Several weeks ago, I reported on some research I was conducting on Baptists and freemasonry. The essay is a work in progress. Also, I have received numerous comments from pastoral friends who shared their experiences with freemasonry in their towns or congregations. One brother grew up in a home that was pro-mason. His father was a mason, his mother belonged to the Eastern Stars, a branch for women and some men since most masonic lodges are strictly for men, and his sister was a part of Job’s Daughters, a branch for young girls. He had been pressured to join DeMolays, a branch for young men 12–21, but as he had recently become a Christian, he decided to stay away. Another friend who had pastored in New England, told me of a new convert at his church who was preparing to follow his father and grandfather into freemasonry. He rose to give his affirmation that he believed in the Architect of the Universe, whom he now knew as Jesus, and gave his personal conversion testimony, only to be hissed out of the lodge, along with both his father and grandfather. A third pastor from Ohio told me of being invited to speak at a Shriner’s luncheon. He accepted “with some concern” and decided to preach the Gospel. He was never invited back. For what its worth, while masons affirm a belief in the Great Architect of the Universe (a non-descript term that permits Christians, Muslims, Hindus, even Deists as members, just not atheists), two things that cannot be talked about within the lodge are religion and politics. What else is worth a conversation? A fourth friend wrote to tell me of his experience as a student at Dallas seminary. He attended a church for a while pastored by Dr. Luther C. Peak. He discovered that the pastor, prominent in Texas Baptist circles and a classmate of W. A. Criswell at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was a mason, Scottish Rite, 33 degree. When Peak died in 2004, he was a member at First Baptist Dallas and his Masonic standing was a proud part of his obituary. This led me to discover that W. A. Criswell had also been a Mason, albeit inactive. Finally, I heard from a pastor in Canada whose Presbyterian denomination is in the midst right now of deciding what to do about freemasonry. My first essay helped him as a member of his denomination’s study group, in his investigation into the subject.
Let me say this before I get too much further into this essay. I am not God or a member of the Trinity, so I cannot say who is in the faith and who is not. Someone may identify outwardly with any number of groups that may not be strictly evangelical, yet do so as a new believer who has never been taught or as a casual participant lacking real understanding into the inner workings of the group. I am told that some have joined freemasonry because family members encouraged them to do so but never really became active participants. Moreover, freemasonry that developed in the 18th century was a gentlemen’s group that further evolved over the 1800s. What it was and what it became seem to be different. Finally, while not all Baptists rejected freemasonry, many began to see inconsistencies and unbiblical practices with aspects of freemasonry, urging their fellow Baptists or requiring them to remove themselves from the lodges. As this discussion has progressed into the 20th century, various evangelical groups have decided to disallow their members to be both freemasons and members of their churches. That so many evangelical groups have done this should give other Christians pause to consider whether the testimony of Christ is well-served by association with or separation from freemasonry. For those who are in freemasonry and profess allegiance to Jesus Christ, you have to ask yourself whether loyalty to one precludes loyalty to the other. If there is a tension, then one should abandon all else for Christ who alone is our only hope. This brings me to a final comment about freemasonry. I have not studied its tenets in depth. The one affirmation I am sure of is freemasonry’s belief in the Great Architect of the Universe. This is not merely Jesus by another name. There is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12). The very fact that a Christian mason cannot discuss his faith inside the lodge prohibits any real reason to join. If one joins to bear witness to Christ, but that is prohibited since discussing religion is prohibited, what is the point of a Christian becoming a mason? So, what about a mason who becomes a born-again Christian? As with everything we do, once we are in Christ, all our activities must be measured by the Scripture and judgements made as to the acceptability of those beliefs, practices, associations, etc. I remember an incident that occurred early in my life as a student studying for ministry. I was a part of an evangelistic effort in which a man became a believer. It was a student ministry, so I have no idea if the man’s faith was genuine as I was soon gone back to school. But what sticks in my mind was a statement he made soon after he professed Christ. “I need to quit smoking!” No one spoke with him about this habit or challenged him to quit. He just realized that this was something he now needed to do as a Christian. My point here is not to speak about smoking. It is to suggest that once people become believers, everything in life should be under the Cross. “Proving what is acceptable to the Lord” (Eph. 5:10)
A word about masons and their hospitals is in order. Many are familiar with the Shriner’s Hospitals. A friend emailed me as I was writing this essay to tell me of his story with these hospitals. Two of his children had significant needs and they received free help including transportation to and from their hospitals by the Shriners. Who can speak ill of this? Certainly, those who care for others ought to be commended for their good works. My friend often had chances to converse with his drivers to and from the hospitals and found that some of these fellows professed to be Christians, some admitting that they spent more of their time at their lodges than at their churches. As the father of a disabled child, I can appreciate any who help bear the burden. Because we were in Canada, some of the funds that met our son’s needs came through provincial lotteries. So, should I have been pro-lottery so my son and others like him could receive help? Should I have opposed the lottery knowing full well that if it went away, so did some of the money for my son’s care? I am glad the Lord used that money to help me care for my son and I am also glad I never had to ask for it nor give my opinion on its biblical nature.
Freemasonry today is in decline. In 1959, about 4.5% of American men or 4.1 million were freemasons. Today that number is down almost 75%. There are a number of reasons for the decline, COVID no doubt being one of them as masonic lodges have been shuttered or limited like other organizations. There are internal discussions addressing this decline and suggesting that masons need to reinvent themselves, change or die. Also, as I mentioned last time, the secrecy of freemasonry has largely been brought into the light with tell-all books and now in the internet age, there is little that can be hidden. The secrecy was a major part of the masonic mystic. With that gone and the membership in decline, the issue of Baptists and freemasons will also likely fade.
My original pursue in writing on this topic was not to issue a polemic against freemasonry but to try to understand how some Baptists could understand the Word aright and participate in the world of freemasonry. Coincidently, later in the day after posting my first essay on Baptists and freemasonry, I received in the mail a newer book, Retracing Baptists in Rhode Island: Identity, Formation and History wherein the author, J. Stanley Lemons, discusses my research subject, Stephen Gano, specifically as it relates to his connection with freemasonry.
Some who commented on my first essay seemed to have an almost visceral response to the idea that one might be a Christian and freemason. That I am allowing the possibility of being both may seem as compromise on my part to some but I am willing to take the heat. The Bible tells us that we are to instruct those who oppose themselves. Strong opinions need to be tempered so as to gently help those who need to be delivered from error. The record of Baptists and freemasonry is mixed. Some groups have vigorously opposed the secret societies while others have been ambivalent. Still other Baptists embraced the world of freemasonry. If one knows anything of Baptist identity, this should come as no surprise. On almost any topic, Baptists run the gamut of beliefs. This is tied to the doctrine of soul liberty. Each believer gives an account of themselves to God alone. No Baptist can bind another’s conscience. We have our creeds, but each Baptist is free in and of themselves to decide where they stand. It is our strength and sometimes our weakness.
Hello! I was researching W. A. Criswell’s apparent involvement in the masons and was curious if you could share the sources you used to find the information you shared about him above? Thanks in advance.
W. A. Criswell, inactive, Michael Glen Maness, Character Counts: Freemasonry a National Treasure and a Source for Our Founders’ Constitutional Original Intent, 2nd ed., 2010, 251