Lutherans Informed about Lodges (LIL)
ANCIENT FREE AND ACCEPTED MASONS
the theological perspective of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
in response to inquiries from members of the Synod.
What is Freemasonry?
To the casual observer Freemasonry appears to be primarily a social institution which offers fraternal and benevolent advantages to its members. The Order frequently attracts public attention by its charities, welfare programs, and contributions to civic enterprises. These, however, do not express the full nature and purpose of the organization. The most common definition of Freemasonry given in Masonic writings states that it is “a peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” Albert G. Mackey, recognized Masonic authority, believed that “a more comprehensive and exact definition is that it is a science which is engaged in the search after Divine Truth, and which employs symbolism as its method of instruction.” (Mackey’s Revised Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, p. 269). The “Preamble” or “Declaration of Principles” of most state Grand Lodges defines the Order in words similar to these:
Freemasonry is a charitable, benevolent, educational and religious society. Its principles are proclaimed as widely as men will hear. Its only secrets are in its methods of recognition and of symbolic instruction. It is religious in that it teaches monotheism; the volume of the Sacred Law is open upon its altars whenever a lodge is in session; reverence for God is ever present in its ceremonials, and to its brethren are constantly addressed lessons of morality; yet it is not sectarian or theological... (Handbook of Masonic Law, State of Louisiana, p. 4a)
Masonic writers have not hesitated to emphasize the religious character of the organization. Alphonse Cerza declares, “Freemasonry is a fraternal organization, religious in character, based on the principle of the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man, which does charitable work in the community and among its members, and through its teachings and ceremonials seeks to make good men better and thereby make the world a better place to live in.” (The New Age Magazine, August, 1962, pp. 30-32). Other writers do not confine Masonry’s teachings to “the world." Carl H. Claudy, in his Introduction to Freemasonry, wrote, “Freemasonry is neither a thing nor a ritual. It is not a lodge nor an organization. Rather it is a manner of thought, a way of living, a guide to the City on a Hill. To make any less of it is to act as a spurious Mason.” (p. 70).
To what extent do Masonic writings aid in defining the Craft? Quotations from Mackey, Pike, Newton, and other authorities, from the past are often dismissed as expressing private interpretations rather than authentic explanations of the ritual. It is stated: “Masons, according to their background and credal affiliations, may legitimately vary enormously in their interpretation as to what these symbols mean. (Vindex, Light Invisible, p. 50). On the other hand, while interpretations of the symbols may vary, as far as the rituals state the facts of Masonry they will always be authorities. Relevant to this, The Freemasons’ Guide and Compendium declares:
Brethren are fond of repeating the statement that there is no authorized ritual. But is not this rather a technicality, something of a legal fiction, a convenient formula? Obviously it is true that, with certain small exceptions, no written or printed ritual has been authorized by the United Grand Lodge, but is it not equally true to say that Grand Lodge would soon assert itself, as it has done in the past, if the essentials of the ritual were departed from? (Op. cit., p. 225).
The primary sources for a knowledge of Freemasonry are: the Landmarks, or universal customs of the Craft, twenty-five of which were set down by Mackey; the Rituals, often abbreviated in cipher code, such as the Ecce Orienti, King Solomon and His Followers, the Acimnos Ceihpr (“Masonic Cipher”), and others for side degrees; the Masonic Monitors, such as those by Sickels, Webb, Simons, and Mackey’s Ritualist; the Annual Grand Lodge Reports; writings by Mackey, Coil, and Pike, often quoted by Masonic writers as being authorities; and the journals approved by Grand Lodges of various states. None but superficial wording changes are permitted in the ritual which is, then, never antiquated. The Landmarks, “like the laws of the Medes and the Persians, change not.” (Haywood, op. cit., p. 56). From a share in the ceremonies of Freemasonry “no Mason can be exempted.” (Daniel Sickels, The Freemason’s Monitor, p. 16).
Essential Masonry—The Blue Lodge
The only true Masonry that exists is that of the first three degrees. Mackey lists as the second Landmark of Masonry: “The division of symbolic Masonry into three degrees is a Landmark that has been better preserved than almost any other.” (Acimnos Ceihpr, p. 43). The Blue Lodge, or Craft Masonry, which is constituted by the degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason, is the basis of all Masonry. Higher degrees are available to one “who seeks to broaden as far as possible his knowledge of those great fundamental truths which distinguish Freemasonry.” (Darrah, History and Evolution of Freemasonry, p. 337). Additional degrees do not entitle the possessor to greater authority. This is exemplified in a statement by the Sovereign Grand Commander of the Northern Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite: “The Scottish Rite shares the belief of all Masonic organizations that there is no higher degree than that of Master Mason... Our degrees are in addition to and in no way ‘higher’ than Blue Lodge Degrees. Scottish Rite work amplifies and elaborates on the lessons of the Craft.” (The Facts of Scottish Rite, p. 11). The tenets and credal affirmations of Freemasonry, then, are to be understood from the lessons taught in the three Craft degrees. Although there is in the United States no supreme Grand Lodge, there are only minor wording variations among the rituals of the individual state Grand Lodges. The contents of the rituals are in substantial agreement, since they are based upon early rituals prepared by the founders of modern Freemasonry.
