THE CHURCH'S ATTITUDE TO FREEMASONRY
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this topic. However. I must begin with a question, "Does the Church have an attitude to Freemasonry?" Then I have to answer it in the way that Professor Joad used to do in the Brains Trust and say, "It all depends on what you mean by the Church. Do you mean the body of all believers, or do you mean one of the various denominations into which the Church has fragmented?" There is no one voice which speaks for all the various denominations so I am unable to say what the corporate attitude is, but since we are in Scotland and there is a Church bearing that name, of which I am proud to be a member and a minister (albeit retired), I intend to consider what I believe some of the members of that Church's attitude to Freemasonry to be and hope it will stand for all the other denominations. I must stress however that the opinions expressed are my own, and in no way represent the official position of the Church of Scotland.
Several years ago now at a debate in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland a deliverance was passed that asked all Freemasons who were either Church members or ministers to examine their consciences and reconsider their position. The argument, if I recall the details as reported in the press, was that the two were incompatible, that is you could not subscribe to Freemasonry and still be a practicing Christian. Well I have, as I'm sure that many others did at the time and I'm still as enthusiastic a Mason now as I was then. I'm not sure if any members left the Craft because of that deliverance since neither the Church nor Grand Lodge has produced figures in relation to it, or if they have I haven't seen them.
I start off from the basic precept that Christianity is founded on the Old Testament. In fact the Old Testament consistently foretells the coming of Christ from the time of Moses to the close of the book of Malachi. Freemasonry, as everyone here knows full well, is founded on the Old Testament. The important point is that neither stays with the Old Testament but they are the rock on which the superstructure is built.
Some of the things said about Freemasonry by those who would decry it are:-
- It is a religion or used as a substitute for religion.
- It never mentions Christ.
- It requires men to take oaths and therefore breaks the 3rd commandment.
- It is pagan since it allows men of different religions to stand together.
- It is Jewish but is open to Muslims Hindus and others and therefore cannot be Christian.
- It is secretive and leads to corruption and may even plot against state and religion on the basis that what is concealed must be evil.
- It is elitist.
- It is a crowd of immature men trying to be important.
- It is a joke.
Of course not everyone believes all these points, but sometimes in the tone that they are put they do get under the skin and rankle a bit. I know we should be able to rise above the sort of childish jeering but at times I have to admit that I want to react, since most of these jibes are made out of ignorance. The only way to counteract ignorance is by teaching and it could he that this is the way forward for the Craft—more openness and better public relations. Any student or scholar who wants to can find out in most libraries all that has been published on, or by, Freemasonry.
Is Freemasonry a religion? Did any of you think you were joining a religious order when you joined the Craft? I'd say that the answer to both these questions is an emphatic 'NO.' But I can't just let the matter rest there. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines religion as 'human beings' relation to that which they regard as holy, sacred, spiritual, or divine. Religion is commonly regarded a consisting of a person's relationship to God, to gods, or spirits. Worship is probably the most basic element of religion, but moral conduct, right belief and participation in religious institutions are also generally constituent elements of the religious life as practiced by believers and worshippers".
In that definition there are three elements which can be recognized as part of what goes on in the Craft:-
- We acknowledge a relationship to God.
- We set a code of moral conduct.
- We hold to right beliefs about God.
But we do not:-
- Worship in the way that I, and most other Christians, worship God.
- Participate in religious institutions, i.e. we do not form part of the Church, though it has to be admitted that there was a time when many Lodges regularly paraded to the Church and held their annual Divine Services there. But that was before there developed a narrow, blinkered group in the ministry and the Church. Religion as the term is commonly used, implies several things:-
- A plan of salvation or path by which our spirit returns to the God who gave it.
- A theology which attempts to describe the nature of God.
- A description of the ways or practices by which a man or woman seeks to communicate with God.
Masonry does none of these things. Nowhere in our rituals is there a promise to our members that they will go to heaven if they are good masons, nor has it ever taught that it was a means of salvation. In fact right at the outset we're told that nothing to which we give our oath will interfere with our civil, moral or religious duties. With that assurance no Christian need have any qualms about joining the craft.
