: they schism and set up their own churches. ‘The Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster’; ironically, given your blog title, the clue is in the name.

    • I’m obviously aware of the effects of Roman Catholicism, and not just on Eire or just in the 20th Century; I was an Evangelical Protestant before I was an Anabaptist. I’m also aware that Ian Paisley was far from ‘two-dimensional’ – indeed my understanding of the situation allows me to see subtleties missed by most people I know, who can often see only the nastiness in Ulster Protestantism generally.

      Ian Paisley’s Presbyterianism is very much in support of my thesis, however. For all the schism from the more government-compliant Presbyterians, the Free Presbyterians are a ‘Constantinian’ group believing very much in the notion of a Christian country, in their case explicitly a ‘Protestant country’, and it is their willingness to defend that state of affairs which is one side of Ulster’s troubles. Roman Catholicism being the other side, with essentially a similar idea. Like the RCs, Free Presbyterians don’t believe in a power of the State over the Church (the kind of thing seen in Anglicanism), but they believe in the state being Christian, and for them specifically Protestant.

      As regards my blog title it wasn’t easy to find an unambiguous phrase. I’m kind of following a transatlantic usage, in which ‘free churches’ are specifically the ‘Anabaptist’ style churches as opposed not only to established national churches, but also to the looser ‘Religious Right’kind of phenomenon seen in the USA.

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