Lutherans Informed about Lodges (LIL)

 
Conference Paper
"The Lord or Baal?"

 

 


The following conference paper was written by retired LCMS pastor Rev. Oscar A. Gerken of Eustis, Florida.

"THE LORD OR BAAL?"

                          

A Conference Paper on the Lodge Issue

And Elijah came to all the people, and said, "How long will you falter between two opinions?  If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him."  But the people answered him not a word.[1]

 

      History does repeat itself!  The preceding Bible verse describing a situation in Israel during the reign of King Ahab is repeated today in the thundering silence of pastors and congregations regarding the lodge issue.   AlthoughThe Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod has an excellent Scriptural policy on paper regarding lodges, seminary students graduate and are ordained without really knowing why our church is opposed to lodge membership, pastors are pressured by lay leaders and by their peers to maintain a tactful silence on the question of lodge membership, and most Lutherans are basically ignorant about what lodge membership involves.

      It's difficult to know where to begin, for there are many fraternal and veterans' organizations which present a formidable challenge for the sincere pastor who desires to be faithful to his ordination vow and the duties of his calling.  However, the most powerful and most prominent lodge and the model for the deistic and humanistic theology which makes the various lodges objectionable to Christians is the Masonic lodge.

      The Encyclopedia Americana devotes no less than eight pages to the topic, "Masonic Fraternity (Freemasonry or Ancient Free and Accepted Masons)." [2]   Among other information, the encyclopedia article states that Masonry "is probably directly descended from the fraternity and lodges of operative stone-masons and cathedral builders of the Middle Ages."

      In discussing the origin of Masonry, the article continues: "During the 18th and first half of the 19th century, Masonic writers laid great stress upon the possible origin of the society in the remote ages of the past.  Absolutely without any historical basis of record as were most of these theories, yet men of learning loaned their influence to perpetuate the fables extant concerning the fraternity."

      The basic philosophy of Masonry is illustrated by two key symbols of the lodge.  The first is the Masonic emblem, a capital "G" under a spread compass (an inverted V-shaped device for drawing circles) and above a carpenter's square.  The letter "G" stands for God or geometry to proclaim that a basic rule of life is that everything follows an orderly process and that we receive what we merit.  According to Masonry, the deities of all religions are equal and teach that individuals can secure their future by morality, decency, love, and other virtues.  Thus, the Masonic Creed, which is printed on the initial page of Masonic Bibles, declares: "Character determines destiny."

      The compass and square portray the type of life which will result in eternal blessings.  In the same way that a compass is used to draw a perfect circle, so the individual must live a circumspect life and to keep passions within bounds to have hope for the future; and the carpenter's square, which is used to test for conformity to a desired plane, straight line, or right angle, stresses that a Mason will live in a straightforward and honest manner.  These two symbols are the origin of the expression, "to live by the compass and square."

      The second key symbol of Masonry is the Masonic apron.  The Masonic Edition of the Bible published by Ezra Cook, Publishers, of Chicago, Illinois, has a section in the front of questions and answers about Masonry.  In that section, we find the following explanation of the apron:

            There is no one of the symbols of Speculative Masonry more important in its teachings, or more interesting in its history than the lambskin, or white leather apron. Its lessons commence at an early period in the Mason's progress, and it is impressed on his memory as the first gift which he receives, the first symbol which is explained to him, and the first tangible evidence which he possesses of his admission into the Fraternity.  The color of a Mason's apron should be pure and unspotted white.  The lamb has always been considered an appropriate emblem of innocence, and hence we are taught, in the ritual of the first degree that "by the lambskin" the Mason is reminded of that purity of life and rectitude of conduct which is so essentially necessary to his gaining admission into the Celestial Lodge above, where the Supreme Architect of the Universe forever presides.

      The Masonic doctrine of God is summarized well by Donald F. Young in an article, "A Mason Believes," on page 10 of the June, 1976, issue of The Empire State Mason.  Mr. Young, a 32nd-degree Mason and Knights Templar, writes:

            A Mason believes in a just and righteous Deity, be he known as Brahma, Allah, Jehovah, or Jesus...  In Masonry, there are Christians, Jews, Moslems, and Hindus who meet together and pay homage to the Divine Creator whom they address as the Great Architect of the Universe.

      In sharp contrast to Mr. Young's definition of God according to Masonry, the psalmist writes, "All the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens," [3] and the prophet Jeremiah declares: "The Lord is the true God: he is the living God and the everlasting King." [4]  Two statements of Jesus also illustrate why we must object to the Masonic doctrine of God.  In his high-priestly prayer to the Father, Jesus stated: "This is eternal life, that they might know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." [5]  Also, Jesus declared: "All should honor the Son just as they honor the Father.  He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him." [6]  The biblical doctrine of the Trinity and the Masonic doctrine of God stand in opposition to each other.