The Craft Degrees
After the lodge has been properly tiled to determine whether all present are Freemasons, the lodge is opened in the Entered Apprentice degree. When all present have sung the opening ode the Worshipful Master instructs the Chaplain to lead in the following prayer:
Most holy and glorious Lord God, the Great Architect of the Universe, the Giver of all good gifts and graces; in Thy Name we have assembled, and in Thy Name we desire to proceed in all our doings. Grant that the sublime principles of Freemasonry may so subdue every discordant passion within us—so harmonize and enrich our hearts with Thine own love and goodness—that the Lodge at this time may humbly reflect that order and beauty which reign forever before Thy Throne. Amen. (King Solomon and His Followers, Missouri, p. 8).
The Worshipful Master declares the Lodge open “in the name of God and the Holy Saints John” and cites Psalm 133. Presentation of the candidate for Entered Apprentice degree follows, at which time he assures the assembly that his membership was not solicited and that he will “cheerfully conform to all the ancient usages and established customs of the Fraternity.” (Ibid., p. 12). The candidate is repeatedly referred to as “a poor blind candidate, who has long been in darkness and now desires to be brought from darkness to light.” (Ibid., pp. 13, 16, 17, 18, ff). A sharp instrument is pressed against the candidate’s naked left breast, the recollection of which is to deter him from revealing any of the secrets of Freemasonry, since this instrument “might be made an instrument of torture to your flesh.” (Ibid., p. 14), The Chaplain then implores God:
Vouchsafe Thine aid, Almighty Father of the Universe, to this our present convention, and grant that this candidate for Freemasonry may dedicate and devote his life to Thy service, and become a true and faithful brother among us. Endue him with a competency of Thy divine wisdom, that by the influence of the pure principles of our Art, he may be better enabled to display the beauties of holiness to the honor of Thy Holy Name. Amen. (Ibid., p. 15).
Each prayer in the ritual is met with the response, “So mote it be.” After various exchanges of dialogue, during which the Worshipful Master explains to him “briefly the principles of the institution,” including “its religion, if religion it may be called, is an unfeigned belief in the One Living and True God” (Ibid., p. 20), the candidate is instructed to repeat the obligation with his right hand resting upon the Holy Bible, Square, and Compasses. “In the presence of Almighty God and this worshipful Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, erected to Him and dedicated to the Holy Saints John,” he solemnly and sincerely promises and swears to keep secret the “hidden mysteries of Freemasonry,” concluding:
To all of this and these I sincerely promise and swear without equivocation, mental reservation, or secret evasion, in me whatever, binding myself under no less a penalty than having my throat cut from ear to ear, my tongue torn out by its roots, and my body buried in the rough sands of the sea, a cable-tow length from shore, where the tide ebbs and flows twice in twenty-four hours, should I knowingly or willingly violate this my solemn obligation as an Entered Apprentice. So help me God and enable me to keep steadfast in the due performance of the same. (Ibid., pp. 21-22).
The candidate kisses the Bible and, in response to an inquiry from the Worshipful Master, declares that what he desires most at this time is “light.” The Worshipful Master reads Genesis 1:1-3 and states: “In humble commemoration of that august event, I Masonically say, ‘Let there be light.’” (Ibid., p. 23). The hoodwink which the candidate has been wearing is removed and he sees before him the “Greater Lights” of Masonry, the Holy Bible, Square and Compasses. These he is able to see because of the three “Lesser Lights,” the Sun, Moon, and Worshipful Master. The Worshipful Master now imparts to him the secret work of the degree, the grips, symbols and signs, finally presenting him with the Lambskin of White Leather Apron, saying, “It is an emblem of innocence and the badge of a Freemason.” (Ibid., p. 26). The working tools of an Entered Apprentice are described with their symbolic meaning. Of the common gavel it is said:
We as Free and Accepted Masons, are taught to make use of it for the more noble and glorious purpose of divesting our hearts and consciences of all the vices and superfluities of life, thereby fitting our minds as living stones, for that spiritual building, that house not made with hands, eternal in the heaven. (Ibid., p. 29).
The second section of the Entered Apprentice degree reviews what has taken place, and closes with another definition of the Apron:
The Lamb has, in all ages, been deemed an emblem of innocence. He, therefore, who wears the Lambskin as the badge of a Freemason, is constantly reminded of that purity of life and conduct which is so essentially necessary to his gaining admission into the Celestial Lodge above, where the Supreme Architect of the Universe presides. (Ibid., pp. 33-34).
The third section of the first degree gives further instruction concerning the lodge and its furnishings. The Covering of the Lodge is said to be the “star-decked heaven, where all good Freemasons hope at last to arrive by aid of that theological ladder which Jacob, in his vision, saw.” (Ibid., p. 35). By the rough Ashlar, a stone in its natural state, “we are reminded of our rude and imperfect state by nature,” while the Perfect Ashlar reminds us of “that state of perfection at which we hope to arrive by a virtuous education, our own endeavors, and the blessing of God,” (Ibid., p. 37). Further instructions close the lodge in the Entered Apprentice Degree.
Following an opening similar to that of the first degree, is the ceremonial of “passing” an Entered Apprentice to the degree of Fellow Craft. The obligation is taken and the secret work of the second degree revealed. The candidate is instructed:
By Speculative Masonry we learn to subdue the passions, act upon the Square, keep a tongue of good report, maintain secrecy, and practice charity. It is so far interwoven with religion as to lay us under obligations to pay the rational homage to the Deity which at once constitutes our duty and our happiness. (Ibid., p. 75).
