Going where angels fear to tread: Christianity and Freemasonry

Going where angels fear to tread: Christianity and Freemasonry September 10, 2011

One of my biggest culture shocks in moving to the South has been seeing all the enormous Masonic lodges and discovering that many, if not most, older Baptist (and other) men are members.  Where I come from originally (upper midwest), evangelical Christianity (including the majority of Baptists) and Freemasonry don’t mix.  They’re like oil and water.  In fact, some denominations divided over whether members could be Freemasons; the conservatives considered the drift toward allowing it a sign of liberal theology or worse (nominal Christianity).

A friend of mine was in line to succeed the retiring Fire Chief in his town of about 100,000.  Some city council members came to him and told him he would be Fire Chief if he joined the Masonic Lodge.  It was against his evangelical convictions, so he never became the city’s Fire Chief.

As I was growing up in the thick of evangelicalism (my uncle was on the national board of the National Association of Evangelicals) somehow I just knew one could not be both evangelical and a Mason.  None of my relatives were Masons; nobody in our church or denomination was a Mason.

The reasons given when I asked (probably in my late teens when I became aware of Masons through my high school friends who were joining DeMolay–the boys’ branch of Freemasonry) were that 1) Christians should not belong to secret societies and should devote their free time to the church and its mission rather than to an organization that is not specifically Christian, and 2) Freemasonry’s deep background, if not present reality, is inconsistent with evangelical Christianity.

I didn’t really think that much about it for quite a few years.  After all, there were no Masons in the evangelical circles I moved in (even after becoming a Baptist while attending an evangelical Baptist seminary).  The issue really first came to concern me when we made our first move to the South for me to pursue my Ph.D. at a major Southern secular research university.  I became youth pastor and Christian education director at a Presbyterian church and discovered that most of the older men of the congregation were Masons and were inviting the boys of the youth group to join DeMolay by suggesting they would get college scholarships.  They started attending DeMolay meetings INSTEAD of youth group meetings.  It was a struggle to hold on to them for the youth group and church.  I gradually realized that some of the men of the congregation were more invested in their Masonic relationships and activities than in the church.

One elder of the church invited me to lunch to discuss this problem.  I had made a little noise about it–mostly just by asking questions such as “Why are our men drawing our boys away from church to Masonry?”  And I asked some questions about Masonic beliefs and practices–most of which never received answers. The elder, who was a 32nd degree Mason, took me to lunch and said (direct quote seared into my mind): “If there is a conflict between Masonry and the Bible I’ll go with Masonry any day.”

Curious, I decided to do some reading about the history, dogma and rituals of Masonry.  Of course, that’s not easy.  So I looked for a book by a current (not former) Mason that would explain its basic beliefs.  What I found was The Meaning of Masonry by W. L. Wilmshurst, a Grand Master over a group of Masonic Lodges in Great Britain.  Wilmshurst was clearly NOT talking about his own branch of Masonry (whether York Rite or Scottish Rite or whatever); he was talking about the deep roots of Masonry in general.  According to Wilmshurst, an acknowledged authority on Masonic history and beliefs, Masonry necessarily has an esoteric side.  As he described it I recognized it as modern Gnosticism.

What am I saying?  That all Masons are Gnostics?  No.  Of course not.  But, if Wilmshurst (and many knowledgeable critics of Masonry) is right, even in the 20th century Freemasonry is rooted in a basically esoteric quasi-religious belief system that is incompatible with orthodox Christianity.  Do most Masons know that?  I don’t know.  But why would anyone join a group without knowing as much as possible about its history and beliefs–especially if that group requires an oath of secrecy and loyalty?

A few years ago an influential fundamentalist Southern Baptist “anti-cult” watcher led a crusade against Freemasonry especially among Southern Baptists and evangelical Christians in general.  He produced a book and a video attempting to expose Freemasonry as incompatible with Christianity.  He and some of his friends brought a resolution to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention that, if passed, would have asked Southern Baptists to avoid membership in Masonic Lodges.  It would probably also have made it unlikely that Southern Baptist churches allow Masonic ceremonies in them and at Southern Baptist led funerals.  (Masonic members who die are given a special ritual by their Masonic brothers.  One explanation I was given by a Mason is that they do not believe in the resurrection of the body but only in the immortality of the soul.)

The resolution was soundly defeated.

I came to the South again 12 years ago and right away noticed the presence of enormous Masonic Lodges in this relatively small city with over 100 Baptist churches.  I discovered that many, if not most, older Baptist men have at one time or another been inducted into Masonry.  I have been told that all but the most recent presidents of the university where I teach were Masons.  I haven’t asked, but I’m sure many of the older men in the congregation to which I belong are Masons.  It’s part of the fabric of Southern culture including Southern Baptist culture.

Now, let me make clear I am not “against Masonry.”  I know too little about it to be against it.  Rather, I’m perplexed.  First, I was raised to believe that the church is one’s extended family, the family of God, and that one’s energy should be devoted to its ministry and mission first and foremost.  Second, I was raised to believe that membership in secret societies is not compatible with biblical Christianity.  It would be like an early Christian belonging also to a mystery religion; it wasn’t encouraged (to say the least).  Third, I was raised to believe that Masonic Lodges were competitors with the churches even if many Masons also belonged to churches.

Whether all that is true, I’m not sure.  But I continue to be perplexed about it.  How many Masons know that the first modern Masonic Lodges grew out of Rosicrucianism (an esoteric sect on the fringes of Christianity)?  How many know about the esoteric meanings of Masonic rituals?  How many are aware that, historically, Freemasonry denies the resurrection of the body and emphasizes the immortality of the soul instead?  Why would a Christian devote a hearty portion of his free time and energy to a secret society when that time and energy could be devoted to the work of Christ through the church?

These are questions I struggle with.  I’d love to hear real answers that carry some authority and weight from a knowledgeable Mason.  In the meantime I continue to suffer a bit of culture shock every time I drive by one of the several large Masonic Lodges in this region and realize that most of the members are probably Baptists.

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  • Thomas W. Morgan

    Dear Mr. Olson,
    Please try to realize that all religions are man made — including Christianity. And remember we are all God’s children, no matter what you have heard to the contrary.
    Love and Blessings,
    A Master Mason

    • rogereolson

      You’re not helping me any! 🙂

    • Rob

      The view that Christian belief is just “another religion” is a belief incompatible with Christian belief. So if that is the Masonic view, doesn’t that prove Dr. Olson right? Doesn’t that make freemasonry incompatible with Christian belief?

      • Open your mind

        To be completely fair Rob , Thomas there does not speak for all of masonry. Those are his own opinions. No one man or lodge speaks for all of masonry , they actually vary from lodge to lodge. Plus you can’t really understand a group of people unless you are actually a part of them so it’s really quite hard to understand masonry unless you’re a mason yourself. ergo the saying, “It takes one to know one.”

        • rogereolson

          But if that’s true, none of us could criticize a group unless we have belonged to it. So neither you nor I could criticize, say, Jehovah’s Witness belief or practice unless we’ve been JWs, right? I can’t believe you really mean that. It seems to me Masons could avoid a lot of criticism by opening their ceremonies to observation by non-Masons.

  • Theophile

    Hi Roger,
    Some years ago I worked at a shop with an older Mason, He wore a big diamond Mason ring, He told me that it was just a club that would hook You up with business, if You move to a new town and open a business, just show up at the lodge and tell them who You are and where Your shop is, and You have customers, Masons! His brother who owned the shop, I was told couldn’t be a Mason because he was a Catholic, I was told You have to believe in God to be a Mason, that’s what the G stands for*, but You can’t be a Catholic.
    It seemed as if my Mason friend was encouraging me to become a Mason also, I believed in God, was not Catholic, and had appropriate skills. Over the course of time we would discuss different subjects, I remember once after discussing the fact that the Bible claims the Devil is stuck here on earth, and pointing out some unnerving evidence, such as backmasking in music, subliminal messages in advertising pictures, and pretty convincing English gematria discoveries I had made, my Mason friend gave me, and my notepad the strangest look, and would not talk about Masons with me any more. When I would ask him any question about Masons after that He would reply “I’m not really supposed to talk about that outside the lodge, boy, or with anyone that’s not a Mason. It was strange, we would talk about a great variety of subjects like we were lifelong friends, but if Mason’s or God came up, he would get the same strange look, and become uncomfortable.
    So it seems the Mason’s want men who believe in a God, but aren’t too inquisitive about Him, the Bible, or The big D.
    *G is for Gravamen (it’s legal, look it up)

    • Daniel W


      To be honest, if you started trying to convince me that Satan is responsible for backmasking in music, subliminal messages in advertising, and messages found by applying Gematria to English, I would also look at you funny and perhaps stop trying to engage in religious discussions with you, and I’m not even a Mason. I’m an evangelical Christian. Have you ever spoken to a minister, theologian, or religious scholar about whether your findings have anything to do with Satan?

  • When I was growing up in Alabama in the 1960’s, I didn’t know anything about the Masons until my brothers and I found in an old trunk a masonic membership and a small leather-bound book about masonic rites – both had belonged to my grandfather, whom I never knew (he died in the mid 1950s at the age of eighty. My father was a Baptist minister had had never had an interest in the Masons. When we asked him what the Masons were about, his response was that back in his father’s day, and before, the Masons served as a safety net in the days before insurance policies and when most people just got by on family farms. He told us that masonic membership meant that if you were injured or died leaving a widow and children, the Masons would make sure that your family was provided for.

    Later when I was in college, I had some hyper religious folk in my circle of friends who claimed that the Masons were demonic and that all of those secret rituals were in service to Lucifer himself. In grad school I had a classmate from Texas who I found out in conversation had been inducted into the Masons. I asked him about it and his view was that is was just an antiquated organization of old men and was waning in it significance.

    So there you have two perspectives, for whatever it is worth. I have also wondered about how in the South, with our extreme lack of ritual in our rural churches, if that was part of the appeal of the Masons?

  • Blake

    Matthew 7:15-20 — when in doubt, look at the work they do.

    • rogereolson

      Well, that’s nice. Certainly any group that does truly good work should be applauded for it. Mormons do good work. Should Christians join them? Or does belief also matter when it comes to deciding what groups to join?

      • Blake

        I think asking “Should Christians join them?” is the wrong question. I certainly don’t think being a Christian should encourage one to be a Mason.

        Isn’t the more relevant question, “Should Christians avoid joining/supporting/associating with Masons?” To that, the answer seems to me to be a simple, “No.”

        I grew up in an area where many of the older men of my Baptist church were Masons. There were also those in the same congregation convinced Masons were secret demon worshipers.

        It seemed to me those Masons produced a lot of grapes and figs rather than thorns or thistles. That is a sufficient rational for me — in short, James 1:27.

        • rogereolson

          But Mormons do a lot of good works, too. So do lots of organizations whose beliefs are contrary to Christianity. I think one thing many people are missing here is that I (and not only I) believe beliefs are part of what it means to be Christian. I don’t think Masons are secret demon worshipers, but I worry that there are implicit, common beliefs promulgated among them that conflict with authentic Christianity.

          • Blake

            Certainly belief matters. There is, however, a core distinction I make that it doesn’t appear you make. There are five different ways two sets of beliefs may relate to each other. Since the general case isn’t specific to Masons, compare Christianity and Foo.
            1) Christianity and Foo believe the same things.
            2) Christianity and Foo may hold explicitly contrary beliefs.
            3) Christianity may believe what Foo does and add other things.
            4) Foo may believe what Christianity does and add other things.
            5) Christianity and Foo may overlap, sharing some beliefs and not sharing others.
            Presumably 1 & 2 produce easy, obvious answers. Options 4 & 5 are ripe for interesting discussion, would be where those LDS folks you mentioned fit in, but do not seem to apply in the case of Masons.
            Option 3 is the case Masons, Alcoholics Anonymous, and any other organization that has a deist sort of underpinning. Why should a group believing a subset of what you do make them unfit for association?
            I think comparing how you feel about a Christian being a member of Alcoholics Anonymous is probably useful.

          • rogereolson

            Does AA have secret initiation rituals with esoteric meanings?

          • Blake

            Patheos appears to enforce a maximum level of nested comments. This should really be in response to the question below about whether AA has secret rituals with esoteric meanings.

            This is moving the goalposts for a second time. I pointed out the good works. You asked about beliefs. I addressed beliefs. Now you are asking about rituals.

            Are you proposing to exclude them based on the very existance of secret, esoteric rituals; or on a claim about the incompatibility of some meaning behind those rituals?

