Monday, May 16, 2011

Mason free episcopacy?

Archbishop Rowan Williams is comfortably the most interesting man to grace the office of Archbishop of Canterbury in recent times. Recently he was uncomfortable about the killing of Osama bib Laden. Now it appears he is comfortable with appointing Freemasons to the English episcopal bench, despite some earlier decisiveness about not doing just that. The Telegraph story is here and the Thinking Anglicans round up re ++Rowan on freemasonry here. The person concerned is Fr. Jonathan Baker and the story is clear that Fr. Baker has given up being a Freemason in order to be an undistracted by controversy bishop. In other words, the story of interest here is how ++Rowan came to go against his earlier commitment re Freemasonry. (I know, I know, some will say that change of mind is characteristically Rowanism at work).

++Rowan can speak for himself if he chooses to do so. Here I note with gladness that Fr Baker has given up his involvement in Freemasonry. We need bishops who live exemplary lives, especially in regard to Christian teaching so that by both word and deed they represent the Word of God to us. There are two fundamental objections to Christians being Freemasons, and the strength of those objections is heightened when we are considering a candidate for episcopal office.

The first objection is the secrecy inherent at the core of Freemasonry. The second objection is the nature of the vows made when becoming a Freemason. The secrecy walls off an area of life which contrasts to Christians being called to live transparent lives "in the light." The vows make invocations and threats to one's future well-being which are incompatible with worshipping one God only and offering our bodies as a living sacrifice to our God. Further, some of the clearest teaching of Jesus is on the taking of oaths and that teaching is incompatible with the taking of complex oaths such as Freemasonry involves. (Any Freemason commenting here is invited to offer citations of the oaths involved in order to disprove my point ... but I have seen the oaths (thanks to an unusually transparent Freemason) and feel confident that disproof will not be forthcoming).

I am well aware that in times past many bishops were Freemasons, including in my own Kiwi Anglican church. I have never understood how otherwise sane, thinking men could be teachers of God's Word and Freemasons. As far as I know, none of the bishops currently active as licensing bishops of our church here are Freemasons. But if we wanted absolute clarity we could replace the men with women!!

Postscript: There is no intention here to impute anything malign to the existence and charitable work of Freemasonry. Others elsewhere may wish to argue about secret business deals, promotions within a profession and the like. My concern here is simply to reflect on the difficulty which bishops as chief teachers of the church have when they are also Freemasons - a difficulty which all Christian Freemasons in theory share but in practice do not seem to be troubled about.


Mike Crowl said...

Not just in the Anglican Church, Peter. Up until a couple of decades ago, freemasons were common amongst the Baptists too, and, I suspect, in the Presbyterians. In the early part of the 20th century the Prezzies and Baptists and Freemasons sometimes worked hand in hand against the Catholics. Very unhealthy in my opinion.

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, I'm not sure you are aware of the fact that a former Archbishop of New Zealand, Archbishop Johnson, was a member of a Christian Lodge - as also was John Rymer, former Dean of Auckland. I'm not too sure that the customary evangelical horror of Masonic membership any longer holds sway in the 'Thinking Anglican' world.

After all, "By their fruits you shall know them" - a scriptural affirmation of the Masons' charity works throughout the world!

James said...

Freemasonry differs highly from region to region. Though I would agree that it should be avoided by followers of Christ, I believe that some forms where it exists are probably rather benign in their impact on those who practice it - or at least, much less detrimental than what one finds in some Christian churches. I suppose as a pastoral concern, it's important to point out what the details are which are problematic (as you do well here), so Freemason adherents who are also Christians aren't confused.

I've lived about half my life in the United States and half in Belgium - the Freemasonry I encountered in the one so utterly different (from the fragments of information available to me) from that in the other, that apart from the symbols, one would probably have difficulty guessing the organizations carried the same name.

Bryden Black said...

It is a pity the ABC sends these confusing signals over time: he deserves better of himself ... That said, my own experience of the “fruits” of mason types is exactly this too - confusing. Their otherwise growth in Christian discipleship is somehow held-up a tad. But this should surprise no-one if the ‘name’ of the ‘god’ espoused is what masons claim! For it too is literally a con-fusion.

Anthony Bennett said...