“Raising” to the Master Mason Degree follows the opening of the third degree. A Fellow Craft desires more light. After being welcomed “in the name of the Lord,” he is led around the lodge while various officers recite the words of Ecclesiastes 12:1-7. The Worshipful Master “is pleased to assure” him that his obligation “will not conflict with your duties to God, your neighbor, or yourself.” (Ibid., p. 113). The candidate swears that he will not reveal the secrets of Freemasonry, will assist a needy brother if it does not require injury to himself or family, will not use the grand hailing sign unless in immediate danger, nor cheat nor defraud a fellow Mason, nor strike a fellow Mason, nor have carnal intercourse with a close female relative of a fellow Mason. He will not be present at making a Mason of an old man in his dotage, an under-age youth, an atheist, an irreligious libertine, a madman, a woman, etc. He concludes:
To all of this and these I solemnly and sincerely promise and swear without equivocation, mental reservation, or secret evasion in me whatever, binding myself under no less penalty than having my body severed in twain, the parts carried North and South, my bowels burned to ashes and these ashes scattered to the four winds of heaven, that there might not remain trace or remembrance of so vile and perjured a wretch as I would be should I knowingly or willingly violate this my solemn obligation as a Master Mason. So help me God and enable me to keep steadfast in the due performance of the same. (Ibid., pp. 114-117).
Once more the candidate requests more light, and the secret work of the Craft is revealed to him.
The second section of the “Raising” ceremony consists of a drama in which the candidate is cast in the role of Grand Master Hiram Abiff. The Senior Deacon speaks for the candidate. King Solomon, King Hiram of Tyre, and Hiram Abiff were the only three who knew the Masonic word. None of them could speak it except in the presence of the other two. Three ruffians desired to obtain the word and attacked Hiram Abiff when he was alone in the Temple complex which was under construction. When he refused to surrender the word, they killed him and buried his body. The Craft searched diligently for him when it was discovered that he was missing. Eventually the searchers came upon the new grave and succeeded in capturing the three ruffians. The ruffians were executed and the body then exhumed. With the grips of an Entered Apprentice and a Fellow Craft and Senior Warden attempts to raise the “body” of Hiram in order that it might be given a proper burial. He informs King Solomon that it cannot be done because of the disintegrating of the body. Because no one knows what to do, they ask the Chaplain to pray; one of the suggested prayers concludes:
May he who, prone and silent before us, represents the dread fact that all must face, rise from this hour to work henceforth in the newness of life. May he, gathering wisdom from our Great Light, from the beautiful symbolism of Freemasonry, and from the instructive tongues of older and wiser Brethren, so rid himself of all that is evil and unworthy, that he may become a Perfect Ashlar, fitted in the quarries on earth for the Glorious Temple above. Impress upon him, and all of us, the lesson of our mortality and enable us so to regulate our lives by the teachings of Thy Word and the pure principles of our Order, that when at last we are summoned into the unseen, and our bodies lie cold and still and helpless, we may meet that hour in the glad hope that even Death itself shall surrender its hold at the magic touch of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and that His strong grip shall raise us to enter into everlasting rest and refreshment in the Grand Lodge on High. Amen. (Ibid., pp. 141-142).
After the prayer the dead Grand Master is raised by “the strong grip of the Left Paw, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.” (Ibid., p. 142). The candidate, now raised from the dead, is given the five points of fellowship, foot to foot, knee to knee, breast to breast, hand to back, and mouth to ear. In this position the Masonic word, Mahabone (variously spelled) is communicated to him, and only in this position can it be repeated. The lecture addressed to the new Master Mason reviews the meaning of the drama which has just taken place. It is followed by a description of the building of the Temple and a definition of the emblems of the third degree. Among these is the:
All-Seeing Eye Whom the Sun, Moon and Stars obey, and under whose watchful care even Comets perform their stupendous revolutions, pervades the inmost recesses of the Human Heart, and will reward us according to our merits. (Ibid., p. 157).
The sprig of acacia reminds the Master Mason that:
there is an immortal spark in man, bearing a close affinity to the supreme intelligence of the Universe, which shall survive the grave, and never, never die. This strengthens him to look forward with confidence and composure to a blessed immortality, and he doubts not that in the glorious morn of resurrection his body will rise and become as incorruptible as his soul. (Ibid., 159-160).
After more review and instruction the Lodge is closed “in the name of God and the Holy Saints John,” and with prayer. (King Solomon and His Followers, Missouri, p. 8).
Is Masonry a Religion?
The multiplicity of Bible quotations and prayers in Masonic rituals, as well as the required subscription to the doctrines of monotheism, immortality of the soul, and resurrection of the body, raise the question of whether Freemasonry is a religion in itself. Masonic authorities agree that Masonry is saturated with religious beliefs and requirements, but are reluctant to admit that many Freemasons consider it “their religion.” Albert Mackey, best known Masonic authority, defines Masonry as “a science which is engaged in the search after Divine Truth.” (Revised Encyclopedia, p. 269). In his Masonic Ritualist Mackey calls the Order “a religious institution” (p. 44), and also explains, “A Lodge is said to be opened ‘in the name of God and the Holy Saints John,’ as a declaration of the sacred and religious purposes of our meeting.” (p. 14). Henry Wilson Coil, whose Masonic Encyclopedia is of later origin and preferred by some Masonic jurisdictions, is more explicit than Mackey in dealing with the question of whether Masonry is a religion:
Some attempt to avoid the issue by saying that Freemasonry is not a religion but is religious, seeming to believe that the substitution of an adjective for a noun makes a fundamental difference. It would be as sensible to say that a man had no intellect but was intellectual or that he had no honor but was honorable. (p. 512).
