Baptists and Freemasonry
Published by the Baptist Union of Scotland and endorsed by the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland
THE QUESTION RAISED
For several years past certain members of our churches have expressed disquiet concerning the relationship between Freemasonry and Christianity and the possible influence of the movement within some churches. The matter has been raised on several occasions in recent Assemblies and has been the subject of correspondence in the Scottish Baptist Magazine. Although we have little direct evidence that this constitutes as serious and widespread problem in Scottish Baptist Churches, the Council considered the matter carefully and originally agreed that the Doctrine and Inter-Church Relations core groups should review available literature and compile a document directing churches to sources of information, where it was felt guidance was needed.
However, there were those who felt sufficiently strongly about the question to continue to press the Council for firmer action, and at the Council meeting of January 1987 it was agreed Òto appoint a group to study the relationship between Freemasonry and Christianity and to publish their findings in the form of a Viewpoint booklet. They do this in the conviction that our people need clear guidance in this area.
Membership of the group comprised four members of the Doctrine and Interchurch Relations core group, plus four others, under the chairmanship of Rev. A.T.Peck. It was intended that two might be sympathetic towards the Freemasons and two against. From the outset, we were unable to discover anyone within or outside our churches who would be willing to put the Freemasons point of view within the group. We had to depend mainly on published accounts of the principles and practices of Freemasonry. A good deal of material is available both from Masonic sources and also from writers critical of the movement. The major standard encyclopedias also carry useful articles. Some of the books listed in an appendix contain extensive quotations from Masonic literature. We found it somewhat paradoxical that although so much of their practice and ritual is shrouded in secrecy and protected by secret signs, so much is available in various publications, some from Masonic sources.
WHAT IS FREEMASONRY?
It is generally accepted that Freemasonry evolved from the guilds of stonemasons and cathedral builders of the Middle Ages. As cathedral building declined, some lodges of working masons began to accept honorary members. This led to the development of symbolic or speculative Freemasonry. Some Masonic historians maintain that its origins go back much further, to the ancient Egyptians and their Book of the Dead, or the sacred mysteries of the Mayas, or even the building of SolomonÕs Temple. There is evidence that there were Masonic lodges in Britain from the 14th century onwards. But it seems to be generally agreed that modern Freemasonry dates back to 1717 with the formation in England of the first
Grand Lodge, an association of lodges. Since then it has spread to many other countries. The Grand Lodge of Scotland was founded in 1736. There are estimated to be some two million Freemasons in the world of which nearly one million are in the British Isles.
The stated ideals of Freemasonry are, Universal Brotherhood, tolerance of diverse religious "denominations and persuasions" and avoidance of political controversy.
Freemasonry follows an elaborate mythology and complex rites, involving oaths of secrecy. Elements in these are drawn from many sources, including the Bible, other religions, ancient religious orders and chivalric brotherhoods.
These are often used symbolically in a way which bears little or no relation to the original context. The three basic degrees of Freemasonry are, entered apprentice, fellow of the craft, and master mason. Most Masons earn only these three. Beyond these, there are many more advanced degrees, each with its own rituals and secrets. At each stage, further secrets are revealed, safeguarded by solemn oaths. Masons of the lower degrees may often be quite unaware of the nature and wording of these advanced rituals. Some aspects of the movement which are of the greatest concern to Christians are to be found in these higher degrees. Although the Grand Lodge of Scotland regulates Freemasonry only within the first three degrees, the questions raised are still implicit in the movement as a whole.
There are certain differences between Freemasonry in Scotland and the movement in England or America. The Grand Lodge of Scotland which regulates some 1100 lodges is the largest of six groups. The Royal Arch chapter is an administratively separate group in Scotland. The Grand Lodge informs us that certain of the other groups will admit only professing Trinitarian Christians.
Freemasons are known for their generous giving to charitable causes. In 1986, it is estimated that donations from British Freemasons totalled some 12 millions pounds, and benefited a wide range of organizations, including schools, old peopleÕs homes and a private hospital. Although most of these are set up from the benefit of Masons themselves and their families, the Grand Lodge of Scotland supports the work of a number of charitable organizations outside the movement.
