Freemasons a Cult?

The late Walter Martin used to argue that they are. Now you can see the video. In the limited reading I did back in the late 80s I came to the same conclusion. Back then the lodges were on the decline and my concern was about my (now late) grandfather who was quite devoted to the Masonic Lodge. He was an accomplished Scottish Rite Mason and a “worshipful master.” He was buried with Masonic rites in his Lutheran congregation. The oddest claim the Masons ever make is that the lodge is “not a religion.” When I go to the gas station, I don’t see any altars but in the Lodge?

The video is part 1 of a multi-part video of a discussion with representative of the lodge in Boise. The Masonic fellow admits that there are altars in Lodges. When is an altar not religious? In my discussions with my grandfather, he finally conceded that he had to choose between Jesus’ claim of exclusivity and the Lodge. At that time he said he had to choose the Lodge. I wish all Masons were as clear thinking as my grandfather but I pray for them, as  prayed for papa, that they would choose Jesus over the lodge. 

In a related story, I see that the Emergent folks think this is a stupid discussion. More on that later.

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  1. Curious as to your grandfather’s Lutheran connection–they’ve historically been adamant against secret societies. At least the Missouri Synod and WELS are, anyway. Was he instead in the ELCA or some other?

    Meanwhile, here are links to PCA, RPCES and BPC studies on Freemasonry, with the hope that these might be helpful:



    BPC (1955):

  2. Walter Martin’s was one of the first books my Fundamentalists handed me about 3 minutes after conversion.

    In a post-Jim Jones world I am never clear on why the term “cult” must be automatically employed against any and all false religionists. Grandfathers being buired per false rites seem way different than drinking Kool-aid. The c-word seems more slur-y than helpful.

  3. Hi Zrim,

    Maybe I’m a fundy on this, but when I was reading Masonic stuff, it was scary. They do have cult-ish qualities to them.

    The local 3rd degree, Blue Lodge mason probably isn’t too deeply implicated, but he has sworn false, murderous oaths to cut out tongues and the like. It is profoundly syncretist. It is overtly religious — unlike say, Kiwanis or the Lions Club.

    Go to the Scottish (and I assume York) rite educational sessions and there one finds one’s self in the world of Egyptian religion and Islam. Ever wonder why the Scottish Rite “temples” (is that not inherently religious?) have Muslim names? Isn’t that an odd place to find the local Southern Baptist or Lutheran or RCA layman? I think it is.

    People may join to get a social leg up, as I think papa did, but they sometimes stay because they find a competing religious explanation of the world, an explanation that lies behind Mormonism, that is at once fundamentally rationalist, and yet mythical and mystical.

    Talking someone out of the lodge is quite like trying to talk someone out of the JWs or the Mormons or any of the more traditionally recognized cults.

  4. Hello Dr.Clark, do you know if The Orange Hall’s that dot many small towns and villages in North America are Masonic lodges or are they a different bird?They have lots of pictures of Prince William the 3rd.

    Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Did “papa” eventually submit to God in conversing with him?

  5. What about union membership? Is the same sort of masonic brotherhood mammon expected in our present day unions like the UAW or the Teamsters?

    What do you think?

    I am a small business owner.

  6. Wow … I watched that 3 part video ….the TV set seemed to be missing a disco ball 🙂

    If free masonary is not a cult … it sure is Belial committed … not Christ committed.

  7. Ray,

    Don’t know about the Orange Hall. I’m more familiar with the IOOF, Eastern Star, Demolay, etc from my part of the country (lower midwest). The Orange Lodge sounds like a Dutch thing.

    Reformed folk have argued about union membership. I don’t have any problem with private, civil associations. If a labor union has no cultic/religious overtones then I wouldn’t object on religious grounds.

    Papa was in the United Lutheran Church for many years and he knew the basics of the faith. He knew the truth. I hope he believed it.

  8. -What about Elks lodge? Are they in the same category as Masonry?

    -Is it correct in any sense to maintain “a brotherhood of man” (I realize I am using more of Lennon’s words than the Mason’s)? The way the Mason was using brother/ brotherhood was that each different religious member was worshiping the same God.

    -The Mason was babbling the American “we don’t talk politics or religion” nonsense that I grew up with. He was doing the routine of holding a gun and when people tell him that he is holding one he denies it.
    Excuse my dangling preposition (v.s.)… I’m tired.

