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Was Charles Taze Russell a Mason / Freemason?
Bedfellows with Freemasons?
October 18th, 2012
One critic, Fritz Springmeier, unabashedly claims that “C. T. Russell was definitely a Mason” and lists thirty-five points that supposedly prove that much of the Pastor’s thinking and imagery was borrowed from them. Among the points Springmeier makes are that both the Bible Students and the Masons:
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The same critic also strongly implies that Pastor Russell was secretly “an important Satanist” and that “various items from magic were part of [his] religious beliefs, including the Winged-Sun-Disk” of ancient Egypt.
These charges are either inferential in nature or totally false. This technique is an effort to emphasize some outward similarities without providing full analysis. It is not a valid form of reasoning and would prove guilt merely on the basis of weak circumstantial evidence. Once again, we will draw upon the actual facts, beginning with a brief description of the Masons.
The Masonic Order is an international organization with a long history going back to at least the twelfth century. It was originally connected with the art of building and adopted certain secretive and religious elements. It is generally thought of today as a fraternal and philanthropic organization, strongly supporting public education and various civic and charitable projects.
It is not a religion but has deeply religious overtones incorporated in its rites and ceremonies. These represent a blending of concepts from major world religions. There has been a long history of mutual hostility between the Masonic Order and the Roman Catholic Church, with repeated official pronouncements against it from the Vatican. Relations have improved somewhat in recent years, and there has been some cooperation in mutual endeavors. But the Catholic Church and some Protestant denominations for bid or discourage Masonic affiliation.
The secrecy of Masonic ceremonies has given rise to fear and suspicion in various lands, and through the years accusations have been spread that the Masons practice magic, engage in evil and worship the Devil. Though these charges are wholly unsubstantiated, the supposed connection still lingers in the minds of some people. Thus it becomes clear why critics of Pastor Russell would endeavor falsely to link him to Freemasonry. It would open the possibility that the Bible Students were covertly involved in Satanic worship and occult activities. Nevertheless, we need to permit honesty and reason to prevail here as we explore the ramifications of this issue. Let us do three things:
1. Examine Pastor Russell’s own statements regarding any possible Masonic connections.
With this evidence in hand, the reader will be enabled to appreciate the lack of understanding and the falsity of the charges being made.
THE PASTOR’S COMMENTS. We turn first to the Pastor’s own words. In his Scripture Studies series he wrote:
“Is it right for the [the New Creation] to be members of [various orders and] societies? We answer that while Church associations are purely religious, and labor and beneficial organizations in general are purely secular, there are still other orders which combine the religious and the secular features. As we understand the matter, for instance, the Free Masons, Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, etc., perform certain rites and ceremonies of a religious kind … We admonish the New Creation to have nothing whatever to do with ny of these semi-religious societies, clubs, orders, churches; but to ‘Come out from amongst them, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing.’ (2 Cor. 6:17)”
Even earlier he had expressed his over all disapproval of such secret, semi-religious societies:
“So far as we can judge, there is a certain amount of [simulated] worship or mummery connected with the rites of this order [Free Masonry] and some others, which the members do not comprehend, but which, in many cases, serves to satisfy the cravings of the natural mind for worship, and thus hinders it from seeking the worship of God in spirit and in truth—through Christ, the only appointed Mediator and Grand Master.
“In proportion as such societies consume valuable time in foolish, senseless rites and ceremonies, and in substituting … words and symbols which have no meaning to them, for the [true] worship … in that proportion these societies are grievous evils …
“Wherever oaths of secrecy are demanded, it is safe for God’s people to touch not, taste not, handle not … St. James cautions against all binding oaths, such as many Secret Societies demand … (James 5:12)”
Finally, the clearest expression of Pastor Russell’s own noninvolvement with secret societies is found in his reference to a letter sent to him from a reader of his journal. This reader identified himself as a “fellow-worker” in the Harvest and a former Mason of over twenty years’ association, who had gained the position of “Worshipful Master.” In making the letter public, Pastor Russell introduced it in the following way:
“A brother, once very deep in Secretism, and who knows that the Editor has had no such experience, writes as follows: [The entire letter followed.]”
Here then is an unambiguous statement by the Pastor that he had never been a part of any secret society such as the Masons, which was the main subject of the letter. This quotation would normally be thought of as sufficient to settle the matter, except for a remark made by the Pastor in a discourse given in 1913. If taken out of context with out reading his explanation, it seems to contradict all that we have said thus far. His words were: “I am a free Mason … I am not going to say a word against Free Masons.”
