Ian Paisley on Protestantism

True Protestantism is Bible Christianity, the Christianity of the Bible.
Protestantism is Christianity, the Christianity of Christ.
Protestantism is Christianity, the Christianity of the Apostles.
Protestantism is Christianity, the Christianity of the Early Church.
Protestantism is nothing less and nothing more than that Holy Religion revealed supernaturally to mankind in the pages of the Inspired Word and centered and circumscribed in the glorious adorable Person of the Incarnate Word, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ian Paisley, “Are We to Lose Our Protestant Heritage Forever.” August, 2004. Online: http://www.ianpaisley.org/article.asp?ArtKey=heritage.

This is a quotation I found in Joshua Searle's forthcoming book on apocalyptic and the Northern Ireland Troubles.

Wow! I am almost speechless. Every line of the quotation is simply wrong. On a positive "benefit of the doubt" interpretation one can happily concede that Protestantism aspired to conform its faith and practice to the teachings of the Bible — a noble aspiration indeed — so the words could be taken as aspirational.

But as a simple matter of brute fact the various versions of Protestantism are not to be identified with any of the things above, and emphatically not to be exclusively identified with them (to the exclusion of non-Protestant versions of Christianity).

I think that Jesus of Nazareth, the apostles, and believers in the early church would find many aspects of Protestantism in its many guises to be very alien to the "Christianities" they knew. And that's fine — the church develops over time. But to collapse the gap between then and now and to imagine that what we do is no different from what they did is simply self-deluded.


Keen Reader said…
And his politics wasn't any better.
Micah said…
Good points. Kind of a side question, but what would we consider the earliest 'Christianity'? Strictly after Christ's adult ministry began? Would people of faith looking forward to the fulfillment of the god-man be considered within 'Christianity'? Those at the Nativity? People within the Essenes maybe, whom Jesus never seemed to criticize in Scripture as He did the scribes and Pharisees? (Sometimes I wonder if the Sermon on the Mount was pointing out the kind of people that generally lived in the Essene community -- meek, mild, peacemakers, etc.)
Robin Parry said…

That is not a straightforward question. I tend to avoid the word "Christianity" when speaking of the first century. This is not because I don't think that it can be used well but because the word has so many connotations that there is always a danger of anachronism. Sometimes I do use it and sometimes I don't. If I do use it then I need to qualify it.

If I use the phrase earliest Christianity I tend to have in mind the followers of Jesus from the time of his ministry until towards the end of the first century. But it is a fuzzy notion. I do not have in mind a new religion that is distinct from Judaism. I have in mind a Jewish sect, like the Essenes or Pharisees.

The transition towards what came to consider itself a distinct religion was slow and complex.
Micah said…
Thanks, Robin. Yeah, labels can be tricky things sometimes.

Suppose, looking back from the age to come, our 'Christianity' of today will seem quite different again from the 'Christianity' of the new present and future, these former stages having been more in shadow, just as the earlier Judaic stages were even more in shadow than that -- although having had common threads running through it all.

Or maybe it's more like adding new tree rings around older ones, which are still embedded within the new.

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