  9. If affluent chaps want a chummy, cosy club which does charitable work, they could do worse than the Rotary.

    The Freemasons try to maintain an impossible position, which is that they’re religious without being linked to any specific religion. The problem is, Jesus said you can’t sit on the fence like that. Of course you can operate in the civil sphere non-religiously, and that’s what Rotary does; but if you try to operate religiously then you’re either for Christ or against him. By acknowledging other lords than Jesus, Lodges have made their choice. Whether that’s cultic, I don’t know, but it’s wrong.

    The Orange Lodge: isn’t that the Orange Order? They’re N. Irish Protestants, and will have pictures of William of Orange galore, owing to their history, but I don’t know how Masonic they are.

  10. Philip,

    This is helpful. I had forgotten about the Orange Order. That could be it! In either case, it’s a “Protestant” association of some sort.

    The Elks, the Moose, the IOOF, the Forresters (are they a lodge) all seem like competitors to the Masons. I know little about them. From this distance it seems a little odd to call oneself an “Odd Fellow” (it meant “unique,” I believe) or a “moose” or whatever. Puts one in mind of Fred Flintstone.

  11. Our consistory had the church visitors over for our yearly visit about 3 weeks ago in the PRC and one of the questions set before us as consistory was :

    “Is the consistory aware whether there are members of secret organizations in the congregation, and if so, is church discipline applied to them?”

    This pertains to lodge membership and also union membership , in the case of working for a company where union membership is required … one is duty bound to be a conscience objector for religious reasons as allowed by the government and to be upheld by the company.

    I asked about the Orange Hall because my Dad as an auctioneer did alot of house estate auctions where these pictures of William the 3rd and the Loyal Orange Order pictures where 1st Peter chapter 2:17 is quoted and they have pictures depicting Old Testament history were included in the box lots items to be auctioned off … here is a picture…

    Wikipedia has an interesting account of the Orange Hall. Your right Philip .. it originates from Northern Ireland and Scotland.

    Our congregation recently purchased a church property owned by the Salvation Army here in Wingham, Ontario, Canada. We have 2 buildings … the main one built in 1969 where we come together to worship, and an older building beside it that used to be an Orange Hall. The salvation army used to use the old building for people to drop off clothing and stuff they can send back out to the poor. I have not found any books or stuff in this old building yet used by the Orangemen.

  12. Scott,

    I’m sure it’s all very odd stuff, like wearing magic-secret skivvies. But so is believing a young virgin conceived and her son eventually rose from the dead and floated up to God and his believers nourish themselves by eating his body and drinking his blood (religion is supposed to be weird). I don’t have any reservations about how compromised is to find Lutherans receiving rites from clearly false religions. I just think there has to be some distinction made between the necessarily inherent oddity of religion and criminality. Granted, it’s a fuzzy line and not easily drawn. But I think I get further with my local Mormons when I reckon them false religionists instead of cultists. One term implies one of us is right and the other is wrong, the other term implies one of us is sane and the other is a wingnut. This is all also good for that two-kingdom ethic which never thinks twice about possibly electing a man to office who wears secret-magic skivvies.


    I am not sure if the CRC still forbids it, good question. But I’m not looking to secure any lodge memberships at the moment. I’m good with church membership.

  13. Zrim,

    I wouldn’t oppose a candidate for public office on the basis of lodge membership. I’m just offering theological questions/criticisms here.

    The religious/ecclesiastical question is whether membership in the Masonic Lodge is compatible with membership in Christ’s church. It’s a matter of religious loyalty and theological confusion and error in the Masons and whether it is a cult. It seems to me that any group that swears to bloodshed is not just another civic organization. When I joined Kiwanis (way back when in Kansas City) they didn’t take me to a small room, spin me around, and poke me in the side with a compass and require me to swear blood oaths (there is a real problem with the 2nd and 3rd commandments there). We just made pancakes and raised money to take care of kids.

    I’m not sure I understand your point.

  14. A guy got disciplined in the OPC for being part of the Masons. This was a long time ago, I think. It’s pretty clearly a cult or “false religion” (whatever).

  15. Hi Wayne,

    Your comment got picked up by the spam filter and I just found it. As always, you’re the best! I was going to try to do what you did. Many thanks.

    I can only add the OPC Position Paper and web page.