Although Freemasonry is an exclusively male society, women may join the order of the Eastern Star. This contains similar rituals and symbolic elements to Freemasonry and its members share in the charitable work of the Brotherhood.
Whether Freemasonry is itself a religion may be a matter for debate. Masons themselves deny that it is. To them it is a society of men concerned with spiritual and moral values or a brotherhood with religious overtones. Whatever they may say, the movements bears all the marks of an organized religion, with its own theology, worship and rituals and its demand for irrevocable commitment. The fact that religion is never discussed is neither here nor there. The whole movement is shot through with religious and mystical elements. The lodge is a model of a temple, masonic hymns are sung, and the volume of the sacred law is open and prominent. There is a chaplain and an altar. Prayers are offered, though not in the name of Jesus Christ. It is the religious elements in the movement, some of which are felt to be inconsistent with the Christian faith, which most of all concern those who have pressed for an enquiry. The following are the main points which have emerged in the course of our enquiry.
In Craft Freemasonry, God is the Great Architect of the Universe (their code word TGAOTU). It is a concept of God which can be accepted by people of many religious who are free to interpret it as they will. This is not the understanding of God, His nature and purpose, as revealed to us in Jesus Christ and through the Scriptures. Modern Freemasonry owes much to the thought of the 18th century, and this concept of God reflects the prevalent Deism of that period,in which God is the Supreme Being, the Creator who has set the world in motion, laid down His moral laws for men to obey, but does not continue to act personally in the world in mercy or in judgement. To Christians, this is a wholly inadequate concept of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Moreover, the name of the Great Architect is revealed in the rite of the Holy Arch as JAHBULON. This is a composite name comprising the Hebrew God JAH (Yahweh), the Syrian deity, BUL (Baal) and ON (Osiris, the ancient Egyptian god of the underworld). This syncretistic view of God is quite incompatible with the God who has been revealed supremely and uniquely in Jesus Christ.
The Grand Lodge representatives were unwilling to admit knowledge of this name, since they regulate only the first three degrees, and the Royal Arch is controlled by a separate lodge in Scotland.
Whatever individual masons may believe about Jesus Christ, Freemasonry itself does not accord Him a unique place as Son of God, Saviour and Lord. Prayer is not offered in His name and His name appears to have little or no part in the proceedings. He is put side by side with other religious teachers such as Confucius, Mohamet or Zoroaster who seem to be regarded as subordinate deities. Some ministers who have agreed to conduct Masonic services have been requested to omit the name of Jesus Christ from their prayers. This is not invariable practice, certainly in Scotland. We were assured by a minister who is a Masonic chaplain that would refuse to conduct any service in which he could not offer prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. Despite that, we seriously question whether a committed Christian could accept what seems to us to be a wholly inadequate view of Jesus Christ for the purposes of his Freemasonry.
The Bible is one of a number of "volumes of sacred law" used in Freemasonry. For Christians the Bible is uniquely inspired as God's word for mankind and is the record of His unique revelation through Israel and in Christ. Parts of the Bible are used in Freemasonry in ways that Christians find unwarrantable. This is especially true of the mystical and allegorical use made of items from Solomon's Temple and of certain Old Testament characters (e.g. Zerubbabel, Joshua and Haggai, and the mythical figure of Hiram Abiff for whom there is no basis in the Biblical account). The Bible seems to be regarded mainly as a source for Masonic symbolism rather than the Word of God, though we were assured that this would not be true of those Masons for whom the Bible is personally authoritative.
Freemasonry teaches much about moral righteousness but almost nothing about sin and repentance. There appears to be no need for the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Masons are encouraged to become involved in charitable causes, and in the minds of many these good works may be their idea of earning salvation. There is another strand in Freemasonry which implies salvation through enlightenment, after the manner of the ancient mystery religions. In the first degree, the candidate is referred to as "a poor candidate in a state of darkness, humbly soliciting to be admitted to the privileges of Freemasonry", but the light offered is not Jesus Christ, the Light of the world. We find it hard to understand how a committed Christian could honestly be the subject in such a ritual.