            If you don’t find the AA example sufficiently on the nose, about about Boy Scouts? Certainly lots of good works and deistic beliefs along with secret, esoteric rituals. Is it proper for Christians to be involved in Scouting?

          • rogereolson

            You’ve got to be kidding, right?

          • John Inglis

            It seems to me that Blake’s answer is not responsive to Olson’s point, which is that a christian must have both beliefs and actions that are congruent with Christ’s teachings. Actions alone are not sufficient to make one a christian or to make an organization suitable for joining. If an organization, no matter how good its actions, has beliefs that are inconsistent with, or very problematic for, christians, then it would be advisable to refrain from joining it. Paul certainly posits prudence as a governing principle even in areas that are less controversial (“all things are lawful for me but not all things are profitable).

            Blake’s fivefold division doesn’t seem germaine to Olson’s point that it seems to him (Olson) that there are within Masonry beliefs that have been historically, and most likely still are, seriously problematic for christians.


          • Blake

            Not in the slightest.

            I notice you have declined to address the question about whether you are objecting to “secret, esoteric rituals” on principle, or on some unspoken assertion about what the hidden, insider meaning of those rituals.

            If it is just about the existance of such rituals, then Boy Scouts are a very close match.

            If it is about the meaning of the rituals, please be clear what those anti-Christian meanings are.

          • rogereolson

            I didn’t say all esoteric rituals are anti-Christian, although I think prima facie they probably are. “Esoteric” usually means gnostic or at least gnostic-like. That is, there is believed to be some higher spiritual wisdom not generally available to all and kept by a few “initiates” and imparted by them to new initiates who are worthy of them. Usually esoteric “wisdom” has something to do with the true divinity of man (even if not expressed that explicitly but only as man’s perfectibility through his own works, not by grace alone). I would be very much surprised to find that the Boy Scouts have ever in their history had secret initiation rites or passed on esoteric wisdom.

          • Blake

            Ah… now I believe I see the disconnect. You are using the term ‘esoteric’ to mean something quite a bit more specific than the simply dictionary defintion. A little googling suggests using it that was is common enough in seminary circles, but I read it with the plain dictionary meaning of “information only known to the members of the group”.

            So yes, the core of your claim is that the esoteric(dictionary) meaning of their rituals is esoteric(seminary). I agree this could be an actual conflict. The proof that Masons actually maintain/promote internally those gnostic beliefs, on the other hand, seems rather thin.

            So, worst case it comes down to being a Mason being as inappropriate for a Christian as being, say, attending a UCC church even though you have firmly Evangelical beliefs.

          • rogereolson

            Of course, there are very evangelical UCC churches! And as each UCC church is autonomous, belonging to an evangelical UCC church does not in any way implicate you in the doctrinal problems many of us see in the UCC denomination generally. (Resolutions passed by the UCC in conference are not binding on congregations or individuals.) A better example, to me, anyway, would be the problem of being an evangelical Christian and trying to belong to a Unitarian church.

          • Blake

            In fact, I first wrote “UU church” and then revised the comparision to “UCC church” on second thought.

            It was exactly that sort of autonomy of the individual church that made me change the comparision. Having never been a Mason, I can only use second-hand research as well, but everything I’ve read since we started this conversation suggests that individual lodges have a great deal of autonomy.

            They certainly grant/require autonomy of individual beliefs. They require members believe in the existance of of a “Supreme Being”, but explicitly assert there is no separate Masonic concept of who/what that must be. In particular, a Christian Mason is free to use that same “defensive doctrine” you mentioned in today’s blog post and claim the Trinity as his “Supreme Being”.

          • rogereolson

            Right. And a Unitarian can believe whatever he or she wishes and still be a Unitarian in good standing. That’s my problem. It has many of the trappings of a Christian denomination and its congregations often (not always) have many of the trappings of Christianity. But I, for one, do not consider it/them authentically Christian (though individuals may be). I would be very puzzled by an evangelical Christian who wanted to join a Unitarian church. It’s the association that seems problematic to me. Though I am not condemning Christians who are Masons or who join a Unitarian church. I just don’t think these are the best choices for evangelical Christians who ought, instead, to find and join and throw all their available time and energy in an evangelical Christian church.

  • Lee in Mpls

    rogereolson wrote:”How many are aware that, historically, Freemasonry denies the resurrection of the body…”

    This is not correct. Religion is not taught by Freemasons. To a Mason, a person’s individual beliefs are between him and his maker. What Masons do teach is freedom of thought and religion, as guaranteed by our Constitution. It is what allowed the separate States to become one Nation.

    • rogereolson

      Then please explain to me why Masons insist on having their own ceremony at the graveside of a Mason who died? I once asked a Mason and the reason he gave me was that they believe in the immortality of the soul and not in the resurrection of the body. And I have read that. Notice I said “historically;” I didn’t say all contemporary Masons.

    • Rob

      Masons can deny the resurrection without teaching religion. My atheist friends all deny that there will be a resurrection and they certainly are not teaching religion!

      But the point of course is that denying that there will be a resurrection is a denial of Christian faith pure and simple. Christian belief necessarily entails hope for the resurrection.

      If Masons deny that there will be a resurrection, they are anti-Christian. They don’t need to be a religious organization any more than Richard Dawkins needs to be a priest in order to be anti-Christian.

      • jgv

        Freemasons do not deny the resurrection. They never have and never will. They have nothing to say about whether the resurrection is physical or not, they only require a person believe in God before they can join the brotherhood. Persons who join and believe in a physical resurrection are not persuaded to change their minds, not ever.

        • rogereolson

          I have heard differently from Masons themselves.

          • jgv

            Roger, most Freemasons like myself do most likely believe in the immortality of the soul, but I and most Freemasons most likely also believe in a physical resurrection. You were told by one Freemason one thing, you can’t take that to mean that all feel the same. If you took a survey of how the average person on the street felt about the President, but you only asked one person, you’d either get that the President has either a 0% opinion rating or 100%.

            Speaking more concretely, whatever religous beliefs you carry with you are not changed by Freemasonry. Freemasonry teaches that our Family and Religion should always be first before the Brotherhood.

  • Jim Russell

    Your published thoughts I found very intriguing. As a person raised exclusively in the Northwest and rarely exposed to evangelical Christianity, the very nature of your questions are curious. As a youth, I was raised in the American Baptist tradition. I sang in the choir; I was president of my Baptist Youth Fellowship (BYF); even gave a sermon or two from the pulpit on “Youth Sundays.” I do not remember ever being taught to believe in the literal resurrection of the body (except that of Jesus Christ – and even that was rarely mentioned). The immortality of the soul of course was a given.
    Also as a youngster, I was a member of the Order of DeMolay from the time of my 14th birthday through the first couple of years of college. I became a Master Councilor, and went on to participate at the state level. I was not only an extremely active participant in my church, but also in the DeMolay organization.
    That’s my background.
    I didn’t become a Mason until I was 44 years old. I did so initially because being a part of that organization also helped me as a father to participate in my son’s activities when HE joined the DeMolays. Since then, I have been very active as a Mason in my Lodge.
    There are a few things that are highly emphasized in the Masonic fraternity. First of all, take care of your family. Their safety and well being and nurturing are your number one obligation. Secondly, be true to your religious belief, attend your church or synagogue, etc. Practice your religion. Third, respect and defend your country. Lastly, even though your religious beliefs and devotion to your country are important, absolutely no discussion of religion or politics is allowed within the lodge.
    Now, regarding your friends comments that if necessary he would choose the Lodge over the bible, that is only HIS choice, not that of a position taken by Freemasonry. The next friend you ask may have the exact opposite answer – or somewhere in the middle.
    The basic tenants of Freemasonry are brotherly love, relief, and truth. By the exercise of brotherly love we are taught to regard the whole human race as one family — the high and the low, the rich and the poor; who, created by one Almighty Parent and inhabitants of the same planet, ought to aid, support and protect each other.
    Relief of the distressed is a duty incumbent upon all men, but more particularly upon Masons, who are linked together by an indissoluble chain of sincere affection. “To soothe the unhappy, to compassionate their miseries, and to restore peace to the troubled mind, is the grand aim we have in view.” On this basis we form our friendships and establish our connections.
    Truth is a divine attribute and the foundation of every virtue. To be a good man and true is the first lesson taught in Masonry. Only while influenced by this principle can we prevent hypocrisy and deceit, promote sincerity and plain-dealing, and let heart and tongue join in promoting each other’s welfare and rejoice in each other’s prosperity.
    Finally, I’d encourage every man who wants to be better a better person to associate himself with a group of individuals such as the Freemasons. We are not in the business of “conversion,” but we are in the business of “making good men better.”

    • rogereolson

      Yes, I’m aware that some American Baptists (my home denomination) are Freemasons. It’s sad that you grew up in a Baptist church and wasn’t taught the biblical doctrine of the resurrection of the body. I think it is the church’s job to help make good men better. If people feel the need to look elsewhere for that, the church is failing. I also think one’s primary loyalty and involvement should be in the church, not in any other society. Of course, a Christian may join a non-Christian society for certain purposes, but should it have quasi-religious beliefs and practices? What does “Dogma and Morals” mean? I’m a radical (i.e., radix–going to the roots) Christian; I believe the church should never be just one association of a Christian. It should be the extended family of a true Christian; an alternative society within the world to which a Christian gives his or her full loyalty and participation under Jesus Christ. Frankly, I don’t see how a Christian can read the New Testament and get anything else from it.

      • Phil N

        Roger, I fully agree. I find it frustrating that any organization thinks that it can make men better in the old nature. It entirely misses the point of our depravity. It also segregates and entirely discriminates out one half of the human race.

        On the other hand, men can be charitable and benefit society, however, disciples can and should do so even more.

    • Rob

      You know most Hindus teach that people should take care of their families, the sick, and the poor. Bhakti Hindus teach that people should exercise devotional love of one’s own god. Hindus on the path of Karma teach that one should go through one’s life selflessly and fulfilling duties without any hope or expectation of reward. That doesn’t make Hindu teachings Christian.

      Most Hindus would also tell Christians to go to church, Jews to go to synagogue, and Muslims to go to Mosque because they believe that any worship of anything brings one closer to the end of one’s own spiritual path.

      Is Hinduism a religion? Is being a Hindu compatible with being a Christian? Most would say “no”. How is freemasonry any different from Hinduism in the ways detailed above?

      • jgv

        Hinduism is a religion, Freemasonry is a fraternal organization which treats persons of all religions equally. The parameters you’ve set to distinguish what a religion is could be applied to the boy scouts, your average American, or even persons who work at a local Chamber of Commerce. If I walked up to an average American on the street and asked them, do you think it’s a good thing that persons of any religion explore their beliefs and congregate with each other as a means of bringing themselves closer to God? What do you think their answer would be? Thankfully enough, we live in a society where we are taught not to disrespect others because of their religion, so I’m sure more times than not, your average American would say that, yes, it is a good thing for a person to want to be closer to God and they should explore the paths they are most familiar with in order to make that happen. What if this average American works for IBM, does that make IBM anti-Christian?

  • My father and grandfathers were all Masons. I have not been, mostly for the reasons you enumerated.

    Pastoring in Texas for many years I know what you mean about most of the (older) men being Masons. Reading histories of Methodism in 19th century Texas there were many notations about so and so entering the ministry in such and such a year, and joining the lodge in such and such a year. They were closely tied then. Now I know of almost no Methodist pastors who are Masons (though the damage was done long ago).

    The biggest obstacle I see is that Masons do good things. The sole apologetic I’ve heard is that they are a hard working, industrious charitable organization. This appears to have led them to be convinced in a works righteousness understanding of salvation. They either then rest in their own righteousness, or, more often in my experience, are utterly convinced they can never have assurance of their salvation (since they can never know they’re good enough).

  • To me personally the issue is clear-“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with All thy heart and with All thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy Mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.”Luke 10 v 27. This leaves no room for belonging to semi secret societies, even if they do some good works by the way. Rather, involvement in them detracts from the honour and reverence due to the Lord God alone. Followers of Jesus are required to renounce the hidden things of darkness. We cannot plead that Good works justify belonging to Masonry- Good works not done in the Name of God, are as Filthy rags, the Scriptures say, and are tainted with our deep desire for self justification and recognition.

    • jgv

      Following your reasoning, a Christian should not be allowed to hold a government position which requires the holding onto of information. Or they can’t ever be senior executives for a corporation because they may be required to keep secret the discussions they have in their board meetings.