      The second adversarial relationship between Christianity and Masonry centers around the two conflicting messages of salvation.  The explanation of the apron printed on the preceding page states clearly that purity of life and rectitude of conduct are "essentially necessary to gain admission into the Celestial Lodge above, where the Supreme Architect of the Universe forever presides."  No mention at all is made of faith in Jesus Christ as a requisite for salvation.

      In fact, Mr. Charles Van Cott, publisher of Masonic Inspiration, referred to this in an article for the July, 1955, issue of that magazine entitled "The Lutheran Arguments Answered."  In reply to the Lutheran objection that Masonry's burial ritual says that non-Christians will enter heaven, Mr. Van Cott replied: "The one great God operating the universe has a place for everyone of his sons whom he created.  To think that Christians only merit immortality is narrow and not in keeping with the omnipotent love of the Creator of this vast universe."

      In sharp contrast, Christianity is built around the premise that "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have ever-lasting life." [7]  Later in that same chapter, Jesus is quoted as saying, "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." [8]  The fact that there is no life after death without faith in Jesus Christ was repeated by our Lord in his well-known statement, "I am the Way!...  No one comes to the Father except through me." [9]

      Perhaps it's well for us, before we go any farther in discussing the conflict between Christianity and Masonry, to point out that the church does not object to the lodge because of its secrecy.  Although the use of passwords and the printing of the ritual in code does seem somewhat juvenile and immature, this in itself does not make lodge membership objectionable.  (We might add that the code is not difficult to crack.  For example, WM in the coded ritual refers to the Worshipful Master.)  We need to say it, and repeat it, loudly and clearly:  WE DO NOT OBJECT TO THE SECRECY OF THE LODGE!

      It should also be stated that The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod is not the only church body which objects to the theology of the Masonic lodge.  Voices against Masonry have been raised not only within practically every Lutheran synod, but also in the Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist, Episcopalian, and other church bodies.

      The church's objection to lodge membership can be best understood if we place the teachings of the Scriptures and of the Masonic lodge side by side. 

                                                                 

The Scriptures teach:            Masonry teaches:

1. There is only one true God,   1. There are many gods, and all

   the Triune God, Father, Son,     have equal standing and

   and Holy Spirit.                 authority.

2. Only believers in Christ      2. All who live good lives receive eternal

   receive eternal life.            regardless of what they believe.

                                    

      Because the conflict between the Scriptures and Masonry is so obvious, the By-Laws of The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod contain the following article:

 

                          X. FRATERNAL ORGANIZATIONS

      10.01 Statement of Purpose

            a. The Synod has declared itself firmly opposed to all societies, lodges, and organizations of an unchristian or antichristian character.

            b. The Commission on Organizations shall assist the pastors and the congregations of the Synod in fulfilling their commitment to witness publicly and privately to the one and only Gospel set forth in the Holy Scriptures.

      10.03 Responsibilities of Pastors and Congregations

            a. Pastors and laymen alike must avoid membership or participation in any organization that in its objectives, ceremonies, or practices is inimical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ or the faith and life of the Christian church.

            b. It is the solemn, sacred, and God-given duty of every pastor properly to instruct his people concerning the sinfulness of all organizations that

            1. explicitly or implicitly deny the holy Trinity, the deity of Christ, or the vicarious atonement;

            2. promise spiritual light apart from that revealed in the Holy Scripture;

            3. attach spiritual or eternal rewards to the works or virtues of men; and/or

            4. embrace ideologies or principles that clearly violate an express teaching of the Holy Scriptures concerning the relationships of men to one another.

            c. The responsibility of diligent and conscientious pastoral care requires that pastors of the Synod do not administer Holy Communion nor admit to communicant membership members of such organizations who, after thorough instruction, refuse to sever their affiliation with the organizations, since Holy Communion expresses an exclusive spiritual relationship of the communicant to his Lord and to his brethren (Matt.10:32; 1 Cor.10:16-17; 1 Cor.11:25).  Earnest continuous efforts should be put forth to bring individuals to a clear-cut decision regarding their contradictory confessions, in order that they may become or remain communicant members of the congregation, as the case may be.

            d. The responsibility of conscientious pastoral care recog-nizes that a pastor will occasionally encounter an exceptional case in which he is called on to administer Holy Communion to a person who is outwardly connected with such an organization.  Such exceptional cases ordinarily involve an individual who

            1. has accepted the pastoral care of the congregation and is being instructed by its pastor in an effort to lead him to see the inconsistency of his contradictory confession and witness.

