Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Is Freemasonry a Religion?

A debate has long raged on whether Freemasonry is a religion. Christian denominations such as my own (LCMS) have long opposed Freemasonry on the grounds of its incompatibility with the orthodox Christian faith and its overt religious rituals that honor and worship a generic god equally acceptable to Hindus, Muslims and Christians alike. Freemasonry, of course, denies being a religion, or that it is a substitute for one.

Yet, how is that understood by the many practicing masons in the world today? In the obituary section of my local paper I read about a man who was identified as being with the Knights Templar, one of the many branches of Freemasonry. It was interesting that this was the first thing he was identified with, even before the date of his death and year of his birth were given. No church affiliation was listed in the obituary, although a Christian minister was found to conduct his service. And where will the service be held? The Knights Templar Clubhouse.

Despite the official denial of masonry, how many masons, I wonder, see their membership as equivalent to that of regular church membership? I have found that given the choice a mason will actually choose his masonic membership over church membership, if the pastor or church objects to the tenets and practices of masonry. What does that say about Freemasonry as a religion?


Revvin' Rev said...

To answer your question, it is a religion.

Your keen observation is good one.

Robert G. Davis said...

This debate is only an internal one; and waged only among the most right wing of denominational sects. Freemasons know Freemasonry is not a religion; and have always known it. It does not meet any of the accepted definitions of religion. It offers no plan of salvation or path by which one reaches an after-life. It does not have a theology which attempts to describe the nature of God; nor does it describe ways or practices by which a man or woman may seek to communicate with God.

With the exception of saying that God is a loving Father who desires only good for his children, we make no effort to describe the nature of God. We never tell a man how he should pray or for what he should pray. Instead, we tell him he will find the answers to these great questions in his own faith.

Freemasonry makes only one religious demand on a man--he must believe in God. No atheist can be a Mason.

This is not a debate for which true Christians would be involved. We are all brothers and sisters under the Fatherhood of God. Both of our organizations are supposed only to represent the good in humanity. Both of us are supposed to teach love, compassion, and toleration, which is as close as we can ever come to the Divine.

More and more, the outside world believes in what an organization does; not in what they say they do.

All any of us can do is to either ignore or practice what we have been taught. Taking offense with an organization that does as much good as Freemasonry does in the world--indeed, any organization who is striving to make the world a better place--is a violation of the New Commandment.

I can't fathom how anyone who calls themselves a Christian can so freely hate.

Bob Hunter said...

There is no doubt Freemasonry is a religion, Mr. Davis.

John Weldon writes "The major issue in determining whether Masonry is a religion is to look at its demands on the candidate. Masonry requires the candidate to believe in God, obey Him, worship Him, seek His guidance, and so forth, which qualifies it as a religion." Freemasonry also teaches "'The lamb has in all ages been deemed an emblem of innocence; he, therefore, who wears the lambskin as a badge of Masonry, is thereby continually reminded of that purity of life and conduct, which is essentially necessary to his gaining admission into the Celestial Lodge Above, where the Supreme Architect of the Universe [God] presides.' ( Code Revision Committee, Masonic Manual of the Grand Lodge of Georgia, Free and Accepted Masons, 10th ed. (n.p.: Grand Lodge of the State of Georgia, 1983), 17.) Please keep in mind that the instruction concerning the lambskin can be found in the Ritual book of all the Lodges in all 50 states. None exclude it, although it may be placed in different rituals in the manuals of different states."

So it is required that you believe in a god and that you must do good works to get to heaven. That, Mr. Davis, is a religion.

Don Engebretson said...

Mr. Davis,

As an "an administrator for the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry" I can see how you would be defensive of anything written regarding Freemasonry, especially by those outside of masonry. You are an insider to the organization and have a vested interest in protecting its public image, especially the image of Freemasonry as an organization compatible with Christianity. I'll take that into account.

So, aside from the rather reactionary labeling of my church as "among the most right wing of denominational sects," which is certainly a 'cheap shot' at best, and aside from the accusation of hatred toward masons by those who would dare question it's belief structure, which is a subjective judgment based only on your opinion, the issue that really needs to be addressed here is how you evidently missed the main point of my original observation in the blog article.

