Fundamentalist and Freemason

Richard P. Thorn, 32°

Both sides of my family are fundamentalist Christians. Our family activities centered around Sunday school and morning worship, evening youth fellowship and evangelistic services, Wednesday prayer meeting, Thursday choir practice, and Friday men's fellowship.

Then suddenly, in 1943, church-related activities no longer seemed important to me. The city of Akron had emerged from the depression into a wartime economy. War-related industry provided jobs for thousands who came to Akron to find work. East High School was on a split schedule to accommodate the influx of new students. My classes were scheduled from 7:30 a.m. until noon, to allow me to work at the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company from 2:00 to 10:00 p.m. I bought new clothes, a watch, and a car, and found new friends at work. Then I began to rebel against my parents' rules concerning my choice of friends and a midnight curfew hour.

At school I was studying Old Testament Literature as an elective. The teacher was an atheist who used the classroom to "debunk the myths of the Bible." He told us that Abraham's willingness to offer Isaac on the altar proved that the ancient Hebrews practiced human sacrifice; that Moses couldn't have written the first five books of the Bible because writing hadn't been invented yet; and that the Bible itself says there is no God. Becoming an atheist made it easy for me to justify a new life-style, as I told my parents to look at the difference between what Christians said, and what they did. To me, God was only an adult version of Santa Claus.

In 1945 I enlisted in the army, and served as a paratrooper and a medic with the 82nd Airborne Division. After discharge from the service, I married a Christian girl, returned to church, and studied pre-med at the University of Akron. In zoology class the professor compared and contrasted the story of creation in Genesis with Darwin's theory of evolution. When I asked my pastor how to reconcile the two, he lent me a book that argued against Darwinism as it was taught in the 1890's. Instead of focusing on current issues, the book had set up a straw man and attacked it.

No man, and I counseled with many, showed me that there can be no conflict between the Bible and true science, because God is the Author of both! Instead, each tried to prove that his particular view was right, and that the other view was a lie. Because all of the clergymen I talked to had obvious gaps in their knowledge of the scientific method, I came to believe that God was only an Ideal, created by man, and often used to exploit others; I became a militant atheist.

After graduating from the Ohio State University College of Medicine, I returned to Akron to serve my internship. While working with Dr. Forrest Crocker, a resident at Children's Hospital, I saw true Christian love and personal peace in action, as he ministered to his patients. As a result of his living witness, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior, August 16, 1958. For the first time in my life, I experienced a very real personal peace and a love for other people. The continuing daily experience of peace and love changed my life so deeply that I felt called to share that experience with others.

I served as a medical missionary with the fundamentalist Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in Congo (now called Zaire), West Africa, doing surgery and obstetrics, teaching in the nursing school, and preaching the Gospel.

In preparation for the mission field my pastor tutored me in theology, using William Evans' The Great Doctrines of the Bible as a textbook, so that I could preach the Gospel, as well as serving the mission as a medical doctor. The study of theology became a lifelong hobby; a burning passion to find answers that respected the validity of both science and the Bible. I know obedience to God produces profound changes in the lives of men and women; and I also know that science improves the quality, the comfort, and the length of their lives.

As I study the Bible, I still use Evans' book as my guide to doctrine and theology, and Mickelsen's Interpreting the Bible to learn how the Bible should be understood today; taking into account the differences in time, place, language, logic, and culture; as well as the differences between God's covenant with Abraham, and how we should relate to God through Jesus Christ in this Dispensation.

After returning home in 1965 because of my wife's health, I continued in Christian service as a Sunday School teacher; as a regular participant and board member of a fundamentalist television Bible-study program; and as a speaker and member of the board of the Cleveland Chapter of The Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship International.

Atheism was a time of darkness in my life, because my mind was closed to the truth of God's grace. Then, beginning in 1971, I passed through a second era of darkened understanding because guilt about divorce drove me to avoid church and fellowship with other Christians. Marital problems had seemed so severe that I could see no options but divorce or suicide, but divorce did not solve my problems. It only provided the opportunity for a series of disastrous relationships.

