Note: Over the past few years, I’ve received numerous requests to address the issue of Freemasonry and Christianity. While this is not intended to be comprehensive analysis or explanation, my hope is that it will be sufficient to help followers of Jesus determine for themselves if these two systems of belief and ritual—Freemasonry and Christianity—are compatible.
What is Freemasonry?
Freemasonry is the teachings and practices of the secret fraternal (men-only) order of Free and Accepted Masons, known as Freemasons or Masons. The Freemasons are the oldest and largest worldwide secret society, with an estimated 3 million members around the world, including 1 million in the United States. In addition to the main body of Freemasonry, there are various offshoots, such as the Shriners (known formally as the Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shriners, they are also required to be Masons).
The basic, local organizational unit of Freemasonry is the Lodge, which is usually overseen at the regional level (state, province, or national border) by a Grand Lodge. An applicant for admission to a Masonic lodge is required to be an adult male, and believe in the existence of a Supreme Being and in the immortality of the soul. As one Grand Lodge notes, “Freemasonry unites men of good character who, though of different religious, ethnic, or social backgrounds, share a belief in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of mankind.”
The experience of becoming a Freemason is divided into three ceremonial stages that Masons call “degrees.” These three degrees are loosely based on the journeyman system, which was used to educate medieval craftsmen: entered apprentice, fellow craft, and master Mason. The degrees symbolically represent the “three stages of human development: youth, manhood, and age.”
Since its founding in the 1700s, Freemasonry has been both celebrated and also condemned by Christians and Christian churches.
Which Christian traditions and denominations prohibit or oppose Freemasonry?
The Catholic Church has been one of the oldest and most persistent critics of Freemasonry. Since 1738, Roman Catholics have been officially prohibited by their church from being Freemasons.
Numerous Protestant denominations have also taken a stance against church members being involved with the Masons. Examples of such denominations include:
- Assemblies of God (Current position)
- Church of the Brethren (2009)
- Church of the Nazarene (Current position)
- Evangelical Lutheran Synod (Current position)
- Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (Current position)
- The Methodist Church (UK) (A condemnatory report was issued in 1985, though no prohibition exists within the denomination.)
- Orthodox Presbyterian Church (1942)
- Presbyterian Church in America (1988)
- Society of Friends (aka Quakers) (1966)
While the Southern Baptist Convention has never issued a resolution about Freemasonry, in 1993 the denomination commissioned a report on the group from one of their agencies, the North American Mission Board (NAMB). The report accepted by the convention identified eight tenets and teachings of Freemasonry that, it concluded, were not compatible with Christianity.
Because many Southern Baptists—including pastors—were involved in Freemasonry, the report was widely criticized. In 2002, NAMB issued a follow-up report titled, “A Closer Look at Freemasonry.” The report concludes by noting that while many Christians and leaders have been and are Masons, “several points of the lodge’s teachings are non-biblical and non-Christian.” It also states that “while Freemasonry encourages and supports charitable activities, it contains both multireligious and inclusivistic teachings that are not Christian in its religious instruction.”
The report ultimately recommends the issue be left to the conscience of the believer:
Taking the above into consideration, and being consistent with our denomination’s historic deep convictions regarding both the priesthood of the believer and the autonomy of the local church, we recommend that each individual Baptist, as well as each congregation, carefully review the issues of the teachings and practices of Freemasonry. Since, in the final analysis, the Bible alone is the only guide for faith and practice, issues related to Freemasonry and any other fraternal organizations, especially secret societies, must be evaluated only in light of the plumb line of Scripture.
None of the mainline denominations appears to take a position on the issue.
Why do so many Christians oppose Freemasonry?
Some of the stated reasons for claiming Freemasonry is incompatible with Christianity include:
Freemasonry is a religion.
“On this score 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. Of almost numberless quotations that could be given here the committee has selected a few.
S. M. Ward, the author of several standard Masonic works, defines religion as ‘a system of teaching moral truth associated with a belief in God” and then declares: “I consider Freemasonry is a sufficiently organized school of mysticism to be entitled to be called a religion.’ He goes on to say: “I boldly aver that Freemasonry is a religion, yet in no way conflicts with any other religion, unless that religion holds that no one outside its portals can be saved” (Freemasonry: Its Aims and Ideals, pp. 182, 185, 187).” – Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Freemasonry involves and promotes idolatry.
“Masonry is guilty of idolatry. Its worship and prayers are idol worship. The Masons may not with their hands have made an idol out of gold, silver, wood or stone, but they created one with their own mind and reason out of purely human thoughts and ideas. The latter is an idol no less than the former.” – Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod
“It is because tenets and practices of Freemasonry conflict with the biblical Gospel of Jesus Christ that our church from its very beginning has held that membership in this organization conflicts with a faithful confession of this Gospel.” – Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
Freemasonry promotes universalism.
“The heresy of universalism (the belief all people will eventually be saved) which permeates the writings of many Masonic authors, which is a doctrine inconsistent with New Testament teaching.” – Southern Baptist Convention
Freemasonry promotes a works-based view of salvation.
