Of Sacred Cows and Secret Societies

worshipful-masterAt the beginning of the Christian Reformed Church (CRCNA), in 1857, there were three great reasons given for  separating from the Reformed Church in America (RCA): the RCA sang hymns instead psalms, the RCA did not send children to Christian schools, and the RCA tolerated membership in secret societies or “the lodge.”  The CRC adopted reports in 1900 and again as late as 1977 reaffirming that position. Cracks in that position are beginning to show, however, and not just in the CRC.

In a (recent?) issue of The Banner, in her column “The RCA: Our Closest Friend,” Gayla R. Postma suggests “[i]ssues like that [psalmody, Christian schools, and Freemasonry-rsc] may seem trivial today.” Such language might be expected in the denominational magazine of the CRC, a denomination which is steaming full-speed toward the safe, mainline harbor of the RCA.

It’s a little more surprising, however, to see a theologically conservative magazine, which seeks to serve the United Reformed Churches in North America (a break-away from the CRC) and the Canadian Reformed Churches, doing the same thing.

A few issues back the Christian Renewal, a small magazine aimed mainly at the socially conservative Dutch Reformed, Doyewwerdian, and neo-Kuyperian communities in Canada, published a strongly-worded critique of Westminster Seminary California’s recent issue of EVANGELIUM on Christian education. The essence of the critique was that WSC wasn’t consistent (some of the articles were “right” but some were not right enough) and didn’t defend Christian schools correctly. Fortunately, not every Dutchman in Canada is buying what the CR is selling.  In the next issue, however, the CR published an editorial defense of the critique and described the piece in terms of “friendly wounds.” Well, Proverbs 27:6 does say that the “wounds of a friend” are “faithful” (as opposed to false greetings from enemies) but friendship suggests that a critic is seeking our best interests. Whether that is true in this case is not for me to know but the review did not reek of charity.

In light of the CR‘s pointed defense of this particular approach to Christian schooling, it was a little surprising to see them ignoring another, arguably more important position in Dutch Reformed history in North America : the rejection of Freemasonry as a competing cultic (religious, worship-related) loyalty. In the most recent (Nov 25, 2009) issue of the CR, appears part 2 of an obituary for the Rev Edwin Elliott, long time editor of the Christian Observer and devoted member of the Masonic Lodge. On his death, the Christian Observer published an extensive record of his remarkable involvement with an array of Masonic organizations.<sup>*</sup>

Given the rejection by confessional Reformed folk since the early 18th century rise of Freemasonry, this reader was more than a little surprised to see not only an article celebrating the life of Rev. Mr Elliott but a large photograph showing him in Masonic dress! When I looked into the “The Lodge” it became clear very quickly that it teaches religious views and requires religious loyalties that are in direct competition with the teaching of our Lord. Every Freemason, at the most basic level, takes oaths that are forbidden by God’s Word. The extensive religious indoctrination of Masons who progress beyond basic lodge membership is even more patently contrary to the Reformed faith. In 1942 the OPC said,

…the evidence is overwhelming. There is no room for any reasonable doubt as to Masonry’s being a religion. Not only do the symbols, rites and temples of this order point unmistakably to it as a religion, but a great many Masonic authors of note emphatically declare it to be just that.

The Masonic Monitor says (quoted in the OPC report):

“So broad is the religion of Masonry, and so carefully are all sectarian tenets excluded from the system, that the Christian, the Jew, and the Mohammedan, in all their numberless sects and divisions, may and do harmoniously combine in its moral and intellectual work, with the Buddhist, the Parsee, the Confucian, and the worshiper of Deity under every form” (p. 285).

For these reasons and others the PCA and the OPC (see also this report) have expressly taken positions that forbid membership in Freemasonry.

So, just to keep score, according to the CR it’s unforgivable to defend Christian schooling incorrectly but it’s okay to be a Freemason? Which of these issues cuts closer to the heart of the Reformed faith: denying the uniqueness of Christ (by virtue of membership in the Lodge) or defending Christian schooling imperfectly? Why does Elliott get a pass but WSC “gets it in the neck”? Where’s the scathing editorial condemnation of this violation of the law of God?

While we are at it we should wonder about the CR‘s stance on the other ground for the formation of the CRC. Where is the CR on hymnody vs psalmody? Is the CR a vocal advocate for the recovery of historic Reformed worship? I don’t recall the CR beating the drum for ridding our churches of organs and man-made hymns.