      • rogereolson

        Apples and oranges. I object to Christians participating in organizations with secret initiation rites with esoteric meanings.

        • Peter E

          I am a Freemason in Australia, who has stumbled o this article and conversation.

          My experience of Freemasonry, as a Christian, was to ask my soon-to-be father-in-law and brother-in-law, both then experienced Masons, whether there was anything in Freemasonry that would cut across my active Christianity.

          Now, I knew them both to be active churchmen, and my brother-in-law has since become a Minister of my denomination and a Doctor of Divinity. And, he is an active Mason. (My father-in-law has since died.)

          And, here is the ‘kicker’: I said to them that I wanted their assurance, on pain that if I became a Freemason and then discovered something in Freemasonry that would tend to make me question my Christianity or counter it, then I would not be inclined to speak to them again.

          I received their assurance, and I have been a Freemason for over 20 years, and been a Master of my Lodge; and, I have not experienced anything in Freemasonry that makes me less of a Christian.

          Having said that, apart from the good Christian men in Lodge, I have Masonic friends and acquaintances who are Muslims, Jews, Catholics, and Hindus and more; and, I have even known one Wiccan (and that makes me shudder in stupification, too, however, acknowledging the “horned god” also means acknowledging our God.)

          The bottom line for me is that I have an active faith and life (and “good works”) in the church, and an active Masonic life (and “good works”).

          • rogereolson

            Okay, but all of what you wrote there assumes that your Christianity is true Christianity and we all know there are many people who call themselves Christians who aren’t real Christians. I don’t know you, so I’m not in any way questioning the authenticity of your Christianity. I’m just saying I have no way of knowing and you are assuming just saying you’re a Christian should be enough convince anyone that there is no conflict between Christianity and freemasonry. Also, as others have pointed out here, each lodge is a little different. One lodge might do things that conflict with Christianity while another lodge doesn’t. Also, I have raised the question whether all freemasons really understand the symbolism of their rituals. Also, I (and others) have problems with a Christian belonging to a society that has secrets. Anyway, all-in-all, I don’t think your testimony helps much. Having said all that, let me reiterate that my mind is not made up about this. I am simply raising questions about it and so far nothing said here has resolved my concerns.

          • Peter E

            Yes, you do not know me, and I do not know you.

            I note that you probably have not met most of your interlocutors, yet I am the one you “call out” as possibly not being a Christian. Please, be consistent!

            Your seemingly intentional mis-understanding of my statements, while also seemingly well-meaning, also gives me a feeling like the one I got when well-meaning “little old ladies” at my church questioned my being a Freemason, and over a period of several months, quietly gave me tracts and booklets meant to convince me that Freemasonry was “of the Devil”.

            All that I saw, and I read them all, were so far removed from my experience of Freemasonry as to be quite easilt dismissed.

            So, I can say with some authority (well, in my own mind) that I am “well read” on the anti-Freemasonry Christian literature.

            It has been some 20 years since the Anglican Church in Australia had several well-meaning investigations into Freemasonry, along with other institutional churches. I had the opportunity of visiting with one of the principal investigators of the Anglican process, who had spent considerable time preparing the report. Yet, he admitted, it was something like the faith expressed by Christians; that a non-Mason could not truly understand Freemasonry in the same way that someone not ‘saved’ by faith in Jedus Christ could not understand Christianity.

            And, there you are, too. You have to accept people who tell you that they are Christians, telling you about their experience of Freemasonry.

            Or, you could ask the Christian Freemasons of your acquainance, and get a feeling about the veracity of the others who try to explain to you.

            Or, you have to accept people “by faith” or “at face value”/

            Over to you.

          • rogereolson

            All I said was that you didn’t say enough for me to know whether your Christianity is authentic or not. Obviously, not everyone who calls himself or herself “Christian” is. You said Freemasonry is compatible with Christianity. What kind of Christianity? What version of Christianity? I have no doubt that it is compatible with your Christianity. I also have no doubt it would not be compatible with mine.

          • Peter E

            I have had some time to consider my other comment, and I stand by it, even though you might consider it immoderate.

            But, another part of your mis-understanding about Freemasonry just occured to me.

            You commented that, “Also, as others have pointed out here, each lodge is a little different. One lodge might do things that conflict with Christianity while another lodge doesn’t.”

            One of the things that Freemasons talk about, at great length, and ‘celebrate’ is “visiting” (as in “going to other lodges”.)

            In my own case, I have ‘visited’ in five jurisdictions other than my own. I have also been in the company of Freemasons (without attending lodge with them) in four other jurisdictions (all in the USA, where, despite my intentions and wishes, I only talked to Freemasons at a lodge meeting toom but not in a lodge meeting.)

            In all, I have visited over 100 lodges.

            So, I consider myself able to say that I have had a fair exposure to lodge practice, in numerous Masoni jurisdictions (read ‘denominations’.)

            And, I reiterate my earlier comment that I have not seen/heard/experienced any hint of a mention or whisper or inuendo that would prevent me from living out my Freemasonry along with my firmly held Liberal-Protestant Christian faith (in the USA, probably called evanfelical), and certainly ‘lived’ faith. (Everyone in my circle of friends and workmates hears me talking about my church activities as a definite part of my life. Mondays at work have me answering “what did you do over the weekend?” with talk of conversations at church, or music-leading, or other mid-week activities that are coming up.)

            So, yes, I am an ‘evangelial Christian’, I guess.

            And, a Freemason. My church friends and work colleagues also hear me talking about conversations at lodge about all manner of things, or “feeding the needy”, or helping widows of Freemasons, or visiting hospitalised or shut-in Freemasons, or whatever.

          • rogereolson

            I’m confused. You identify your faith as “Liberal-Protestant” and “evangelical.” Those two don’t usually go together. Here in the U.S, one of the things that most evangelical churches had in common (at least in the past) was rejection of membership in “secret societies” including especially Freemasonry. (That is not as true in the South where Southern Baptists, by and large, have never opposed membership in a lodge.) When I was growing up in evangelicalism, we expected a new convert to Jesus Christ to drop membership in a lodge. One of the things we held against “liberal” churches was that they allowed not only lodge membership but Masonic ceremonies in their churches. Some evangelical denominations broke away from so-called mainline denominations over lodge membership.

  • Jim Gifford

    Interesting topic Roger.

    I know a good bit about the history of freemasonry. I know a lot of it because before becoming a Southern Baptist, I was a member of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, which explicitly forbade membership in secret societies of any order. The UBs divided over the issue in the 1880s, and the anti-Masonic wing was in the minority. The larger group, the EUBs, later merged with the MEs to form United Methodism. The old-constitution UB is still around, in areas of largely German descent (PA, MD, OH, IN, MI).

    I am inclined to state it this way (not original to me): A person can be a Christian and a Mason at the same time, but not an intelligent Christian and an intelligent Mason at the same time.

    Good stuff.

    Jim G.

  • It is always amazes me that apparently intelligent people cannot understand that if Freemasonry taught about Christ or Allah or Buddha or the Virgin Mary, Freemasonry would be a religion. Since Freemasonry does not teach about any of these, or any other savior, it is not a religion. Now of course “The Great Architect of the Universe” will pop up.

    If you Google the term “the great architect of the universe“, and go to Wikipedia you will discover it was a Christian term hundreds of years before Freemasonry came into existence (Quote below).

    “The concept of God as the (Great) Architect of the Universe has been employed many times in Christianity. An illustration of God as the architect of the universe can be found in a Bible from the Middle Ages[1] and the comparison of God to an architect has been used by Christian apologists and teachers.”

    Freemasonry only requires a man to believe in God, it does not specify a particular one. And, you must remember, the Mason whose direct quote seared into your mind was only one man and does not represent the millions of other Freemasons.

    • rogereolson

      I think you misunderstand the nature of “religion.” Not all religions believe in God or any gods. And there are traditions and worldviews and organizations that count (to sociologists of religion and constitutional lawyers) as “quasi-religions.” As a church historian, I reject your claim that “Great Architect of the Universe” has been employed many times in Christianity outside of Freemasonry or deism. I have never seen it among the early church fathers or medieval theologians or Reformers. However, I find nothing wrong with calling God that so long as one does not limit him to that. Christianity is about the incarnation–God become man in Jesus Christ–and the cross. A vague notion of God as “Great Architect of the Universe” avoids the scandal of particularity that is necessarily involved in true, New Testament Christianity.

  • Dana Ames

    I find it interesting that Masonry arose in a Europe that was becoming devoted to Enlightenment, Rationalist ideals, which approached everything “scientifically” and derided church ritual. So I think part of the appeal of Masonry was that the Masonic ritual gave people something that all humans need and employ, but didn’t expect or want from the church. I think it flourishes among communities where there are many Baptists, because Baptists don’t want anything in church that might be considered “empty” ritual (as in Roman Catholic or other high-church). But humans will develop ritual; it’s how we explain/cope with/make sense of/become a part of that which is non-material.

    I think it is sadly more evidence for the view of a “split reality” that came to fruition in that time, with the “spiritual” and non-material on one level, and the “earthly” and material on another.


  • Hi Dr Olson, Interesting post. I also grew up in a church (Nazarene) that considered secret societies to be incompatible with church membership. The only time the issue mattered to me was that in high school I couldn’t apply for scholarships that the Masons offered.

    I think Methodists can be Masons. At least I know some that have been.

    • rogereolson

      Sometimes I think Methodists can be anything. In high school my daughter dated the son of a philosophy professor at a Methodist university. He (the father) was an atheist and a member in good standing of a UMC congregation! Of course, not all Methodists are like that. Many are good evangelical Christians. I just think the hierarchy of the church is too tolerant.

      • United Methodist pastor here. I must object to this statement…

        “In high school my daughter dated the son of a philosophy professor at a Methodist university. He (the father) was an atheist and a member in good standing of a UMC congregation! Of course, not all Methodists are like that.”

        You mean “all” of us Methodists aren’t atheists? Thanks for at least giving us that! I’m sure that this professor, who was “in good standing” in a UMC congregation, didn’t volunteer to the congregation that he didn’t believe in the God that he pledged—through his membership vows—to love and serve. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be a member in good standing.

        Did he lie when he took his membership vow? Did he become an atheist after becoming a member, and is it the pastor’s job then to root out the atheists in the congregation? In my experience, atheists aren’t usually active church members to begin with. Was he a member in good standing because his name was on a church roll somewhere?

        I know the UMC is a mess, but it’s my mess. Sorry if I’m a bit defensive. I’m not aware that it’s messier than any other denomination.

        • rogereolson

          Some years ago the UMC embraced “theological pluralism.” I realize that wasn’t intended to allow atheism, but did it open the door to that? If I’m not mistaken, Thomas Altizer is a Methodist. Has the UMC ever disciplined him? Don’t get me wrong, I know many wonderfully evangelical Christians who are UMC. The grassroots are usually much more so than the hierarchy (with many exceptions such as William Willimon).

          • Dr. Olson,

            I almost preemptively mentioned Altizer in my original comment because it so happens that the seminary I went to, Candler at Emory, is still dealing with fallout from that. Two important facts: Altizer was an Episcopalian, not a Methodist. He didn’t teach in the school of theology but in the graduate department of religion. (As you know, you practically have to be an atheist to teach in a graduate department of religion, don’t you? That isn’t the same thing as a theology school.)

            Back in the ’60s, Methodists were outraged about Altizer. As our bishop explained at the time, he had no authority to discipline him. Candler had no authority to discipline him; he wasn’t one of its faculty. And the president of Emory defended Altizer in the interest of academic freedom (which I think is a good thing).

            So where did the Methodists go wrong in that situation?

            You say that the UMC at some point embraced religious “religious pluralism.” This is news to me. Peruse our Book of Discipline, our law book, and show me any hint of the UMC’s embracing religious pluralism. It isn’t there. In fact, I rather like this paragraph ¶ 128:

            “The people of God, who are the church made visible in the world, must convince the world of the reality of the gospel or leave it unconvinced. There can be no evasion or delegation of this responsibility; the church is either faithful as a witnessing and serving community, or it loses its vitality and its impact on an unbelieving world.”

            I was ordained last year as an elder after a VERY long period of testing and probation (it takes about eight years, start to finish including seminary). During that time we have to answer, in some depth, many specific questions related to the historic Christian faith and defend our answers before various boards and committees. A religious pluralist would be rooted out (unless they lie). In fact, even a true liberal Christian (whose natural affinity would be with the ECUSA or UCC), not to mention a religious pluralist, would look at the UMC and reach the exact opposite conclusion from you: the UMC is way too “conservative” when it comes to orthodox Christianity.

