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
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.
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 judgment 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 Christian's 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 there 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 counselors 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 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
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
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