Then, in early March 1981, I walked into Huebner Chevrolet, intending to buy a car. Before I could say a word, the salesman, Bud Smith, was saying, "Hey, Dick, come here, I want to talk to you. you know, Bill and Beth Urey, my preacher and his wife, have a love for God I've never seen before." As he continued talking, my mind went back to those years when a man's love, freely and openly shared, had drawn me into an awareness of the love and grace of God. As I recounted this, Bud sat back, scratched his white head, and with a puzzled expression on his face, he asked, "What happened to you, Dick?"

As I told him how I had fallen away from fellowship with the Lord, he scratched his head again as he asked, "Don't you know God's grace is sufficient for that?" The burden of years of guilt was suddenly gone as the true significance of his words sank in. I left Huebner's without remembering why I had come. I stepped into a world literally made new again by a restored sense of the depth of God's love and forgiveness.

In September 1982, I took a leave of absence from the practice of medicine, to attend the Ashland (Brethren) Theological Seminary, majoring in Pastoral Counseling at the Emerge Ministries campus.

I believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, which means that I agree with Evans that the Bible is "just as much the Word of God as though God spoke every word of it with His own lips." But I do not believe in the inerrancy of the interpretation of the Bible by those who teach it. The problem is not just a difference in our view of inerrancy, but in how men read and understand the Bible. Some try to understand the Bible as though it were written in 20th century America. Biblical scholars often differ in their understanding of certain scriptural passages. (The Protestant tradition of arguing about theology and Biblical interpretation is why we have different denominations in the church today.) Scholars are not always certain of the original meaning, and what those who heard it, or first read it, understood it to mean, as well as how its message might be phrased, if it were first preached or written today.

Almost any word we use has three or more different meanings. When we translate something from another language, we must decide which meaning is appropriate and use its equivalent in English. A simple example illustrates the problem: The preposition before can mean: in front of, earlier, next to, of higher rank, and so forth. When the Bible says David danced before the ark, the reader will understand that this means David danced in front of the ark, not that David danced first and then the ark did! But the original meaning is not always that clear. This leads to an honest difference of opinion among Bible-believing scholars when translating or interpreting the Bible. But sometimes the problem lies in someone using a passage of Scripture to prove a point, instead of allowing the Bible to speak for itself. My atheistic teacher told me, "The Bible said, 'There is no God.'" But when I read the verse, I see that it really says, "The fool hath said in his heart, 'There is no God.'" The atheist omitted some words to make the Bible appear to say what he wanted me to believe, not to understand what the Psalmist really meant.

It saddens me to hear a minister or Bible teacher ignore the context of Bible verses to "prove" what he says the Bible teaches. He might disregard the context, for the same reason my atheistic teacher did: to make the Bible appear to say what he wants me to believe.

But it grieves me even more to see someone twist the words of a human author, and make his appear to say something he never intended to say, because this is not ignorance. He knows it isn't true because he made it up; he is like the fox in Aesop's fable who could not reach a beautiful bunch of ripe grapes hanging high over his head; so he walked off scornfully, saying, "Why should I wear myself out trying to get a bunch of sour grapes?" He pretends to despise, and belittles that which is beyond his reach or understanding.

In February 1986, Shotty, an 81-year-old retired barber and a member of our church, asked me why I had never become a Mason. I said, "Because no one ever asked me to join." He explained that the only way to become a Mason was to ask a Mason for a petition. I was raised a Master Mason June 16, 1986, received the Knight Templar degree Dec. 7, 1987, became a Shriner June 11, 1988, and received the 32° in the Scottish Rite Oct. 19, 1988. I was elected Worshipful Master of Carroll Lodge No. 124, Carrollton, Ohio, Nov. 5, 1990.