However, as one reads his elaboration that follows, it turns out that he was giving a discourse on “the Temple of God” in a hall that had been rented from the Masons, and was merely using figurative language to express some limited similarity with that group. He had begun the discourse by stating that the Bible Students were a Christian group and, as such, had certain points of faith in sympathy and harmony with every denomination.
The Pastor then went on to detail the preparation of the Spiritual Temple in which the Masons were ostensibly interested. This consisted of the true followers of Christ who are selected out of the world during the Gospel Age as the masonry of “living stones,” chiseled and polished for their respective places in God’s symbolic Temple. Throughout his discourse, he made an effort to reach out to the Masons in the audience by using terms and expressions that would be familiar to them. At one point he said:
“We of the Free and Accepted Order of Masons of the Lord Jesus Christ’s Commandery have the very highest standard, and ours is not the cross that is on the head of the sword, but ours is the cross of Christ.”
Here is his explanation of how true believers could be thought of as “free Masons”:
“We are free, my dear brethren … free from [sin], free from the domination of sin, free from … that condition of sin and death in which we once were … The shackles have fallen off. If the Son makes you free, then are ye free indeed. And thus every man made free by the Lord Jesus Christ, through the merit of his sacrifice, in thus presenting his body a living sacrifice and being received of God and inducted fully into this Masonic Fraternity, into this Masonry of the highest order, into this Royal Priesthood, happy is his position, for the spirit of Glory and of God rests on him.”
In these comments and from the other language the Pastor employed in sketching the Biblical picture of the spiritual Temple in process of development (see 1 Corinthians 3:9-11), it is abundantly clear that his talk was designed to be especially appealing to the Masons, whose very existence as a group was related to the building arts. From this standpoint, his remarks are not to be interpreted as implying that either he or the Bible Students were associated with that group. To the contrary, it is evident that he was appealing to their spiritual senses and showing that there was a much higher calling to which they would also have the privilege of responding.
COMPARISON OF BELIEFS. Now let us go on to a more detailed look at the religious overtones of Free Masonry. Underlying these is their objective of providing a universal belief system embodying high ideals of charity, equality and morality. Nevertheless, there are some important differences between Masonic religious elements and the beliefs of conservative Christianity. A helpful perspective is provided by The Encyclopedia of Christianity and can be summarized as follows:
(a) Freemasonry de-emphasizes the role of Jesus Christ. The enlightenment of Masonic teachings and accompanying good works are the only prerequisites “to ascend to the Grand Lodge Above,” without the necessity of acknowledging Christ as Lord and Savior.
(b) Freemasonry sets forth “a common denominator” god who is not limited to the Judeo-Christian definition of a unique Supreme Being above all others. Rather, its “ever- living, true God” may incorporate elements of belief from ancient Assyria, Egypt, India and other non-Biblical sources.
(c) Free masonry does not accord the Bible chief place in its belief system, even though the Book may be on display at meetings. [In Britain and the United States, a copy of the Volume of the Sacred Law (which may be the Bible, Koran, Vedas, or any other sacred religious book) must lie open during proceedings.] Thus even when used, the Bible is regarded as but one of the various “holy” books of world religions and as merely a part of “God’s [whole] revelation.”
(d) A candidate for initiation as a Mason is portrayed as one “in a state of darkness” who will be enlightened by the revelations of knowledge he will receive which are unattainable elsewhere.
On all of these points, the Bible Students, in harmony with other conservative Christians, hold clear differences with the Masons. In the same order as listed above, the Bible Students teach:
(a) That Jesus’ ransom sacrifice is the center of God’s Plan for the salvation of the human race, since the Bible plainly states that “there is none other name under heaven given among men [besides Jesus], whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
(b) That a “common denominator” god incorporating elements from various pagan religions is a concept foreign to Bible teaching; the true, eternal God has revealed Himself in His written Word, the Bible, and not through a mixture of other philosophies or beliefs. (Isa. 8:20)
(c) That the Bible must be distinguished from all other books; it alone is the holy, inspired Word of God and serves a unique role as the source of all religious Truth. (2 Tim. 3:15,16)
(d) That spiritual enlightenment is gained from a personal relationship with God through the working of the Holy Spirit and study of the Bible. It is not dependent upon any human organization or attainments conferred through secret ceremonies and binding oaths. Only by faith in Christ and full consecration to the Heavenly Father can one be accepted into the family of God. Understanding of the deep things previously hidden thereupon opens up to all who are thus walking in His pathway. (1 Cor. 2:9,10; Col. 1:26,27)
Whereas the above comparison shows significant differences between the Bible Students and Freemasonry, there is yet another point that should be mentioned. In an effort to form a fraternity of men of various religious persuasions, Freemasonry requires all prospective candidates to attest specifically to two religious tenets: (1) Belief in a Supreme Being, and (2) Belief in the Immortality of the soul. This second item distinguishes the Bible Students yet further, since they believe that the hope of a future life is based on the Resurrection of the dead, not on the possession of an Immortal soul. Bible Student understanding on this subject has been detailed more fully in Chapter 5 of this presentation.