            2. has renounced to the pastor and/or church council the unchristian or antichristian character of the organization of which he is a member.

            In such exceptional cases the pastor should consult with his brethren in the ministry or with officials of the Synod, as the case may require.  He should, furthermore, beware of procrasti-nation and the giving of offense to members of either the congre-gation or sister congregations.

            e. The Synod instructs its officials to exercise vigilant care and urges all pastors and congregations to carry out these provisions and faithfully eradicate all compromise or negation of the Gospel through members' identification with objectionable or-ganizations.  It shall be the duty of every member, pastor, and especially officials of the Synod to admonish those pastors and congregations that fail to offer countertestimony and take decisive action in matters pertaining to this subject.  Refusal to heed brotherly admonition shall lead to suspension and eventual expulsion from the Synod.

      When I graduated from the St. Louis seminary in 1948, I naively believed that all pastors and congregations of the Synod followed the synodical policy regarding fraternal organizations.  I must confess that I didn't know much about the details of the various lodges, but I did understand that our basic objection was based upon the fact that the lodges espoused a concept of God which did not agree with the Scriptures and that salvation by works rather than by faith in Christ was touted by the lodges in their rituals.  My experience in supervising vicars leads me to believe that many seminary graduates are even less knowledgeable about the lodge issue.

      I was fortunate, upon graduation, to be assigned to a mission congregation at Casey in the Central Illinois District.  During my two years at Casey, I enjoyed and benefitted from the monthly "Winkel Konferences" of the Effingham and Altamont Circuits.  The two circuits always joined for the monthly conferences, which featured an all-day series of papers, exegetical studies, and extensive discussion of doctrine and practice.  It was at these conferences that I began to learn many things about fraternal organizations as well as other ministerial subjects.

      The one lodge experience of my two-year pastorate at Casey which gave me additional insight into the lodge problem was a question which Effie P, our landlady (Tracy and I lived in a small rented garage apartment) asked in passing one day.  "Pastor Gerken," asked Mrs. P, "why is your church opposed to the lodge?  I belong to the Baptist Church, and I'm also worthy matron of the Eastern Star, and I think the two go together."  I responded that the lodge ritual promised eternal life without faith in Jesus Christ.

      Effie immediately replied that I was mistaken and informed me that Jesus was included in the ritual of the Eastern Star.  I countered by insisting that, if he is mentioned, it is only as an example of virtuous living and not as the Savior and added: "If I'm wrong, I'll buy you a steak dinner!"

      The next day, Mrs. P came to me to admit rather sheepishly that I had been right.  I'll never forget her words.  She said, "Our ritual doesn't say that you need to trust in Jesus to receive eternal life; but I subconsciously provided that emphasis whenever I read or heard anything about salvation."  Unfortunately, Mrs. P didn't discontinue her membership in the Eastern Star, but I did learn from that encounter that many lodge members do trust in Jesus as their Savior in spite of the anti-christian character of the lodge ritual.  So that's the second thought I want to put in capital letters so that we won't forget it:  

            NUMEROUS LODGE MEMBERS ARE BELIEVERS IN JESUS CHRIST!

      In December of 1950, I accepted the call to the pastorate of St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in Walled Lake, Michigan, about 30 miles northwest of Detroit.  Without realizing it, I had landed in the hotbed of Michigan Masonry; for the community of Commerce just north of Walled Lake supposedly had the most influential Masonic lodge in Michigan.

      St. Matthew's congregation didn't have lodge members, but the lodge was still a growth-stifling problem; for my predecessor had made it a policy to argue the lodge issue in the post office, hardware store, grocery, and barber shop.  Needless to say, St. Matthew's was not highly regarded by the community, and the District Mission Board was seriously considering closing the mission church.

      One of my first acts, when I became aware of the situation, was to announce to the church council that we would continue to abide by the synodical lodge policy but that I would discuss the matter only with individuals in a private setting.  I also told them that I was determined to find out everything I could about the Masonic Lodge.

      It wasn't as hard to get information as I had thought it would be.  Ezra Cook Co., a Chicago book publisher, was willing to sell me a Masonic Bible, the ritual book in code for the basic three steps known as the blue lodge, Ronayne's Handbook of Masonry, and other helpful literature. 

      It was about this time, in the early 1950s, that Dr. Theodore F. Nickel of Chicago, who later served as a synodical vice president (1962-1977), presented a lengthy paper on the lodge at a Michigan District pastoral conference and concluded the paper with a re-enactment in the gymnasium of the host congregation of the Masonic initiation ceremony. 