Despite the so-called debate on academic definitions of religion, my observation as a pastor is that there are masons out there who do view Freemasonry as a religion. This observation was based on a.) their willingness to choose their masonic membership over membership in a church when the only objection to the church is that it cannot support what Freemasonry believes, and b.) the fact that even at death a mason would be buried from a masonic clubhouse instead of a church, even when the funeral service was officiated by a Christian minister (not to mention the fact that the mason in question obviously maintained his masonic membership while avoiding any membership in a church.)

Yet since you brought up the issue of the definition of deity, let me make one further observation. Freemasonry, in its effort to be ecumenical and universal, has created an image of deity that does not fit with Holy Scripture. The scriptures clearly teach the doctrine of the Trinity and the deity of Jesus Christ, two tenants of faith that masonry cannot subscribe to. For if it did, then it would exclude those religions that believe otherwise.

Contrary to what you say, this is a debate for which "true Christians would be involved," since the correct and orthodox definition of God lies at the heart of the question of eternal salvation itself. The god of masonry, I am sorry to say, is no god at all, but merely an attempt to create a generic deity acceptable to as many religions as possible. Unfortunately, it doesn't work for the Bible or for the true Christian faith.

Anonymous said...

A year late but filled with a thought!

On the matter of membership in the Christian Church. If you where a true Christian Church you would act as Christ acted in the matter of sin. I am not saying Freemasonry is a sin but if the church thinks it is there is a better way to approach the members of this group. Christ sat and ate with the gentiles and prostitutes, and the Pharisee called Jesus out for doing that. You sound more like a Pharisee tell a man you must join us or the Lodge now choose. Not like Christ willing to be in relationship to eat and talk with a person or let that person worship in your church. Remember it is not your church it is Christ's church and as a Lutheran you should know it is not what we do but what Christ has done for us.

The Church does not give a man faith, Martin Luther says I can not by my own free will come to believe but it is only by the Holy Spirit that I can believe. So if the church has pushed a man away it does not mean he is not a faithful christian. So if a man wanted a masonic funeral service, you would not allow it in your church so that is why it is held in a club house or Lodge.

The last thing you touch on is the claim and fact for me of the Holy Trinity and Jesus Christ as God made man does not fit with freemasonry. I say it does because every man is told to have his own faith for salvation and as freemasonry is not a religion it would not make a claim for Christ or any other world religion.

I wonder if you asked the next member of your church this, is Christ equal to the Lodge what he would say. I bet he would say that Christ is first in his life but I have to tell you the building and unwelcoming people in the church are not first. Welcome as Christ welcomed and you will see the work of the Holy Spirit. Grace and Peace to you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Don Engebretson said...

Dear MJ,

Thank you for your comments, albeit a year later!

A few observations regarding your comments:
1.) I think that you misunderstand our view of Masons *as people*. We do not look down on them as inferior and refuse to associate with them, inside or outside the church. I have over the years had acquaintances who were Masons and even have had them attend my church, without complaint. Our point has to do with *formal membership* within the congregation where the person is asked publicly whether they believe and will confess as the church they are joining does. There are two different issues here - association with people in general and formal membership in a congregation. I believe you have mixed these together and made assumptions that are not correct about how we associate with people outside our church.
2.) Thus, we would never refuse to let a person into our church on Sunday morning, member or not. All are welcome to come and hear God's Holy Word, and many do. Again, it's a matter of committed membership in a congregation. I suspect that Masons also require something of those who join their Lodges as opposed to those who do not. Are we so different is this regard?
3.) I think that you may be making assumptions about the man I mentioned in my article that we cannot substantiate. All I know is that he was buried from a Masonic lodge building and was a member of a local lodge. We do not know if he was "pushed away" from some church in his community or if he was even denied membership in a given congregation (for many churches willingly bring into membership active Masons.) My observation was that this was his free choice, based on what I saw in the obituary.
4.) Finally, the matter of the Trinity is again a matter of public confession regarding God's identity. Since you believe that Masonry is not a religion, there is really little here to debate. I hope that your observation is correct that Christ is first in the lives of all you mention. We live in a world that seems to believe that we should be able to be part of any number of organizations regardless of whether they agree or are compatible - that this is our inherent right as Americans and none dare refuse us. My later blog articles on communion fellowship bring this out also. Yet, it would be interesting to discuss with a Mason the demands and requirements of being part of the Masonic Lodge, and whether there are limits to who they would eventually accept as a formal member. I suspect there are limits, even with regard to issues of faith (e.g. Do they formally accept into membership those who openly deny the existence of deity?)

Again, thank you for your comments and engaging me in a discussion of this important issue!