            I know this because I was in seminary with plenty of liberals, and more than a few religious pluralists. None of them were in the UMC. (Which isn’t to say there aren’t some of them out there, of course, but you know what I mean!)

            Moreover, Dr. Olson, one very important part of a Methodist seminary education is the study of Wesleyan theology. You of all people, as an outspoken Arminian, should appreciate this. We can’t get through seminary without being immersed in Wesleyan thought. We Methodist clergy tend to really love John and Charles Wesley. It’s almost weird how much we love them and talk about them.

            The point is that the theology of most Methodist clergy doesn’t fall far from that tree. It’s certainly not supposed to. If it does, it isn’t the fault of the hierarchy or the process of ordination. If anything, I sense that the church is working harder to get back to its Wesleyan roots. In my experience, an appreciation of Wesleyan thought is much stronger at the clergy level than the grassroots level. Seminaries have beefed up their Wesleyan courses.

            A United Methodist clergy person who is either very liberal or a true pluralist would have to withstand much cognitive dissonance on his or her path to ordination. Again, I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen sometimes. Of course it does. But it’s not because the denomination has embraced religious pluralism.

            I grew up Southern Baptist. I’m well aware of the stereotypes that Baptists have of Methodists. I’m surprised that you seem to share some of them. Talk to Will Willimon some time. I don’t think I’m saying anything about the UMC that he wouldn’t agree with. I’ve met and spoken to him before, and I know two other bishops in the UMC. I’m certain that all three would strenuously disagree with your characterization. They are deeply committed to the orthodox Christian faith, and to our specific Wesleyan emphases.

            But really… I know Baylor is a Baptist school, but do you not know any Methodists? I mean, not a stray Methodist academic here or there, but just good ol’ rank-and-file Methodist people? We’re really not all that bad. And maybe the point of this defense is to simply say, “We’re not nearly as bad as you think.” I wish I could say more, but I concede that we have major problems—the biggest of which is that we’re a denomination full of sinners in need of God’s grace.

          • rogereolson

            Actually, I attend a Methodist church occasionally. I love the worship and the singing and sometimes the preaching. (Although I think they could sing with a little more gusto, if you know what I mean.) My complaint about the UMC is based on years and years of experiences with them. I think I’m fairly knowledgeable about them. Some of them are very evangelical and even charismatic. (I used to teach with a former UMC bishop who was charismatic.) But look at the seminary professors. There are some exceptions, of course, such as Willie Abraham and Hank Knight. But so, so many are very liberal. I won’t name names, but I know them and have rubbed shoulders with them at professional society meetings of theologians. I will name one who is now retired and I think may be dead: Schubert Ogden who, according to friends who studied under him, harassed and browbeat evangelical students in his classes. Does he represent all UMC seminary professors? No. But there are many others whose theology is far, far from anything recognizable as historically Wesleyan. Process theologians, radical feminist theologians, etc. A few years ago the seminary attached to the college where I taught (not my present location) applied to the UMC for recognition to train UMC pastors (as many non-UMC seminaries have). Our president traveled to Nashville and met with the board in charge of that and was told in no uncertain terms that they would not accredit the seminary to train UMC pastors unless it dropped its stance against homosexuality (i.e., gay marriage). The seminary couldn’t do that so, to the best of my knowledge, to this day UMC students cannot study there toward becoming elders in the UMC. (Technically, they can, but they must transfer to another seminary for their last year or last two years–I can’t remember which.)

          • Dr. Olson,
            You are correct that for a period the UMC embraced “theological pluralism” in their doctrinal statement. This period was from 1972 until 1988. During this time evangelicals sought to remove this phrase because they saw it as detrimental to the church’s future. In 1988, the phrase “theological pluralism” was removed from the Book of Discipline and the section on “Our Doctrinal Heritage” now reflects apostolic orthodoxy with Wesleyan and Reformation distinctives.

          • rogereolson

            I’m glad to hear it. What is the UMC doing to encourage or enforce “apostolic orthodoxy” within its ranks?

  • The connection between Masons and Baptists is interesting and a bit scary. But I find it unbelievable that you are not “against Masonry” but you are “Against Calvinism.”

    • rogereolson

      I know much more about Calvinism than about Masonry. Insofar as Wilhurst is right, I would be against Masonry. But I know not all Masons believe what he said is the “Meaning of Masonry.”

  • Kent

    I am past master of a local lodge, and three time worthy patron of the eastern star, and 31st degree scottish rite. I am also a born again christian, and assemblies of god ministry student. Soon after I was saved God led me in prayer to separate myself from the lodge, (you will notice I mentioned my memberships in the present tense, you see one may not quit being a mason, they simply suspend you for non payment of dues and other members may not”hold masonic communion” with a dissobediant brother)
    I can assure you that the rites of the lodge are not consistent with a believing life, but are very subtle in the way they lead one away from trust in Jesus, and into trust in your brothers.
    The teachings are mostly about stuff that seems quite good, service, fellowship, brotherly love relief and truth.
    Its the truth part that is so sticky. Denial of Christ is masked as being inclusive to men of different faiths, so we pray not to jesus, but to”the great architect of the universe” New members are instructed that they will receive”light”by “trusting in the light rights and benefits of this worshipful lodge” not from the light of the world, Jesus Christ. It is very quietly un christian, but doesn’t satan tend to work that way, trying to convince us good is evil
    and evil is good?
    There is so much more to discuss.
    If you are reading this, and the holy spirit has led you to question your involvement in freemasonry, listen. Just walk away from the lodge and tword Jesus. do you really think a godly spirit inspired the bloodthirsty penalties for divulging the secrets of freemasonry? Do you really think the holy spirit of Jesus was a part of my drinking wine out of a human skull during my scottish rite initiation? Would Jesus lead us to say and do these things so that we could gain in influence and prestige? To favor men based on membership rather than merit? This is just the sort of prideful misdirection that is most deadly, the kind that can find you standing firmly with your fraternal brothers, convinced of the merit of your good works, but separate from Jesus.

    Run, don’t walk.and if any of your brothers truly love you they will understand. But that won’t happen because love comes from Christ. And I am insinuating that a dedicated member of the lodge can not be a beliver, at worst. At best a christian member must squash his spirit of discernment and threaten to kill a brother they are supposed to love if he spills the super secret pass word. seriously. How much ungodlinesss can one choke down and really be saved? I know the man I was did not know Jesus, the man who took those oathes has past away, and today I am a new creation.free from that curse.
    Thank you Jesus!

    • The Realist

      I’d like to point out the above comment is made by someone pretending to be a mason. There are several key points about this little speech that send up red flags to real masons:

      1) The person claims to be a 31st degree Scottish Rite Mason. Since the regular degrees of the Scottish Rite end up at 32, and since watching the degrees almost always takes place at bi-annual reunions where members meet for 2-3 days and do the 4th-32nd degree at once, it seems most odd that he stopped at 31 when everyone else stops at 32.

      2) He claims to have drunk wine out of a skull at some point, which is a lie made up by an anti-mason called Jim Shaw who wrote a mostly fictitious encounter about being a mason.

      3) Its completely untrue that you can’t stop being a mason if you wish to be one. If you resign from a lodge and notify the Grand Lodge that due to whatever reason you no longer consider yourself a mason and you wish to be removed permanently from the membership, they will do it. “Once a mason always a mason” is only true for people who want to continue being masons. If someone becomes brain washed by anti-masonic propaganda and wishes to no longer be a mason, they can be.

      4) Before joining all men who wish to become masons state that they are not joining because of “mercenary motives” – ie, for personal gain. And really if you did join for that reason you’d be quite disappointed. Masons don’t engage in favoring others just because they are masons. I’ve been given tickets by mason cops who knew I was a mason, been denied for promotions by mason supervisors who knew I was a mason, and have been given bad grades by mason professors who knew I was a mason. I have never once materially gained in the 7 years of active membership.

  • William Fritz

    In response to a couple of points.

    Masonry is about making a good man better. It uses initiation by way of participatory acts to teach basic truths. These truths are ones that all religions can agree to. Once presented to the initiate it is entirely up to him as to how he wishes to understand them. The use of symbolism makes this easier for the individual.

    As to the comment from the member that if he had to choose between the Church and Masonry it would be Masonry I would say it is not an uncommon statement or feeling among members. Inside a lodge during its meetings there is not allowed the talk of religion or politics other then things that affect public education. There are generic prayers that all may subscribe to at the beginning and end of a meeting. The special funeral rite you mentioned is actually a Remembrance of a Life that is done publicly and is usually well performed.

    Why would anyone chose the Lodge over Church? Good question, look at the church in question and see if the problem is not the belief in God through Christianity but rather is the problem that of individuals who get too wrapped up in their particular version of the church and don’t allow others to understand it in their own version. Or is it not seeing what their donations should be going to?

    There are many reasons that men join. I personally found many good people that have lived lives that are very much following a Christian path. Many had not been in church in many a year but they lived their beliefs.

    The rules of Masonry are simple, as are its ceremonies. What you get out of it is entirely up to the individual. I have found that much of Masonry is compatible with Christianity and most other religions. But then again I am not looking for a scapegoat as to why my churches program is not getting the needed participation that other groups are getting , whether they be Masonic or not, that my church is not supplying to the parishioners? Maybe the minister needs to look at the person who is the member of the church and the lodge and see what the person is versus what you assume he is not. How does the person come across as to his moral, ethical and personal life? Are they honest in their dealings with others? Do they have a personal belief that is strong?

    Masonry has had the adherents that used it for job placement and promotion but that is not what it should ever be used for. But then again it is not just this group that has done it as members in other groups have been selected over others for similar reasons, they belonged to something. The question is why in your mind and it is simple, the person promoting and the person who is hired or promoted know the one thing that others don’t, I can trust you because I have taken the same path you have. I know your Obligations and recognize you though we have never met. Can’t say that about other groups. It is all about trust. A philosophy of life.

    Remember that Religion teaches us what and how we should live for the afterlife. Philosophy teaches about how we take those same lessons learned and apply them to the here and now and how we act on the religious rules.

    One final point. Freemasonry describes itself as a Society with Secrets not as a Secret Society. It may sound like a play on words but it isn’t. A Society with Secrets is one in which we know who the members are, where they meet and what they do. This includes government, church, personal family life, business, etc. In the particular area of fraternal groups, the only secret is one that there is no secret and the second is modes of recognition. A Secret Society has none of the above. You do not know who its members are, where they meet or what they do. In some cases members may not know who the memberships is as it is kept to cells. They are not public.

    Look at the person not the organization.

  • Curious, are you wanting to justify joining such a group? With ties to kabbalah, sufi Islam, Mormonism, mithraism, the cathars, etc. How much evidence do you need of incompatibility with Christ?

  • After reading all the previous responses, it is clear to me that Masonry is still more extensive in influence than I thought. Just as Dr. Olson has said, I see no reason to have this type of loyalty to anyone other than Christ or any group apart from the church. Denial or silence about the resurrection of Christ is a fatal flaw.


  • Ivan

    The great Gamaliel had it right when he said:

    Acts 5:38-39 (NIV)
    38 “Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.
    39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

    • rogereolson

      I am certainly not against Masons or their lodges. I question only whether an evangelical Christian should belong to them.

    • Just because someone’s spoken words are quoted in the Bible doesn’t mean that those words are from God — it just means that God inspired the writer (in this case, Luke) to include them in the writing of the book.

  • The Realist

    What an intriguing post – I commend you for not using it to bash freemasonry and simply admitting you know little about it. For some reason, it came up on Google News, which is how I find your blog. I am a 25 year old freemason and southern baptist in North Caorlina – so the subject of your post is right my alley as it were.

    You have received many responses here, and likely will receive many more, but there is one single thing I encourage you to remember no matter what you read from masons: what a mason believes about the relationship between his religion and freemasonry is his own opinion and not a part of the official philosophy of freemasonry. That is because freemasonry is absolutely silent about what a member should believe except to state that a candidate should believe in some sort of God and that their personal religious practices first in priority before their obligations to freemasonry. The first degree teaches that men should prioritize their lives as such: God (God is not defined, it is whatever God the candidate already believes in), family, friends, church, work, freemasonry.