Is it that we are to be “foursquare” on “Christian schooling” but liberal on the second commandment as confessed and understood by the Reformed churches since the 16th century? If so, what does that say about us? It’s essential to be “orthodox” on views that are not confessed in Heidelberg Catechism, e.g. how we teach math, but it’s acceptable to ignore the clear and consistent teaching of the Reformed faith on how we worship God? For those of us who think that the Reformed confessions, rather than social conservatism, define what it is to be Reformed this is all very confusing.

One last thing. Not only is the CR apparently latitudinarian (i.e., unduly tolerant) on the law of God as confessed by the Reformed churches, but it has been also been latitudinarian on the gospel as confessed by the Reformed churches. The CR has repeatedly published Federal Visionists and pro-federal vision articles and has repeatedly refused to stand editorially on the side of the Reformed confessions. One can almost understand their fence sitting before Synod 2004, where the URCs adopted Three Points on sola fide and the imputation of active obedience, but it is impossible to understand how a magazine that hopes to serve the URCs, whose editor is a member of the URCs, has not revised its editorial policies since Synod 2007 when the URCs re-affirmed the Three Points of 2004 and adopted Nine Points against the Federal Vision theology.

Again, one wonders, what is the point of pristine “orthodoxy” on Christian schools but latitudinarianism or even heterodoxy justification? Which are more essential to the Reformed faith? Which do we confess explicitly?

Finally, this episode illustrates why Darryl Hart is exactly right when he argues that we need to analyze such such issues by using the categories “confessional” and “non-confessional” rather than “liberal” v. “conservative.” Here’s a clear case where “conservative” just isn’t enough.


*The Christian Observer reports:

Edwin Elliott, Jr., was born into a family whose roots in Masonry go back several generations to his Scots ancestors in the Elliott Clan, and Masonry was a very important part of his life beginning in his youth. Edwin’s Masonic affiliations, honors, and degrees are many and varied, and include:

– Manasseh Lodge No. 182, A.F. and A.M., raised a Master Mason on 24 April 1970.
– Royal Arch Mason – Manassas Chapter #81
– Knights Templar – Piedmont Commandery #26
– Member of the Royal Order of Scotland
– Received his DeMolay Majority in 1968
– Received John Dove Award from Grand Royal Arch Chapter in December 2008
– Founded Prince William Chapter Order of DeMolay and was first Master Councilor
– Received Active Legion of Honor from DeMolay International in July 2005 – highest honor awarded by DeMolay
– Orange Lodge – Charter member Patrick Henry Loyal Orange Lodge #1105
– Sovereign Order of Knights Preceptor
– Grand Guardian Council of Job’s Daughters
– Charter member and Past Sovereign Master of the C.A. Sinclair Council Allied Masonic Degrees – Council #412
– Order of the Amaranth – Destiny Court #14
– White Shrine of Jerusalem – Dogwood #3
– Knight Masons – VA Council #72 and #12
– Washington & Lee York Rite – #93
– Holy Royal Arch Knight Templar Priests – Nova Vita Tabernacle #73
– Order of the Eastern Star – Wimodausis #106
– Red Cross of Constantine – Shenandoah Conclave
– Received John Dove Award in 2004 or 2005
– Past Grand Prelate – Grand Commandery Knights Templar Virginia
– Grand Chaplain – Royal Arch Masons
– Charter member and Past Sovereign Master of the C. A. Sinclair Council AMD #412

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  1. The lodge membership issue goes beyond just the Reformed churches. Growing up in LC-MS congregations in the Midwest during the 1950’s I can clearly recall my parents discussing the evils of Freemasonry and the matter of church discipline being applied to non-conforming members.

    Then, in 1960 we moved to a more Southern part of a Midwestern state where LC-MS congregations were scarce, but Lutheran ALC, LCA, and ULC congregations existed among the numerous baptist and methodist churches. Lodge membership by laymen in those Lutheran synods was common place and when my dad would call them out about it, they would push back hard. Especially during the 19th Century, they said, when many of those small towns were founded, lodge membership was taken for granted as a defacto standard for conducting business in a community. In fact, they claimed, if you were not already a lodge member, tried to start an enterprise of some type and were willing to conform by joining a lodge, but were black-balled by someone, you might as well pull up roots and move someplace else. So, being on the “non-confessional” side of Lutheranism to begin with, their fathers and grandfathers simply gave in and joined the lodges – if they could.

