Lutherans Informed about Lodges (LIL)
Independent Order of Odd Fellows
Independent Order of Odd Fellows
The I.O.O.F. has its roots in eighteenth century England. It was first brought to the U.S. in 1819 by Thos. Wildey and four other Englishmen who organized a lodge in Baltimore, connected with the Union Order of Odd Fellowship. The first Union Grand Lodge was founded in 1821. The order drew enough to warrant a Grand Lodge of Odd Fellows of the U.S. by 1825. In 1843 the Grand Lodge of the U.S. severed its connection with the English Grand Lodge, and in 1879 renamed itself the Sovereign Grand Lodge, Independent Order of Odd Fellows. From a peak membership of more than two million in the 1920’s, the Odd Fellows have declined to about 600,000 currently .
Odd Fellows may obtain four basic degrees, plus three superior degrees given through separate “encampments”. Another separate military branch, the Patriarchs Militant, has three degrees similar to the Masonic Knights Templars. The basic degrees beyond the initiation degree, entitled Friendship, Love, and Truth, are taught by means of enacted Bible stories. “Friendship” is taught by the story of the good Samaritan. “Love” is portrayed by the story of Jonathon and David. “Truth” is taught by a number of symbols, the Bible among them. In none of these however, is God’s grace ever presented as the reason and motivation for living as these degrees urge the members to live.
The Rebekah Degree may be conferred on men and women in a Rebekah Lodge, making it similar to the Masonic Eastern Star. The Sovereign Grand Lodge controls all Rebekah’s Lodges, as well as the Junior Order of Odd Fellows for boys, and the Theta Rho girls’ clubs.
In spite of many declarations of universal brotherhood, the Odd Fellows originally excluded from their lodges (the so-called illustrations of the fraternity of mankind!) the defenseless, the poor, the afflicted, and the weak; namely, all women, all persons except free white Caucasian males; and from these again they exclude all afflicted with chronic diseases, the deaf, and the blind, all others that on account of their poverty cannot pay their dues, or who on account of the enmity of three members of the lodge cannot secure a clean ballot. Currently (2018), the membership requirements are as follows, “Any person of good character, of any race, gender, nationality and social status, who is loyal to their country and believes in a Supreme Being, is eligible for membership.” (From: How to Join)
Even more to the point, for us, is the self-acknowledgement that the I.O.O.F. is a religious order. What regeneration by the word of truth is in religion, initiation is in Oddfellowship: “ ...we are a religious body, and have a religious faith for the basis of our fellowship and to unite us in religious duty.”
It should not surprise us at all that the I.O.O.F. is religious in the deistic sense. All of the above quotes from their ritual were written by their lost venerated spokesman, the Universalist minister, Rev. A.B. Grosh. The 1895 edition quoted here, is still substantially what the I.O.O.F. stands for according to Rev. Phillip Lochhaas of the LC-MS Commission on Organizations.
According to Grosh, “Oddfellowship was founded on great religious principles...” Other Odd Fellow authors assert the same:
“To some it may seem sacrilegious and ridiculous to assert that every lodge of Odd Fellows is a religious organization, but I say it with a clear conscience and without fear of successful contradiction. Odd fellowship will make man more religious rather than less religious. It will draw him to God rather than away from God.”
To further enhance the religious aspect of their order the I.O.O.F. insists on having prayers in their meetings as well as the presence of a Bible. “No lodge or encampment can be legally opened without the presence of a Bible.”
A closer analysis of their religious features tells us what kind of a religion the I.O.O.F., the Rebekahs, and their junior affiliates have. Universalism is evident in the words of Paschal Donaldson, Odd Fellow author:
“Mankind is divided into numerous sects and parties. The Christian’s faith in Christ is not more earnest and positive than the Jew’s in his expected Messiah, the Mohammedan’s in his prophet or that of the Chinese in the object of his worship. Christendom is itself divided into scores of sects and parties. Difference of opinion on religious subjects, especially, has always existed, and will be likely to continue to divide the hearts of men, until the reign of the sublime principle of Universal Brotherhood shall have been established on the earth. Let us exert our utmost endeavor to hasten this most desirable period.”