In the light of this analysis, it may be seen how far fetched is the charge that Bible Students are related to the Freemasons in their religious beliefs or practices. The gap between these groups is just too great to permit such characterization.
USE OF MYSTIC SYMBOLS. If the foregoing conclusion is correct, how do we explain the apparent adoption of certain “mystic tokens” by the Bible Students, including the Cross and Crown? In this regard, Randall Watters charges:
“It is known that Russell admired secret societies, especially the Masons. It is hardly a coincidence that one of his pet emblems, the cross and crown, was none other than the Knights Templar logo of the Masonic Lodge …
“Russell was [also] fond of using the ‘winged disk’ of the sun god, Ra, revealing his fascination with Egyptian religion and mysteries. He placed this emblem on the covers of his Studies in the Scriptures.”
Once again we have a mixture of presumptive and completely false statements. We have already seen that Pastor Russell was not an admirer of secret societies and strongly counseled against participating in them. As for the Cross and Crown symbol, his was hardly distinctive, either to the Bible Students or to the Masons. If Pastor Russell was fond of this symbol, he had a lot of company: Both Catholic and Protestant churches had universally adopted the Cross and Crown and used it for centuries as a Christian emblem depicting the final reward of the faithful believer.
In Bible Student usage, a Cross and Crown symbol appeared for the first time on the cover of the Watch Tower magazine for January 1891 and continued to be displayed until 1931. At first there was no natural wreath encircling the Cross and Crown, merely an artistic geometric pattern. Later, beginning January 1, 1895, a band of greenery was added, giving the wreath the distinctive appearance it has today, as frequently used on Bible Student convention programs and letter heads. Since it never was unique to the Masons, its adoption by the Bible Students carries no significance in relating it to that group (or any other group, for that matter).
Bible Student meaning for the Cross and Crown is taken from the Scriptures where both symbols are given a prominent place. The cross, besides being the instrument used in the death of Christ, is also a metaphor of the trials and persecutions of the believer. (See Matt. 16:24.) The crown is frequently used as a symbol of the glory, honor and immortality granted to Christ and his church for faithfulness in serving God. (See Rev. 3:21; 2:10.) The Bible also makes it clear that gaining the crown is dependent upon bearing the cross faithfully even unto death. (See James 1:12.) The poem, “No Cross, No Crown,” emphasizing this point, appeared in the July 1, 1911 issue of the Watch Tower. This again is not a concept unique to Bible Students and may be found in church hymnology dating back to at least the eighteenth century. And finally, the wreath encircling the Cross and Crown symbol is taken as a sign of victory. Its use in crowning the winners in the Greek games is directly alluded to in 1 Corinthians 9:25.
Similar Biblical basis is seen for the Winged-Sun-Disk design, which though of ancient origin, became popular in the early twentieth century and was even adopted by an automobile manufacturer. The Bible Students took it as a fitting symbol to portray the events expected to occur at the start of the Millennial day: “The Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in his wings” (Mal. 4:2), referring to Messiah’s role as earth’s new ruler in the Kingdom, to bring blessings to all the families of the earth. For a time beginning in 1911, the winged disk was used as a design on the covers of the Studies in the Scriptures series, but it is certain that no reference to the primitive Egyptian sun god Ra was ever intended. Pastor Russell was always firmly opposed to all forms of occultism, as will be discussed in greater detail in the section on Pyramidology later in this chapter; and he never knowingly employed any mystic symbols in his ministry and teachings.
CONCLUSION. We have touched on some of the outward similarities of Bible Students and Freemasons and clearly seen that a valid case for linking them together can not be made. Even the fact that some times the Bible Students meet in Masonic halls is irrelevant since they also meet in churches, YMCAs, schools, public auditoriums, conference centers and private homes where suitable accommodations may be available. The bottom line here is that there is no basis for ascribing occultist beliefs or practices to Pastor Russell and his followers (or seemingly to the Masons).