      I'll never forget some of my experiences with the lodge at Walled Lake, and I'd like to share some of them with you to give you an insight into what can happen if we are faithful in pro-claiming the Word, use tact and common sense, and refuse to com-promise our convictions.

                                   

            George Q was a retired businessman whose wife Dolly was a member of our congregation.  George, of English descent, was nominally an Episcopalian and a staunch 32nd-degree Mason.  He never attended church, and my jaw dropped when George and Dolly showed up for the first session of an adult membership instruction class.

      Noticing my surprise, George declared: "I don't want you to misunderstand, preacher.  I'm a Mason, and I know what your church's lodge policy is.  I have no intention of joining this church.  I promised Dolly I would come to these classes, and I'm here just to please her."  I readily agreed to his ground rules.

      In the eighth weekly session, we discussed the doctrine of the church and had to address the lodge issue.  Mr. Q was quick to challenge my statement that the Masonic ritual is anti-christian, citing the fact that there are two different rituals for the 32nd degree.  He pointed out that, whereas the Scottish Rite is not Christian, the York rite champions Jesus Christ.

      I countered by saying that Jesus is referred to simply as a moral example and not as the Savior.  When he replied that I did not know what I was talking about, I told him to go home and check his ritual and promised, if he were right, that he could join our church without leaving the lodge.  At this, he smiled broadly and declared: "You're on!"

      The following week, a quiet and reflectful George Q told the class that I had been correct and that all references to Jesus in the York Rite's 32nd degree ritual exalted him as a man to be emulated, not as the Savior. 

      At the conclusion of the 12-week study course, I skipped Mr. Q as I handed out applications for membership.  When he told me that I had skipped him, I told him I had done so because he had said at the very beginning that he had no intention of leaving the lodge to join our church.  I'll never forget his answer: "Can't I change my mind?"

      George Q did leave the lodge and became one of the most active members of St. Matthew's Lutheran Church.  He never missed church, attended voters' meetings, and single-handedly raised 90 percent of the Church Extension investments needed to build our new church in 1958.

      Jack R was a young man who began attending St. Matthew's with his family, liked what he heard in our church, attended the adult instructions, left the Masonic Lodge, and gave me his lodge apron!  That apron became a powerful tool in my discussion of the lodge in adult classes and private conversations.  Unfortunately, when I retired, I gave the apron and all of my lodge books to my son Mark, who is a pastor in Iowa.

      St. Matthew's had a strong youth program, and Ginger A was one of the teenagers attracted to our church who enrolled in the membership instruction class.  At the end of the twelve weeks, she came to me with tears in her eyes and said, "Pastor Gerken, my parents won't let me join the church."  Convinced that she had misunderstood her parents, who didn't attend any church, I told Ginger not to worry and that I would talk to her parents about the matter.

      When I visited Mr. and Mrs. A in their home, I soon learned that Ginger had not misunderstood her parents.  Mr. A was the Worshipful Master of the local Masonic Lodge, and Mrs. A was Worthy Matron of the Eastern Star.  The top brass of both male and female lodge organizations in one home!

      What I shall never forget about that encounter, however, was the statement Mr. A made.  I can't quote it verbatim, but it went something like this: "My wife and I are active in the lodge because that's our religion.  We believe that people who live good lives deserve life after death, and that's what Masonry is all about.  We think Christian churches are narrow-minded when they insist that only believers in Jesus Christ will go to heaven.  However, I respect you and your church, for you stand on what you believe.  I have nothing but contempt for churches which say Jesus is the only Savior and reject our Masonic theology but don't hesitate to let us join the church and take our money."

      Although we disagreed, I left the A home with their good will, and they agreed to permit Ginger to continue to attend our church but not to join it.  I later met with Ginger to explain the situation and told her that, as long as she lived in her parents' home, she should respect their edict that she not join our church as long as they permitted her to worship and confess her Christian faith in other ways.

      Byron M lived in Walled Lake but was a mail carrier in Detroit.  Like George Q, he had originally been both an Episcopalian and a Mason before joining our church.  His son Don, an active participant in our youth group, is currently an LC-MS pastor.

      By stood up at a voters' meeting on a Monday night to announce that he had the solution to our lodge problem.  Invited by the chairman to continue, he proceeded to say, "I have a friend, a fellow-mailman, who recently joined (he mentioned one of our Missouri Synod congregations in Detroit), and Pastor (By named the pastor) told him that it was O.K. for him to belong to the lodge as long as he did not tell anyone or wear his lodge pin or ring at church."

