The Christian Reformed Church and Lodge Membership

This is a 2nd prize winning essay in a contest sponsored by the First Church of Pella, Iowa. Marva Van Kooten is a student at Dordt College. Her earlier prize-winning essay appeared in the April 1977 OUTLOOK.

The Historic Stand

Since its beginning in 1857 the Christian Reformed Church has taken a very strong stand against lodge membership. In fact, the Dutch Reformed Church’s toleration of lodge membership among its members was one of the big issues which led to the Christian Reformed break away from that church. Because of the recent attacks on CRC’s stand in this matter, this essay examines that stand.

The synodical report of 1900 best indicates the e RC outlook. By its definition a secret society is “such an organization which requires of everyone who becomes a member, unconditional concealment of all that pertains to the lodge, without officially informing the candidate of the contents of what must remain a secret, and which at the same time obligates its members to unrestricted or at least to an insufficiently restricted, assistance and obedience.”1 With this definition, Synod did not indicate by name any certain secret Societies so that those not named would seem “less culpable.”

Freemasonry, the largest worldwide secret society, will be the lodge considered more fully by this essay as an example representing also others. Freemasonry arose as a union for stone workers who built cathedrals. It didnt become the “modern” society as we know it today until 1717 when the Grand Lodge was organized in England. Since then it has grown rapidly, despite an anti-Masonic drive in the early 1800‘s, until in 1964 one out of every twelve men in the U.S. was a member. Anyone may enter though he might encounter some difficulties. The candidate is promised that the lodge will provide the light of spiritual instruction which he could not find elsewhere; and if he lives and dies according to Masonic principles, he will reach the “celestial” lodge. Some essential features of Freemasonry which distinguish it from other secret societies include “their methods of recognizing other members, the right to visit any lodge, the belief in ‘God’ and the immortality of the soul, and the belief that all Masons are equal.”2 Freemasonry also represents many aspects of religion through the use of temples, altars, prayers, a moral code, worship and feast days, reward and punishment in the after life and many rites. Many people receive the impression that it is a Christian institution because of the presence of the Bible and appointment of chaplains, besides all of the above. However, this impression couldnt be farther from the truth; the lodge forbids the use of Christ’s name in prayer or the reading of Bible passages and many Biblical doctrines are ignored, i.e., the Fall, the Incarnation, etc. . . . The lodge is actually a popular rival religion.

Many lodge members accuse non-members of misunderstanding the lodge’s ideals or philosophy because of lack of information. However, we get information not only from books, pamphlets, etc., which the lodges themselves publish to educate both the new members and general public, but also from ex-members who have broken their vows because of their own hurt and shame or less praiseworthy causes. Those who leave because they come to realize the lodge’s ungodly character are the most truthful when it comes to revealing the practices of the secret society, whereas lodge members themselves cannot be reliable because of their oaths pledging secrecy regarding these practices. From all these sources comes the verdict that lodges are essentially anti-christian in character as is seen in W. P. Loveless’ (An ex-chaplain of the Masonic Lodge) judgment, “The whole structure of lodge procedure is built upon the erroneous teachings of the universal brotherhood of man; and the necessity for salvation alone by grace thru faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is entirely ignored.”

Objecfions to Lodge Membership

The Synod of 1900 in its complete report, leveled several criticisms against the lodge:

1. Their oath is very careless and sinful which could lead to the concealment of all possible evil. Such is wholly unpermissable, a misuse of Gods Holy Name. The Christian “yes” should be looked upon as thoughtful and reliable as the most fearful oath.

2. The unrestricted promise of mutual aid has at times led to treason and murder in the higher degrees of the Freemason hierarchy. Favoritism in the community and controlling the ballot box within the State obstructs the discipline and government of Church, State, and society. 3. Because they are sinful in prinCiple all sorts of ungodly people join them. The lodge thus introduces a brotherhood of man which draws the Christian in with these ungodly people. This is putting on the yoke with the unbeliever, a union of Christ and Belial. 4. Since these people are ungodly they indulge in many practices and pleasures which should be repulsive to the Christian, especially the initiation ceremonies, which can be harmful to the point of even at times causing death. 5. The religion of the lodge is a denial of the only true religions teaching that salvation is thru faith in Jesus Christ and it is, in short, a mockery of Christianity. It places its own teaching of salvation through works and entrance to the Grand Lodge “up above,” over against that of Christianity. 6. The unconditional promise of obedience even before the candidate knows the lodges edicts, laws and rules is to be strongly disapproved. 7. Several objections are listed under this point, but the main one is that the secret society “as it manifests itself in its various ramifications, is in conflict to a greater or lesser degree with all of the (Ten Commandments as set forth by God).” “It can safely be said that he who joins the lodge sins . . . for the God of . . . Lodgism is not the God of the Bible and of the Ten Commandments.”3

