Friday, November 21, 2008

Secret Societies

There was a time when many Baptists disapproved of Secret Societies. For example, Old North Baptist Church (formerly called Union) of Nacogdoches, Texas once removed members for joining the Masons, etc. It is the oldest church in Texas now affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. This idea has disappeared among the majority of Baptists (assuming it ever was a majority idea; I don't know). It is still held by Primitive Baptists, Old Regular Baptists and some other Baptist groups. The following writing by W. M. Mitchell unfolds the Primitive Baptist view.

"First—The man of God is thoroughly furnished by the Scriptures unto all good works; and the church of Christ , being complete in Him in doctrine and order, as well as in every spiritual gift, they cannot need the aid of any society formed by man as a help to the beauty and perfection of her organic structure. The church of God is spoken of by inspired writers as the “perfection of beauty,” “the joy of the whole earth,” “the city of the Great King...” It would, therefore, be degrading to the principle and profession of her members for any of them to mar her beauty, or defile their garments by uniting with, or conforming to, any of the institutions, doctrines or commandments of men, not authorized by the Scriptures.

"Second—Christ, the Head of the church, ever taught openly, and in secret said nothing; and He commanded His apostles to proclaim His gospel upon the house-tops or publicly to the world. Secrecy, therefore, is inconsistent with the nature and principle of the Christian religion, and with the character of the organized church as “the light of the world,” or as “a city set on a hill, whose light can not be hid.”—Mat. 5:14 .

Third—”Secrecy” is inconsistent with gospel order: as each member of a secret society takes a solemn oath to keep certain things secret from his brethren in the church who are not members of such society, and the church is thereby deprived of her right to judge of the conduct and order of her members as required in I Cor. 5:12.

"Fourth—Christian and church fellowship is the strongest bond of communion and fellowship that can possibly exist: even requiring, if need be, to forsake father and mother, wife and children, with every earthly tie and interest, to maintain that fellowship that will honor Christ and glorify God in our body and spirit, which belong to God. The relation in the church is so near that the members are said to be “members one of another.”—Rom. 12:5. As such, therefore, they are entitled to the strongest confidence and closest communion—such as no other society can ever claim without usurpation. Whatever may be said as to the good or evil of secret societies, one thing is certain and can not be denied except by infidels: That “he that doeth evil, hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved;” and, on the other hand, “He that doeth truth, cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest that they are wrought in God. “—John 3:20.

"Fifth—In uniting with a secret, oath-bound society, a church member takes upon himself, voluntarily, a solemn obligation to do or not to do some unknown thing—which thing is a profound secret from both church and state—and the oath, whatever it binds upon the member, is a voluntary oath, not required by church or state. There are, therefore, certain good reasons for believing that such voluntary oath is in direct violation of the command of Christ to His disciples to “Swear not at all: but let your communication be, Yea, yea; nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. “—Mat. 5:37. No oath of office, nor as a witness is required in the church of Christ but, to the contrary, is positively forbidden to her members; as the bond of union and fellowship is so regulated by principles of honesty and justice, which God has written in the heart of each subject of His gospel kingdom, that to require a further obligation by an oath would be to deny that these holy principles are written in the heart and place the church of Christ on a level, or beneath, a mere human institution.

"Sixth —No member of any gospel church has the right, according to the law of Christ, to become a self-constituted judge of his own conduct, nor of the conduct of any other member. But is has frequently been the case that when one unites with any secret, oath-bound society, and his conduct in that particular is called in question by the church, he generally seeks to shield himself, not by openly telling what he has sworn to do or not to do, but by saying: “There is no harm in it.” And he seems to think the church ought to be satisfied with this simple declaration, and take his judgment and decision in his own case as final. If a church should proceed in this manner in other matters where there are charges and complaints against members, and he satisfied to let the censured member decide his own case, it would destroy everything like gospel discipline and make each member a proper judge of his own case.

"Seventh—Another objection to Primitive Baptists uniting with these secret, oath-bound societies is, from the fact, that while some of them claim to be promoters of morality, benevolence and charity, they carefully guard against all liability to acts of charity by utterly refusing membership to any man who is properly a subject of charitable contributions. Charity is an ever living and abiding principle—being even greater than faith or hope. It is the bond of perfectness in the church, by which all things are to be done. To voluntarily, therefore, bind ourselves by an oath to keep out of our fraternal love and fellowship all proper subjects upon which to manifest and bestow our deeds of charity, would seem to us like a violation of the principles of either morality, benevolence or charity. The poor in spirit whom the Lord Jesus Christ has blessed, and who ate entitled to all the privileges and ordinances of the gospel kingdom, can not obtain membership in any well-regulated Masonic Lodge upon his morality, nor piety, if he is a poor pauper; or if he is blind, or deaf and dumb; or if he has but one arm, or but one leg; or in any way crippled or maimed for life—unable to walk or support himself. He may be a real object of charitable assistance, yet, if we are correctly informed, he would be rejected because of these very things which render him a real and proper subject of charity. Is it right for a Baptist of the Primitive faith and order to take such a solemn obligation to reject such from fellowship? Is it according to any principle of gospel order?

"Eight—is believed by many that when a member of the true church of Christ unites with any of these worldly institutions, that he thereby violates the command of God to “be not conformed to this world.”—Rom. 12:2. When members have thus become ensnared, they can only be relieved by obeying the command of God to “come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”—2 Cor. 6:17, 18. What a precious promise to erring Christians.

"These institutions certainly are of the world—adapted to the views and business interests of the world; and as the world will hear and love its own, it will foster, nourish, cherish and love any professed Baptist who will be identified with these institutions, better than one who does not, though he may have denied his religious faith to unite with them."
- From "Equal Rights & Secret Societies" by Elder W.M. Mitchell in The Gospel Messenger, March 1882

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