      Everyone looked at me, and all I could think of saying was: "That's a solution?"  That remark broke the tension, everyone laughed, and the chairman asked for the next order of business.  At this point, I asked for the floor and, addressing Mr. M, said: "By, you have made a serious public charge about one of our pastors.  It is your responsibility, according to Matthew 18, to go to Pastor X and discuss the matter with him."

      By was naturally upset but settled down when I continued to say that I didn't want to put him on the spot and would go with him to meet with Pastor X.  Since Wednesday was Mr. M's day off, we agreed in the meeting to go to visit Pastor X that Wednesday.  I phoned Pastor X, who served with me on a district board, to make an appointment for the two of us to meet with him about a problem which concerned him. 

      I'll never forget that meeting.  After greeting Pastor X, I introduced Mr. M and asked By to report what he had said in the St. Matthew's voters' meeting.  By repeated the story and also named the fellow letter-carrier.  As he heard the story, Pastor X's face became beet-red.  Denying by implication that he had made such a statement, he insisted that he had just learned a few days earlier that the man was a Mason and continued to state that he thought our synodical lodge policy was legalistic and that he was following a more enlightened policy of receiving lodge members into the church and then persuading them to leave the lodge after becoming members of the church.

      I immediately asked, "How many have you gotten out of the lodge?"  He bristled at this question and replied, "None!  I've just started my program.  How many have you gotten out?"  I immediately responded that I had persuaded 27 to take a demit from the lodge during my ministry at St. Matthew's and continued to say: "If you really believe our synodical lodge policy is wrong, you have two options."

      When Pastor X asked what his two options were, I told him that he should either try through channels to change our synod's policy or join a church which agreed with his philosophy.  At that point, Pastor X ordered us out of his office and told me that I would get a reputation as a trouble-maker and that I had no business meddling in the affairs of his congregation.

      I countered by telling Pastor X that his lodge policy had an effect on sister churches, that we were simply trying to follow Jesus' prescription in Matthew 18, and that I would have to report the matter to the district president.

      Mr. M was shaken by our debate but asked Pastor X, as we were leaving: "How many lodge members do you have in your church?"  Pastor X hesitated and then said, "Oh, two or three."  By did not respond but said to me, as we were walking to the car, "Two or three?  He's got at least a hundred lodge members!"

      Although our mission had failed, there were some rather interesting results. 

      I reported the matter to the district president.  He contacted Pastor X and was told, "Oscar is mistaken.  I don't have any lodge members and am following the synodical policy."  The district president accepted his reply and took no further action.  I was convinced that more harm than good would come from insisting that the matter be pursued.

      The effect on our congregation was salutary.  We reported to the voters the details of our meeting and recommended that the matter be dropped.  Although our mission had failed, there was never any doubt from that point on what the right lodge policy was for our congregation.

      Oh, yes, there's one other interesting consequence of that meeting with Pastor X.  About ten years later, Trinity Church in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, called a young pastor to be my  assistant.  Jerry was unmarried and decided to spend his vacation in Detroit, where he had vicared for Pastor X.  During the course of the visit, when Jerry told him that he had just moved from Texas to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Pastor X roared with laughter and called his wife into the study to tell her: "Jerry is now the assistant to my conscience!"

      At the beginning of this paper, I stated that the Masonic Lodge is the most powerful and prominent lodge and the model for the deistic and humanistic theology which makes the various lodges objectionable to Christians.  At this point, I'd like to illustrate this by sharing a traumatic experience during my first two years at Trinity Church in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

      On Tuesday, August 10, 1965, The Southeast Missourian, Cape Girardeau's daily paper, carried a news story and picture about the group of 29 men who had been initiated into the local Elks lodge on the preceding Sunday.  Six of the men were members of Trinity Lutheran Church!  An amusing fact was that Al and Gene H, who owned and operated H's Salvage and Repair Co., were listed as Albert Salvage and Gene Repair.

      My first action after reading that news article while waiting for supper to be ready (The Southeast Missourian was an afternoon paper) was to tell my wife that I wasn't interested in eating supper.  The next act was to phone each of the six men of our church to say that I had noticed in the paper that they had joined the Elks and to ask them each to discuss the matter with me at their earliest convenience.

      I later learned that one of the wives exploded when she saw the paper, told her husband that she could understand him joining the Elks for business reasons but that he should have had enough sense to not have his picture taken with the group or have his name listed, and concluded by asking, "What is Pastor Gerken going to say about this?"  Her husband replied, "Oh, he won't say anything."  Just then the phone rang.  The wife answered it, turned to her husband, and said, "It's Pastor Gerken.  He wants to talk to you."