Coil, who seems to recognize and deplore a growing tendency in Masonry to become increasingly dogmatic in religious matters, also writes:
It is said that Freemasonry is not sectarian, by which is meant that it has not identified itself with any well-known sect. But, if it has a religious credo, may it not, itself, constitute a sect to be added to the others... Perhaps the most we can say is that Freemasonry has not generally been regarded as a sect or denomination, though it may become so if its religious practices, creeds, tenets, and dogma increase as much in the future as they have in the past. Only by judging from external appearances and applying arbitrary gauges can we say that Freemasonry is not a religion (Ibid., p. 513).
Other Masonic authors also define the essence of Masonry as its spiritual content. Cerza writes, concerning what a Mason may tell his non-Masonic friends, “You can tell them that the ritual contains a philosophy of life which provides the new member with something on which to build a hope that is eternal.” (The New Age Magazine, August, 1962, pp. 30-32)
Darrah maintains that “almost every practice Masonry inculcates and every truth it teaches is of scriptural origin,” and he explains:
Recognizing this fact, it can be readily understood why many members of the Craft regard the Fraternity so religiously that they are willing to chance Heaven in their fidelity to its principles. (op. cit., p. 293).
Because of the very fact that Freemasonry purports to assume a religious posture and perform the functions of a church it becomes morally and theologically necessary for the Christian to inquire whether the Craft’s tenets and dogma are compatible with the Christian faith. It is evident that the more thoroughly the Gospel of salvation by the grace of God is understood, the more imperative such inquiry becomes.
If Freemasonry tenaciously clings to the declaration that all religions are merely expressions of one and the same truth, then it must be avoided as sub-Christian.
Dr. Mackey defined Masonry’s position in the words:
If Freemasonry were simply a Christian institution, the Jew and the Moslem, the Brahman and the Buddhist, could not conscientiously partake of its illumination. But its universality is its boast. In its language citizens of every nation may converse; at its altar men of all religions kneel; to its creed disciples of every faith may subscribe. (Revised Encyclopedia, pp. 200-201).
The concept of Freemasonry as the universal religion can be illustrated in many writings. The lecture suggested to be given to the Fellow Craft describes Masonry:
It makes no profession of Christianity, and wars not against sectarian creeds or doctrines, but looks forward to the time when the labor of our ancient brethren shall be symbolized by the erection of a spiritual temple whose moral grandeur shall be commensurate with civilization; a Temple in which there shall be one altar and but one worship; one common altar of Masonry, on which the Veda, Sutra, Zend-Avesta, Koran, and Holy Bible shall lie untouched by sacrilegious hands, and at whose shrine the Hindu, the Persian, the Assyrian, the Chaldean, the Egyptian, the Chinese, the Mohammedan, the Jew, and the Christian may kneel and with one united voice celebrate the praises of the Supreme Architect of the Universe. (Louisiana Masonic Monitor, p. 99).
Even more pointed than the writings of Mackey and other “standard” authorities of Masonry is a book written in defense of Masonry by an English author who identifies himself only as “Vindex.” He speaks of the founding of the Masonic Lodge as “charged with Pentecostal significance.” Referring to Father Walton Hannah’s expose’ of Freemasonry which rocked England, Vindex writes:
Christianity, he says again and again, is an exclusive faith. Christ opened the only gate of heaven to man below. All prayer not offered in the name of Christ, he boldly proclaims, is idolatrous. He is our only mediator and advocate, and the only revelation of divine truth. In His name only is salvation to be found. If Mr. Hannah is right, he has certainly proved his case. Given these premises, his logic is irrefutable. If true religion is thus to be narrowed down to salvation in no other name under heaven, and St. Paul’s words to this effect be understood in a spirit of bigoted literalness, then any such “Christian” must indeed be straining his conscience to the breaking point by accepting initiation into the broader and deeper mysteries of Freemasonry. I, for one, can never understand how anyone who takes an exclusive view of Christ as the only complete revelation of God’s truth can become a Freemason without suffering from spiritual schizophrenia. (Light Invisible, p. 85).
Joseph Fort Newton writes the dream of Masonry for the future in these words:
At last, in the not distant future, the old feuds of the sects will come to an end, —even now their walls, once sky-high, are falling down—forgotten in the discovery that the just, the brave, the true-hearted are everywhere of one religion, and that when the masks of misunderstanding are taken off they know and love one another. Our little dogmas will have their day and cease to be, lost in the vision of a truth so great that all men are one in their littleness; one also in their assurance of the divinity of the soul and ‘the kindness of the veiled Father of men.’ Then men of every name will ask when they meet: Not what is your creed? But what is your need? High above all dogmas that divide, all bigotrys that blind, all bitterness that beclouds, will be written the simple words of the one eternal religion—the Fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, the moral law, the golden rule, and the hope of a life everlasting! (The Builders, pp. 246-247).
Masonic View of Scripture
Although the Bible is one of the “Great Lights” of Masonry, its place in the Craft is as “a symbol of the will of God, however it may be expressed. Therefore, whatever to any people expresses that will may be used as a substitute for the Bible in a Masonic Lodge.” (Mackey’s Revised Encyclopedia, p. 133). The prescribed “Volume of Sacred Law” to be found in the lodge may be the Koran, or any other book held sacred by ancient religions. When the Bible is used in the Blue Lodge, the name of Jesus is deleted, as “a slight, but necessary modification,” lest the non-Christian be offended. The Landmarks provide only that “a Book of the Law, a religious code of some kind, purporting to be an exemplar of the revealed will of God, shall form an essential part of the furniture of every lodge.” (Acimnos Ceihpr, p. 174). Mackey’s inference that only Masonry can provide full divine truth bears out the Masonic view that the Bible is only a symbol. Of the initiate he says:
There he stands without our portals, on the threshold of this new Masonic life, in darkness, helplessness, and ignorance. Having been wandering amid the errors and covered only with the pollutions of the outer and profane world, he comes inquiringly to our doors, seeking the new birth, and asking a withdrawal of the veil which conceals divine Truth from his uninitiated sight. (Masonic Ritualist, p. 23).
