|Volume LVIII||February 2011||Number 1|
Is it Right to Claim Freemasonry is a Religion?
by the Rev. Dr. Jerry Belloit, Grand Chaplain of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania,
professor and ordained minister of the United Methodist Church
The popularity of Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol" and "The Da Vinci Code" have inspired a number of History Channel and Discovery Channel specials on various aspects of Freemasonry. Perhaps this is the cause of the precipitation of those who, under the guise of religion, argue that Freemasonry is a religious cult. A decade ago, it was John Ankerberg who produced eight titles of anti-Masonic material. Partly as a response to his television ministry attacking Freemasonry, the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania adopted a resolution at the Quarterly Communication on Dec. 2, 1998, entitled "Freemasonry and Religion," http://www.pagrandlodge.org/programs/masedu/freemasonryreligion.html.
More recently, material attacking the Craft from Ron Carlson has been distributed to several of our brethren. In some of his material, he makes a resolution admonishing Christian pastors and leaders to preach against the "Cult of Freemasonry-a rival religion." I believe that his resolution has many erroneous premises.
Below in bold blue type is each of Ron Carlson's premises and my personal response to them as a Christian, a pastor and a Mason. Since this is a Christian attack, I will limit my response to a Judeo-Christian perspective.
WHEREAS, Freemasonry declares that its Deity, the "Great Architect of the Universe," can be worshiped by all men, whether they be Buddhist, Christian, Moslem, or Hindu, without controversy; while the Bible teaches that only through Jesus Christ can God be worshiped;
According to the 1998 statement, Freemasonry "requires of its members belief in God as part of the obligation of every responsible adult." This, in my opinion, is not incompatible with the teachings of the New Testament. Jesus prayed to Yahweh. There are numerous references to God-fearers in the New Testament (see Acts 10, the story of Cornelius). God-fearers were not condemned and were educated to love Christ. The entire Christian church in Jerusalem worshiped Yahweh. They also worshiped Jesus. I lift up these points to show that the Bible does have references to religious tolerance. As the Grand Lodge statement reads, "Masonry believes in religious freedom and that the relationship between the individual and God is personal, private and sacred." In this country, most of our members are Christians, Muslims and Jews. I would point out that all three of these faiths have their origins with Yahweh, the God of Abraham.
There is an old rabbinical teaching that Jesus would have known that teaches religious tolerance. "Once a stranger came into Abraham's camp. Abraham showed the man the customary hospitality and fed him and provided a tent for him to sleep in for the evening. After dinner, the stranger retired to his tent and took out his idols to worship before he went to bed. A servant walked by the tent and saw the man worshiping the idols and reported this to Abraham. Enraged, Abraham had the man taken from the tent, beaten and thrown into the outer darkness. God saw what Abraham had done and told Abraham, "Go get the man, bind his wounds, and let him stay the night in the tent you provided. If I can put up with him, you can too!"
The 1998 statement from the Grand Lodge goes on to say the following on the topic: "Masons believe that there is one God and that people employ many different ways to seek, and to express what they know, of God. Masonry primarily uses the appellation, 'Grand Architect of the Universe,' and other non-sectarian titles, to address deity. In this way, persons of different faiths may join together in prayer, concentrating on God, rather than differences among themselves."
and WHEREAS, Freemasonry refuses to acknowledge the unique Godhood of Jesus Christ or that He died for our sins and rose from the dead; while the Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is truly God Almighty come in the flesh who died for our sins and rose again;
I know of nothing in Freemasonry that denies the unique Godhood of Jesus Christ. Freemasonry is not a religion, and therefore does not need to dwell on specific religious beliefs other than the belief in a single supreme being.
and WHEREAS, Freemasonry denies the unique and inerrant character of the Holy Bible as the Word of God by saying that it is no better or worse than any other holy book; while the Bible teaches of itself that it is truly the inspired Word of God;
Where does Freemasonry do this? Because we allow those of other faiths to take their obligation on other religious books does not make any statement that the Holy Bible is not the Word of God. The use of the sacred volume of the faith of the initiate is symbolic of the seriousness of the obligation the initiate takes. If we asked a Christian to take an obligation on the Koran, how seriously would the initiate take the obligation?
and WHEREAS, Freemasonry declares that man can be saved by his own labors and good works without faith in Jesus' sacrifice on the cross; while the Bible teaches that a person can only be saved by grace, through faith in Christ;
Freemasonry does not ever talk about salvation. Since Freemasonry is not a religion, it has no reason to address the salvation of the soul. As the 1998 Grand Lodge statement says, "It does not claim to lead to salvation by works, by secret knowledge, or by any other means. The secrets of Freemasonry are concerned with modes of recognition, not with the means of salvation."
and WHEREAS, Freemasonry blasphemes the name of God by associating it with pagan fertility gods such as Baal; while the Bible affirms the absolute holiness, separateness and majesty of God's name;
Freemasonry does not ever talk about Baal or any other fertility god. The only references to anything sexual I can think of is the prohibition against eunuchs and libertines and prohibition against violating the moral code of chastity. Both examples are certainly within the mainstream of the Christian faith.