      On Monday, August 16, I contacted the Grand Exalted Ruler of the Cape Girardeau Elks Lodge and requested permission to examine the Elks' ritual books to determine whether our objection to the ritual and thus to membership in the organization was valid.  After consulting with other officers of the lodge, Mr. W very graciously granted my request with two stipulations: 1) that I was not to copy from the ritual or quote from it; and 2) that I would meet with the officers of the local lodge to explain what parts of their ritual were objectionable to us.  I readily agreed to both stipulations.

      On Thursday, August 19, I met in St. Louis with the Executive Secretary of our Synod's "Commission on Fraternal Organizations."  The purpose of this meeting was to ascertain what the latest developments were in our Synod's negotiations with the national officers of the B.P.O.E.  I learned that, although negotiations were continuing, there was no change in the ritual of the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks or in our church' policy.

      On Sunday, September 5, 1965, I met with the officers of the local Elks Lodge at the new lodge hall to explain our Lutheran Church's position and to urge them to petition the state and national B.P.O.E. to either omit or change the objectionable parts of their ritual.  The paper I presented was duplicated and mailed to all pastors of the Synod by the Commission on Fraternal Organizations as an example of how to cope successfully with the lodge problem.

      In the paper, I commended the Elks for their recognition of God, patriotism, high moral standards, and works of benevolence.  I then proceeded to state that the three basic objections to the Elks ritual are:

        1.  The god worshiped in the lodge ritual is not the Triune God, whom we consider to be the only true God.

        2.  The use of the Bible in the lodge ritual is a perversion of its basic purpose.  The Elks ritual refers to the Bible as simply "the Book of Law, upon which is founded justice."  Although the Bible does guide us in holiness of life, its basic purpose is to "make us wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ." [10]

        3.  Life after death is promised to Elks, whether or not they believe in Jesus Christ.  The amaranth, a mythical flower, is used in the Elks burial ritual to express the belief that every member of the organization lives after death. 

      Although not all officers of the Cape Girardeau B.P.O.E. agreed with my presentation, they all conducted themselves as gentlemen whom I learned to greatly respect.  Also, the following results gave me reason to thank and praise God:

        1.  One of the Elks officers said at the conclusion of my presentation: "If you really believe that Jesus Christ is the only Savior, you have to object to our ritual."

        2.  Not only did all six members of Trinity who had joined the Elks eventually request and receive demits: one of the Elks officers who was a member of the Methodist Church left the lodge and told his neighbor, who was an elder in Trinity Church: "Your pastor really opened my eyes."

        3.  The officers of the Cape Girardeau Elks Lodge tried unsuccessfully to persuade the state Elks convention to petition the national organization to change the ritual to remove items objectionable to our Lutheran Church.

        4.  Trinity Church was strengthened as members learned to understand why lodge membership is not permitted.

      The final chapter in my pastoral ministry, the fourteen-and-a-half-year pastorate at Faith Church in Eustis, began with many problems, including the lodge problem.

      In December of 1976, I was contacted by the call committee of Faith Church to determine my views and position on a number of issues, including the merits of operating a Christian day school, the value of political action groups within the church (e.g. Affirm and Missouri in Perspective), and the lodge.

      In passing, I might mention that I told the callers that I had no use for either the right-wing or left-wing organizations in our Synod, that I was an ardent supporter of Christian day schools but believed that not every congregation should operate one and that congregations who do establish a school should be determined to do a first-class job and realize that it will cost them money to do so.

      Without hesitation, I also told the two men who phoned me that I agreed with our church's lodge position and policy.  They then asked what I would do if I received and accepted the call and found out that there were two or three lodge members on the membership roster of Faith Church.  The essence of my reply was:

      "I would do nothing at first.  My first concern would be to gain the respect and trust of the congregation.  After several years, when the members would have learned that they can respect and trust their pastor to be a spiritual shepherd, I would meet individually and privately with each lodge member.  My purpose would be to attempt to persuade the lodge member that his lodge membership is inconsistent with his Christian profession and ask him to consider leaving the lodge.  However, I would give absolutely no ultimatums or establish any deadlines, preferring to let the Holy Spirit work through the Gospel.  As far as new members are concerned, it would have to be understood that no lodge members would be received into membership during my pastorate."

      As I hung up the phone, I remember telling my wife Tracy: "That's one call I don't have to worry about, for I didn't tell them what they wanted to hear."  As I later learned, what I told them was exactly what they wanted to hear; and I received the call to Faith, Eustis, the next week.

      When I arrived at Faith, I discovered that there weren't just two or three lodge members, but a lot of them.  Although we did succeed, after years of patient witnessing and private discussions, to persuade most of the lodge members to discontinue their lodge membership, a number simply shifted their church membership to the ELCA church in neighboring Mt. Dora; and I know that we still have at least one lodge member, the executive director of the Elks for the state of Florida.