    Since that time, as you say, secret society membership has declined in significance and the lodges are largely populated by the elderly. Few young people bother to join. But at the same time, formerly “confessional” synods like the LC-MS have looked the other way as they wade into the pool of general ecumenism. Only WELS, ELS, and the like still enforce rules prohibiting secret society membership, so much so that they even outlaw youth membership in the Boy Scouts (due to its largely ecumenical statements of doing one’s “duty to God and [one’s] Country).

    By the way, I like and agree with Hart about using the terms “confessional” and “non-confessional” vs. “conservative” and “liberal” and have always been careful to phrase my comments similarly. Only I’ve used the terms “faithful to Scripture” and “unfaithful to Scripture.”

    • George, this LCMS member isn’t aware of anyone being a member of a Lodge and is aware of church discipline even in these evil days for it. I’ll admit that the WELS has held on the line on Boy Scouts, but I couldn’t let the offhand “wade into the pool of general ecumenism” pass. Even in the “saltwater district” in which I live, lodge membership is disciplined.

      • Adam –

        My congratulations to you, then, for belonging to a rare, evidently confessional LCMS congregation. Too many are not these days. For further information I suggest that you get a hold of the BRTFSSG proposal and read through it. It more or less absolves individual congregations of autonomy and shifts the power to the synod president (CEO in their words, nowadays). Along with that there has been a general erosion of sound confessional verbiage in much of what the synod makes accessible on its web site (ten years ago or so one could easily access position papers that the synod published on things like CGM).

        While the synod is not likely to make any general statements one way or another concerning lodge membership – that would be too explicit – the districts and congregations “less faithful to the Lutheran confessions” will certainly look the other way. If you want some proof of what’s going on attend services at one of the congregations in major metropolitan areas that sustains membership in the WCA and watch what goes on. Better yet, consider the still unresolved issue of the DP’s presence at the broadly ecumenical prayer session in the post-September, 2001 in New York.

        “…When error is admitted into the Church, it will be found that the stages of its progress are always three. It begins by asking toleration. Its friends say to the majority: You need not be afraid of us; we are few, and weak; only let us alone; we shall not disturb the faith of others. The church has her standards of doctrine; of course we shall never interfere with them; we ask only for ourselves to be spared interference with our private opinions. Indulged in this for a time, error goes on to assert equal rights. Truth and error are two balancing forces. The Church shall do nothing which looks like deciding between them; that would be partiality. It is bigotry to assert any superior right for the truth. We are to agree to differ, and any favoring of the truth, because it is truth, is partisanship. What the friends of truth and error hold in common is fundamental. Anything on which they differ is ipso facto non-essential. Anybody who makes account of such a thing is a disturber of the peace of the church. Truth and error are two co-ordinate powers and the great secret of church-statesmanship is to preserve the balance between them. From this point error soon goes on to its natural end, which is to assert supremacy. Truth started with tolerating, it comes to be merely tolerated, and that only for a time. Error claims a preference for its judgments on all disputed points. It puts men into positions, not as at first in spite of their departure from the Church’s faith, but in consequence of it. Their recommendation is that they repudiate that faith, and position is given them to teach others to repudiate it, and to make them skilful in combating it…”

        (From Charles Porterfield Krauth. The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1872, pp. 195-96.)

  2. Dr. Clark,

    Nice post.

    I have one small correction about the PCA and the lodge. You cite one position paper but please know that that there is a second one. After this one was presented to the General Assembly there was a great outcry against it. The committee was sent back to do more work which included receiving testimony from PCA officers who were Masons. The second paper was published that had no teeth — basically all a Session could do was admonish those in the Lodge to consider leaving it. Bottom line: The PCA has not forbidden those active in the Lodge from church membership or office. No doubt there are churches and presbyteries that exclude such people but, sad to say, it is not official denomination policy.

    It’s hard to say how many PCA folks might be active in the Lodge. I think that it is stronger in the South than anywhere else. I can only hope that in the 20 years since this paper was written the numbers of PCA folk active in the Lodge has declined.

  3. Freemasonry is anti-Christian, diabolical, unbiblical, etc. etc. Secret societies of this kind is forbidden by Scripture and tradition. It doesn’t matter if its a local lodge or Orange Orders (Northern Ireland). The roots of Freemasonry is in the Illuminati, and the Illuminati was founded by Jesuit Adam Weishaupt. Damn fools who think Freemasonry is a kind of an antithesis to Rome. Joining the Orange Order, for example, is one surest way to hell. Well, when pseudo-Protestants do not distinguish Law and Gospel and all its implications in life, this is what happens. They want you and I to believe that if you can’t beat them, join them. That way, Freemasons can get to damn as many people in Christendom as they can.