It is said that Christ is never mentioned in the Craft or in its prayers. That has been admitted as far as the basic orders are concerned but a lot that I hear in the Church is taken directly from the Old Testament and never mentions Christ by name although as Christians we read the Old Testament as understanding Christ being implied. In Masonry we too understand Christ as being implied in all that we say and do. It is worth noting that the greatest prayer of all time. The Lord's Prayer, makes no mention of Christ either.
Those who would decry Freemasonry say that we deny the uniqueness of Christ by allowing other people to have beliefs which differ from that. Masonry is not and never has set itself up as an evangelising organisation, i.e. one which seeks to obtain converts to Christianity or any other religion. For those reared and brought up in the Christian faith we hope and pray that all others will come to see the light that we have hut we are prepared to be a bit more broad-minded and practical and see that others brought up differently have as much right to live on this earth as we have. In the past there has been too much intolerance by Christians, leading to wars and plenty of barbaric and inhuman acts. Fanatics of whatever persuasion are the worst adverts for their creed or belief.
We believe in God and take our source of knowledge about him from the Bible which makes specific claims about God such as a trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. From this the detractors say that it is illogical to simultaneously hold to the principles of Freemasonry and Christianity, especially with regard to the doctrine of Jesus Christ and that incorporating Freemasonry and Christianity into one world-view inevitably redefines one, the other or both. To take that line though is to obscure the fact that in the Third Degree we all realise in our own person, the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ after the same way that the story of the master-builder is realised personally by every Master Mason. It doesn't matter whether the analogy was present in the minds of those who gave us the Ceremonies of Emblematic Freemasonry or is present in the mind of the candidates. The truest understanding of anything is always that which is highest: and if that which is given to me in the Craft is read by me in the light that Christ is the Master-builder then that is the highest truth. From the Mark degree onwards Christ is a presence in Masonry and those who would deny that are only showing their ignorance of the Craft.
The oaths that we take are said to he blasphemous because we take them in God's name and since the penalties would never he carried out we are taking the Lord's name in vain thus breaking the third commandment. It is made clear today that the ancient penalties neither could, nor would be carried out, but that those who might break such an oath would he considered unworthy to mix in ordinary society. In order to make the oath binding we ask the candidates to seal it with a kiss on the book that they hold most holy and sacred, the Bible. To me this is no more blasphemous than taking an oath in court holding the Bible and promising to tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth and to do SO in God's name.
The Craft is said to be pagan because it draws different religions together. Wasn't it Christ himself who said that he came to all men and not just to one faction? If we can draw all men together in a divided world then surely we have a basis on which we can reach understanding and out of that common meeting ground who know what goodness may spring? Certainly if you are not talking to someone there is no way in which you can influence them. If we stand apart from other nations and glower at them over our national or credal boundaries then the chances are that sooner or later we'll he waging war against them and Christ came to bring peace to the world!
Its also said that the Craft cannot be Christian since it allows men of differing religions to come together. There exists within the Church what is known as an ecumenical movement that not only wants to draw folk of different denominations together, but has dialogue with those of other faiths, since they realise that there are other faiths in the real world to whom we must talk. However the same folk who condemn Freemasonry are often the same folk who condemn the ecumenical movement. In other words we're back to those who wear blinkers! Does it make us any less Christian to acknowledge that other folk don't believe the same as we do? Are we being false to our religion to accept that those who differ from us are capable of taking an oath and keeping it, by swearing by what they hold to he highest and truest'? Again the answer must be an emphatic 'NO'.
The allegation that the craft is Jewish bears a bit of examination since as we know it is based on the Old Testament. The same charge could be levelled at Christianity itself—and nobody in their right mind would do that!
The charge of being secretive is only in the minds of those who have never made serious enquiry into Freemasonry. The facts are available in any good library or bookshop. There have been sufficient TV programmers to ensure that any serious enquirer could know the ins and outs of our order. As for saying that we would he capable of plotting against the State or religion because we don't publicise all that we do, you only have to sit through one degree to learn that nothing that takes place will require, or allow, a man to act against the State or cause him to do anything that would bring him into conflict with the civil or religious authorities. The charge to me doesn't hold water.
Then we are said to be elitist. That too doesn't hold water since there are folks from cottages to palaces and everything in between who are members. The charge of elitism is also made on the grounds of finance, since it debars those who can't afford the initiation fee. If that is elitism then I'm afraid that we have to plead guilty as charged—but then so would a lot of other organisations. No organisation can run without having funds to do so and SO charges are made to join any club. The Church itself asks for a tithe—a tenth of a person's disposable income, which is a lot steeper than any initiation fee. Mind you very few contribute at that level.