      When I announced my retirement, the leaders of Faith congregation scheduled a series of long-range planning meetings to determine goals and the expectations for my successor.  It was a big thrill to hear one man, a recent convert to Lutheranism, state that the congregation should continue to follow the lodge policy of our Synod and to have everyone present agree.  I'm also happy that Bill Schmidt, the present pastor of Faith Church, is following our synodical lodge policy.  I only wish I could say the same thing for all pastors of The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod.

      Earlier in this paper, I stated: "When I graduated from the St. Louis seminary in 1948, I naively believed that all pastors and congregations of the Synod followed the synodical policy regarding fraternal organizations."  I soon learned that some pastors, especially pastors of fast-growing churches in metropolitan areas, paid no attention to the lodge problem as they played the "numbers game."

      In the past fifteen years, however, I've noticed a sharp increase in the number of LC-MS members transferring to Faith Church who indicate on their membership application that they are members of a lodge.  The sad part about this situation is that it is a rare experience for these people to terminate their lodge affliliation.  Its much easier to persuade a lodge member who is not a member of the LC-MS than to convince someone who holds membership in both the LC-MS and a lodge that his pastor should not have tolerated his lodge membership. 

      A number of years ago, a Mason who was a member of an LC-MS congregation in Detroit moved to Walled Lake.  He began attending St. Matthew's Church and made arrangements to have his membership transferred to the Walled Lake church. When I learned that he was a Mason, I tried to discuss the problem with him; but he refused to discuss the matter and demanded that I give him the address of the president of our church body so that he could report my pastoral malfeasance.

      The sainted John W. Behnken, at that time president of our Synod, responded with a sympathetic letter.  He thanked the man for writing and assured him that he had good reason to be angry because there was indeed evidence of malfeasance.  Dr. Behnken continued: "However, you are complaining about the wrong pastor!"  I wish I had kept the copy of that letter which President Behnken sent to me, for there have been many times in my ministry when I have been characterized by Lutheran lodge members as "the bad guy who is a legalist" while permissive pastors are hailed as enlightened and loving theological luminaries.

      One of my last experiences with the lodge before my retire-ment took place in the final adult membership instruction series.  Mr. Henry Z, a Lutheran retiree who had been superintendent of schools in Erie, Pennsylvania, was attending the class because he had been an inactive Lutheran.  I was ministering to his wife, who was dying of cancer, and she died during the weeks in which the membership instructions were taking place.  In spite of his wife's illness and death, Henry faithfully attended every session of the fourteen-week series.

      In the session devoted to the doctrine of the church, I couldn't help noticing that Mr. Z was very attentive, particularly as I discussed our objections to lodge membership.  When I paused in the presentation, he raised his hand and asked if he could make a statement.  Although I was apprehensive, I nodded my head in approval and held my breath as Henry arose and said:

      "I just want to tell you that everything Pastor Gerken has said about the lodge is true.  I was a 32nd-degree Mason until several years ago when I began to notice that there was a conflict between what I had learned in the Lutheran Church as a child and the philosophy of the lodge.  I finally decided that I trusted in Jesus as my Savior rather than counting on my moral character and life, and so I terminated my membership in the Masonic Lodge."

      Henry Z's unsolicited testimony was the greatest retirement gift I could have received, and I have referred to it as "the Hallelujah chorus of my pastoral ministry."  What a wonderful experience to have a man of good character stand up and say that Jesus would reign as his Lord forever and ever and ever!  And Henry also continued to say that I could borrow his Masonic apron (which I have here with me) at any time to use as a visual aid in dis-cussing the theology of the lodge.

      For some reason, the lodge problem is inevitably associated with many arguments which are beside the point.  Among these are the following:

        1.  "There are a lot of good people who belong to the lodge."  I won't argue the point, for it's true.  The Elks officers in Cape Girardeau were some of the finest men I've ever met.  We can go a step farther and declare that most lodge members are sincere Christians who don't recognize the conflict between the Christian Gospel and the theology of the lodge ritual.  However, that doesn't justify membership in a lodge.  There are many good and sincere people who are communists, but we would never use that fact to justify membership in the Communist Party.

        2.  "The lodge does a lot of good."  This is also true, but it's likewise beside the point.  The Shriners' hospitals for crippled children, the Elks' distribution of Christmas bas-kets, and many other lodge programs have done much good.  Mahatma Gandhi, often referred to as "the father of India's independence," also did much good; but we cannot agree with his Hindu religion or spiritual teachings.

