Of Sacred Cows and Secret Societies

At 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 an 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 is 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.

In the Autumn of 2009, the Christian Renewal (hereafter CR), 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 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.” 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. Rather, as Wes Bredenhof wrote, “the criticism expressed in Christian Renewal arose from as uncharitable a reading as one could possibly give.”

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.

Given the rejection of Freemasonry by confessional Reformed Christians 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” in the late 1980s 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 is unforgivable to defend Christian schooling incorrectly but it is permissable 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?

While we are at it we should wonder about the CR‘s stance on the other ground for the formation of the CRC: Psalmody. Where is the CR on hymnody vs psalmody? Is the CR a vocal advocate for the recovery of genuine Reformed worship? I do not recall the CR beating the drum, as it were, for the recovery of psalm-singing in the Reformed churches.

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.

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*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