If the clearest teachings of Jesus forbid the taking of oaths, why did He never contradict the Old Testament verses advocating their use, why didn't He mind when Pontius Pilate put him under one, and why does the Apostle Paul take several?

Peter Carrell said...

They are good questions, Anthony.

My point here would be that if we are to take an oath it should be a simple one, and it should not invoke names of spiritual powers other than God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Personally I would prefer to let my Yes be Yes and my No be No.

liturgy said...

Am I missing something? Since when can the Druid, ap Aneuri, of the highest order of the Gorsedd of Bards been able to "appoint" bishops in the CofE? I thought that was what the monarch did?


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,
The monarch indeed does appoint.
But it is on the say so of others, including the ABC who has a greater role in the decision making process than the monarch. I do not think it inappropriate o write what I wrote since the question is about the comfortableness of ++Rowan about an appointment.

Anthony Bennett said...

Funny you should say that. The only spiritual power to which one swears in Masonry is God the Father.

I don't see how Masonic obligations are "complex", either. You promise not to share the passwords, signs and handshakes of the degrees with non-Masons, to help other Masons and their families, and to obey the laws of your Grand Lodge. That's it.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anthony and Danielle

And the exact wording of those vows is what?

Let's have someone break the secret and then we can discuss accurately what is said. Otherwise it is on trust that the vows are as simple as you make them out to be.

If the vows cannot be broken in this way then we have a wall of secrecy about a Christian Mason's life - a wall which I am arguing is incompatible with our obligation to live our lives in the light.

Anthony Bennett said...

That same "wall of secrecy" protects the confessional seal, doctor-patient confidentiality, lawyer-client privilege, and any of the other guarantees of trustworthiness the Christian anti-Mason seems to find in complete harmony with Christianity.

Masonic secrecy is exactly that: a guarantee that something told in confidence will remain so. I would hope every Christian, Mason or otherwise, has proven worthy of the same "wall of secrecy" to a friend. A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.

(Anthony is fine; the account is tied to my wife's.)

Peter Carrell said...

It is not the same wall of secrecy, Anthony, because in those other cases the words of the vow to keep a secret are not themselves secret. Further, in those other cases the client/patient/etc can choose to release the secret-keeper from their obligation. Let's have the words of the Masonic vows shared with the world and then we can have a frank discussion about the theological content of Masonry.

Anthony Bennett said...

I'm afraid I don't understand how the permanence or confidentiality of an oath is of any significance. Frankly, the distinction seems to be made where convenient.

For the record, no oath-breaking is necessary; a document like Duncan's Ritual is freely available online. It's not letter-perfect to the text used by any Grand Lodge, so you'll still have to trust me a little, but it's accurate enough to get the basic idea (if you find me unreliable, check its veracity against any of the hundreds of ex-Masons of lesser character through the centuries).

Peter Carrell said...

I shall look that up when I get my laptop back.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anthony,
Speaking for myself as a Christian I could not belong to an organisation which declared/implied in its admission ritual that I had formerly been living in darkness but I now, upong admission, I was being brought to the light. Then, I could not speak of being one searching for light since, as a Christian, I believe that in meeting Christ and him meeting me, I have already found light.

As a Christian living by the Sermon on the Mount I do not see why I should involve myself in an oath in which I need to underline my commitment to telling (or concealing) the truth by invoking things about throat-cutting etc. These are 'complications' in oath-taking I find difficult to square with being a Christian.

I would also find it absurd, from a historical and exegetical perspective to accept a belief that St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist are well-understood when they are invoked as patrons of Masonry. The life work of both was to draw people to Jesus Christ. Masonry draws people to a belief that a virtuous life will lead to heaven, without reference to Jesus Christ and his death on the cross as the key to salvation.

I accept that there are Christians who square their belief with the beliefs espoused in Masonry. It is not something I could do. If you wish to call that "anti-Mason" do so, but I would wonder if Masonry was and is, ultimately, "anti-Christian'!

Objectionable also, is this description of Christianity (in special words for a clergyman joining the lodge): "You, brother, are a preacher of that religion, of which the distinguishing characteristics are universal benevolence and unbounded charity." This is objectionable because our preaching of the gospel has the distinguishing characteristic of salvation from sin. The Masonic decription is a truncated version of the Christian gospel.

