Should a Christian Join the Masons?

Today’s question is another good one from Aaron in Alexandria. The question is simple — should a Christian join the Masons? Most folks have seen the signs all around us…not just in the movies, but on buildings, bumper stickers, and everywhere else. If you happen to live in the Washington, DC area — as I did for several years — then the signs of them are even more prevalent. Who could miss the massive monolith that dominates the Old Town Alexandria skyline and the King Street Station metro stop? But how should a clear-thinking Christian approach the Masons? Is it just another civic club, like Kiwanis or Rotary — or is it a secret Satanic cult? I’ve actually heard both opinions on more than one occasion, so let’s get to ground truth.

The origins of Freemasonry are debated within Freemasonry itself. Some say it is traced back to the medieval craftsmen in the seventh century, others claim the Freemasons are a continuation of the fourteenth-century Knights Templar. There is no documentation dating Freemasonry back prior to 1717, but that hasn’t stopped Freemasons from embellishing their history a bit. Freemasonry has also developed somewhat differently in Europe and in America — there are traditions and rituals in European Freemasonry that are not found in American Freemasonry, and vice versa. In general, Freemasonry is a brotherhood — a Fraternity of members — who get together to participate in various rituals. They also partner with each other in service projects and other community improvement efforts. Their Lodges are places where the brothers gather together to aid each other in spiritual development and pass on ancient (usually “secret”) wisdom. Also, Masonry is to be commended for expecting high moral standards and a life of virtue from its members — there are many positive things that could be said about the Lodge.

But, history aside, the question to a Christians is clear — what do the Freemasons believe, and is it consistent with the core beliefs of Christianity? On the plus side, Freemasons at every level must affirm the existence of a supreme being, normally called the “Great Architect of the Universe.” Unfortunately, this “Supreme Architect” is intentionally inclusivist, denying the exclusive claims of Christianity. That said, they will not expressly deny the deity of Christ, but they affirm the deity of all. Sure, Christ is god — but so is Allah, Krishna, Jehovah, Mohammed, or whomever else is your favorite “flavor” of god.

Second — similar to the “Great Architect” being synonymous with god — the “Celestial Lodge” up above is their version of Heaven, and getting there is no easy feat. Though the specific procedures and rituals for advancing through the Masonry levels is shrouded in secrecy, a bit of focused research will reveal most of the rite and ritual in readily-available books and accounts of former Masons. Regardless, it’s quite clear in all the ritual that the work of Christ on the cross has absolutely nothing to do with reaching the “Celestial Lodge.” Most prominently, access to the Celestial Lodge is offered to all Masons, including those who expressly reject Christ, so we can be sure that this Celestial Lodge is not consistent with the Biblical view of Heaven.

Third, some original Masonic teachings equate the Masonic patriarch Hiram with Christ. In fact, part of the ritual for a third-degree candidate involves the candidate playing the role of Hiram, through which the candidate identifies with Hiram through his death, burial, and raising (not resurrection). Most Masons are encouraged to imitate Hiram’s virtuous conduct, and to welcome Hiram as a messenger from the Great Architect. The more one reads about Masonry, the more one starts to see clear parallels between the Christ of Christianity and the Hiram of Masonry.

These are just a few examples of the teaching of Masonry…there are others, and there are portions of their rituals that are downright scary (at least, should be scary for Christians). I’m also aware of the occasional (even frequent) comparisons of Masonic ritual to Satanic ritual, but I think that’s a stretch — and it’s not necessary. Simply based on their rejection of the exclusive claims of Christ and Scripture, their rejection of the saving work of Christ on the cross, and the elevation of Hiram to Christ-like status, clear-thinking Christians can confidently reject Freemasonry as clearly inconsistent with a Biblically-based belief in Christianity.

I suppose it is theoretically possible for a mature, Biblically-grounded Christian with excellent discernment skills to participate in Masonic ritual without abandoning or compromising core Christian doctrine, but why? At best it will confuse and tempt, at worst it will mislead. Should a Christian join the Masons? Absolutely not.

Sticks and Stones…

20120716-220730.jpgSeveral weeks ago, I received a comment from NotA on my prior blog, “Q&A: Mormonism”:

“The Bible also ‘clearly’ says we should stone people to death who work on the Sabbath. It also ‘clearly’ tells us how to keep slaves, and how to make them permanent.”