and WHEREAS, Freemasonry refuses to warn its members about the dangers of an everlasting hell; while the Bible is insistent and urgent in its warnings concerning the dangers of damnation;
Since Freemasonry is not a religion, why would it warn its members about hell? Do the Lions Club, Kiwanis, Rotary or any other social clubs?
and WHEREAS, Freemasonry requires that men swear oaths on a Bible in the name of God involving mutilation and murder of human beings; while the New Testament forbids the taking of oaths and the Bible forbids taking God's name in vain and committing murder;
This is blatantly false. None of us would ever have become a Mason if we had to swear an oath to commit murder. The penalty is symbolic only.
and WHEREAS, Freemasonry links its members in solemn, spiritual bondage to one another, irrespective of members' creeds; while the Bible forbids Christians from being "unequally yoked" with unbelievers;
I have some serious reservations about the extension of the two scriptures Carlson offers on this issue. First the scripture, II Cor. 6:14-17, is one where Paul warns against the Alexandrian practice of blending two religious traditions. This was a problem in the church at Corinth. Basically, it was derived from Alexander's practice of trying to show how the Hellenistic beliefs were actually the same as the religions of those whom he conquered.
I have not seen how Freemasonry tries to tie its teachings to any particular religion; more importantly, in this direct context, I don't see how Freemasonry is claiming in any way to be a religion at all. To the contrary, it takes care to be sure that it is not a religion.
and WHEREAS, Freemasonry forbids a Christian Mason from witnessing Jesus Christ to his fellow lodge members who are unsaved; while Jesus Himself commands His church to preach the gospel to everyone;
Many groups and organizations do not allow the persuasive discussion of religion. School teachers are not allowed to witness to their faith. In most schools, the teacher is not allowed to even publicly display a Bible. Should teachers (or any other worker) quit their jobs because they are not allowed to witness to their faith? Obviously this is nonsense. There is, however, nothing to prevent sharing your faith outside of the school property. How is that different from a lodge meeting? You are free to witness outside of a lodge meeting. Carlson's argument would actually be stronger if Freemasons were allowed to share their faith in lodge. You could then make more of an argument that Freemasonry was therefore a religious meeting.
and WHEREAS, Freemasonry insists on keeping its supposedly valuable truths bound under the most serious of secret oaths and available only to a very few; while the Bible does not allow for such secrecy;
What valuable truths are we not allowed to share with anyone? In fact, I would argue that we are obligated to share the moral lessons we are taught (Closing Charge). Ritual is private. However, we are to share the moral lessons. Those are the only valuable truths. I might also point out that some aspects of many religious faith traditions, like confession, are also private and upheld by the courts.
and WHEREAS, Freemasonry demands that its members call its leaders titles like "worshipful master," and kneel before them; the Bible commands us to call no one master, save Jesus, and to worship none, save God;
This is absolutely false. No one ever worships the master of the lodge. The title "Worshipful Master" is given to one who is to be worshipful, not to be worshiped. We kneel at the altar, not before people. We worship God, not people.
and WHEREAS, Freemasonry absorbs the loyalties, time, emotional and spiritual resources and finances of "Christian" Masons away from the God-ordained tasks of the Church such as overseas missions, evangelism, and taking care of the poor to the glory of Jesus' name,
I think it is clear that Freemasonry does a significant amount for the poor. As far as diverting our finances, yes this is true. Money spent on Freemasonry or its charitable causes does leave less money to give to the church. We are asked by our Christian faith to give a tithe (1/10th) and offerings. We are not all asked to give everything and live a monastic life. It is true that Jesus asked the Rich Young Ruler to sell all that he had and give it to the poor, but that was only because he was worshiping money, wealth and power.Therefore, we, as humble servants of Jesus Christ and ministers of the Gospel call upon all pastors and Christian leaders of all denominations to take a firm stand in their preaching against the cult of Freemasonry - a rival religion to Christianity which has too long been winked at, tolerated, or even praised within Christian churches!
I have highlighted the words cult and religion above. A cult applies pressure on its members to remain in the cult and is often directed by a particular charismatic, authoritarian leader. Freemasonry does not pressure its members to remain Masons, nor do we have a consistent "charismatic, authoritarian leader."
I think Carlson's claim that Freemasonry is a rival religion is really the core issue to his and other people's attack on Freemasonry. Clearly Ron Carlson believes that Freemasonry is a religion.
Once again, I refer to the Grand Lodge statement in 1998:
"Freemasonry is not a religion, nor is it a substitute for religion. ... Freemasonry lacks the basic elements of religion:
(a) It has no dogma or theology, no wish or means to enforce religious orthodoxy.
(b) It offers no sacraments.
(c) It does not claim to lead to salvation by works, by secret knowledge, or by any other means. The secrets of Freemasonry are concerned with modes of recognition, not with the means of salvation.
Freemasonry supports religion. Freemasonry is far from indifferent toward religion. Without interfering in religious practice, it expects each member to follow his own faith and to place his duty to God above all other duties. Its moral teachings are acceptable to all religions."
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