Masonry poses as a system teaching man’s whole duty to God and fellow man and nowhere admits to anything beside its own philosophy as necessary to spiritual life. “This conception is repugnant to the convinced Christian who believes that the Holy Ghost guides the Church into all truth,” writes Father Hanna, and he points to how confusing this must be in the case of a clergyman subscribing to the Masonic philosophy:
The ordinary Christian who knows that his vicar is a Mason may therefore be entitled to doubt whether the revelation that is preached from the pulpit is after all complete, as his pastor finds it expedient or even possible to supplement it with hidden mysteries obtainable only in the lodge. (Darkness Visible, p. 45)
Father Hannah’s fears are realized in the reply given to his book by “Vindex,” a Masonic clergyman:
There is, however, a certain difference in emphasis and interpretation of the Word of God between the Church and the Craft. This difference, however, is steadily and significantly lessening, as the Church, in the light of much knowledge gained from higher criticism and from an increasing breadth of outlook, is moving steadily away from her earlier and now untenable position of looking in the Bible as literal fact and history, and is moving toward the broader and more ancient and Masonic outlook of regarding the Volume of the Sacred Law as the repository of symbolic truth, itself a symbol of the truth of God. (Light Invisible, p. 55).
The Masonic Doctrine of God
One of the Ancient landmarks of Masonry, as enumerated by Mackey, states: “It has always been deemed essential that a denial of the existence of a Supreme and Super-intending Power is an absolute disqualification for initiation. The annals of the Craft never yet have furnished or could furnish an instance in which an avowed atheist was ever made a Mason. The very initiatory ceremonies of the first degree forbid and prevent the possibility of so monstrous an occurrence.” (Acimnos Ceihpr, pp. 173-174). To this he adds:
The religion of Freemasonry is cosmopolitan, universal; but the required belief in God is not incompatible with this universality; for it is the belief of all peoples. “Be assured,” says Godfre Higgins, “that God is equally present with the pious Hindu in the temple, the Jew in the synagogue, the Mohammedan in the mosque, and the Christian in the church.” (Revised Encyclopedia, pp. 409-410).
The recurring symbol of the triangle in Masonry is not to be interpreted as referring to the Trinity of the Godhead.
While many religions of many ages and peoples have conceived of Divinity as a trinity, the figure three as a symbol of God is far older than any trinitarian doctrine. The triangle, like the circle, is without beginning or ending. One line, or two lines, have ends... the triangle has no loose ends. (Claudy, Introduction to Freemasonry, pp. 41-42).
In effect these words give rise to the following Masonic Interpretations:
For if a Christian and a Hindu meet together in a Lodge, and pray together to God, it is surely axiomatic in this atmosphere of broad charity that the Christian must acknowledge that the Hindu’s God is ultimately the same as his own, for the prayers in the Masonic Ritual are not, of course, offered in the plural as to many Gods, but to one. Masonry is monotheistic, though wide differences in interpretation of God are of course allowed. It is important that all critics of Masonry, as well as Masons themselves, should thoroughly grasp this point. (Vindex, op. cit., pp. 42-43, italics the author’s).
This position is responsible for the mandate that prayer may not be offered in Jesus’ name in essential Masonry, the three Craft degrees. Such prayers are permitted in some side degrees of the American Rite and the 18th and 30th degrees of the Scottish Rite.
The Masonic Doctrine of Man
No teaching of Scripture does man oppose more strenuously than the doctrine of the “total depravity of man.” This doctrine strikes at man’s pride and achievement and thus is declared incompatible with the spirit of Masonry:
Nor does Masonry teach that human nature is a depraved thing, like the ruin of a once proud building. Many think that man was once a perfect being but that through some unimaginable moral catastrophe he became corrupt into the last moral fiber of his being, so that, without some kind of supernatural or miraculous help from outside him he can never of himself do, or say, or think, or be aught but that which is deformed, vile, and hideous. Those who hold to this kind of anthropology usually claim to know how supernatural help may be brought to bear on that corruption which is human nature, and they usually believe themselves to be of the party which controls that help, and they also usually believe that only those who accept supernatural intervention according to their own formula have any hope whatever of escaping from the original sin into which every man is born... It is true that the lesson in the Third Degree is a lesson of regeneration: the candidate comes as one whose old self must die in order that a new self may be born; but this new life into which the candidate is born is not in any sense supernatural. (Haywood, The Great Teachings of Masonry, pp. 138-139).
The lecture to the Entered Apprentice recognizes the need for a change in man, but denies that direct intervention of God is necessary:
The Rough Ashlar is a stone, as taken from the quarry, in its rude and natural state. By it we are reminded of our rude and imperfect state by nature. The Perfect Ashlar is a stone made ready by the hands of the workmen, to be adjusted by the working tools of the Fellow Craft, and reminds us of that state of perfection at which we hope to arrive by a virtuous education, our own endeavors, and the blessing of God. Louisiana Masonic Monitor, pp. 58-59).
Man’s “rude and imperfect state” is accidental to his nature; Sir John Cockburn writes: “Pessimism has no place in Masonry. Evil is merely matter not yet spiritually enlightened.” (Op. cit., p. 29). Perfectibility lies within man’s own power, the Mason is told:
The perfection is already within. All that is required is to remove the roughness, the excrescences, “divesting our hearts and consciences of all vices and superfluities of life” to show forth the perfect man and Mason within. Thus the gavel becomes also the symbol of personal power. (Claudy, op. cit., p. 51).