A verse taken from a song in the Odd Fellow ritual reads:
A temple where no narrow creed
Protects a chosen few
It holds alike deserved meed [“meed” archaic: a share or reward]
To Christian, Turk and Jew.
The prayers of the Odd Fellows are also designed to be universally acceptable by men of all creeds. Note that all Odd Fellows, while in the lodge, are expected to forsake Christ in their prayers. The Grand Lodge of Odd Fellows for the State of Massachusetts asked the following question of the Sovereign Grand Lodge of the World, Feb. 14, 1889 (Report, page 336): “Is it lawful for a chaplain to commence and finish his prayer in the name of Christ?” In answer, the Sovereign Grand Lodge states:
“Our Order only requires a belief in the existence of the Supreme Being as a qualification for membership, and has no affinity with any religious sect or system of faith hence everything savoring of sectarianism is not to be tolerated. The words ‘system or sect’ do not have reference merely to the sects within the pale of Christianity, but have a far broader significance and include all the religions of the world. In this sense Christianity is a sect; hence it is inexpedient, and I think unlawful to make prominent reference to it in lodge work. We have Jews, and may have Mohammedans and others of non-Christian sects within our Order, and the rule applies to them equally with members of the Christian faith.”
Such a low view of Christ and Christianity as a “sect” is certainly not compatible with Jesus words, “No one come to the Father, but by me.” [John 14:6]
Finally, consider this quote from the manual by Grosh, “Judaism, Christianity, and Mohammedanism recognize the one, only living and true God.”
The funeral odes, below, are sung for any departed lodge brother, whether Christian or not:
Though in the Grand Lodge above,
We remember thee in love.
And now he quits our weary train
And marches o’er the heavenly heights;
But he shall walk with him again
And share his rest and his delight.
In response to this Christless universalism, we read,
There appears to be little dispute among Odd Fellow authors as to whether the Order is religious or not. At least two books entitled The Religion of Odd Fellowship and The Religion of Fraternity have been written by members. Both present the basic religious tenets of the ritual: God is the Father of all men, His goodness dictates that He deal in mercy with all, and all men can look forward to eternal life if they hope of such life within them. In Odd Fellowship man can find that hope. He enters morally blind, but in the principles of the Order he receives “light” which enables him to rise above selfishness and passion. There is within the individual the potential to reflect the image of God, and within society the latent ability to achieve the “golden age” of universal brotherhood. There is within man a tendency toward selfishness which he can overcome through the lessons the Order teaches.
The Order has no concept of sin as it is described in the Bible as “separating between man and God,” “enmity against God,” or deserving of eternal death. Hence there is also no concept of redemption in Jesus Christ and no necessity for approaching God through the merits of His Son. Forgiveness is merely God's overlooking of faults because of His having bound Himself to man in a covenant of friendship. Saving faith is viewed as belief in the Creator and Preserver and the hope of immortality. “To all who practice the charities and virtues of the Order is given the assurance that they shall be commended of God, “well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of Thy Lord.” As men unite in the bonds of friendship, love and truth, the happiness that God intends for man to have will be discovered.
The true Christian will find that in the ritual of the Order he is required to give assent to a substitute gospel, “The Fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man,” by which men can be led to eternal perdition. His responsibility to his Savior’s injunction to be a “witness” forbids his compromising his faith for the sake of business or social advantage or the sick and disability benefits which are offered. As in many similar fraternal organizations, the frequently-declared concept of universal brotherhood, based on “consanguinity” and the “Springing from one parent” breaks down in the membership restrictions, since only those are accepted who are male, free, white Caucasians, devoid of physical impairments and chronic diseases, of an economic level enabling them to pay their dues, and who have not incurred the enmity of more than two of the members.
Rev. Phillip Lochhaas, I.O.O.F., LC-MS, Nov. 1973, p. 5.
The following poem from an Odd Fellow website illustrates the attitude of the I.O.O.F. toward salvation, and life after death:
by Earl G. Whipple
Past Grand High Priest of the Grand Encampment of California