Masons believe in the immortality of the soul, but the hope appears not to be in Christ, but through the moral example, re-enacted by the initiate, of the mythical brass-founder, Hiram Abiff. Some Masons deny that this is so, and regard it as a misunderstanding of the meaning of the ritual. However, the hope is expressed in non-Christian terms as "when we shall be summoned from this sublunary abode we may ascend to the Grand Lodge above, where the world's Great Architect lives and reigns forever." This is not the Christian hope of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ the crucified and risen Lord.
Masons themselves emphasize that the movement is not a secret society but a society with secrets, since there is no attempt to hide the identity of members. However we feel that the strong element of secrecy and the use of secret signs which characterize the movement are inconsistent with the openness of Christian faith and witness. We also seriously question whether it is permissible for Christians to commit themselves to a course of action the nature of which is a yet concealed from them, as happens in the rites of initiation. It is difficult to avoid the judgement that there is a strong element of deception in this practice.
The extravagant nature of the solemn oaths to safeguard the secrets is also a matter for concern. They smack of the kind of vain swearing which is condemned in the Scriptures (cf. Matt.5:33-37). Although the bizarre penalties of mutilation and death which are attached to the oaths may never be literally carried out, they and the oaths imply a degree of commitment required of the candidate which appears quite incompatible with a ChristianÕs supreme commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord. It is difficult not to see a very real conflict of loyalties for any Christian who takes seriously his commitment to the Brotherhood.
POSSIBLE OCCULT ASSOCIATIONS
Some Christians are convinced that the are occult or even diabolical elements in Freemasonry. Their grounds for this appear to be mainly twofold.
1) The use of names. The name of the god Baal occurs in the composite name for God. In the Bible this is the fertility god of the Canaanites and later the name became an appellation of the devil. In the ritual of some of the higher degrees the names of Lucifer and Abaddon are used as revelations of the Masonic deity. Both have evil associations in the Bible. Although they may simply have been taken from the Bible out of their original context and used in the first place with any evil significance, some Christians believe that they carry their evil associations with them and that those who share in the rituals may be in danger of exposure to occult influences.
2) Some ministers and other pastoral counsellors have had the experience of dealing with Masons who have testified to their need for spiritual deliverance, feeling spiritually bound until set free by Christ.
Certainly the whole complex of words and ideas inherent in Freemasonry bears close similarities to forms of occultism and is in strong contrast to the purity and simplicity of the Gospel and would appear to be inconsistent with the Christian's walking in the light.
INFLUENCE IN SOCIETY
Whilst this is not strictly within the groupÕs remit, it would be a matter of Christian concern if there were strong evidence that Freemasonry exerts an undue and detrimental influence in certain areas of our national life (e.g. in the professions, industry, local government, Civil service, police). Allegations of unfair advantage, of the distortion of justice and even of corruption, have often been made and as often strenuously denied. Because the movement works largely in secrecy and uses secret signs and code words, it is often difficult to pinpoint specific instances. Some who have recently investigated some of the allegations at depth appear to be convinced that they have some foundation. For example, Sir Kenneth Newman in his guidelines issued to the Metropolitan Police leaves no doubt that in his view Freemasonry and police service are incompatible. Stephen Knight (in The Brotherhood) gives detailed records of his own investigations in various areas.
We feel that there is a great danger that the Christian who is a Freemason may find himself compromising his Christian beliefs and his allegiance to Jesus Christ, perhaps without realizing what he is doing.
It may be that some entered the movement as young men with a view to possible advantages it appeared to offer or through family connections. It may be that they accepted the strange rites of initiation largely as a means to an end. It could well be that the religious aspects of Freemasonry did not greatly concern them. Hence, they have never been acutely aware of any serious incompatibility between their Christian faith and membership in the Brotherhood.