Anonymous said...

"it is on the say so of others, including the ABC who has a greater role in the decision making process than the monarch. I do not think it inappropriate o write what I wrote since the question is about the comfortableness of ++Rowan about an appointment."

as has been made clear:


Anthony Bennett said...

I'm sorry it's taken so long to respond; life has a habit of getting in the way of one's want-to-dos.

You first paragraph attempts to compare the light spoken of in the ritual with the term as used in Christianity. This is erroneous; the light in Masonry is at first physical (the candidate is blindfolded) and later temporal (referring to knowledge), not spiritual; I wonder if by this same token you find the public school system, with its use of an oil lamp as a symbol, to be un- or anti-Christian.

You have once again turned to Matthew 5 to justify your belief that the taking of an oath is un-Christian. I will once again turn your attention to the numerous scriptural instances of oath-taking, and ask for scriptural precedent that makes Masonic oaths sinful by their "complicated" nature.

I see that you dislike being called an anti-Mason; I did not mean to use the term referring to you. You do, however, make frequent use of arguments crafted by those who proudly wear the label; the idea that Freemasonry teaches a "works-based salvation" is one of them. Freemasonry holds the subject of salvation in its entirety to be beyond its purview, and teaches no method of salvation of its own.

Your comments about the initiation of a clergyman seem to take issue with the idea that Freemasonry is non-sectarian; the concepts of sin and redemption are certainly not "distinguishing characteristics" of Christianity or any other religion unless one is evaluating their validity. Indeed, from the neutral perspective used in Masonry, the distinguishing characteristic of Christianity is the sacrifice of Jesus, both boundless in its availability to all man and charitable in His request of no more repayment than our love. Unless you hold that an institution should be required to proclaim Christianity its official religion, it's unreasonable to call Freemasonry anti- or un-Christian for a passing reference to Christianity from a non-sectarian viewpoint; if that is your position, Jesus Himself becomes a heretic for suggesting obedience to a pagan Rome.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anthony,
We may have to agree to disagree on a core matter of disagreement.

I am well aware that a masonic self-understanding is that Masonry is (so to speak) religion neutral. But my reading of Masonic rites is that it is not religion neutral. It does, for instance, intrude statements about salvation by works into its wording. It does have a view on eternal life (as represented publicly, for instance, by words said at funerals) which, again, I find to be at variance with the gospel of grace through (and only) through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The obvious response is for you to continue to insist that Masonry involves no a-Christian theological commitments. We read the same words and draw different conclusions! (I appreciate that Christians who are Masons say the words with integrity of conscience believing nothing is incompatible. I could not do so.)

Anthony Bennett said...

I'm willing to agree to disagree, but the disagreement seems to be along lines drawn and redrawn at convenience.

I have yet to find any reference to a works-based salvation in Masonic ritual that attaches any more importance to works than James 2:20 does, and there is none that makes them the principal instrument of salvation (as this would require a plan of salvation, which you have failed to cite despite continued insistence that it's there).

I've read the funeral, and the only belief system I find incompatible is atheism. I don't find reference to any particular belief about the afterlife than that it exists. Surely you don't believe it a-Christian to discuss the afterlife outside a purely Christian setting?

I appreciate the fact that two people can read entirely differently into the same text, and I apologize if I'm being contrarian. You must understand, however, that this is not a new debate, and it's usually not built on correct information (Rowan Williams still doesn't know what Jabulon actually means, even though three separate books dealing with the issue are available online) or honest, open communication (ironically, the Archbishop believes the best way to combat a subversive and secretive group is to leverage ecclesiastical power without explanation). It can be frustrating to be told your salvation is in jeopardy when you know the other person isn't working from the truth (though you make a better attempt at trying than most).

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anthony
Christians read James and Galatians.
A Mason reading just the Masonic rites gets quite a lot of Old Testament, and encouragement to believe good works lead to eternal life.
Is Jabulon mentioned in the New Testament?
Notwithstanding your explanations, given their propensity to draw on the Bible, Masonic rites are curiously weighted towards works and not grace. Fancy invoking St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelists as patrons and not follow them in pointing to Jesus Christ as the one Lord and Saviour of all!