  4. the Illuminati was founded by Jesuit Adam Weishaupt …

    Correction: the Illuminati was REVIVED .by Jesuit Adam Weishaupt. The Illuminati = pagan mystery religions of which the Gnostics in the early church were one group of successors. Gnosticism never died out but triumphed in the Roman Church.

  5. When politics, economics, etc. becomes religion = confusion of the left-hand kingdom with the right-hand kingdom, well, Luther did say that everyone is a theologian. It makes very angry that so-called Christians who know better blatantly engage in evil = black is white, white is black, good is evil, evil is good, etc.

    • A significant number of the U.S. founding fathers were Freemasons. Not that I’m defending them. But since these remain important figures in American educations and patriotism, it’s difficult think of them as truly evil.

      George Washington may well have been evil and sitting in hell, because he was a freemason. Yet this is hard row to hoe, because it shocks the conscience. But maybe that’s part of the U.S.’s problem.

      Hero-worshiping evil-doers like George Washington. It sounds like I’m being sarcastic, I’m not. Just thinking about this issue you raise.


          • Paroikia,

            The link provided is fascinating. Although proverbs 3:5-6 and other wisdom literature can arguably be used outside a redemptive-historical context, Lillback’s name at least has been associated with more than a comparison of America’s history with biblical wisdom literature.


            • There is no question that Proverbs can be used for moral instruction, but that Lillback’s project. But even if it were, I would still chafe at the proverbs being put on par with Franklin’s moral aphorisms.

  6. My great, great grandfather was a freemason who was married to a devout Roman Catholic. My family remains puzzled to this day on how they could be married to each other, living like that back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

    It’s kind of weird to think that this key relative of mine was evil. Then again, we’re all evil as sons of Adam.

  7. It is indeed difficult to take charges of sin against public schooling seriously when the accusers take a less-than-serious view of church membership. And the downgrade to “unwise” might go down better if the arguments didn’t parallel so well The Order of the Sons of Temperance.

  8. A two kingdoms framework might help to clarify things. George Washington as an American figure can be taken to have done civil good, while simultaneously taken as a figure who involved himself in unfaithful, evil Freemasonry activities, doing harm to the Christian faith.

  9. RSC,

    Since Edwin Elliott, Jr. belonged to a cult, and therefore held religious loyalties that were in direct competition with the teaching of the scriptures, may we reasonably conclude that he is even now lifting up his eyes from torments in hell fire, being justly damned for his obvious and unbroken patterns of sin and rebellion against Christ’s commands?

    In Christ,

    • CD,

      Your question is provocative and a bit too much so. None of us knows the mind of God. None of us should be speculating about the eternal destiny of others. None of us stands before God on the basis of our, personal obedience to the law of God. The justified stand on the basis, alone, of Christ’s righteousness for them and imputed to them. I trust and hope that was true of Edwin Elliott.

      Did he leave a mixed legacy? Yes. Is that something to be emulated? No.

      The point of the post was not to “go after” a beloved, if confused and confusing, deceased minister but to point out the inconsistency, even hypocrisy of the CR for holding to a version of the original points of separation but ignoring being being inconsistent about the other two points (psalmody and freemasonry).

      • RSC,

        Thank you for taking the time to reply; your point on speculation is well taken, yet at the same time it’s also somewhat puzzling.

        Of course you’re correct that none of us, being finite, knows the mind of God whose mind alone is infinite, but considering the fact that the Freemasons adhere to a competing religious system that stands over and against the truth claims of Christ, how is it more or less speculative to conclude (according to the scriptures) that a devout, faithful Freemason’s eternal destiny is more or less certain than the eternal destiny of say, a devout, faithful Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, Muslim, Buddhist, etc.?

        Unless we’re willing to concede uknown (and unknowable) millions of thief-on-the-cross, miraculous death-bed conversions of the myriads of false religionists, what would prevent us from looking our devout faithful Freemason (or Mormon, or JW, or Muslim, or Buddhist) neighbor in the eye and telling him the truth in love; that he must repent of his sinful false religion, and turn to the Christ of scripture alone for salvation lest he face certain and inflexible justice at the bar of God’s tribunal, where he shall be cast to eternal damnation in hellfire forever and ever?

        Please understand that I’m not “going after” Edwin Elliott, I have no personal axe to grind with a dead man, I’m asking in view of all the other Edwin Elliotts who have one foot in the church and one foot in the lodge who, despite the clear testimony of scripture to the contrary, evidently believe they can in theory and practice serve two masters.