    Papa was in the United Lutheran Church which, I think, became part of the ELCA. I know their home congregation is now ELCA. I don’t think they take the same view of secret societies as the WELS or the LCMS.

    One irony in all this is that, according to Robert Wilken, the early Christians were suspected of being just another secret society/guild/cult! The Christians were secretive about some aspects of worship because they were misunderstood but the common refrain among early apologists was that our faith is open for all to read, see, and hear.

  16. The Moose? Didn’t Sarah Palin get them all yet?

    One of the benefits of being on a small island is we don’t have the proliferation of competing Lodge-like organisations. Still and all, it evidently provides some innocent amusement. 😉

  17. Scott,

    My point is simply one over a definition and use of terms, not so much issues surrounding potentially compromised memberships. (I quite agree that once an organization begins to take religious shape over against merely secular and common endeavor believers’ antennae ought to be way up to say the least.)

    When I think “cult” I do not think merely odd beliefs and practices. I think criminality and manipulation (emotional, cognitive and even physical). When something becomes a cult seems difficult to define. I mean, just because JWs don’t pledge allegiance to the flag doesn’t mean they are seditious and therefore criminal (at least, I consider my JWs growing up to be good citizens). And plenty of folks consider my catechizing my youth in the odd beliefs we hold to be manipulative. I am not sure when “blood oaths” become criminal and manipulative. But I can’t bring myself to resolve these tensions by simply calling somethin a cult, especially with reels of Jones and Applegate playing in my head. May I say I know it when I see it?

  18. Scott,

    Also, when I converted into Bible church Fundamentalism in college by way of Willow Creek-y “friendship evangelism” (a friend in a Reformed church, by the way), my mother considered that I was caught up in a cult. I understood, but that seemed way off to me. (I got her good though, I made those cultists her in-laws!)

    There simply has to be a way to distinguish “really misguided” from “cult.” After all, there is bad judgment and then there is sin.

  19. Zrim,

    You set the bar quite high.

    There are lots of reliable accounts concerning manipulation among the JWs. I think of Twenty Years in the Watchtower or whatever it was. Not all cults are of the Jim Jones variety. The Mormons are certainly a cult. Why must it be a primarily a civil matter? Can’t the churches establish theological criteria to determine what is and isn’t a cult?

    Historically the Masons have been accused of both criminality and manipulation. There is a notorious 19th-century case of an alleged murder of a high-ranking Mason who was about to spill the beans. That case, of course, is hotly disputed by defenders of the lodge.

    For those who go beyond the blue lodge, there is more than a little religious fervor about the lodge and membership in it.

    I could also mention racism. The lodge has historically been racist to a degree that rivals the KKK. Things have changed, of necessity, in recent years but when my Dad was in DeMolay, he found out the hard way that certain of his school chums were, um, not “our kind” and thus not welcome in DeMolay (the Lodge version of Nazi Youth Brigades).

    I should like to define a cult in terms of a group that positions itself as Christian but which is heretical and that poses a direct and grave spiritual danger to its members. This would define the Mormons, the JWs, and other such groups. I think it defines the Lodge as well.

    This definition is from the hip and probably needs qualification. Fwiw, I would distinguish between a cult and a sect. I don’t know that the Belgic’s language about “sects” necessarily applies to cults. The latter is a degree beyond sects. That said, many of the Anabaptist and other radical groups in the 16th century looked a lot like today’s cults and anticipated some of their doctrines and practices.

    Given this distinction I say that much of evangelicalism has a “sect” quality but doesn’t have a “cult” quality to it, strictly speaking (not thinking here about the “cults of personality’ and the like).

    Another problem is that “cult” is a fine Latin word that simply stands for “acts of worship.” Maybe it would be better simply to speak of various kinds of “sects”? Maybe we could distinguish between those that are deadly, dangerous, and distracting from the mission of the true church?

  20. With reference to a question asked earlier, Orange halls refer to the meeting places of the Lodges of the Loyal Orange Order. The Orange Order is a semi-Masonic organization which comes from Ireland; it primarily exists to commemorate the Glorious Revolution in Britain and the victory of William III over James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. It professes allegiance to Protestantism and the Reformed faith, though few of its members are born-again Christians; it is mostly a social-club for Unionists in Northern Ireland.