I assume this comment was meant as a means to discredit the authority of the Bible — in other words, since the Bible allegedly tells us to do these things which are clearly ridiculous or immoral, then we can’t trust the other things it tells us to do. Ignoring the obvious non-sequitur, I simply asked NotA if or when he had studied the Bible…I find that these objections, and others like them, are often presented by those who have heard the objection from others or read it in another book. It is not an objection that is easily arrived at by a study of the Bible itself. Regardless, I’ll do what I can to clear up this common misconception…the capital punishment issue in this blog, slavery in another.

Let’s go to Scripture first. Does the Bible say that those who work on the Sabbath should be stoned? Yes, it does. First, there is a teaching in the Mosaic law, found in Exodus 31:14 – 17 and 35:2. While this law does not specifically direct stoning, it does say that anyone who does work on the Sabbath should be put to death. There is also a well-known story in Numbers 15:32 – 36. In this story, during the time the Israelites are in the desert, a man is found gathering wood on the Sabbath, so the people bring him to Moses and Aaron and ask what is to be done with him. After praying, God clearly commands them to stone him, which they promptly do. So, in this case, the Bible does clearly show that this man is to be stoned for working on the Sabbath, I have no dispute there.

Trying to think clearly about this issue, I can think of three reasons someone might disagree with this command. First, you may think capital punishment is just wrong. Whether found in the Bible or in the US Code or State laws, capital punishment is wrong — never justified. If this is your objection, we can have a great discussion, but it ceases to really be a theological or Biblical issue.

Second, you may disagree with the form of punishment. While capital punishment (electric chair or perhaps lethal injection) is not necessarily wrong, stoning is wrong. It’s cruel and unusual or barbaric. Again, this doesn’t really take up a Biblical issue. The Mosaic code is simply prescribing the death penalty for certain crimes, and stoning was the standard means of administering capital punishment in Jewish culture. Dead bodies (and in some cases, criminals even while they were still alive) were considered unclean, so no Jew could touch them. So, they needed some means of administering death “from a distance”. Obviously, there was no firing squad, and no electric chair or lethal injection in 4,000 BC or in the first century…the result? Stoning.

Finally, you may think the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. There’s nothing inherently wrong with capital punishment, but it’s far too harsh for something as minor as picking up wood (the Numbers example). I can certainly understand this objection, and I’m sympathetic to it. It does seem harsh to arrest someone and stone them to death for working on the wrong day of the week. However, this is completely out of context in two key ways. First, it sounds harsh or barbaric to our civilized Western society in the 21st century. However, compared to other ancient Near-Eastern codes of laws (Sumeria, Ur, Hittite, Hammurabi), the Mosaic law was actually a significant advancement in moral code. Compared to today’s standards, it seems harsh — but it is actually mild by ancient near-eastern standards. Second, the point of the Mosaic code was not to establish a fair and democratic system of equal justice, it was to establish — positionally — the role of the nation of Israel and their God. It set up a theocracy, with Yahweh (God) as the spiritual, moral, and political leader of the nation. Simply stated, the point was to teach obedience. If the Israelites couldn’t obey simple (comparatively) instructions about what to eat or wear, or what to do and when, then they wouldn’t obey far more important instructions about worshipping other gods, adopting pagan customs, and so forth. God was trying to establish a pattern of obedience to test the commitment and trustworthiness of the Israelites before granting them the greatest reward in Biblical (and arguably human) history — the Promised Land and the lineage of the Messiah.

So, going back to NotA’s objection, my disagreement is not with the charge that the Bible prescribes stoning for working on the Sabbath. It does. Perhaps surprisingly, my disagreement is with the use of the word “we”. Unless you are a Jew living by the Mosaic Code under the theocracy established for the nation of Israel, then the Bible does not, in fact, say that “we” should stone people for working on the Sabbath. In fact, every day is considered equal now, though we are still expected to obey God in all things. The “Sabbath rest,” under the new covenant, is not found on a particular day of the week, rather it is found in Christ (Hebrews 4:1 – 11). The Sabbath was simply the shadow of things to come, the reality of the Sabbath is found in Christ (Colossians 2:17).