    As to why evangelicals join – you will get a different answer from every one. For me, freemasonry is a philosophical society whose roots are founded in the idea that all people are equal and should form governments on this belief, and that people have an innate right to worship freely. These are philosophical beliefs that the church has no business having stances on, although I would argue that all churches should support freedom of religion. The fraternity simply fills a different role as a way for me to explore its philosophies on equality and liberty. It is not a source spiritual learning and never will be, never asks to be, and is not expected to be.

    The hardest part about understanding freemasonry from the outside is understanding that almost nothing is set in stone as Freemasonry’s “official” viewpoint when it comes to the personal religious beliefs of its members. Its that way for a reason – freemasonry is based on the idea that no matter what men may believe, they should treat other as equals. That doesn’t mean every mason believes every religion is “right” – it just means that no matter how much I may disagree with the religions of brethren, I will not let that fact prevent me from enjoying brotherly fellowship with them inside and outside the lodge. It doesn’t mean we can’t talk about religion – although we won’t when lodge is in active session – we talk about religion all the time. We just don’t destroy our friendships over it at the end of the day. Is that so bad?

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for your input. But I’m still waiting for someone to tell me what Dogmas and Morals is all about. It seems to be a basic Masonic text. If Masons don’t have dogmas (as others have claimed) what does the title of that book mean?

      • The Realist

        Morals and Dogma is the Morals and Dogma of Albert Pike, one mason. Think of it as his PERSONAL MANIFESTO. Its a book widely used and quoted for two reasons: (1) Its become easy to quote mine to make it say things anti-masons love, even though such quotes are always out of context and (2) For his day and time and place, Pike offers a very unique perspective into freemasonry. Its his opinion, but its a opinion we study because it gives us an insight into his time. In the introduction to Morals and Dogma Pike even states this, saying both that any mason is free to disregard this as it is not official “dogma” for anyone and that he is equal parts compiler and author when it comes to the book (large parts of it are simply lifted from elsewhere, but at the time that wasn’t unusual).

        Thats why its called Albert Pike’s Morals and Dogma – it his dogma. Freemasonry has Dogma, very little of it. When it comes to religion, this is the Dogma of Freemasonry:

        1) People have an innate right to practice whatever religious beliefs they have.
        2) Religion can be used to make communities better.
        3) Freemasons should put their own personal religion (whatever it may be) before freemasonry.

        That is the total sum of masonic dogma on religion.

        • rogereolson

          Then the 32nd degree Mason (also elder in the Presbyterian Church) who told me “If there’s ever a conflict between the Bible and Masonry I’ll go with Masonry any day” was flat out contradicting Masonry?

  • Jordan Litchfield

    I live in Northern Ireland where most Protestants and even Evangelicals are in secret orders similar to Free Masonry. These orders are called the Loyal Orange Order, the Arch Purple, and the Royal Black Institution (ranking from lowest to highest respectively). These organizations are anti-Roman Catholic and are very nationalistic, so no Roman Catholic would ever come to one of their lodges, let alone be admitted. However, many gospel meetings are held in the lodges.

    This seems to me to be contrary to the core of the Church which must be open to all peoples. How can we have meetings promoting the gospel by people or in buildings that are out and right antagonistic to another people group? It is no wonder that there is no deep effort here to evangelize in the Republic of Ireland when most Christians here are tied up in these secret orders where they drink out of human skulls in mockery of the Eucharist and require allegiance to their values over the Body of Christ. Our allegiance ought to be to Christ our head who commands us to take away everything which is unnecessarily offensive in order to bring the gospel to all peoples.

  • BobH

    Interesting. I am about your age, Roger, and grew up in a region in the northern part of the country with active Masonry and Shriners and a real mixed religious bag from evangelical to liberal Protestant to several kinds of Lutherans to Catholic. The only restriction or conflict I ever heard of was that Catholics can’t belong to a secret society because it conflicts with the duty of confession to the priest. Of course as I got older and became more well-read I realized that historically, the Masons were part of the anticlerical movement of continental European politics, and that’s the underlying reason for the incompatibility with the Catholic Church.

    I was in DeMolay. The DeMolay internal literature was very much behind the times even for that era, and it’s clear from looking at my old materials that this subculture was historically fueled, in part, by anticatholic sentiments dating to the 1920s and earlier. The oft-repeated commitment to “support the public schools” is dinned in so often that it is clearly a code phrase for “don’t support non-public schools,” i.e., Catholic schools. These materials date from an era when “public school” was effectively the same thing as “generic Protestant school,” including compulsory prayers and teachers reading to their classes from the KJV. (It’s hard to imagine the descendants of these writers urging a similar intensity of commitment to public schools as they exist today.) The other driving motive in these old materials seems to have been the perennial one of distracting young men from alcohol and young women. In my own era, DeMolay was an evening organizational activity good for networking and for adding a bit of fat to one’s college application. Idealistic purposes beyond do-goodism and personal integrity were not mentioned.

    We DeMolay boys always opined that the “G” stood for “geezer.”

  • Paul

    Dr. Olson, grace be to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 1:2 ).

    “I’d love to hear real answers that carry some authority and weight from a knowledgeable Mason.”

    And therein lies your biggest hurdle, Dr. Olson. What could be trusted that is said? Even from a reformed mason? The very topic is very likely from the god of this world who blinds minds (2Cor4). Only the gospel of Christ — the power of God unto salvation — can break through the many ‘diffusing’ lights (masonry does good things, right?…a light that looks good to this lost and fallen world?).

    I put no faith in church history, so called. It is rife with history that would keep many a thinking person far away from it. And, what church? There is but one church today operating since the cross at Calvary–the church, the body of Christ.

    I would not dare say good luck in your quest, but to drop it like a hot potato. It is not worthy of your time as an ambassador of Christ with the message of reconciliation. I’m guilty, too of forgetting my greatest mission; really, have we time for anything else?

  • chris

    I have read for myself, and anyone can as well, the introductory pages of a “Masonic Bible”. In these intro pages it specifically states that the Bible is viewed in Masonry as just one book among many other religious books in existence. It is seen on the same level as the Koran, Hindu Vedas, etc., and there are some ambiguous statements as well regarding the resurrection. Go get your hands on one and read it for yourself, very interesting.

    • rogereolson

      Where does one go to get one’s hands on it?

      • chris

        it was lent to me by a woman who was at one time an Eastern Star, the female side of the Masonic Lodge. I photocopied the pages and kept them in a file. I have seen them on the bookshelves in a few homes of masons as well. Other than that, I don’t know how to get your hands one.

        • rogereolson

          Notice that no Mason participating here has yet answered my question about Dogmas and Morals–a basic text of Masonic lore.

  • Nice post, Dr. Olson! I grew up in the Deep South and my father was a Shriner, which seems kind of quaint in this day and age, but his work with the Shrine was incredibly important to him. A prerequisite for being a Shriner is that you have to first be a Mason.

    I remember the night that I found this big blue Masonic book on the bookshelf, and as an impressionable Christian teenager, I was deeply troubled by it. (Our family Bible was also a Masonic Bible. KJV… I assume they didn’t mess with the words.) Anyway, Dad said it was “just a fraternity, like college fraternities,” and a service organization. He said that the spiritual-sounding stuff was merely symbolic (as if symbols aren’t powerfully important!).

    The point is, I think many Masons don’t really go for the spiritual gobbledygook. Maybe most of them do, and I don’t mean to downplay it. I don’t think Christians should be part of it. But the larger question is, What are men who join that organization looking for that they’re not finding in other parts of their life, especially church? Why isn’t church meeting whatever need is being met through the Masons?

    • rogereolson

      That’s a great question. Many people argue that most churches are female-oriented (not in terms of leadership but in terms of fellowship). During my rather long lifetime I have belonged to at least 12 different churches of different denominations (Pentecostal, several kinds of Baptist, Presbyterian) and most have had flourishing women’s ministries and struggled to get a men’s ministry going.

      • Yep. Same here… The one sociology of religion course I took was on church and gender. The prof said that complaints about the “feminization” of American Christendom go back to the beginning of our history, and that the “social gospel” movement was in part an effort to get the men back in church. Who knows? She also said that Catholics in America don’t have that kind of disparity between the sexes. Attendance and involvement are much closer to 50-50. This is weird to me. With Catholicism’s Marian doctrines and emphasis, the faith seems much more effeminate to me. Maybe that somehow plays a role.

        But remember that whole Promise Keepers movement not long ago? What was that all about? Also, I wonder what the ratio of men to women is, for example, in Mark Driscoll’s church. He seems to emphasize a very masculine gospel, right? (No, I don’t pay much attention to Mark Driscoll, but he’s certainly a curiosity.)

        Men seem to need something they’re not getting in church.

        There’s probably some interesting sociology going on.

  • David Shifflett

    First and foremost I am an intelligent Christian, and intelligent Mason, and have serious hang ups with both institutions but all you want to know about at the moment is Masonry. I was actually thinking about this early today before a friend gave me the link to your blog. Should Christian’s join secret organizations? I don’t see a problem, given that at the end of all things, everything will be evident to all people. But the secrecy thing is a big hangup for most folks when thinking about Masonry, but other organizations such as the military, police, doctors, and politicians are required to keep secrets about their dealings, and often we lift these up as the highest professions. The secrets are a little different and that point can be easily unfounded granted.

    The biggest problem that I have with your blog is that you reference one Mason. Just as one cannot read just one theologian, such as Calvin, or Luther, and claim that all Christianity is bunk, neither can one read just one masonic writer and say the whole thing is bunk.

    I have joined the Masons because they are an organization that is dedicated to taking care of each other and the world at large, just look at the massive number of Shriner hospitals and candidates are told time and time again that it is not a religion, it is a fraternity that is devoted to taking care of each other. Back in the day and unfortunately still to this day Masonry is abused and business dealings and contracts are given on the basis of Masons helping out their brothers, but this is slowly going away. But on the same hand I have known of several Christians to only do business with other Christians.

    My final point is this; good deeds are good deeds regardless. If an atheist helps an old lady cross the street, that is still a good deed just as a Christian helping an old lady cross a street is a good deed. God has designed this entire world and there are several people who are unknowingly helping to bring about the Kingdom of God. If a man hates the Church, but loves Masonry, and because of that love of Masonry he becomes a better man and starts helping other people and putting himself last, who is to say that that organization is heretical? It seems that one of your biggest hangups with Masonry is the notion that only Christians can bring about the K.O.G. and do good deeds and I very much disagree with this notion.

  • Daniel

    Dr. Olson,

    It was refreshing to hear your commitment to the purpose and mission of the church.



  • Master Mason


    I would love to respond in more depth to your blog, because I am that mythical creature you can not understand, an evangelical free-mason. Not only do they exist, in contrast to what mainstream media might tell you, but our ranks are growing in number, certainly in the South.

    My first recommendation is to check your bibliography and go back to your research with different texts, perhaps older ones, as I noticed you’re taking for fact many things that simply are not true, and clearly are part of the century old Progressive agenda, which is intent on destroying both Masonry AND Evangelicals, btw.

    For example, you said :

    It would be like an early Christian belonging also to a mystery religion; it wasn’t encouraged

    I might believe that if I wasn’t a student of religious history and theology. In fact, if by early Christians you mean both the Essenes and the Nestorianss, I am sorry to inform you that early Christianity *was* a mystery religion, my friend.

    Your blog entry is so filled with items like this. I submit to you that you should do more research, and delve into the older books, as the newer a book is, the more likely you are to find the agenda of the progressives, which as I said before is intent on the break-down of society so that they can instigate a world-wide communist government, run by the International Bank industry.

    Look around you, the evidence is everywhere. In the face of this adversity, I believe we will continue to see the fusion of evangelicalism and free-masonry.

    Not only does this not bother me, it makes me very proud. We will be stronger in unity against the tide of darkness.

    God be with you.

    – Bro. Dell, Senior Deacon, William G. Hill 218

    • rogereolson

      As a church historian I find it absurd to say that Nestorians were a mystery religion in any normal sense (i.e., esoteric).

  • Tin Machine

    To explore the organization that some (very few, actually) so vehemently protest, we must first explain what Masonry IS! Here are some key points:

    Freemasonry is the world’s oldest and largest Fraternity. While its traditions look back to earliest history, Masonry in its current form appeared when its public events were noticed by the residents of London, England in 1717. Although Masonry – particularly in its earliest days – had some elements of secrecy, the first ‘exposure’ of the supposedly highly-secret Masonic ritual actually appeared in 1696! Since that time, there have been tens of thousands of books published about this ‘secret organization’. And for over three hundred years, despite the good works done by its members, Freemasonry has continually suffered the slings and arrows of those who seek to use it’s quiet nature against it.