The ChurchesPractice

The question then is how to deal with Church members who have joined the lodge. In the Synod of 1867 it was decided that “church members who join such a society shall be excommunicated after all attempts to make them see their error have been fruitless.” Those who belong to a secret society already but desire to be received into the church as members and allowed admittance to the Lord’s Supper cannot be. Their profession of faith is unacceptable. “The membership of the lodge is sin, not just a momentary sin but a constant living in sin. It is therefore a gross sin for everyone, but especially for a member of the church.” Since the CRCs adamant stand in 1857 this issue has been very much alive and just recently has become a real threat to CRC unity. The Synod in 1900 made a very clear case but minutes of our own First Christian Reformed Church in Pella show there were a few problems before this.

From Minutes of Pella I CRC – February 7, 1898, “a case of the membership of one of our [members] (Pella I) in a lodge was to be investigated. The matter was to be discussed with the member.”

From minutes of Pella I CRC – January 30, IS98 “much patient labor has been bestowed on this member. He has always been faithful attending public worship. The Consistory thus far has not been successful in convincing the member to sever his connection as a member of a secret society.”

It can safely be assumed that if this member did not “sever his connection” from the lodge he would have been excommunicated.

Between 1900 and 1957 this 1900 report was all that was needed. A request for a reaffirmation of the synodical stand on lodgism by Classis Sioux Center in 1957 was denied because as of yet no church had departed from this stand and it hadnt been challenged thru ecclesiastical channels. However the request by Classis Sioux Center and Orange City also in 1957 for the translation of the 1900 report (which was then only available in Dutch) was approved. In 1958 this translation into modern Dutch and English was approved and added to the Acts of Synod 1958.

Recent Agitation for Change

Then in 1969 Classis Lake Erie made an overture to change the CRC stand on Secret societies “contending that our present synodical statements regarding the lodge do not adequately reflect the complex organizational character of today’s society and that our present synodical pronouncements severely curtail evangelistic communication with lodge members.” Synod told them to make their own study. In 1970 Classis Lake Erie submitted the report along with four recommendations. In this report Classis Lake Erie could raise no objections to CRC’s historic stand admitting that the lodge upheld a false religion antithetical to the Christian religion. Nevertheless, in its recommendations the Classis still desired more flexibility in the application of this position to those seeking admission into the church, particularly in respect to those who fail to see the inconsistency of lodge membership and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. They requested that the admission of these members be left to the discretion of the consistories. The Synod of 1970 rejected especially this last request on the grounds that Classis Lake Erie did recognize their incompatibility and even though the admission of members is the concern of local consistories, there are certain matters on which all churches must agree to a uniform policy. This decision followed the statements in the 1900 report. The Synod of 1970 however did appoint a committee to write up an effective contemporary statement reflecting the CRC’s position which would be valuable in it’s evangelism outreach. Because of the division within this study committee and uncertainty as to its precise mandate the 1972 Synod appointed a new committee with the same mandate which was to put the churchs position in up-todate language. Some members of the previous committee had gone a step beyond this and had requested Synod to rejudge its position. They spoke of certain circumstances in which lodge and church membership may be compatible, especially in the case of nominal and inactive lodge members who are converted through contact with our church. The new study committee was unable to bring a report to the Synod of 1973 due to illness and other unforeseen delays. On its presentation to the Synod of 1974 the 53-page report was accepted, the church‘s stand strongly reaffirmed, and a new committee appointed to prepare a popular pamphlet embodying it. Still not satisfied after five years of failing efforts with three synodical committees and Synods, Classis Lake Erie requested a new study committee which was denied by a badly divided Synod. In 1975 however, Synod again appointed a new committee by request of Classis Lake Erie to “research the content, confessional character and function of the oath in the relationship of the lodge members to their oath bound societies.” The 1977 Synod again strongly affirmed the Church‘s historic stand. This hopefully will settle the matter indefinitely.