  21. Isn’t the difference between a cult and a sect, whether or not they adhere to the ecumenical creeds (or tamper with the canon of Scripture) even as they claim to be Christian? Hence the Mormons, JWs, SDA etc. qualify as they deny the Trinity/deity of Christ and add to the canon, but not so Baptists or Methodists? That’s what I always understood, as well I think Walter Martin taught the same. On the other hand, to call the Masons a cult is to emphasize the secret and pagan connotations of the term.

  22. It is indeed interesting to read the comments made by curious, but un-informed persons. Each reminds me of a young child who has his or her own perception of a situation. You speak of a cult, whatever that may be. You mention criminal acts, but are unable to elaborate on any specific examples, since there are none. You attempt to give the impression that you know all there is to know about any given topic. You question why there is an altar in a Lodge or Temple. You drift over into the Orange Order, and speak of Scottish Rite Temples having Muslim names. You would be best served if you obtained proper and sufficient information prior to offering yourselves as experts on any subject, but especially Freemasonry. The term “Secret Society” seems to be a favorite of many anti-masons. Well you folks are free to believe whatever you like, and we Free Masons will leave you alone. We know what is right and what is wrong, and we all have a firm belief in God. We do not, however, accept your version simply because you made it known that you think you have super knowledge. I believe you were actually referring to Shrine Temples when you mentioned Muslim names, not Scottish Rite Temples. While Freemasons have secrets, we are not a Secret Society. I would venture to say that each and every one of your Churches have secrets, such as the combination to the lock on your safe, etc. Does that qualify your churches to be called cults? It is sad, indeed, when one becomes so wrapped up in himself, that he demands that everyone live, worship, and act exactly as he does. As a Freemason, I believe that each man, woman or child should have the freedom to select a church, or refuse to be a part of a church, or support whatever group he or she desires so long as it does not infringe upon the rights of others. You so-called believers with your fancy titles, should tend to your own business and stay out of that of others. Put simply, “Live and Let Live”.

  23. Mamu,

    1. Fine, Shriners are a Masonic group. It doesn’t matter really how they relate to the Freemasons.

    2. I did not present myself as an expert.

    3. No one joining a Reformed congregation does so in private. No one joining a Reformed congregation swears blood oaths.

    4. I suspect most congregations use a curious new invention, it’s called a bank, and it’s all quite public!

    5. Who is talking about freedom? No one here is talking about curtailing anyone’s “freedom” to do anything. The point of the post is to alert Christians to the conflict between swearing false oaths and membership in a Reformed congregation in which one’s loyalty is devoted utterly to Jesus as God the Son incarnate, who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried, who was raised on the third day, ascended to the right hand of the Father where he reigns now and whence he shall come again to judge the nations. This is manifestly not the doctrine of the Lodge/Masons in whatever form.

    I sincerely hope Mamu that your trust is in the finished work of Jesus for sinners and not in anything you have done by way of good works or by any association you have with the Lodge. When you stand before God, he cares only whether you are perfectly righteous and you can only be perfectly righteous through faith (trusting) alone in Jesus alone as the only law-keeper for and Savior of sinners.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  24. Scott,

    I know my point has had a hard time landing (and Mamu sure isn’t helping me!), but I wonder if I might try this in the effort to distinguish cults from false religion like Free Masons or Mormons in a post-Jonestown age.

    What we employ against cultism and a false religion might help. If my daughter goes off to college, I don’t hear from her in weeks and come to learn she has been quite involved in the “People’s Socialist Temple of Divine Lettuce and Gunnery” I think I will begin setting aside some cash for a rescue mission and de-programmer instead of investing resources in mainstream apologetics. If, however, I observe nothing out of the ordinary with my daughter except for the fact that she has begun to show more than a curious (and perfectly legitimate academic) interest in the Mormonism or Free Masonry of her suite-mate, I think the approach will be the reverse: apologetics over rescue mission.

    I realize that many think this is something of a tortured distinction to be making between cult and false religion. But aren’t we the same ones who distinguish between sola scriptura and solo scriptura? The Mormon being termed a cultist must be what it’s like for a Romanist to call us Biblicists.

  25. Zrim,

    Fair enough.

    The Masons do have a cloudy history of violence in the 19th century and they are implicated in the rise of Mormonism but today my impression is that they function as voluntary organizations. They were fading into deserved obscurity but, as of a few years ago, became strangely “hip” again.

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