I have applied the same diligence in the study of Freemasonry that I was taught to use in Bible study. I enrolled in the Grand Lodge of Ohio's "The Exceptional Lodge Leader" study course and in its Masonic Training Course, Series IV. I joined the Ohio Lodge of Research and the Philalethes Society. I read numerous Masonic publications. I have read many books by Masonic authors.

I have also read all of the anti-Masonic literature I can get my hands on, and viewed and listened to many of their video and audio tapes. Without exception, all of them distort the teachings of Freemasonry. Some of them are based on misinformation, or an honest difference in interpretation, but others unmistakably demonstrate a deliberate and misleading rewording of the works of Masonic authors to make them appear to say things that they never intended to say.

My father was asked to resign from Masonry in order to be considered eligible for the office of elder in his church. He did so because holding that office was more important to him than Masonic membership. Dad is a devout man who sees nothing wrong in Freemasonry. He says his church objects to the secrecy in Masonry: "What are they trying to hide?" Nothing! "The secrets of Freemasonry" is a term used in the same context as "the mystery of the Gospel." No man can understand a relationship he denies. He must be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit to fully understand what Jesus taught and he must be a Mason to understand the secrets of Freemasonry.

Freemasonry is often attacked because it "leaves out Jesus Christ." Those who say this believe that Masonry is a religion that teaches men how to get to heaven through their good works. This shows why the principles of interpretation are so important. Masonry says that it is not a religion. An honest interpretation of the teachings of Freemasonry will show that instead of teaching men what to believe, men are simply asked to put the religion they already have, when they become a Mason, into everyday practice. People look at the difference between what Christians say, and what they do. The ideal Mason will practice what he believes, so that there will be no difference between what he says and what he does.

Shortly after I received the 32° in the Scottish Rite, a former pastor handed me a copy of (Rev.) Ron Carlson's tape, and advised me to listen to it closely. As I listened, I became horrified, and wondered what I had gotten myself involved in. But as I continued to listen, I realized that I had not heard any of the things that Carlson says are taught in the higher degrees. All of my friends in Scottish Rite agreed.

As I compared Carlson's tape with Albert Pike's book, Morals and Dogma, I saw that Carlson was distorting Pike's meaning, context, and purpose, in exactly the same way Adams had distorted Harris' book.

Carlson's slander and false witness has fooled some of the people for some time. He has forfeited the confidence of those who look to him as Pastor Carlson. The title of pastor symbolized the Good Shepherd, Jesus; but when those who look to him as pastor find out they have been fooled, Carlson can never regain their respect and esteem. They will show him the same contempt that was shown to the shepherd boy who cried, "Wolf!" Liars are not believed even when they speak the truth.

By tradition, Freemasonry never defends itself. That is one reason misinformation about its teachings has persisted. This book was written to correct false views of Freemasonry. It is true, as I understand the truth, and the reader is free to reject or dissent from my view, as he chooses.

Many people consider those of a different religion to be their enemies. Jesus said to love our enemies. Freemasonry teaches us to accept other people, and to respect their religious beliefs. It does not teach that all religions are equal, only that we should respect them. My religious concepts were formed long before I became a Mason, but I consider Freemasonry to be a work of the Lord Jesus Christ, raised up to emphasize that part of His teaching so often neglected by the church: to love your enemy. Just look at the strife between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, and the struggle between the Jews and Arabs in the Middle East. Consider the religious warfare in India, the former Yugoslavia, and Iran. History tells us that heresy was considered the greatest crime in medieval Europe — not murder, not lawless violence, not rape — but heresy. Heresy was the only reason for the hideous tortures of the Inquisition.

What delights me most about Freemasonry is to see its teachings used to encourage Jews and Christians of all denominations to bond together around the beliefs that they hold in common, and to live and practice what they believe, instead of arguing about differences in their belief. I have found the same love and fellowship with some of my brothers in the lodge, that I have shared with some of my brothers and sisters in church. The great secret of Freemasonry is its teachings concerning Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth.

The Northern Light — August 1994