Secret Oath-Bound Societies

2009 Annual Conference Report

Whereas: we, as members of the Church of the Brethren, believe that the Holy Bible is the only inspired, eternal word of the living God (II Timothy 3: 16,17) and;

Whereas: Jesus is the only way of access to God for our salvation. No other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4: 12) and;

Whereas: All things need to be in submission (education, vocation, pleasures, associations) to gain Christ (Philippians 3: 8, 9) and;

Whereas: truth is the only thing to set men free; secrecy (bound by vows and oaths) is in direct conflict with the Holy Word (John 8: 31, 32) and;

Whereas: the brotherhood of secret oath-bound societies is incompatible with the fellowship of Christ’s followers (Matthew 5: 33, 34);

Whereas: we as followers of Christ, have fellowship with light, for God is light and cannot be darkness, and we cannot have fellowship with darkness (I John 1: 5-7) and;

Whereas: we are to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. The brotherhood of secret oath-bound societies claim that its members are in a solemn, spiritual bond to one another, irrespective of members’ faith or creeds. The Bible forbids the followers of Christ from being unequally yoked with unbelievers (II Corinthians 6: 14 – 18, Ephesians 5: 7-17) and;

Whereas: oath-bound societies deny the Bible as the only Holy Word of God, claims any god as sufficient;

Whereas: after examining the scripture references that point out areas that are not in line with biblical teaching and the oath-bound societies, it is clear that membership in these societies constitutes a dual allegiance. Are we as the Church of the Brethren going to allow membership in secret oath-bound societies or like organizations to divide Lordship between the one and only true God and another god? Can we serve two masters? (Exodus 20: 3-6) and;

Therefore, seeing that secret oath-bound societies exist, thereby causing confusion in some churches as to how membership, leadership, as well as the set-apart ministry is to exist in the Church of the Brethren, there is confusion among the Brethren about the issue of membership in secret oath-bound societies. We, the Dry Run Church of the Brethren request District and Annual Conference to take action giving clarity to the issue of membership in secret oath-bound societies.

L. Roy Fahnestock, Dry Run Church Board Chairperson
Grace Shearer, Dry Run Church Clerk

The Southern Pennsylvania District Board, meeting in regular session on March 15, 2008, at the West Shore Church of the Brethren, determined to forward the query on to District Conference.

Terry Smith, District Board Chair
Joe Detrick, District Executive

The District Conference of Southern Pennsylvania, meeting in regular session at York First Church of the Brethren, York, Pennsylvania on September 19-20, 2008, received the Dry Run query, and voted to pass the query on to Annual Conference.

Wilmer Horst, Southern PA District Moderator (2008)
Ann P. Miller, Southern Pennsylvania District Writing Clerk

Action of the 2009 Annual Conference: Annual Conference approved a motion that the query on Secret Oath-Bound Societies be respectfully returned and that Conference reaffirm the statement on Membership in Secret Societies passed by the 1954 Conference as an adequate answer to the questions raised in the query. An amendment to the above motion was also approved that the officers of the 2009 Annual Conference appoint a team of three people to develop a listing of resources that affirms the Conference action of 1954 to educate and inform the church concerning membership in secret oath-bound societies. The Annual Conference officers subsequently appointed Harold Martin, Judy Mills Reimer, and Dan Ulrich to serve as the committee.



The delegates at the 2009 Annual Conference meeting in San Diego considered a query requesting that the Church of the Brethren establish a position on membership in secret oathbound societies. Instead of establishing a new position on the issue, the delegates decided to reaffirm the Annual Conference paper passed in 1954 and to appoint a committee of three to suggest ways to educate and inform people about the position of the church.