Some folk will tell you that Freemasonry only appeals to those who like to dress up and feel important by having Degrees and rank conferred on them or who like to get together with other like-minded men. When they talk like that they ignore the real purpose of Freemasonry as a system of morality, veiled in allegory and explained by symbols. It requires a lot of hard work by those who do take office and whatever honour they attain is usually well-merited but that honour only extends to those within our own fraternity. We do enjoy the company of like-minded men but then that is what men (and women) have been doing since time immemorial. If you enjoy debating you join a debating society, if it's singing that you enjoy you join a choir, if it's cricket then it's a cricket club, if it's trying to live a better life and make the world a better place then you could do worse than join the Craft. There is an old proverb which says, "Birds of a feather flock together" and it is true but there's nothing sinister in it as far as the Craft is concerned. We come together because we enjoy one another's company.
Of course there are those who treat the whole thing as a joke, something to laugh at and ridicule. I can only put that approach down to ignorance of what it is that we get up to. We need to realise that the joke is on them since they are so far from the truth.
There is a bit more to be said though. As well as being based on the Old Testament, the Craft is based on Operative Masonry which was a Christian Order and Mystery, stipulating that its members should be "true to God and the Holy Church". The great bulk of the invocations which begin at the opening of the texts of their proceedings are in the name of the blessed Trinity. Operative Masonry was of course Catholic and Roman up to the time of the Reformation, and thereafter Catholic meaning universal but not Roman.
There is a forgotten work of a G. Claret, entitled, 'The Whole Of Craft Masonry'. At the end of the fifth lecture attached to the first degree he places certain questions by way of a postscript, stating that they originally appeared at that point. These were as follows:-
Q. King Solomon being a Hebrew and living long before the Christian era to whom were the Masonic Lodges next dedicated'?
A. St John the Baptist.
Q. Why to St John the Baptist?
A. He being the forerunner of our Saviour, preached repentance in the wilderness, and drew the First line of the gospel.
Q. Had St John an equal?
A. He had—St John the Evangelist.
Q. Wherein is the Evangelist equal to the Baptist?
A. In coming after the Forerunner, he finished by his learning what the other had begun by his zeal and thus drew a line parallel.
Q. The next brother will favour us with the historical account of the two Grand Parallels in Freemasonry.
A. "From the building of the first Temple at Jerusalem to the Babylonish Captivity, Freemasons' Lodges were regularly dedicated to King Solomon: from thence to the coming of the Messiah they were dedicated to Zerubbabel; and from that time to the destruction of the second Temple by Titus—son to the then reigning Emperor Vespasian—they were dedicated to St John the Baptist: but owing to the many massacres that attended that event, Freemasonry fell much into decay, insomuch that many Lodges were broken up and few could meet in sufficient numbers to constitute them legal ones. It was observed at a meeting of the brethren held at the city of Benjamin, that the chief cause for Masonry falling so much into decay was the want of a Grand Master to patronise them. They therefore deputed some of the most eminent of their number to wait on St John the Evangelist who was at that time the Bishop of Ephesus, requesting that he would take upon himself the dignified office of Grand Master. He returned the answer that being very old, he was afraid that his abilities were inadequate for the task: but remembering that he had been initiated into Masonry in the early part of his life, and being a lover of the Craft, he consented to take office, and while he presided over the Fraternity, finished by his learning what the other St John had begun by his zeal, and thus drew what Freemasons term the lines parallel. Since which time all Freemasons' Lodges have been as regularly dedicated to the Evangelist as to the Baptist."
This old lecture has for some reason or other been dropped but if it hadn't then a lot of hassle, time and effort of those decrying Freemasonry and those defending it would have been avoided.
I am convinced that those who object to Freemasonry do so out of ignorance or sheer narrow-mindedness.
There is an old saying that there are none so blind as those who won't see, and to my mind those who oppose Freemasonry could be said to fall into that category.
Some of the counter-arguments to Freemasonry have been adapted from Masonic Lodge by George Mather and Larry N. Nichols, while some of the pro-arguments and the postscript to the ancient fifth lecture was culled from the A New Encyclopaedia of Masonry by Arthur Edward Waite.