Wilmshurst would carry this teaching to the fullest extent:
Man also contains within him a life-force, a “vital and immortal principle” as Masonry calls it, which has not yet expended to full development in him, and indeed in many men is scarcely active at all. Man, too, has that in him enabling him to evolve from the stage of the mortal animal to a being immortal, super-human, godlike... Human evolution can be accelerated if not at present in the mass of humanity, yet in suitable individuals. Human nature is perfectible by an intensive process of purification and initiation. (The Masonic Initiation, pp. 27-28).
Masonry and Eternal Salvation
The Landmarks of Masonry, as summarized by Mackey, declare:
Subsidiary to this belief in God, as a Landmark of the Craft, is the belief in a resurrection to a future life. This Landmark is not so positively impressed on the Candidate by exact words as the preceding; but the doctrine is taught by very plain implication, and runs through the whole symbolism of the Craft. To believe in Masonry, and not to believe in resurrection, would be an absurd anomaly... (Acimnos Ceihpr, p. 174).
It is at this point that the greatest divergence between the revealed Truth of God’s Word and the religion of Masonry arises. If there is a resurrection to a future life, there must be a criterion of judgment upon which this “future life” is granted. The Masonic rituals abound in phrases such as “the pass of a pure life” and “reward according to our merits.” A former Master Mason and Lodge Chaplain, writing in The Lutheran Witness, states:
Precisely where do Masonry and Christianity run into open conflict? The answer is as old as the church: Salvation by grace through faith—faith in Jesus Christ and Him only. Masonry assumes the natural goodness of man, Christianity teaches man’s utter depravity... The Church of Jesus Christ is founded on the rock of Peter’s confession, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It is not dependent upon the wisdom of man. Even though that wisdom may have existed before the birth of Christ and comes from the mouth of Solomon himself—if it does not point us to Jesus Christ, it is trash and garbage. (Joseph K. Peaslee, “Is Masonry Heresy,” June 26, 1962).
The emblems of the Master Mason, as described in the ritual, include this definition:
The Sword, pointing to a Naked Heart, demonstrates that justice will sooner or later overtake us; and although our thoughts, words, and actions may be hidden from the eyes of man, yet that All-Seeing Eye Whom the Sun, Moon and Stars obey, and under whose watchful care even Comets perform their stupendous revolutions, pervades the inmost recesses of the human heart and will reward us according to our merits. (King Solomon and His Followers, Missouri, p. 157).
The conviction that all members of the Masonic Lodge shall be received into the Grand Lodge Above because of their expressed belief in God and immortality of the soul is taught frequently in Masonic writings:
Death is a part of the Divine Plan; but not the end of that plan; and He who paints the wayside flowers, and lights the evening star, and observes the fall of the sparrow, and numbers the hairs of our heads, will not desert man, the highest order of creation, in the hour of his earthly dissolution. (Grand Master’s Address, Official Masonic Record, Second Annual Exposition, Benefit of Masonic Free Hospitals, 1923, p. 65).
Writing of the fact that Christians have criticized the Masonic burial ritual because it says that non-Christians will enter heaven, Charles Van Cott replies:
The one great God operating the universe has a place for every one of his sons whom he created. To think that Christians only merit immortality is narrow and not in keeping with the omnipotent love of the Creator of this vast universe. (Masonic Inspiration, Volume 1, No. 9, July, 1955).
Explaining the immortality views of the ancient mysteries, the Theosophists, the East mystics, and others, John Cockburn declares, “There is room in the many mansions of Masonry for each and all of these.” (op. cit., p. 29). The Masonic Funeral Service, appearing in the Standard Monitor, without reference to Jesus Christ, speaks of being “found worthy” to be translated “from the terrestrial to the celestial lodge.” (p. 206). It offers the counsel that as death approaches, “a well-spent life affords the only consolation.” (p. 214). The prayer at the grave petitions God to receive the mourners into His everlasting Kingdom, “the just reward of a pious and virtuous life.” (pp. 225-226). The Lambskin is placed into the casket with these words:
When presented to our deceased brother, he was admonished to let its pure and spotless surface be to him an ever-present reminder of a “purity of life and conduct,” a never-ending argument for nobler deeds, for higher thoughts, for greater achievements; which admonition I believe he has faithfully kept, and will receive his just reward (p. 241).
Coil, in his Masonic Encyclopedia draws this conclusion:
A man may be born without religious ceremony; he may be married without religious ceremony; he may live a long life without religious ceremony; but one moment comes to every man when he feels the need of that missing thing—when he comes to crossing into the great beyond. Freemasonry has a religious service to commit the body of a deceased brother to the dust whence it came and to speed the liberated spirit back to the Great Source of Light. Many Freemasons make this flight with no other guarantee of a safe landing than their belief in the religion of Freemasonry. If that is a false hope, the Fraternity should abandon funeral services and devote its attention to activities where it is sure of its ground and its authority. (P. 512).