It seems important to the appointed Committee that we distinguish between oath-bound secret orders (such as Freemasonry) and other entities (such as labor unions, sororities, Boy Scouts, and service organizations such as the Rotary Club). The labor union, for example, deals with work issues. A secret society deals with faith issues. Secret societies have a theology. They are interested not only in the relation of people to people, but also in the relation of people to God. One who becomes a Mason, for example, must, by means of a secret oath, profess belief in a supreme being, but to the institution of Masonry it does not matter what “god” it is. The Church of the Brethren has traditionally not permitted its members to join the Masonic Lodge or any secret oath-bound society. In The Brethren Encyclopedia article on “Secret Societies,” Donald F. Durnbaugh writes, “For much of their existence, Brethren bodies have forbidden their members to join fraternal orders, or lodges, including such groups as the Free Masons, Odd Fellows, Sons of Temperance, and the Grange” (Volume 2, page 1163). Durnbaugh quoted some principles that led to early Brethren objections to membership in secret societies. They are cited from a small book written by D. W. Kurtz, titled An Outline of Fundamental Doctrines of Faith, page 49. Also, J. H. Moore (in The Brethren Doctrines Defended, pages 147-149) outlined some principles related to membership in secret oath-bound societies. These principles included objection to the requirement of an oath, the fact that secrecy violates the Christian’s mandate to be a light to the world, and objection to the practice of promising redemption and eternal life apart from faith in Jesus Christ.

Attached is a copy of the query about membership in secret societies that was presented to the Annual Conference in 1952, along with the 1954 decision of the Conference, which states the position of the Church of the Brethren on membership in secret societies. The committee that answered the query in the early 1950s expressed concern about oath-taking, conflict of loyalties, and the need to “make the church so vital, and its fellowship so genuine for all members, that none will feel the need for associations such as those offered by the fraternal orders.” Yet, when members continue their participation in secret orders, it was suggested that churches “hold them in loving fellowship” if their conduct was “otherwise consistent with the Christian faith.”

Also attached to this report is a list of resources that can be used by those who are interested in pursuing further information about secret societies. Some dedicated Christian education teachers may want to use the resource list to launch a study of secret societies in local churches. The information in the sources does not necessarily express the opinion of the committee members, nor is every resource supportive of the conclusions of the 1954 Annual Conference paper.

The committee reporting is: Daniel W. Ulrich, Judy Mills Reimer, and Harold S. Martin.


Resources on Secret Oath-Bound Societies

Resources by Brethren or Mennonite Authors:

Durnbaugh, Donald F. The Brethren Encyclopedia (4 volumes). Oak Brook, IL: The Brethren Encyclopedia, Inc., 1983, 2005. The articles on “Secret Societies” (pp. 1163-1164) and “Freemasonry” (p. 514) explain how the various Brethren groups viewed membership in secret societies during their many decades of existence.

Durnbaugh, Donald F. Fruit of the Vine. Elgin, IL: Brethren Press, 1997. This detailed history of the Church of the Brethren includes a brief but significant and well-stated reference to the “Masons” (p. 390).

Flory, John S. H. C. Early, Christian Statesman. Elgin, IL: Brethren Publishing House, 1943. This sermon on the New Testament church has good insights on secret societies (pp. 107-108).

Graybill, Larry. “The Masonic Lodge—a False Religion.” BRF Witness, Vol. 23, No. 1, 1988. Available online at The article names a number of reasons why Christians should not hold membership in oath-bound secret societies.

Kauffman, Daniel, Ed. Doctrines of the Bible. Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1952. Chapter 9 gives reasons why Mennonites prohibited membership in secret societies (pp. 522-531).

Kurtz, Daniel Webster. An Outline of the Fundamental Doctrines of Faith. Elgin, IL: Brethren Publishing House, 1914. A section on “Social Clubs” lists important biblical principles that speak against membership in secret societies (pp. 48-49).

Longenecker, Stephen L. The Brethren During the Age of World War. Elgin, IL: Brethren Press, 2006. The writer explains how Brethren in the early 1900s dealt with membership in secret societies and in labor unions (pp. 171-172).

Martin, Harold S. New Testament Beliefs and Practices: A Brethren Understanding. Elgin, IL: Brethren Press, 1989. This study includes a brief section on secret societies (pp. 91-93).