Evangelism and the Lodge

What seems to motivate the biggest drive toward granting the compatibility of Church and lodge membership is concern for evangelistic outreach. There has been an increasing pressure to forget the scruples of Christianity and accept many compromising positions. It can be painful to lose candidates for members, or even whole churches as in the case of Classis Minnesota North in 1972, but the CRC wants quality to be their guide not quantity. The Lord examines a Church‘s purity and faithfulness not how large her membership is. In Classis Minnesota North the members of the Plymouth Presbyterian Church of Sauk Rapids voted to stay out of the CRC denomination on learning of the unacceptibility of lodges to CRC. This was hard for the Classis to accept after extensive working with this congregation. To these people lodgism is more important than affiliation with our churches.

This case also illustrates the Lord‘s teaching “no man can serve two masters,” the Christian must make a wholehearted commitment to Christ with no turning back. He must forsake the world and be separate from it. “Whosoever would be a friend of the world maketh himself an enemy of God.” Classis Lake Eric contends that some lodge members may hold only a formal membership without a confessional commitment. But they havent taken into account “corporate responsibility.” The 1945 Synod adopted five points applying to “Corporate Responsibility.”

Corporate Responsibility

Summarized from Church Order:

1. Active participation in the sinful practices of an organization to which one belongs not only renders one guilty before God, but may even make one an object of ecclesiastical discipline.

2. In order to be responsible for (these) sinful deeds . . . it is not necessary to be an active participant. . . . By requesting, promoting, encouraging, or in any manner abetting the wrong doing, one is rendered responsible, even if the support which one gives amounts to no more than consent or approval. 3. In order to be responsible .. mere passivity or silence also renders one guilty; failure to reprove makes one accountable before God. 4. Even if a member doesn’t encourage and does reprove, he yet involves himseU in corresponsibility if one remains a member of such an organization.

In the light of this one cannot assume a “formal” membership without also being responsible for the confessional stance.

In conclusion, the CRC stands in opposition to the lodge chiefly because of the lodge’s anti-Christian character. The lodge actually claims itself to be a religion in which man can be saved by man. Its ethical basis is humanistic and it operates on utilitarian grounds. It teaches salvation by character and good works instead of salvation through Jesus Christ. This is not a biblical Christianity but rather a modern paganistic corruption of Christianity. It places Christianity on the level of Islam, Buddhism, etc. The so-called religion of the lodge is actually a secret return to the pagan ceremonies and rites of heathen religions in which Christians have NO RIGHT to participate. The Church cannot compromise its faith by associating with this religion of the modern world.

1. Acts of Synod 1958, p. 417. 2. Van Groningen, Gerard, OUTLOOK, “Freemasonry and the Church” (April, 1973), p. 16. 3. Monsma, Martin, and Van Dellen, Idzerd, The Revived Church Order Commentary (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1972), p. 296.


Acts of Synod 1957.

Acts of Synod 1958.

Acts of Synod 1969.

Acts of Synod 1970.

Acts of Synod 1973.

Christian Reformed Church Government, Howard B. Spaan (Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1968).

OUTLOOK. “Lodge and Church Mcmbcrship,” Rev. Henry B. Vanden Heuvel (July, 1972), p. 11.

OUTLOOK, “Freemasonry and the Church,” Gerard Van Groningen (April, 1973), p. 16.

OUTLOOK, “Lodge Membership and the Church,” Jim Zylstra (June, 1973), p. 12.

OUTLOOK, “The Lodge Again,” Rev. Peter Dc Jong (July, 1975), p. 5.

OUTLOOK, “Church Membership and Lodge Membership – Not Compatible,” Rev. Simon Viss (December, 1975), p. 14.

Renewal, “Can Anyone Serve Two Masters” Jelle Tuininga (January, 1976), pp. 1–2.

The Revised Church Order Commentary, Martin Monsma and Idzerd Van Dellen (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1972), pp. 295–296.

“Synodical Decisions on Doctrinal and Ethical Matters” (Board of Publications of the Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1976 ), pp. 56–57.

Yearbook of the Christian Reformed Church in America (1924).