        3. "Other churches don't object to lodge membership."  Two things need to be said in response.  First, most Christian churches officially condemn lodge membership.  Although it's true that many Christian churches and pastors do not follow through, this should not be considered as approval, but rather a lack of honesty and courage.  Second, this argument is the one children often use.  How does a father respond to his six-year-old son's statement, "Johnny's father lets him stay up to watch the late show on TV even when there's school the next day."?  Or, what does a conscientious mother say when her nine-year-old daughter whines: "Susie's mother lets her wear lipstick, and she's younger than I am."?

        4. "Congregations can't survive in the so-called saltwater districts if they make an issue of lodge membership."  As I hear that argument, I can't help thinking about the Lord's call to faithfulness in proclamation and the attitude of the early Christians who suffered martyrdom rather than place one pinch of incense upon the altar of the Roman emperor.  I for one want no part of a church built upon public opinion rather than the Gospel.

      I'd like to pursue this last point.  This past year I visited a church which has as its slogan "2000 by 2000!"  According to that slogan, the goal of that congregation is not to proclaim the Gospel, but to accumulate (that's a good word!) 2,000 members before the year 2000.

      Please don't misunderstand me.  I applaud the desire of that congregation to gather 2,000 members by the year 2000, but I must confess that I'm a little leary about putting such an emphasis upon a certain numerical membership because this can easily lead pastors and lay leaders to sacrifice doctrine and integrity upon the altar of expediency.

      The one criticism I have of the Church Growth movement is that it tends to exalt public opinion and the consumer mentality at the expense of the Gospel.  It's time for us to place more emphasis upon quality of discipleship rather than numerical growth in our church's membership.  If we do that, we won't dodge the lodge issue but treat it in the light of God's Word.

      The lodge problem is not a new problem, but rather a modern version of a problem confronting God's people in all eras.  We find an example of this problem in both the Old and New Testaments. 

      I alluded to the Old Testament example in the first words of this paper.  When the prophet Elijah called upon the people to reject the idol Baal and declare their allegiance to God alone, the Bible relates: "But the people answered him not a word." [11]  The Pulpit Commentary adds the following parenthetical commentary:  "Not only were they awed by the presence of the king and the priests of Baal on the one side, and of Elijah on the other, but they were 'convicted by their own consciences.' and so were speechless (Matt.xxii.12)." [12]

      We, of course, know what the outcome of that confrontation was.  Because Elijah did not back down from the courage of his convictions and followed God's instructions to the letter, "All the people saw it, they fell on their faces, and they said, 'The Lord, he is God!  The Lord, he is God!'" [13]

      Our New Testament illustration is equally dramatic.   Paul of Tarsus, Missionary-at-large for the entire Roman Empire, had organized a Christian congregation in Corinth, Greece, and had served as that congregation's pastor for 18 months. [14]

      Corinth was a pagan city, and much of the city's social life centered around the pagan temples.  After Pastor Paul left, a controversy evidently developed over the question of participation by members of First Church of Corinth in the pagan temple rites.  The Holy Spirit settled the argument by directing St. Paul to write to the Corinthian Christians: 

            Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.  For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness?  And what communion has light with darkness?  And what accord has Christ with Belial?  Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?  And what agreement has the temple of God with idols?  For you are the temple of the living God.  As God has said: "I will dwell in them and walk among them.  I will be their God, and they shall be my people."  Therefore, "Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord.  Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you."  "I will be a Father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." [15]

      I'd like to conclude this paper with a prayer.  The prayer I've selected is the collect for Jubilate, the Third Sunday of Easter, in The Lutheran Hymnal:

            Almighty God, who showest to them that be in error the light of thy truth to the intent that they may return into the way of righteousness, grant that they may avoid [16] those things that are contrary to their profession and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same; through Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.  Amen! [17]

Oscar A. Gerken

Eustis, Florida

January 11, A.D. 1993

 


 

    [1]   I Kings 18:21.

    [2]   The Encyclopedia Americana, 1953 Edition, Vol.18, pp.383-389b.

    [3]   Psalm 96:5.

    [4]   Jeremiah 10:10.

    [5]   St. John 17:3.

    [6]   St. John 5:23.

    [7]   St. John 3:16.

    [8]   St. John 3:36.

    [9]   St. John 14:6.

    [10]  II Timothy 3:15.

    [11]  I Kings 18:21b.

    [12]  The Pulpit Commentary, Vol.5, Page 421.

    [13]  I Kings 18:39.

    [14]  See Acts 18:11.

    [15]  II Corinthians 6:14-18.

    [16]  The word "avoid" has been substituted for the archaic word, "eschew."

    [17]  The Lutheran Hymnal, Page 70.

 


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