Moore, J. H. The New Testament Doctrines. Elgin, IL: Brethren Press, 1915. Moore explains that secret orders prohibited by the early Brethren are religious institutions that promise redemption and eternal life apart from faith in Christ (pp. 147-149).

Sappington, Roger. The Brethren in Industrial America. Elgin, IL: Brethren Press, 1985. The book deals with struggles the Brethren had in the late 1800s with determining whether or not the Grange (Patrons of Husbandry) was truly a secret society (pp. 76-77).

Snyder, Graydon F. & Shaffer, Kenneth M. Texts in Transit II. Elgin, IL: Brethren Press, 1991. The chapter on secret societies (pp. 131-137) quotes John 18:19-24 and comments on the text in its biblical setting, in Brethren life, and in today’s world. It concludes with a case study related to the issue.

Other Resources:

Ankerberg, John, and John Weldon. The Secret Teachings of the Masonic Lodge: A Christian Perspective. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1990. This is a 333-page detailed study of the Masonic Lodge.

Ankerberg, John, John Weldon, and Dillon Burroughs, The Facts on the Masonic Lodge, rev. ed. Eugene OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2009. Dillon Burroughs has updated this well researched booklet originally written by Ankerberg and Weldon.

Barrett, David V. A Brief History of Secret Societies. New York: Carroll and Graff Publishers, 2007. In 307 pages, Barrett attempts to trace the history of many religious or semi-religious groups that have claimed secret knowledge from ancient times to the present. He believes that Christians have often attacked these groups unfairly.

Carlson, Ron, and Ed Decker. Fast Facts on False Teachings. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1994. This booklet includes a 20-page chapter on “Freemasonry and the Masonic Lodge” by Ed Decker, who was converted from Mormonism.

Jacob, Margaret C. The Origins of Freemasonry: Facts and Fictions. Philadelphia, PA: The University of Pennsylvania Press. 2007. Margaret Jacob, Professor of History at UCLA, gives information from the diaries of Masons, and discusses the place of women in Masonry. The author, who is not a Mason, tells how women have been in Freemasonry in France since the 1700s. She uplifts the fact that gender as well as race are issues for many Masons. She writes in her conclusion that “in the United States Freemasonry is in serious decline, with numbers dwindling and lodges closing.”

Jeffers, H. Paul. The Freemasons in America: Inside the Secret Society. New York: Kensington Publishers, 2007. This book describes Masonic influences in the early founding of America.

Larson, Bob. Larson’s New Book of Cults. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1982 (revised 1989). “Freemasonry,” pp. 236-239. The book gives helpful summaries in simple language on the history, the symbols, and the purpose of the Masonic Lodge. The writer disapproves of membership in secret orders.

Poll, Michael R., ed. Masonic Enlightenment: The Philosophy, History, and Wisdom of Freemasonry. This book is supportive of the Masons. Chapters by various authors deal with “Freemasonry in America’s Founding,” “Women and Freemasonry,” “Egyptian Influence on Masonic Ritual,” “Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry,” and “Masonry and World Peace.” The chapter, “Women and Freemasonry,” by Dudley Wright, includes a description and translation from French of the 1791 Ritual of Freemasonry for Ladies.

Salza, John. Masonry Unmasked: An Insider reveals the Secrets of the Lodge. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2006. The author is a Roman Catholic and a former Mason, who describes Masonic rituals and compares them with Christianity in an attempt to dissuade others from joining or staying in lodges. The Roman Catholic position is that “the faithful who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Communion.”

Storms, E. M. Should a Christian Be a Mason? Kirkwood, MO: Impact Christian Books, 1999. This book is sharply critical of the Masons.

The committee acknowledges that all who use the Internet can click on search engines, and can seek various resources, doing research on their own. There are even novels written about those who use secret rituals. We can recommend the resources listed in the above bibliography as being valuable to the reader, but not all of the sources are supportive of the 1954 Church of the Brethren position paper.