    Freemasonry’s singular purpose is to make good men better and its bonds of friendship, compassion and brotherly love have survived even the most divisive political, military and religious conflicts through the centuries. Freemasonry is neither a forum nor a place of worship. It is not a religion nor does it teach a religious philosophy. For nearly three hundred years it has attracted men of high moral character who support the tenets of temperance, fortitude, prudence and justice.

    We’re often asked, “What do Freemasons believe?” The answer is quite simple: essentially the same things that teachers, bus drivers, Rotarians, or anyone else believes. There is no ‘requirement’ that all Masons believe certain things except insofar as good behavior dictates.

    Today, the more than four million Freemasons around the world come from virtually every occupation and profession. Within the Fraternity, however, all meet as equals. In fact, one of the most fascinating aspects of Freemasonry (and an obvious source of irritation for those who thrive on the seeds of discontent) has always been: how can so many men, from so many different walks of life, meet together in peace, ignoring political or religious debates, to conduct their affairs in harmony and friendship and to call each other “Brother!” It’s truly a conundrum which perplexes those outside the fraternity. Laying aside petty jealousies and agreeing that issues of politics and religion are not proper for discussion within a lodge, the ‘bones of contention’ that so often divide are removed thereby making it possible for men of varying religious and political interests to meet on common ground.

    Freemasons are taught to conform to the moral laws of society and to abide by the laws of the government under which they live. They are men of charity and good works and they engage in charitable works which have made them “the World’s greatest philanthropy!” Their services to mankind represent an unparalleled example of the humanitarian commitment and concern of this unique and honorable Fraternity.

    The thousands of book that have been written are all OPINION and not what “ALL” Freemasons believe. I know this is a tough concept for some to grasp.

    • rogereolson

      As a radical Christian I can only call a fellow believer in and follower of Jesus Christ “brother.”

  • Rick C.

    John Ankerberg did some programs on Masonry some time ago which I found informative. To watch, Google “Masonry – Behind Closed Doors” (has a former Mason who “came out.” Run time, 2 hours, 10 mins; it’s a Google video).

    Dr. Olson (re: your blog),
    It would be really helpful if you added Categories or Categories/Tags. Finding your articles on different topics isn’t easy to do with just “Uncategorized.”

    Just a suggestion. Thank you.

    • rogereolson

      I’m so ignorant about the blogosphere I don’t even know how to do that! I’ll ask the administrator.

      • Rick C.

        We all have to learn this stuff somehow! (and I just made the same suggestion to Ben Witherington).

        If this Patheos blog is set up like your old WordPress, you might have “Tags” and “Categories.” WordPress allows you to combine the two (which, they’re the same thing, really). Some folks rename “Categories” to “Topics.” I’m setting up a WordPress blog now. Suggestions for “Categories”: I have one named “Jesus :: Christology” <– which could cover anything about Jesus (birth, life, teachings, death, resurrection) and also go on to His status as a Person of the Trinity. So, you can combine stuff like that, etc.

        To get an idea of what "Categories" you want; I looked at other blogs.

        Lastly, you don't have "Recent Comments" set up, as you had before (just to note this).


        • rogereolson

          I will talk to my administrators about this. Thanks.

  • I don’t know much about Masonry. I have a couple of friends in it, but they haven’t told me much about it. Like one of the earlier comments said, though, I’ve heard it’s similar to a fraternity – one of my fraternity brothers who is also a Mason describes it as a “fraternity for adults.” With this being said, what is your opinion of fraternities? In high school, I was warned against joining one, but I did anyway (at a Baptist university, nonetheless). Many fraternities have roots in Greek mythology. My fraternity actually has a special ceremony that can be performed at a funeral as well, but I think the only reason for that is simply to recognize the brother’s contributions to the fraternity during his lifetime. While in college, I attended a seminar (given by a national officer at our fraternity’s national headquarters) about how our fraternity is compatible with Christianity. Given the fact that I attended a Baptist university, this was a very important matter to our fraternity chapter, especially since many of my fraternity brothers are Christians. I don’t know enough about other fraternities and sororities to know if the same is true for them, but given the ties many of them have to mythological backgrounds and the fact that they are by nature secret societies, do you have the same opposition to Christian college students joining fraternities and sororities as you do to Masonry? What do you think Baylor’s stance on Greek life should be?

    • rogereolson

      In general I’m not in favor of Christians joining non-Christian organizations that engage in any secret rituals including initiations or that compete with the church for Christians’ time and loyalty.

  • Roger,
    I really appreciate the post. As a preacher, I plan my sermons for the year and ask the congregation I preach for if they have any topics they would like for me to discuss. Last November an older man asked me to preach on Masons. I scheduled it for December giving myself PLENTY of time to prepare and I thought Jesus just may come back before I had to deliver this sermon. I have thought and read a lot about Masonry this year and talked with many hardcore for and against and those inbetween. So far I have one conclusion I will share: I am a Christian. Period. I just want to be a Christian. I am not part of any denomination. I am not a “Baptist Christian” or a “Methodist Christ” or a “Church of Christ Christian” or a “Catholic Christian” or a “Masonic Christian” – I beleive the Masons to be a denomination and thus like all denominations – incompatable with the one church (1 Cor. 1:12-13). Jesus said “I will build My church” Matt. 16:18 – and I want to be a part of His church – the church of Christ – this is a description – not a denominational name – “the church of Christ” the “body of Christ”, the “church of God” – the “church of the first born” – “the Way” are all New Teastament descriptions of Jesus’ church. Thus my one conclusion is Masons, Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses’, Catholic’s, etc. are all inconsistent with what Jesus prayed for in John17 and what Paul pled for in Eph 4. Please don’t make a snide remark until you’ve looked into my eyes and can see the love with which i say this:) But I’m a big boy and can take it:) – I appreciate this forum – again, I preach on this in December but this is the first opprotunity I’ve had to write my thoughts and open myself to agreement or crticism. – Marnatha – Chad

  • Just a note about Wilmshurst: he was not a “grandmaster over a group of lodges”. He was a Provincial Officer in the province of Yorkshire West Riding, which roughly equates to being a committee member in his county (“province”).

    He thought and wrote deeply about freemasonry and founded a lodge (of which I’m a member) that interprets freemasonry in the light of his ideas about the system. Those ideas, which present freemasonry as an essentially spiritual system are *not* representative of the mainstream view of freemasonry nor were they when he was writing in the early twentieth century. He was himself influenced by the then fashionable Theosophy and reading his books today they can feel quaint and somewhat dated even to the few of us masons who read him!

  • John Metz

    Roger, thanks for this post.

    My father-in-law was a Mason and I grew up around Masons. My sister-in-law, a believer, was quite concerned about her father and asked me to research the Masons for her. I used an official Masonic book purchased at a used book store (interestingly, it had been owned by a man from my very small home town and who was familiar to me). I did not go to the many “apologetic” sources available. One of the first pages that I turned to had a very positive (from a Masonic point of view) discussion of the Egyptian trinity: Osiris, Isis & Horus. That, plus other things I found, convinced me that the basis of the Masons was a kind of gnostic syncretism or pluralism. I also had access to a large Masonic family Bible that contained many additional things that gave me much concern. These things violated my Christian conscience. I also have a distinct aversion to secret oaths who violators may be punished by death.

    My father-in-law’s funeral had a Masonic portion. I saw nothing in it that I, as a Christian, could endorse.

    It is interesting that Mormonism has been mentioned in the discussion. There are accounts that while Joseph Smith was at Nauvoo (IL), he was also a Mason. Many of the rites of the two groups are reported to be similar.

    The research I did was in the 1980s and I do not recall much more in detail (there was much more than mentioned above). You can easily check it out for yourself. Go to a used book store and look for official Masonic books. Although secret, you can find them.

    • rogereolson

      Yes, and one of them is Dogmas and Morals. I have seen it at used bookstores and next time I’ll purchase it and look into it. Just the title, however, causes me to believe that at least some Masons have dogmas beyond just that God (“The Architect of the Universe”) exists. I’d like to hear from a Mason about what is in Dogmas and Morals and why the book exists if Masonry has no required doctrines.

      • Daniel W

        Here you go Roger. Below is a link to download “Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry” for free off of Amazon.


        • rogereolson

          Wow. It’s a huge book. I’d much prefer to have a hard copy. I’ll keep looking for one. I do see them occasionally in used bookstores. Maybe I can get a copy through ILL.

      • Daniel W

        I have just downloading the book and I am flipping through it. Let me post an interesting quote:

        “Though Masonry neither usurps the place of, nor apes religion, prayer is an essential part of our ceremonies. It is the aspiration of the soul toward the Absolute and Infinite Intelligence, which is the One Supreme Deity, most feebly and misunderstandingly characterized as an “ARCHITECT.” Certain faculties of man and directed toward the Unknown – thought, meditation, prayer. The unknown is an ocean, of which conscience is the compass. Thought, meditation, prayer, are the great mysterious pointing of the needle. It is a spiritual magnetism that this connects the human soul with the Deity.
        It is but a shallow scoff to say that prayer is absurd, because it is not possible for us, by means of it, to persuade God to change His plans. He produces foreknown and foreintended effects, by the instrumentality of the forces of nature, all of which are His forces. Our own are part of these. Our free agency and our will are forces. We do not absurdly cease to make efforts to attain wealth or happiness, prolong life, and continue health, because we cannot by any effort change what is predestined. If the effort also is predestined, it is not the less our effort, made of our free will. So, likewise, we pray. Will is a force. Thought is a force. Prayer is a force. Why should it not be the law of God, that prayer, like Faith and Love, should have its effects? Man is not to be comprehended as a starting-point, or progress as a goal, without those two great forces, Faith and Love. Prayer is sublime. Orisons that beg and clamor are pitiful. To deny the efficacy of prayer, is to deny that of Faith, Love, and Effort. Yet the effects produced, when our hand, moved by our will, launches a pebble into the ocean, never cease; and every uttered word is registered for eternity upon the invisible air.”

        It then goes on to describe how every lodge is a temple. I can’t give you a page number for the passage because the ebook doesn’t have any. It is from the beginning of the second part of the first chapter. It sounds like an interesting mix between Deism and Gnosticism.

        • Daniel W

          I made a few typos in the above quote. It should be “faculties of man are directed” instead of “and directed.” Also, it should be “magnetism that thus connects” instead of “that this.”

      • John Metz

        That is the book I examined years ago. I wish I had the page number to give you but I don’t.

  • Daniel Lewis

    Hi all,

    Just a few notes:
    * Evangelicalism and Modern Conservative/Fundamentalist Christian groups could be seen as “liberal”, as they chose the Freedom to start something new/fresh – which is certainly a Liberal way of thinking, even if the theology that they chose is Conservative.
    * orthodox Christianity of all forms (whether that is liberal or conservative) has Gnostic undertones. Consider the mystery of transubstantiation in Catholic Christianity, or the idea of the Theosis in Eastern Orthodox Christianity, or the idea of “Speaking in Tongues” in a Pentacostal Church, or the idea of being born-again through baptism in Baptist churches…. these are all Gnostic ideas (i.e. “knowing, and/or, conversing with God”).
    * Craft Freemasonry is non-religious, it does take some literal and reasonably historically accurate stories from the Old Testament (which is a common literary source for Christians, Jews and Muslims), but it makes no assumptions about any theology in regards to salvation etc etc.
    * DeMolay is only truly active in the USA. Due to its concept coming partly from the Knights Templar, I would have imagined that it would be quite strictly Christian in Character – but I might be wrong, I don’t know much about it as it isn’t active in the United Kingdom (where I live).
    * It is great that you found Wilmshurst, he was one of the worlds greatest Freemasons, and he came from the UK (along with a few other great Masonic theorists – A E Waite and JSM Ward). However, most Freemasons around the world, and particularly in the USA probably have never heard of Wilmshurst, and probably wouldn’t agree with his eccentric ideas.
    * There are some degrees/orders which are attached to Craft Freemasonry – such as the Knights Templar and the Rosicrucian Order. These are specifically Christian degrees/orders, if Craft Freemasonry is incompatible with Christianity then how could these Christian degrees/orders gain any members? To add to that, the “Scottish Rite” as it is called in the USA is open to Masons of any faith, however! In the UK, and other places around the world, these US Scottish Rite Masons are not recognised, and the form of “Scottish Rite” is called the “Supreme Council degrees” (or “Rose Croix” to simplify it), and is a purely purely Christian-only order, and takes quite a different form.