However, the clear conclusion we have reached from our enquiry is that there is an inherent incompatibility between Freemasonry and the Christian faith. Also that commitment within the movement is inconsistent with a Christian's commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord.
"This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. I we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, and he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin." 1 John 1:5-7
OUR BASIC CONVICTIONS
These and the nature of our Christian commitment are summarized in our Baptist Union Declaration of Principle, which is itself firmly based on New Testament truth. There it is stated that the basis of our Union is,
- That the Lord Jesus Christ our God and Saviour is the sole and absolute authority in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and that each church has liberty to interpret and administer His laws.
- That Christian Baptism is the immersion in water unto the name of the Father,the Son and the Holy Spirit, of those who have professed repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ Who died for our sins according to the Scriptures: was buried and rose again the third day.
- That it is the duty of every disciple to bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to take part in the evangelization of the world.
Stated or implicit in this declaration are the following affirmations.
- There is One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Who has revealed Himself supremely and uniquely in His Son Jesus Christ, Who through His death and resurrection has brought us forgiveness of our sins and a share in the eternal life of God.
- Jesus Christ as Lord is the sole and absolute authority in the loves of Christian believers and within the Church.
- The Bible is uniquely the Book of God's revealed truth, through which God in Christ speaks today to the Church and the world.
- Salvation is solely through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
- In believer's baptism we affirm our prior commitment to Jesus Christ our living Lord and Saviour and the Head of the Church, and to our share in His mission for the world for which He died.
WHAT MASONS SAY OF THEMSELVES
Information For Candidates (from The Universal Book of Craft Masonry)
Freemasonry consists of a body of men banded together to preserve the secrets, customs, and ceremonials handed down to them from time immemorial, and for the purpose of mutual intellectual, social and moral improvement. They also endeavor to cultivate and exhibit brotherly love, relief and truth, not only to one another, but to the world at large.
Freemasonry offers no pecuniary advantages whatever, neither does there exist any obligation nor implied understanding binding one Mason to deal with another, nor to support him in any way in the ordinary business relations of life.
Freemasonry has certain charities, but it is not in any sense whatever a benefit society, nor is it based on any calculation which would render this possible. The charities are solely for those who having been in good circumstances have been overtaken by misfortune or adversity, and they are quite insufficient to meet even these demands now made upon them.
Freemasonry distinctly teaches that a manÕs first duty is to himself, his wife, his family and his connections, and no one should join the Order who cannot well afford to pay the initiation fees and subscriptions to his Lodge as well as to the Masonic charities, and this without detriment in any way to his comfort or that of those who have any claim on his support.
Freemasonry recognizes no distinctions of religion, but none should attempt to enter who have no religious belief, as faith in a Deity must be expressed before any can be initiated, and prays to Him form a frequent part of the ritual.
Freemasonry therefore demands that everyone offering himself as a candidate should be well assured in his own mind:
- That he sincerely desires the intellectual and moral improvements of himself and his fellow creatures, and that he is willing to devote part of his time, means and efforts to the promotion of brotherly love, relief and trust.
- That he seeks no commercial, social, nor pecuniary advantages.
- That he is able to afford the necessary expenditure without injury to himself or connections.
- That he is willing to enter into solemn obligations in the sight of his God.
REPORTS FROM OTHER DENOMINATIONS
Most of the reports and comments available tend to strike the note of quiet pastoral concern, rather than indulging in wild, dramatic claims. Certain basic concerns are common to all, and it is surely not without significance that enquiry groups set up by Christians from differing traditions have arrived at very similar conclusions to our own.
The Church of Scotland Panel on Doctrine (1965) concludes, "In our view total obedience to Christ precludes joining any organization such as the Masonic movement which seems to demand a whole-hearted allegiance to itself, and at the same time refuses to divulge all that is involved in that allegiance prior to joining...The initiate is required to commit himself to Masonry in a way that a Christian should only commit himself to Christ." (They are instituting a fresh enquiry following discussion in the 1987 Assembly)
The Free Church of Scotland report concludes, "in the minds of the committee, according to their interpretations of Scripture, membership of Freemasonry...is inconsistent with a profession of the Christian faith."
