Ian Paisley—The Last of the Fighting Fundamentalists (1926–2014)

by Aaron Dunlop

imagesI woke this morning to the sad news that Dr. Paisley has died. We knew him as Dr. Paisley, or just “Doc” in familiar conversation, but he was known in later years as Lord Bannside. Ian Paisley was born in April 1926 into the home of a Baptist pastor. He preached his first sermon at the age of sixteen and was ordained in his early twenties. In 1951 he helped form the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster. He was first a preacher of the gospel, and it is this that I will remember growing up under his shadow in Northern Ireland. I have listened to him preach with power and conviction, pleading with souls for Christ and motivating young men to the ministry. I have sat under his public prayers which were particularly memorable and, like Apollos, he proved himself to be “mighty in the Scripture.”

Dr. Ian Paisley has captured the headlines for over five decades in both secular and religious newspapers and periodicals. He was a man of great abilities, a powerful and eloquent orator, with a rare ability to move the masses. People across the world who met him personally will remember his hearty laugh and affable personality. He was a gracious individual, humorous, congenial, and generous. He loved the gospel of Jesus Christ and he loved the people of God. He lived in a constant state of readiness to talk of the things of God and of his own experience of the gospel.

From a North American perspective he will be remembered as the last of the “Fighting Fundamentalists.” In recent years I had occasion to speak with him in connection with my own research of Canadian Baptist and Fundamentalist history. He was very widely read with a library of over 30,000 books. His links with North American Fundamentalism go back to his father’s ministry in Ballymena when T. T. Shields, the Canadian Fundamentalist, attended the opening of the Baptist Church in Ballymena where Pastor J. Kyle Paisley preached. Dr. Paisley treasured a photo of himself as a child with Dr. Shields in 1935. He considered Dr. Shields as a mentor.images

The Fundamentalist Movement of North America became a model for Paisley’s burgeoning ministry in Belfast in the 1950’s. He rose to prominence in Northern Ireland with his strong stand against current politics and also, more particularly, against conditions in Irish Presbyterian Church. This brought him to the attention of Fundamentalist leaders in America. He received an honorary doctorate from Bob Jones University in 1966 for his commentary on the Epistle to the Romans which he wrote while serving a prison sentence. It was Ian Paisley who imported American Fundamentalism into Britain, particularly Northern Ireland.

Fundamentalism had its faults. It is no secret that Paisley was a polarizing individual; he knew this himself and he often joked about it. Recent analysis, even within Fundamentalism, has been very critical of the movement. Ian Paisley, like many of his Fundamentalist forebears and contemporaries, defended the faith at the expense of personal testimony. The objective faith—the fundamentals—was defended with greater zeal than that with which personal graces were developed. In a message in 1971 Dr. Paisley himself stated that a critical and harsh spirit often accompanied the work and life of Fundamentalists. But, despite this serious imbalance in the Fundamentalist Movement the Lord used the ministry of these men for the preservation of a gospel church. When the history of evangelicalism in Northern Ireland is written, I have no doubt that Dr. Paisley’s contribution to the defense and proclamation of the gospel will be considered significant, not only in the Free Presbyterian Church, but also, and perhaps more surprisingly, in other Protestant denominations. Psalm 116:15 “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”

13 Responses to “Ian Paisley—The Last of the Fighting Fundamentalists (1926–2014)”

  1. I don’t know much about Ian Paisley, though I heard some sermon here and there and I have met a few people from Ireland that really liked him

  2. At 86 the last of the prophets of Europe has gone home: Ian Paisley.

    He was Pastor of the Presbyterian free church of Ireland, and was one of those prophets that God lifting from time to time, certainly the last of the prophets of an Europe humanist, and hedonistic.

    Certainly a polarizing and controversial personality for his doctrinal firmness and having to walk the path of policy and be bound protagonist in one of the wars of religion more hateful and bloody in recent times.

    This Evangelical doctrinal firmness and fundamentalist, as well as his ideological conviction helped end that abominable war between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland of the North that Paisley had a unique role for his iron will and his deep conviction.

    Although his message was fire, preached the hope that we would never be alone at night more dark although it seems that the word of God lost all their strength and when you purchase more value those words of Jesus…

    The heaven and earth pass, but my words will not pass. Matthew 24:35

    Pastor Paisley… enter into the rest of your Lord.

    Dr-ludingomezC-CaminoVerdad & life

  3. Se ha ido a casa el ultimo de los Profetas de Europa.

  4. This is a balanced article, thank you. I’ve interviewed Ian Paisley, and he has indirectly influenced my life in many ways. It would be dishonest not to approach the negatives, as they have also had a far-reaching effect. Paisley himself eventually addressed them, and I respect him all-the-more for it.

  5. Amen! All very nice except the derogatory remarks about Fundamentalists not “developing personal graces.” These men, Dr. Ian Paisley, Bob Jones Jr. and other “Fighting Fundamentalists” were THE most gracious, loving, tender, kind, SELFLESS men I have ever met!

    • Hi pastor Fox. Thanks for the comment. Please remember that I am writing from experience (from the inside) as a friend and not an enemy. Note also that I did not say that these men did not have personal graces—I outlined many of the graces I know Dr. Paisley had. As a movement however, there was a general lack of the irenic spirit that characterized many of the opponents in the early days (1920’s). Some historians believe this is in part why the Fundamentalists lost the major denominations—it is a fascinating study. It is also interesting to study why there were so many splits within Fundamentalism itself—lack of grace in dealing with intramural differences. Read the lives of many of the Fundamentalist leaders, T. T. Shields, Carl McIntire, etc. If you read also the testimony of Francis Schaeffer who separated in the 1930’s, and also the Canadian author Arnold Dallimore concerning T. T. Shields. My comments are not intended to be derogatory, but instructive. I believe as a Reformed Christian that we are to learn from history and always to be reforming. With Christian love. Aaron

  6. He was a powerful man of God who shaped and guided our denomination for many years. Rejoicing that he is now “absent from the body…present with the Lord.”

  7. He is certainly one of my heroes of the faith and hopefully not the last of the “fighting fundamentalists.” 🙂

  8. When I die, I hope the reaction of all who have known me will be the same as it has been since the news of Dr. Paisley’s death; the saints crying, “He has gone to be with our Lord, but we’ll miss him, greatly.” The reaction of the graceless religious folk being that of rejoicing, and shouting, “Good riddance!”


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