    Now for my own answers to your questions:
    Q: How many Masons know that the first modern Masonic Lodges grew out of Rosicrucianism (an esoteric sect on the fringes of Christianity)?
    A: This isn’t necessarily true as there is no definite evidence for it. Freemasonry could have equally come from the Mediaeval Stonemasons Guilds or the Knights Templar, or from a combination of them all, or from none of them. There were, and still are, people who enjoy the history and philosophies of all the aforementioned groups.

    Q: How many know about the esoteric meanings of Masonic rituals?
    A: Not many to be honest, but not many are aware that there are esoteric meanings to Christian rituals either. For everything there is an inner (esoteric) and an outer (exoteric) meaning. For instance, in a Christian Communion service an Exoteric meaning is the coming together of a community/congregation, and an Esoteric meaning is the acknowledgement of our individual intake of Christ (as a symbol of Gods presence in everything). Unfortunately many Church-goers don’t acknowledge this powerful combination of the inner and the outer, and many Freemasons don’t either! Unfortunately, many Freemasons are just in Lodge for socialising and eating.

    Q: How many are aware that, historically, Freemasonry denies the resurrection of the body and emphasizes the immortality of the soul instead?
    A: This isn’t true. Freemasonry does not deny the resurrection. *Some*, but not all, Early Gnostic sects denied the resurrection, but this is not carried forward into the gnostic (little “g”) elements of esoteric Freemasonry!

    Q: Why would a Christian devote a hearty portion of his free time and energy to a secret society when that time and energy could be devoted to the work of Christ through the church?
    A: Firstly, Freemasonry is not a secret society, it could be roughly akin to a mystery school (but that might open a different can of worms). Freemasonry is open to all men and women who believe in something that is beyond themselves, the only thing that Freemasons keep private (not secret!) are the tokens (essentially a password) and grips (essentially a handshake). That said, you mention why would a Christian want to devote their free time to Freemasonry over Church – the answer to that is specific to the individual, and in the true universal eyes of Freemasonry it is actually more essential to spend time in ones own faith and with ones own family than to turn up to lodge!

    The esoteric side to Freemasonry is nothing to worry about, we’re actually on the side of the Church, and constantly battle those Masons who use Freemasonry as an outlet for their business, political and/or religious thoughts.

    • Daniel Lewis

      Oh, I forgot to add some detail about the Funeral stuff.

      The ritual done at the side of a Masons Grave at a Funeral is essentially the same kind of “respect ritual” that is done by the Army, the Police Force or the Fire Services. It is a recognition by a group of people for the dedication that the Mason has done through his (or her!) life in Freemasonry and in Society. It should be noted that the faith of the Mason should always take higher priority over Freemasonry, and so if a Brother (or Sister!) of the deceased Freemason asks for a secularised service in a Church, it should be denied if the deceased Freemason was of the faith in question, and it should be in the style of that faith.

    • rogereolson

      You haven’t relieved my mind much. We disagree about the meaning of “esoteric.” Esoteric wisdom is ancient gnostic-like wisdom available only to a few initiates or adepts that usually reveals (even if only symbolically) a divine or divine-like dimension to human beings (even if only their perfectibility apart from grace).

      • Daniel Lewis

        OK, even if we do disagree on the meaning of the word “esoteric”, the meaning that I place behind it is the form of “esoteric” found within Freemasonry and not your meaning. A wise person once told me that we need to be careful with the word “esoteric” as it seems that the British and in particular the British Freemasons use the old meaning to “esoteric”, whereas the Americans seem to use “esoteric” with a very bizarre meaning.

        You mention “reveals (even if only symbolically) a divine or divine-like dimension to human beings”. Have you read anything on the very very Christian ideas of “Theosis” and “Hesychasm”? These aren’t Masonic theories, they are Christian ones, not found in Freemasonry at all. This seems to be what you’re explaining.

        I am having to be quite careful here. As Freemasonry does of course teach certain things, at the same time my own Christian Theology may also obfuscate what I’m trying to say too. Most Freemasons do not share my Christian Theology, most Christian Masons tend to have a very Conservative outlook on everything, whereas I could be described as a “Liberal Catholic Trinitarian Universalist Christian” – I often feel pretty out of place, however, I fight for the right for freedom of speech. Hopefully that will give you a bit more of a feel of Freemasonry in general, and my own set of beliefs.

        • rogereolson

          You forget that I defined esoteric as implying something like potential for divine status apart from grace. The Eastern Orthodox concept of deification (about which I have written a scholarly article in Theology Today) depends wholly on grace. Esoteric “deification” would be by wisdom and work.

    • horace.w.hadfield

      Baptists do not believe the baptism brings about a born-again experience. They believe that personal faith in Jesus Christ is what saves an individual.

  • Thomas

    Albert Pikes’ Morals and Dogma is online at http://www.sacred-texts.com/mas/md/index.htm and in pdf at http://www.drawaline.org/Albert_Pike_-_Morals_and_Dogma.pdf

    I stumbled across this in the closing instruction: “There is no pretence to infallibility in Masonry. It is not for us to dictate to any man what he shall believe. We have hitherto, in the instruction of the several Degrees, confined ourselves to laying before you the great thoughts that have found expression in the different ages of the world, leaving you to decide for yourself as to the orthodoxy or heterodoxy of each, and what proportion of truth, if any, each contained.” This appears to confirm that Freemasonry is not dogmatic which is, however, not to say that it is not religious. The Bahai community appears to be similarly undogmatic.

    Pike goes on to state “the idea which a man forms of God is always the most important element in his speculative theory of the
    Universe” and on all accounts Freemasons have to “be religious” — i.e., Freemasonry is incompatible with atheism.

    In fact, it would seem to be very difficult to be a loyal member of a lodge without engaging in religious activities (prayers). One’s attitude to multi-faith worship is therefore likely relevant when deciding whether it is possible to be a loyal Mason and a loyal Christian.

    • rogereolson

      Ah, indeed. I don’t see how any authentic Christian can engage in “multi-faith” (i.e., Christian with non-Christian) worship. We worship ONLY in the name of Jesus Christ. Anything else is at best dialogue.

      • Thomas

        The opening paragraph of Bonhoeffer’s Psalms: The Prayerbook of the Bible, came to mind:

        “Lord, teach us to pray!” So spoke the disciples to Jesus, In doing so, they were acknowledging that they were not able to pray on their own; they had to learn. “To learn to pray” sounds contradictory to us. Either the heart is so overflowing that it begins to pray by itself, we say, or it will never learn to pray. But this is a dangerous error, which is certainly very widespread among Christians today, to imagine that it is natural for the heart to pray. We then confuse wishing, hoping, sighing, lamenting, rejoicing – all of which the heart can certainly do on its own – with praying. But in doing so we confuse earth and heaven, human beings and God. Praying certainly does not mean simply pouring out one’s heart. It means, rather, finding the way to and speaking with God, whether the heart is full or empty. No one can do that on one’s own. For that one needs Jesus Christ.

        • Thomas

          The fact that you would not be able to say that in a lodge, seems to me another good argument for abstaining from it. It’s one thing having to keep quiet about Christ while engaged in a profession, e.g. as a nurse, to avoid the charge of taking advantage of someone’s vulnerability. It’s another thing to engage in social and quasi-religious activities with a voluntary commitment to refrain speaking of Christ in the way he deserves to be spoken of.

      • Daniel Lewis

        Thomas: Prayer is not, and should not be a “religious activity”, it is a “spiritual activity”. Religion implies Church, Buildings, Ritual, Theology, Sacred Texts etc etc. Spirituality is something which binds humanity, it is God holding us all in his arms. Therefore Prayer should be humans saying “Father…”, and thanking God the Father. Spiritual Activities transcend language and theology.

        Roger: A Craft Masonic Lodge Meeting is not “multi-faith worship”, granted we have prayers, but (for instance) so does a Court of Law, so does the installation of a US President. These are all Secular things, there is a difference between Secular and Multi-Faith. See “Laïcité” in French Political theory.

        People are stubborn, and this is why Freemasonry (essentially) says “put aside your political and religious differences, and work for humanity and the divine (whichever forms they may take)”. Should we not, as humans of Earth, be uniting and making the world a better place no matter what our beliefs?

        • rogereolson

          To be sure. But I cannot call anyone but a fellow believer in Jesus Christ “brother” or “sister.” And I could never enter into the kind of quasi-religious fellowship I perceive to exist in Masonry with people I’m not sure are true believers in Jesus Christ. That doesn’t rule out dialogue or cooperation, however.

          • Peter E

            So, you can not enter into ‘communion’ (as in discussion) with Roman Catholics? After all, the Pope famously said that only Roman Catholics are Christians (well, more or less that.)

            But, also see: http://edition.cnn.com/2007/US/07/13/martin/index.html

          • rogereolson

            “Communion” certainly means more than discussion. I know of no recent pope who has declared that only Catholics are Christians.

          • rogereolson

            Yes, you have it wrong. Vatican II declared Protestants “separated brethren.” Even this pope recognizes Protestant churches as “ecclesial communities.” That a person is not formally a member of the Catholic Church does not mean he or she is not saved or not Christian. However, Catholics would say that if a person is saved he or she is somehow mysteriously connected with the Catholic Church (as there is no salvation outside the one true church).

      • The Realist

        Freemasonry is not a Christian group. The best corollary is thinking about it like the ancient version of the Rotary club. Thats still not a good comparison, but there is just nothing quite like it really. There is no worship in a lodge. If you consider prayers worship then every football game that begins with a non-denominational prayer and every graduation ceremony that does the same is worship, and all of the people who hate masonry seem to not go berserk about those events like they do on the fraternity.

  • Patricia

    In the UK Baptist Church I was a member of for many years freemasonary was regarded as incompatible with Christianity to most people, demonic to some. In the Anglican Church I now attend it is regarded at worst as a harmless eccentricity. What I am interested to know is does US freemasonary have the same elitist and racist overtones that exist in UK freemasonary and what is the link historically between US freemasonary and organisations such as the Klu Klux Klan which drew much of its support from white Baptists and Methodists.

    • rogereolson

      I don’t think so and, so far as I know, none.

  • George

    Roger, thanks for these questions. I joined the Masons at 21, I am 42 now, but not a regular attender —- in the last 10 years I went to 2 meetings, one recently in which my dad was recognized. Daniel makes some good academic statements that I can agree with (but he is wrong about DeMolay, US membership is less then half their total). I am just an American southern conservative, so I will limit my points.

    I grew up at the end of the age where expression of belief was acceptable to do in schools, with friends, at work, basically anywhere anytime — at least in the south. Those who proclaimed separation of state and church have since scarred not only schools, but just about anyone outside of the church building from acknowlegding God in any form.

    Masonry requires me to seek and develop spritual development as a member on my own. But it also uses lessons with some Bibilical connections, as well as one from other belief traditions, to make me think about the kind of life I want to lead. It does not do this as a form of worship of Christianity or any other beliefs and these lessons should not be consider to be a religous belief. But as a Christian in 21st Century America it awesome that Masonry is a place that religious thought and recognition of a higher power is welcome. I like that we say prayer at our meetings, even though we may practice or believe somewhat differently.

    It seems ironic to me that one of the few places in modern society where God is acknowledged, that some churches attack it since it does not profess a particular relgious belief system but instead encourages men to seek out God directly. It is also attack because people today do not understand the concept that you can find value in stories of other religions without be believers of that religion.

    • rogereolson

      Good for you. But I’m just not sure the “God” Masonry acknowledges and prays to is the God of Jesus Christ. It seems to me to be what theologian Robert Jenson calls “unbaptized God”–a generic God designed to overcome the scandal of particularity that lies at the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

  • MikeS

    I am not a Mason, though I am considering joining. Thank you to Dr. Olson for this thought-provoking article. A word or two on the Boy Scouts with which I do have some experience. Within the Boy Scouts is a quasi-secret society called the Order of the Arrow. It has three degrees of membership and the initiation rituals, based on the American Indian culture, are esoteric in meaning.
    Apart from that there is also the issue of prayer. The Scout Oath requires belief in a Deity but the BSA officially endorses no particular religion but rather calls on each individual Scout to progress in the knowledge and practice of his own faith. At times of prayer Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Jewish Scouts may be standing side by side engaging in prayer. It appears to me, and again I am no expert, that just as in Freemasonry the question can be asked to which God do Boy Scouts pray?