The Masonic Oaths
Masonic rituals employ frequent long oaths in order to maintain the secrets of the Order. The candidate for membership or for higher degrees invoices the help of God to keep him “steadfast in the due performance of the same,” agreeing to such penalties for perjuring himself as “having my throat cut from ear to ear, my tongue torn out by its roots,” (King Solomon and His Followers, Missouri, p. 22), “having my left breast torn open, my heart and vitals taken thence and given as prey to the beasts of the field and the vultures of the air” (Ibid., p. 70), and “having my body severed in twain, the parts carried North and South, my bowels burned to ashes...” (Ibid., p. 116). The majority of Masons deny that these penalties are intended seriously; they are considered by many as only a means of impressing the need of secrecy upon the candidates. Masonic writers, on the other hand, do not regard the oaths so lightly. Wilmshurst sees them as binding even into eternity:
You cannot cast away your stone. It is yourself. You cannot evade it and its responsibilities by resigning or remaining absent from the Brotherhood in which you first acquired the stone. Once a Mason, always a Mason: in this world and in worlds to come. You stand solemnly and eternally covenanted, not only to yourself and your Brotherhood, but to the Eternal Sacred Law, to proceed with your Masonic work to the end. That Law does not permit you to stultify an obligation deliberately made upon It, even if made ignorantly. Ignorantia Legis neminem excusat. There may be that in you which was not ignorant, and that guided you to undertake that obligation. Descendit e’coelo. Know thyself! (op. cit., p. 153).
Masonic apologist, Vindex, intimates that if the penalties for breaking these oaths are not exacted in this life, they shall be in that which is to come. He further states that, should the faithless Mason betray his oath, “by his sacred compact with Almighty God in the Lodge he deliberately forfeits all hopes of salvation by his heinous crime.” (op. cit., pp. 60-61). This, of course, is the pact agreed upon in the oath, for “tidal sands” where he agrees to be buried were in medieval days regarded as unconsecrated ground in which the eternally-lost were to be buried. Vindex further states that breach of the oath is in a sense “the ultimate sin against the Holy Ghost,” adding, “I weigh my words carefully in making this grave accusation.” (Ibid., p. 61).
The Christian’s Duty
In discussing the Christian’s responsibility regarding membership in the Masonic Lodge, a primary consideration, frequently ignored, is that most Masons are ignorant of the teachings and tenets of official Masonry. Masonic leaders and writers recognize this. The publisher of Masonic Inspiration complains:
Masonry contains within itself a potent threat against its very existence. I refer to the great number of Masons who do not have the faintest significance of what the Craft means. Even in sophisticated big city Lodges I meet these Brethren. They have taken their three degrees. They wear a pin. They attend communications as often as possible. But the real import of Masonry is as remote to their minds as Madagascar... Masonry is an overarching truth which claims the full devotion of its members. We sure need a lot of education among Brothers. (Charles Van Cott, Op. cit., Volume j, Number 6, April, 1955).
Steinmetz, writing of the symbolism of Masonry, recognizes that “the average Mason is lamentably ignorant of the real meaning of Masonic Symbology and knows little of its esoteric teaching.” (Freemasonry: Its Hidden Meaning, p. 5). If ignorance of the meaning of Freemasonry is characteristic of lodge members, it assuredly is true also of applicants for lodge membership. A former lodge chaplain writes:
Now I am convinced that devout Lutheran men apply for lodge membership, little realizing that they are compromising their faith in Jesus Christ. This is not their fault. First of all, they have no way of knowing the teachings of Masonry until after they are in the lodge. Secondly, not all pastors preach the Word of God with such vigor and clarity that men will recognize the conflict of thought between the church and the lodge. (Lutheran Witness, Volume 81, Number 13, June 26, 1962).
Walton Hannah, in his study of Freemasonry called Darkness Visible, declares:
The fact that most Masons do not see the third degree ceremonies in this light (a sacramental baptism-experience) may completely exonerate them from the sin of willfully partaking in what the early Fathers of the Church stigmatized in contemporary mystery-religions as satanic parodies of Christian worship, but it does not exonerate Masonry, which after all claims (in the first degree Tracing Board Lecture) that its usages and customs approximate to those of ancient Egypt. Unawareness of an obvious and logical interpretation does not ipso facto make the interpretations false (p. 33).
The entire Masonic ritual is cast in a religious mold. The ritual provides for an altar, a chaplain, and religious services. It accepts all “Volumes of Sacred Law” as of equally divine origin. The lodge is “erected to God” and “dedicated to the Holy Saints John.” The candidate assumes his obligation “in the presence of Almighty God” and prays “So help me God and enable me to keep steadfast in the performance of the same.”
He receives an apron, “the emblem of innocence” to constantly remind him “of the purity of life” essential to gaining admission “into the Celestial Lodge Above.” In the third degree, still seeking “more Light” after being instructed in the first two degrees, he is conducted through a quasi-regeneration drama to symbolize his “new birth.”
Masonry denies that regeneration is only by the Spirit of God working through the Means of Grace. It denies the distinctive character of the Bible as God’s Word. It ignores the depravity of man and denies the consequences of sin, making irrelevant the deity of Christ and His substitutionary suffering the death. It repudiates as narrow intolerance salvation by grace alone, through faith in the blood of Christ. It binds men with oaths more sacred than allegiance to church, family, nation. It buries every one of its members in good standing with the expressed confidence in reunion in the Grand Lodge Above.
Ignoring the innate sinfulness of the human heart, Masonry addresses itself to the perfecting of the natural state of man. The will of God is not the perfecting of man’s natural state but the redeeming of it from sin and eternal damnation. God has established the preaching of the Gospel, not to effect civic righteousness, but to graft man into the Body of Christ.
