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Baptists and Freemasonry
Harmon R. Taylor
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 to 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 Solomon's 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 totaled some 12 millions pounds, and benefited a wide range of organizations, including schools, old people's 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 judgment. 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 Canaanite fertility deity, BUL (Baal, who had licentious rites of imitative magic), 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.
Possible Occult Associations
Influence in Society
Whilst this is not strictly within the group's 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.
Appendix I - 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,
1. 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.
2. That Christian Baptism is the immersion in water unto the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, (i.e., Lord Jesus Christ) 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.
3. 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.
1. 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.
2. Jesus Christ as Lord is the sole and absolute authority in the loves of Christian believers and within the Church.
3. The Bible is uniquely the Book of God's revealed truth, through which God in Christ speaks today to the Church and the world.
4. Salvation is solely through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
5. 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.
Appendix II - 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 man's 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:
1) 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.
2) That he seeks no commercial, social, nor pecuniary advantages.
3) That he is able to afford the necessary expenditure without injury to himself or connections.
4) That he is willing to enter into solemn obligations in the sight of his God.
Appendix III - 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."
Appendix IV - For Further Reading
- Freemasonry and the Vatican by Leon DePoncins a valuable addition to the exposure of suppressed history.
- Freemasonry Exposed by Capt. W.M. Morgan.
- Grand Orient Freemasonry Unmasked by Monsigneur G. Dillon, DD. Is the inner circle of Freemasonry one of the powers behind Communism?
- The Character, Claims and Practical Workings of Freemasonry by Rev. C.G. Finney
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