By Eugene P. Vedder, Jr.
Let me begin by asking you two questions:
- If the Lord Jesus, your Savior and Lord, were here on earth in person right now, which lodge do you think would invite Him to join?
- Which social organizations, if any, would He feel free to join?
I hesitate even to ask to what extent He would feel free to get involved in a social organization.
When we consider His life on earth 2,000 years ago we can be sure He was faced with somewhat similar questions. We are not specifically told of social organizations in the Gospels, but we find some respected and some not-so respected religious societies at that time. None of these give any indication that they would have welcomed Him as a member. Rather, while they were quite different, the one thing they had in common was that they all displayed enmity, or hostility, against Him.
History tells us that the Pharisees were a relatively small, elite, much-respected organization. The apostle Paul, before he was converted, had been a Pharisee (Phil. 3:5). In Matthew 23:2 Jesus told the crowds and His disciples that the Pharisees and the scribes sat in Moses’ seat. Back in Exodus 18:13-16 we see what this meant: Moses daily sat and judged the people, teaching them God’s statutes and laws.
“Whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do,” Jesus told those who were listening. But He added, “Do not do according to their works, for they say and do not do” (Mt. 23:3 NKJV). He then gave examples of their lifestyle; it was a lifestyle that came far short of what they were teaching. In Matthew 15 He called them “hypocrites” (v.7) because by their traditions they were making the commandments of God of no effect.
Several times we find the Lord accepting an invitation from a Pharisee to dine at his house. But when we look more closely we see that they invited Him in order to watch Him and find fault in His talk. But He knew exactly what needed to be said to the conscience of His host. He always was Master of each situation.
Interestingly, we never find the Lord in the home of a Sadducee. Most of the priests at that time were Sadducees. They were known for not believing in all that God’s Word taught: “For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection – and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both” (Acts 23:8). The Lord could have no fellowship with persons who went through all the forms and ceremonies of religion and yet did not believe basic elements of its teaching. A delegation of these Sadducees once asked Jesus a question that they felt clearly ridiculed Scripture, but He confounded them with His answer (Mt. 22:23-34, quoted on the next page in this magazine).
In this chapter the Pharisees even teamed up with the Herodians (v.16), a politically-oriented group of that day, to try to trap the Lord with a question about the tribute payment to Caesar. If He would answer one way, the answer would be seditious, or rebellious against the government. They felt if He were to answer the opposite way, He would lose His popularity with the people. However, He astounded them with the wisdom of His answer: “Render … to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (v.21).
Many social organizations have some project of doing good as one of their purposes. Peter told Cornelius and those gathered at his house that Jesus “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38). The Church – the organism rather than the organization, though often erroneously called that – has done and is doing a tremendous amount of good. And friend, as an individual you can easily find many ways of doing good and helping others! There is no shortage of needs in this world, and no shortage of opportunities to help meet them.
A very well-known passage of Scripture speaking on this subject begins with 2 Corinthians 6:14, which says, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” After pointing out the incongruity, or inappropriateness, of such a yoke, the passage concludes: “Therefore ‘Come out from among them and be separate,’ says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty” (vv.17-18).
Social organizations offer opportunities to socialize with others who have similar interests. This often involves eating and drinking together, and the drinking may well involve alcoholic beverages. While these have their uses in moderation, as 1 Timothy 5:23 shows us, there are numerous passages in God’s Word warning us against overindulgence in them. A person might abstain from drinking, but one is known by the company he keeps. No man can serve two masters, our Lord has clearly stated (Mt. 6:24), and the attempt to do so inevitably has bad results.
Some of the foregoing statements can also be applied to professional organizations, of which a worker is obliged to be a member in order to practice a trade or earn a living. We are not under law but must use the wisdom God so freely offers to give us. May our aim be to please Him, and may we ever weigh carefully before Him every invitation and inclination!