“Confidence in these secret orders and their teachings has always tended toward the embracing of a false hope of salvation through good works and improved moral service (Eph. 2:8–9).” – Assemblies of God
“The Christian doctrine of salvation is heterosoteric; it teaches that man must be saved by another. Masonry’s doctrine of salvation, on the other hand, is autosoteric; it teaches that man must and can save himself. ‘Freemasonry,’ we are told by J. S. M. Ward, ‘has taught that each man can, by himself, work out his own conception of God and thereby achieve salvation’ (Freemasonry: Its Aims and Ideals, p. 187). And in his book, What Masonry Means, which is warmly recommended in an introduction by J. F. Newton, William F. Hammond says: ‘Masonry’s conception of immortality is something for which man must qualify while still in the flesh. Through the fellowship of a moral discipline Masons are taught to qualify for the fellowship of eternal life’ (p. 171).” – Orthodox Presbyterian Church
The secrecy required of Freemasonry is antithetical to Christian fellowship.
“For Christians the secrecy practised by Freemasons poses a problem in that secrecy of any kind is destructive of fellowship. The Christian community is an open fellowship.” – The Methodist Church (UK)
“The brotherhood of secret oath-bound societies is incompatible with the fellowship of Christ’s followers (Matthew 5:33–34).” – Church of the Brethren
Freemasonry promotes a false claim about the name of God.
“The most serious theological objection to Freemasonry for Christians lies in the name given to the Supreme Being in the rituals of the Royal Arch degree. One of the secrets revealed in this degree is that the name of the Supreme Being is JAHBULON. It has been suggested to us that this word is a description of God, but the ritual refers to the word as a name of God. The name is a composite, as the ritual explicitly states. The explanation given of the name in the ritual is acknowledged to be inaccurate, but is preserved to bring out the traditional meaning for Freemasonry of the word. The best explanation of the derivation of this word seems to be that two of the three parts, JAH and BUL, are the names of gods in different religions, while the third syllable ON was thought by the composers of the ritual to be the name of a god in yet another religion; modern scholarship suggests they were wrong. In any case, it is clear that each of the three syllables is intended to be the name of a divinity in a particular religion. The whole word is thus an example of syncretism, an attempt to unite different religions in one, which Christians cannot accept. We note that some Christians who are Freemasons withdraw from any ceremonies in which this word is to be used.” – The Methodist Church (UK)
Freemasons omit the name of Jesus when they use biblical texts in their rituals.
“Frequently in Masonic ritual the inspired Word of God is seriously mutilated, and in many instances this mutilation consists in the omission of the name of Jesus Christ. In Mackey’s Masonic Ritualist the name of Christ is omitted from 1 Peter 2:5 (p. 271), 2 Thessalonians 3:6 (p. 348), and 2 Thessalonians 3:12 (p. 349). With reference to the elision of the Saviour’s name from 1 Peter 2:5 the following explanation is offered: “The passages are taken, with slight but necessary modifications from the First Epistle of Peter” (p. 272). The reason for this modification is obvious. Masonry does not claim to be Christian but, on the contrary, purports to be the essence of all religions; therefore, its ritual has no place for distinctly Christian material. That the omission of the Name which is above every name is described as a slight but necessary modification speaks volumes.
It is no exaggeration to assert that Masonry does most serious violence to the inscripturated Word of God and does the gravest despite to Jesus Christ, the personal Word.” – Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Freemasonry promotes pagan and occultic texts and doctrines.
“The recommended readings, in pursuance of advanced degrees, of religions and philosophies, which are undeniably pagan and/or occultic, such as much of the writings of Albert Pike, Albert Mackey, Manly Hall, Rex Hutchens, W.I. Wilmshurst, and other such authors; along with their works, such as Morals and Dogma, A Bridge to Light, An Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, and The Meaning of Masonry.” – Southern Baptist Convention
Should Christians be involved in Freemasonry?
Christians involved in Freemasonry may justify their involvement by claiming that it’s a matter of conscience. While they may be correct, a naked appeal to conscience is insufficient to resolve the question. As we’ve repeatedly seen over the past decade, appealing to one’s conscience has become the primary way Christians in America justify their engagement in unbiblical behavior and alignment with anti-Christian associations. A better test would be for Christians who are Masons to ask themselves, Is my participation in Freemasonry bringing glory to God?
To answer that question in the affirmative would require, at a minimum, addressing the multitude of concerns that Christians have raised for centuries about Freemasonry.
Christians involved in Freemasonry should also ask why their rituals and practices are considered sacrosanct. Protestants have long maintained a position of Ecclesia semper reformanda est (Latin for “the church must always be reformed”)—that in order to maintain its purity, the church must always be willing to reconsider its belief and practice. Yet it’s rare to find a Christians in Masonic Lodges who forcefully advocate the jettisoning of any teachings and rituals of Freemasonry that are antithetical to the teachings of Jesus. They may claim, for example, that the “bloody oaths” they take are non-binding and shouldn’t be taken literally—and yet they will reject recommendations that such oaths be done away with.
This is a baffling inconsistency that hints at idolatry. If the pagan and occultic elements are not essential to Freemasonry, then Freemasons who follow Jesus should be advocating for their removal as a condition of their continued participation. But if those elements are essential—even if only as venerated tradition—then Christians should explain how they can, in good conscience, participate in such a system of religious practices and beliefs (1 Cor. 10:7).