Lutherans Informed about Lodges (LIL)
A Pastoral Approach to the Lodges
This is a link to the full conference paper: “The Lord or Baal?”
Rev. Oscar A. Gerken.
This is a link to the full conference paper: “The Lord or Baal?”
“LIL’s” title for this except is:
“A Pastoral Approach to the Lodges”
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 [a women’s auxiliary of the Masonic Lodge], 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 1950’s, 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 proclaiming the Word, use tact and common sense, and refuse to compromise 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.
Byron 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 (Byron 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: “Byron, 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.”
Byron 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 Byron’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 Byron and asked him to report what he had said in the St. Matthew’s voters’ meeting. Byron 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.” Byron 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. [I had since taken a call to Trinity Lutheran Church, Cape Girardeau, Missouri.] After about ten years [after the meeting with Pastor X,] Trinity 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. [The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks]. I learned that, although negotiations were continuing, there was no change in the ritual of the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks or in our synod’s 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:
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:
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.
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. It’s 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 retirement 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 discussing 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:
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 [“The Lord or Baal?”]. 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.”  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. 22:12).” 
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!’” 
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.  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.’ And, ‘I will be a Father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters,’ says the Lord Almighty.’” 
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  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! Oscar A. Gerken
 II Timothy 3:15.
 I Kings 18:21b.
 The Pulpit Commentary, Vol.5, Page 421.
 I Kings 18:39.
 See Acts 18:11.
 II Corinthians 6:14-18.
 The word “avoid” has been substituted for the archaic word, “eschew.”
 The Lutheran Hymnal, Page 70.
 I Kings 18:21b.
 The Pulpit Commentary, Vol.5, Page 421.
 I Kings 18:39.
 See Acts 18:11.
 II Corinthians 6:14-18.
 The word “avoid” has been substituted for the archaic word, “eschew.”
 The Lutheran Hymnal, Page 70.