    • rogereolson

      As I understand it, a Boy Scout troop can be connected to a church in which case that church’s beliefs and prayers (etc.) can be promulgated and practiced in that troop. If I’m wrong, I’m open to correction. What do you mean by “quasi-secret society?” Do parents know what goes on in it? I certainly hope so!

      • MikeS


        Even if the troop is sponsored by a specific church it still has to accept any members who apply. So a Baptist sponsored Troop could still have Catholics or non-Christians for that matter as members. I myself belonged to troop sponsored by a church of a denomination different than my own.

        The Order of the Arrow lists itself as an honor camper society but it has secret initiation rites, teachings, oaths, secret handshakes, it’s organized into lodges which are separate from the troops the individual boys belong to, the whole lot. I was in the OA as a Scout myself. In recent years I learned that the founders of the OA were Masons and some of the rituals were borrowed from Masonry.

        • rogereolson

          Amazing. Thanks for that information. I hope at least the parents know what goes on in the OA! We’re talking about minors, aren’t we?

          • Josh Parsley

            I looked on Wikipedia, which I know isn’t always reliable but it has references you can check and it says the following under Membership:

            In contrast to Boy Scouting, where youth members are under 18 and adult members are those 18 and over, OA youth members include all persons under 21 years of age while those 21 and over are considered adult members.


  • Rick Lawrenson

    I continue to hear such things from Masons as “There is no worship in a lodge”… Yet they speak of the Temple, there is an altar with a Bible upon it and there is prayer to the Architect…. There is even a “worshipful master”. Yet no worship?

    They say they are not a religion and don’t make religious statements. Yet my non-Christian father-in-law wrote out hand written instructions that he was to be buried in his masonic apron. That was his hope for “innocence” and “righteousness” and therefore, eternal life. Where did he get that idea?

    It seems to be like our childhood cat who would close his eyes, believing no one could see him reaching for the butter on the table. “If I can’t see them, they can’t see me” false reality.

    The religion it holds to is a form of universalism. Christianity, however, teaches that there are no “good” men to be made better. We are all flawed and sinners by nature, and the only goodness we can possess is Christ in us. Therefore I have to conclude that yes, freemasonry, while noble in its works, is incompatible with Christianity.

  • What a fascinating thread. I “love in Christ” several Masons, and my grandfather was one with a blue Masonic Bible. He was an ordained Presbyterian elder in the pre WWII South and a small town doctor. I never knew him personally. I think from all I have ever heard, he was a great community leader and a great supporter of his pastor in a personal way. HOWEVER. I can not in good conscience join the Masons because they imitate so many of the qualities a church is supposed to have. I laughed aloud when I saw the memory of Alabaman who remembered that Masons were an insurance back up for poor farm families. I think such is the case here, too. I don’t think any Masons I know are into the deeper “truths” but I also think the energy of our men is being siphoned off into a non Christian org. I also harbor such feelings about Rotarians, Lions, Civitans. I don’t blame the church for men not “having their needs met.” I think the real issue is the deep down spiritual one: WHAT IS THE GOSPEL, how does the Cross say that even in our best works we sin (examine your motives for a good work…sinless? really?). I am not a Lutheran, but I admire a work of 1518 called THE HEIDELBERG DISPUTATION. It’s approach is startlingly negative to our saying our good deeds count for salvation. They cannot before the suffering Son of God on the Cross. Our good works count, but not at all for our salvation TO ANY DEGREE. And from what I have read, of the Brotherhood of Man, Fatherhood of God, aside from “gnostic” thought, that’s a common way of saying: DEISTIC UNIVERSALISM. I am not “anti Mason” either. I am however sold out to Christ and not syncretism, as adding a religious “not religious” group seems to be. Christ and His Church should not have rivals.

  • Morals and Dogma was Pike’s attempt at Comparative Theology in order to discover the beginning of religion which he called “Primitive”. His methodology, some of his facts, and much of his conclusions have now been discredited in academia and Freemasonry. His value to Masonry is the reordering of the degrees into a more logical progression and easier to understand how they are interrelated.
    I am an Evangelical Christian (4th Day), and a “high ranking” Freemason (PDDGM, 32 KCCH, Grand Cross, revised rituals, digest revisions, DeMolay ISC etc). As a Christian, I would classify Freemasonry as Pre-Evangelical and helps to prepare for evangelism. Oh, and there are no secrets, you can find everything on the Internet regarding Freemasonry. But, that is like opening Christmas presents at Thanksgiving. Digging up obscure authors as support in bearing false witness is as goofy as those who call Christians cannibals because of Holy Communion. I used to work with the Masonic Anti-Defamation League, and every lawsuit we had we were joined with the Jewish Anti-Defamation League. Interesting. By their fruits you shall know them. Heard that somewhere.
    Here is the short answer: Freemasonry is a fraternity and requires belief in God.

    • rogereolson

      Your comment doesn’t address my main complaint–that the church is the Christian’s community of fraternity and loyalty.

  • Videre Audire Tacere

    Greetings All,

    There is so much that can be said about this subject and yet we will never successfully convince either camp. Greater minds than ours have debated this subject and today we are still at a standoff. As Mason’s we are charged not to answer fools according to their folly. The merits of Masonry stand by virtue of their own integrity regardless of the ignorant opinions of the masses. A fool will never see reason. You judge a tree by its fruit, a Man by the content of his character. Through the practice of our art, Freemasonry takes a rough ashlar and transforms it into a stone worthy of the Master Builder. No more no less. No profession of faith, no means of salvation, no savior, no sacraments will you find here. Only an ancient philosophy which succeeds in its application: to make a man better. Plain, clean and simple. As a Christian, I agree with you brother Olson, the Church is indeed the Christian’s first and foremost community of loyalty and fraternity. I serve my local Church and brethren in Christ dutifully exercising the responsibilities that come part and parcel with my faith. I try to live according to the God given perfect standards I find written in Holy scripture, knowing that this side of the veil i will never attain my charge. I understand that my salvation comes by means of Gods grace alone. That I am saved not by my works, but unto good works. That without this evidence, my professed faith is dead. That being said, the Christian community is not the only sphere in which I operate. The Christian community Is where i find nourishment for my soul, and expression for my spirit unto God. It is the only place in the world where i could find such things.

    Now as pertains to Masonry. Frankly, the going-ons within our walls are nobody’s business but our own. There is gross misunderstanding from those attempting to look into the matters of Freemasonry from without. That is why so many have arrived at erroneous conclusions from time immemorial. The fact that I am here, feebly attempting to out an inferno with a drop of water says as much. I can assure you my brother, our aims are noble and our hearts right. Masonry is a school of philosophy. A peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. To the initiate, the journey is quite an undertaking in itself. A life long endeavor made easier with the aid of experienced brothers and mentors. To the profane, the symbols are absurd, their meanings unintelligible. Forever lost they resound on deaf ears and fall on blind eyes. The fact that the ranks of Freemasonry are fraught with brothers of countless spiritual persuasions is testament that we teach no Religion. Our aim is the sharpening of the intellect. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. That is all. It is slander to attribute evil where there is none. Mysterious as our methods may be, we do not promulgate any doctrine that would compromise a man’s faith, duty to God or to his Country.

    As Christians, we have been endowed with Spiritual Truth. THE means by which fallen mankind can be reconciled to an eternally Holy and Righteous God. It is the purpose of our Faith to carry out that mission. No other institution on the face of the earth has that charge or that ability.

    Here is the line of demarcation, and i will close with this. At worst, Freemasonry is an unnecessary supplement to Christianity, and indeed to many spiritual traditions. It is non-sectarian, and non dogmatic. As it is, Freemasonry is not for everyone. But to those who would knock and seek admission, those would find a repository of ancient knowledge. A wealth of tradition and the wisdom of the ages. All the better to appreciate the greatness, uttermost Magnificence and Majesty that is God. The creator of heavens and the earth. The same yesterday today and tomorrow. It definitely puts things in perspective. The creature must stand in awe of God and live in such a way that brings him Glory. That is what our August and Venerable Fraternity, namely Freemasonry brings to the table. As Freemasons we are admonished to walk uprightly in our several stations before God and Man. Taught to divest our minds and consciousness of all the vices and superfluities of life. We are charged to spread the cement of brotherly love and affection; that cement which unites us into one sacred band, or society of friends and brothers, among whom no contention should ever exist, except that noble contention, or rather emulation of those who can best work and best agree. That we are every one of us, every day walking on the Level of time to “that undiscovered country, from whose bourne no traveler returns”.

    – The Widow’s Son

    • rogereolson

      Here is something you wrote: “Freemasonry is not for everyone. But to those who would knock and seek admission, those would find a repository of ancient knowledge. A wealth of tradition and the wisdom of the ages. All the better to appreciate the greatness, uttermost Magnificence and Majesty that is God.” That makes my case better than I could. Thank you. For the Christian, this “repository of ancient knowledge…wealth of tradition and wisdom of the ages” which exists outside Scripture and public Christian tradition smacks of esotericism, Gnosticism. Pursuing it secretly together with a group of initiates outside the Christian church is not something I would recommend to people. I realize, however, that many Freemasons don’t see their fraternity as you describe it. Thank God for that.

  • charles allan

    Give up all things that do not lead to Christ – paul says – that would include occult mysticism and gnosticism – the secrets of babylon and baal worship – why risk your eternal life with masonic mumbo jumbo.

  • Carson

    This has and always will be a topic of passionate debate. As someone who was a Christian first ( and always will be first and foremost ) and a Freemason, I was highly skeptical of Freemasonry when I first researched becoming a Mason, and still to this day look for anything incompatible in the teachings and rituals of the fraternity. After five years, doing the ritual hundreds of times, and serving in every officer’s seat, I can say that there is no part of the Blue Lodge ( first 3 degrees ) that conflict in any way with Christianity. I cant speak to Scottish Rite, as I am not a member, but I am a York Rite Mason ( including Knight Templar, where I swore an oath to protect and defend the Christian Faith ). I have researched these topics relentlessly, including Scripture, the early Church, various middle eastern mystery religions, etc. Yes there are some philosophical ideas taken from some of these non Biblical sources, but nothing that is incompatible with the teachings of Christ. And if we’re being completely honest, we know that to a certain extent Jewish and Christian traditions have been influenced by these sources long before they influenced Freemasonry. Let’s also not forget that Jesus himself taught in parables to the masses, and taught the Kingdom of Heaven ( esoteric ) to only his closest disciples. Getting hung up on this ‘is Masonry too esoteric’ question is missing the point. There are some who believe that Jesus spent time with the Essenes, an more ascetic and ‘esoteric’ group of Jews who taught their system via a form of initiatory stages. Some also believe that the Essenes have influenced Freemasonry, but I digress. Anyone who has done their research with an open mind will most likely not find any earth shattering revelations that make Masonry incompatible with Christianity. The very definition of mysticism to attempt to have a personal relationship with the divine, which was one of the main notions that Jesus tried to impart on the 1st century Jews and gentiles, a relationship with the Father, through a personal relationship with the Son . Freemasonry is mostly concerned with our relations with other human beings, but it also encourages respect for and a personal relationship with the Creator of the universe. Your path to salvation is your own choice. I would also like to point out that Albert Pike, or any other single Freemason or Masonic scholar does NOT speak for body of Freemasonry as a whole. These are their opinions alone, and most Masons are intelligent and discerning enough to come to their own conclusions about Masonic philosophy. There are things in ‘Morals and Dogma’ that I find to be frankly bizarre, but that is just my opinion, just as Pike can only present his opinion. I’d also like to speak to this notion that Masons are being led astray and tricked into worshiping false gods. There are no ‘gotcha’ tactics or ‘secret high level teachings’ that are being used to manipulate the unsuspecting Mason. Some decent objective research using common sense can illuminate any of the topics, words, or philosophies taught in Freemasonry. I would like to mention that the only personal conflict that I have ever had with Masonry fits in with what some other people and Mr. Olsen have commented on, which is how you prioritize your time between your Church and your lodge. During my tenure as an officer of my lodge, I felt some guilt that I was spending more time on lodge work than I was at my church. After having found a smaller, more accessible church that my family and I fit better with, I’m spending twice as much time in church activities than I am my lodge ( which isn’t to say that I’m any less busy with Masonic activities ). Your Faith and family should always come first, then Masonry. I think these people had some of the best insight in the comments above:

    Blake, jgv, Jim Russell, david shifflett, and daniel lewis.

    This was my opinion, Not to be confused with absolute doctrinal truth 🙂

    Blessings to all…