A Report to the Assembled Clergy of the Syrian Orthodox Church of North Africa, which met in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1961, states:
Unconcerned with sin, redemption, grace, and without the credentials and power to act as a moral guide, the Craft offers religious instruction to Christians, Jews, Mohammedans, etc. It is transparently clear that it has no real care for Christ, since it encourages non-Christians to follow their own religions and that, in them and what the Lodge teaches, non-Christians may stand before God proud of their achievements and without fear of their fate in the future life. “If any member of the fraternity honestly acknowledges his faith in a Supreme Being, whose law is his guide,” writes Brother J. T. Thorp, “and strives honestly to live by his faith, we care not what the other articles of his creed may be, for we believe that when summoned from this sublunary abode, he will be received into the all-perfect, glorious celestial lodge above, for he will, by his life, have made of earth the porch-way into heaven.” (The Royal Arch Mason, volume V, No. 9, March, 1957).
Truth and error cannot be mixed without compromise of truth, as well as the threat of its eventual destruction. That is why Scripture warns repeatedly against becoming identified with anything that blurs the unique character of Jesus Christ as true God, or blunts the Christian’s witness to that truth. Every movement which would lead men to God while deliberately excluding the Savior must be avoided as apostasy. “He that honoreth not the Son, honoreth not the Father which hath Sent Him,” John 5:23. “Whosoever shall deny Me before men,” Jesus said, “him will I also deny before My Father which is in heaven,” Matthew 10:33.
Identification with any movement which offers an approach to God outside of Jesus Christ cannot be justified for the sake of prestige or status, career advancement or business advantage, social opportunity or charitable endeavor. St. Paul writes to the Galatians, “How be it, then, when ye knew not God, ye did service to them which by nature are no gods. But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?” (4:8-9)
Whether a person is inclined to regard Masonry as “religion” or “religious,” by its symbols, ceremonies and features, it persuades the Christian to lay down his only lawful weapon—bearing witness to the truth that “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast,” Ephesians 2:8-9. For this reason:
One startling fact emerges, which should make every Christian Mason more than a little thoughtful. No Church that has seriously investigated the religious teachings and implications of Freemasonry has ever yet failed to condemn it. (Emphasis by author, Darkness Visible, p. 78).
Masonic writer Cerza lists among those church bodies which have officially disapproved of Masonry: the Roman Catholic Church, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, the Church of the Latter-day Saints, the Society of Friends, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, the Church of the Brethren, the Greek Orthodox Church, some other Lutheran Churches, and some Baptist groups. (Anti-Masonry, pp. 78-127). To these may be added The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Czech-Moravian Bretheren of North America, the Christian Reformed Church, and others. It can be readily recognized that the great majority of professing Christians in the world have affiliated with churches which stand in opposition to the religious involvement of Freemasonry.
The Rise of Freemasonry
Few serious Masonic writers give credence to the legends of the founding of Masonry in antiquity, or, as a few have maintained, at the Creation of the world. Most do, however, admit to a gradual development of the Masonic philosophical and religious tenets from the ancient Egyptian mysteries, the Greek mystery-religions, the Roman mysteries, and the Jewish Kabbalists and the Gnostics. The two latter groups were made up of early syncretists who sought to find a common ground for all races by developing a religious system which harmonized into monotheism all the systems of religious thought.
Modern Freemasonry is the outgrowth of thirteenth and fourteenth century associations which attempted to protect the craftsmanship of the stonemason’s art. “Accepted” members (non-Masons) were received in the beginning of the seventeenth century, but is was not until 1717 that Lodges of speculative Masons were formed by men who saw symbolic meaning in the mason’s working tools. Already in 1723 the prevailing Christian orientation of Masonry was challenged, and in 1813 totally removed, to be reinserted later in diluted form of certain “side” degrees. From England, Freemasonry came to the United States in the early part of the eighteenth century.
Masonic Structure in the United States
Each state in the Union has its own Grand Lodge, as does also the District of Columbia. These are jurisdictionally independent but recognize each other. Attempts at uniting them further have not been successful. The appended Scottish Rite and American Rite are nationally organized, but do not constitute official Masonry. The General Regulations recognize initiation as the only entry into the Craft. Freemasonry does not offer life or health insurance, as do many other fraternal organizations. A local lodge may, if it finds it desirable, have sick and death benefit funds. There are, however, homes for the aged and orphaned maintained by the Order. Membership is restricted to males who have reached their twenty-first year, resident in their state for at least a year, a sound mind and body, and morally upright. An applicant must profess belief in God. Membership is by application only and must never be solicited:
It shall be unmasonic for any Master Mason to solicit any Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft or Master Mason to petition for the degree in any of the bodies recognized in this Grand Jurisdiction (Masonic Code of Iowa, p. 137)
Negroes are not to become members of the Masonic Order. Various reasons are given for this. One writer explains, rather weakly:
There are excellent reasons for this apparent race discrimination which only a Mason can fully understand; suffice it to say here that, feelings being what they are, such a step would endanger the harmony of the lodge, which is a very primary consideration. Secondly, although Negroes today may technically fulfill the Masonic requirement of being “free,” their subordinate economic, educational, and cultural position is such that they hardly fulfill the spirit of that prerequisite to initiation. (Vindex, op. cit., pp. 85-86).
Negroes have, however, organized “clandestine” Masonic lodges, the most influential of which is the Prince Hall affiliation.
In addition to the “side” or “higher” degrees of the Scottish Rite and the American Rite, Masonry maintains a number of affiliate organizations for the wives and children of Masons, and for other close relatives as well. Orders which are not Masonic, but whose membership is composed strictly of Mason, have organized for special interest groups. Members of the Masonic Lodge total approximately four million in the United States and are estimated at about six million in the world. Membership has been slowly declining in the United States in recent years.
Prepared by Rev. Philip Lochhaas, Former Executive Secretary, Commission on Organizations
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod