This above heading was the title of a panel discussion in the Bannside Library in east Belfast on the morning of Saturday 20 October 2018 to mark the 30th anniversary of Ian Paisley’s historic protest against the presence of Pope John Paul II in the European Parliament in Strasbourg in October 1988.
The Parliament had been made aware of Dr Paisley’s plans to protest on that day, and soon after the Pope commenced his address, he began to speak. His microphone had been turned off, but he could be heard saying, in the words of 16th century Archbishop and martyr, Thomas Cranmer, “I renounce you as Christ’s enemy and Antichrist with all your false doctrine”, and he held aloft a poster with the words “John Paul II Antichrist”. He was immediately requested to stop, but he continued and was subject to a tirade of abuse. Each time his poster was snatched away from him, he produced another! He said, “I have some experience of protests. I know if you go to protest with one poster it is not any good, because if they tear it down your protest is over. So I filled my pockets with posters. The woman reporter in the RTE said I was like a conjuror, from every pocket I was bringing out posters”.
As Dr Paisley was dragged out, he was manhandled and injured. Afterwards, he said to the press, “I used exactly the words of Archbishop Cranmer, and Archbishop Cranmer was taken and he was burnt. And if those members in there today could have burned me, they would have done it”.
Dr Paisley said, “I have read in the Book of Revelation the power of the word of testimony, but I never realized what power was in a martyr’s testimony. If I had brought a ton of explosives and let them off in that Assembly it could not have had a greater effect. That vast Assembly erupted, and books started to fly and punches started to be thrown”.
The Panel Discussion
The 30th anniversary event in Bannside library was chaired by Mr Cecil Andrews of Take Heed Ministries, and the panel members were Rev David McIlveen, retired Free Presbyterian Minister, Rev Kyle Paisley, Dr Paisley’s son and minister of Oulton Broad Free Presbyterian Church, and Mr Wallace Thompson, Secretary of EPS.
Mr McIlveen, who had been with Dr Paisley in Strasbourg on the day of the protest, gave some details of how events had unfolded, and spoke of the wonderful times of prayer which surrounded the protest itself.
The panel then discussed the broader issues arising from Dr Paisley’s stand. It was agreed that it was his finest hour, and that he had set an example of courageous and faithful adherence to Protestant teaching on the Pope and the Papacy. It was also agreed that, sadly, there was no-one of his stature in our day.
Reference was made to the key Biblical passages which lead Protestants to identify the Pope as Antichrist, and also to the approach taken on the issue by the Reformers and Puritans. It was acknowledged that the pope had also been regarded as Antichrist by some believers in the years prior to the Reformation. It was felt important to note that the word “antichrist” had two meanings. It could be defined as “standing in the place of Christ” and, on that basis, Rome stood condemned by her own teachings, for she continued to regard the Pope as Vicar (or representative) of Christ on earth. The word could also mean “enemy of Christ” and, in light of any examination of papal claims and teachings, the panel agreed that there was still a strong basis for such a definition.
The panel was concerned to note that, 30 years on, there were few within Protestant circles who would understand or support the stand that Dr Paisley took. This was partly due to the growth of secularism in society and a resultant general decline in doctrinal interest, knowledge and understanding. But the panel was particularly concerned at what appeared to be an ongoing softening towards Rome within some evangelical and Reformed circles. It seemed that, faced with the rising tide of secularism and Islam, some evangelicals felt that the battle with Rome was no longer worth pursuing. While the errors of Rome were still rejected, there seemed to be little desire to confront or challenge her. Rome and its ecumenical allies would take heart from this.
Overall, it was felt there was a need for evangelical Protestants, especially but not exclusively young people, to be better taught on these issues within their churches, and for fresh efforts to be made to evangelise and educate the broader Protestant community. There was also a need to evangelise our Roman Catholic neighbours. It was agreed that this presented us with challenges. No evangelical Christian had any desire to lord it over anyone, for we are all sinners saved by grace alone, and, in opposing the false claims and teachings of Rome, it would be crucial to reach out in love.
In conclusion, the panel agreed that we needed to be men and women of prayer. Prayer should underpin and undergird all that we seek to do. Dr Paisley was a man of prayer, and we would do well to follow his example on that issue too.
After a Q&A session from the floor, Baroness Paisley briefly addressed the meeting, and folks then lingered on for a chat and some refreshments. It was a morning well spent.