The Methodist report states, "There is a great danger that the Christian who becomes a Freemason will find himself compromising his Christian beliefs or his allegiance to Christ, perhaps without realizing what he is doing. Consequently, our guidance is that Methodists should not become Freemasons."
The recently published report of the Church of England enquiry points to a number of fundamental reasons to question the incompatibility of Freemasonry and Christianity. They believe that Christians who are also Freemasons face major difficulties in reconciling the two allegiances, and that some of the Masonic rituals are felt to be "blasphemous, disturbing and even evil."
FOR FURTHER READING
From the literature consulted by the group, we recommend the following for further reading.
Darkness Visible. Walton Hannah (Augustine Publishing Co.) Valuable not only as a Christian appraisal of Freemasonry but also as a source book of detail of Freemasonry ritual.
The Brotherhood. Stephen Knight (Granada) Not written from a Christian standpoint but contains results of researches into the influence of Freemasonry in areas of national life. The chapter "The Devil in Disguise" is especially relevant.
Freemasonry — a Religion? John Lawrence (A C of E vicar) (Kingsway) published in 1978.
Christians and Freemasonry. W.J. McCormick, distributed by McCall Barbour, 28 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh.
The Question of Freemasonry. J. Edward Decker (obtainable from FREE THE MASONS MINISTRIES, P.O. Box 1226, Issaquah, WA. 98027, USA) Strongly polemical in tone, but valuable for extensive quotations from acknowledged Masonic sources.
Freemasonry — of God or of the Devil? Sermon by Rev. A.W. Rainsbury (C of E) (obtainable from Pickering and Inglis)
Guidance to the Methodists on Freemasonry. (obtainable through Baptist Church House)
Report of the Church of England Working Group, (obtainable from Church House, Westminster).
As stated in the document we had originally hoped for some Freemasonry input into our enquiry. This proved not to be possible. A written request to a local lodge for information resulted in a phone call with a strong denial that there could be any incompatibility between Freemasonry and Christianity and ending with a flat refusal to give us any help. We were grateful for the comments of a member of an English Baptist church who is a Mason, on the areas of concern we raised with him. We also had comments from an ex-Mason who has recently renounced his membership in the Brotherhood.
We were concerned that we have no authoritative comment from Scottish Freemasonry and eventually we approached the Grand Lodge of Scotland. They willingly agreed to meet us and four members of our group met with leading representatives of the Grand Lodge. We were received most cordially and had a frank and full discussion on the questions which concerned us. In some matters, we found an openness we had not expected and some real appreciation of the issues we raised, though at times we detected a definite holding back. We were grateful for the meeting which helped to clarify some questions concerning Freemasonry in Scotland.
We have also noted the published concerns of the Grand Secretary of the United Grand Lodge of England on the report of the Church of England working group.
In general, the reaction of Freemasons is a blanket denial that Freemasonry is in any sense a religion or that there can be any incompatibility with the Christian faith or in any sense a divided allegiance. The important question is not whether Freemasonry is itself a religion, but whether the undoubted religious elements in it can be accepted by a committed Christian without the danger of compromising the Christian faith.
The gist of their argument seems to be that even though Freemasonry deliberately limits the concept of God to a common denominator thought to be acceptable to me of all religious faiths, the Christian Mason can bring into it privately all the richness of the Christian revelation and supplement the inadequate worship offered with his own worship of the Triune God. Moreover, that just as Jesus Christ is implicit in the Old Testament, so he may be understood to be implicit in Freemasonry without actually being named.
We do not find the argument convincing. The question arises, Why should a Christian for whom Jesus Christ is the fulness of God and who knows Him as Saviour and Lord wish to belong to a movement whose members when they worship together do not offer Christian worship?
And why should be wish to belong to a movement which demands of him the kind of commitment that he should only give to Jesus Christ his Lord?