A Knock at the Door…

Nearly every Christian in America — at least, every one that I’m aware of — has received that telltale knock at the door. A quick peek through the curtains or the peephole reveals two young men in white shirts and black tags, or perhaps two or three women with copies of “Awake” in hand. How do you handle those encounters? Most Christians I know are surprisingly “unChristian” about these encounters…many don’t answer the door, or pretend they’re not home. Others answer the door, but respond with a curt “No thanks, I’m a Christian” or similar dismissive response, most often closing the door without waiting for a response.

I’ve welcomed literally hundreds of missionaries through my door. Let me propose a new way for you to handle these encounters, one that actually shows that you are what you claim (a Christian), and one that might give you an opportunity to share your faith as well. It’s quite simple, almost common sense — based on five very basic principles:

1. Answer the door. This is often the hardest step for many people. Hiding behind a peephole, or hiding with the lights off hoping they’ll think you’re not home, is not only childish, it’s unChristian. And don’t just answer the door, open the door, actually remove the barriers between you and your visitors. Don’t talk through a glass or screen door. No, answer the door, open it, and greet them with a warm welcome and a handshake. Trust me, after a year or two on the job, these missionaries have had dozens of doors slammed in their faces, have heard “sorry, I’m a Christian”, more time than they can recall, and have walked away from many houses they knew were occupied. By simply answering and opening the door, and greeting them with a warm welcome, you will place yourself in the top few percent of their visitations that day, and likely in their entire mission.

2. Invite them in. Don’t just answer the door, and don’t just open it. Actually invite them in! Invite them to have a seat, offer them something to drink (with appropriate sensitivity to their religious restrictions), and treat them as guests. I recognize, only at step two, some of you may think I’m approaching the ridiculous — even the unthinkable. I also recognize that some of these suggestions aren’t practical for everyone — some stay-at-home moms, for example — who may not feel safe inviting two men into their home, or perhaps there is a baby sleeping upstairs. If these are your reasons, that’s understandable. If your reason for refusing to answer the door is that you’re afraid of what you may be asked, or you are sorely unprepared to articulate your faith or even present a basic description of what you believe, then you have failed the most basic task of an ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20): to know the message of the Sovereign and convey it to His intended audience.

3. Listen. As an Alpha male, this one is especially hard for me…but it is critical. after you’ve invited them in and offered them something to drink, I strongly encourage you to do the one thing you want to do least — listen. Let them speak, and actually listen to what they say. Practice active listening, by making eye contact and even taking notes. Resist the urge to jump in and contradict or challenge every point they bring up, even if you disagree. Just listen. It’s hard, but it will be worth it and you’ll see why in a moment.

4. Offer a short response. Here is where your training, and all your clear thinking as a Christian, will pay off…and where your patient listening will pay off as well. When they have finished their presentation, and you have listened quietly, actively, and patiently, simply ask the same in return. Perhaps something like, “Thank you — that was fascinating. I’ve listening to everything you’ve said, and I do have several questions…but would you mind doing the same favor for me in return?”. Or perhaps, “Thank you. I’ve listened quietly and carefully for fifteen minutes — would you do the same for me for five?” Whatever works for the situation. The point is, common courtesy, even human decency, almost requires that they now listen to you for a duration. Be ready. I could write for pages on what to say, and I’ve screwed it up as many times as I’ve gotten it right, but simply present a basic gospel message. Don’t try to refute every point you disagreed with. Above all, don’t debate! Tell them who Christ really is, and perhaps a short version of when He means to you. Be brief, be kind, and largely non-confrontational, because you are going to…

5. Invite them back. Even better, feed them. A nebulous “come back some time” just won’t cut it here. Set an actual date and time, and invite them back for dinner. Give yourself a week or two — if you listened carefully and took good notes during their talk, then you will have lots of homework to do. When they come back, start over with point #1 above. After dinner, if the opportunity presents itself, mention their prior visit and ask a simple question. Again, don’t feel obligated to play point-counterpoint, at least not yet. Just ask a simple question and follow the conversation from there. Ask questions. Take notes. Offer an alternative. Repeat.

It’s not easy, it’s not fast, it’s not always comfortable, but it works. It doesn’t work every time, but it works.