        In Him,

        P.S. – I would argue that everyone stands before God on the basis of their personal obedience to the law apart from those who are in Christ, but given your following statement on justification perhaps your proposition was made in reference only to those believing.

        • As far as I know Elliott was not Buddhist, Hindu, or some other sort of pagan. He was a Reformed minister who despite his Christian profession, strangely, did not see the contradiction between Freemasonry and Christianity.

          We should want to discourage other Christians from making the same mistake but we don’t need to do so at the expense of Elliott’s reputation.

          Christians should understand that they cannot serve two masters. Syncretism is not Christian.

          • Dr. Clark,

            Respectfully, the Freemason religion is a pagan religion of which Edwin Elliot AS a minister should have repudiated, but instead thought he could serve Christ and Baal at one and the same time. The moment that the Christian leaders (i.e. church officers) begin to make excuses for such false religions as the Masons, is it a wonder why many Christians find themselves serving two masters? The Masonic Lodge teaches that Baal and other gods are just as legitimate as Jehovah and Jesus Christ (I have known enough Masons and former Masons turned Christians to know what they believe). In many ways their view of the gods is similiar to that of the Hindus.

            Jesus is our god, they say, whereas for the Hindus Shiva is their Christ. It was not a mistake that Edwin Elliott made, it was a gross sin. The very violation of the 1st Commandment. His reputation notwithstanding, he was a gross idolater since he was an active unrepentant member of the Masonic demonic religion.

            All ministers should flee such evil and call it as it is…gross idolatry!

  10. Dr. Clark,

    If what you say about Edwin Elliot is true, then it is true of many other so-called Christians who were/are Freemasons. We are dealing with something overtly diabolical here – the secrecy of Freemasonry itself is diabolical. We all know what would Luther or Calvin would have thought. In these sort of situations, I’ll (have to) take the Sean Gerety position anytime. This is NO Clark vs Van Til controversy. In other words, as they say over here in Malaysia, Freemasonry is NO “play-play.”

  11. Dr. Clark, I did not see this post when you made it and did not know about it until you recently cited it in a different post.

    I can understand why you don’t like Christian Renewal’s views on many issues, but I do not believe it is even close to fair to say that Christian Renewal is supportive of Freemasonry.

    Rev. Edwin Elliott did not work for Christian Renewal and had no relationship with the paper other than being the owner of another Reformed newspaper that carried articles which Christian Renewal sometimes reprinted. However, he was an important factor in the Reformed church world and he clearly merited an obituary. His Masonic connections were widely known and were never hidden; to omit them from an obituary would raise opposite complaints that the writer was trying to whitewash Rev. Elliott’s biography.

    Speaking for me personally, I had close ties with Rev. Elliott, and maintained them to some extent even after leaving Christian Renewal since I live in the South and he was sometimes helpful in explaining things that otherwise made no sense to me. My last serious contact with Rev. Elliott was in late 2007 when he provided a lot of help in evaluating the church situation in a Southern community to which I was considering moving.

    Now that Rev. Elliott is dead and I am in a church that is in the process of joining the ARPs, I don’t think anybody would object to me saying that Rev. Elliott was in touch with the master of the local Blue Lodge in the community where I lived back in the early 1990s when I was working with Christian Renewal, and Rev. Elliott offered to help me write my petition to join the Masons if I chose to do so. He strongly advised me to follow the York Rite rather than the Scottish Rite and he would have been quite helpful in many ways if I had followed his advice. At the time I didn’t have any strong objections to Freemasonry — my grandfather was a Mason, my mother was in the Rainbow Girls, and several members of my local church at the time were in Masonic organizations — so I discussed the matter with my editor at Christian Renewal and several other leaders in the conservative wing of the Christian Reformed Church.

    Let’s just say it was made clear to me in no uncertain terms that joining the Masons would not be acceptable.

    I was strongly urged to spend a lot of time reading more about the Dutch Reformed objections to Masonry. I’m glad I did. I’m not a raving anti-Mason, but I’ve seen enough to know that I don’t want to be a member of the Lodge and while it’s obvious most Masons don’t take the religious aspects of Masonry seriously, there’s more than enough troubling elements to say it’s an organization which should be avoided.

    I think I can say with confidence that everyone I spoke with at Christian Renewal and in the conservative Dutch Reformed world would go much farther than what I just said in not just criticizing but also condemning Freemasonry.

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