Secret societies have captured the imagination and curiosity of many throughout history. Groups shrouded in mystery and intrigue, claiming to possess hidden knowledge and power. As Christians, it’s important we examine what God’s Word says about these matters. This article will provide a biblical perspective on secret societies and why believers should be cautious about involvement in them.
A “secret society” can be defined as an organization that conceals its activities and membership from the public. The origins of secret societies can be traced back to ancient times, with groups like the Egyptian mystery cults and the secret Pythagorean brotherhood. While not all secret societies are inherently evil or anti-Christian, some clearly hold beliefs and practices that go against Scripture.
As the Bible warns, we must be careful to avoid deception and evaluate teachings in light of God’s truth (1 John 4:1). The prospect of exclusive hidden knowledge can be spiritually dangerous, if it contradicts or undermines what Jesus Christ has already revealed through His Word. Here are some key takeaways from a biblical perspective on secret societies:
- Secret societies often promote false teachings, unbiblical spiritual practices or questionable moral standards. As believers, we must compare their claims and methods carefully against Scripture.
- Any type of secret knowledge that promises to make one wiser or more prosperous than others goes against the wisdom from above that is pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits (James 3:17).
- Loyalty to a secret society can become greater than one’s commitment to Christ and lead to compromise. Our allegiance belongs to Jesus alone.
- Oaths, initiation rites, curses and mystical ceremonies used by secret orders have no place in the Christian life. They go beyond what Scripture allows.
- Secrecy among societies breeds distrust, not true community. As Christians, we should have open and honest relationships that point people to salvation in Christ.
Let’s explore several key Bible passages that provide wisdom in analyzing any group, movement or message. We’ll also look at examples of secret societies operating today that display unbiblical beliefs or practices.
Old Testament Warnings Against Secret Societies
Several Old Testament passages condemn secret organizations that were prominent in the surrounding pagan cultures of that day. God’s people were to avoid these groups and their occult ways. Three particular societies that Scripture warns against are the Egyptian mystery cults, Canaanite religions that included child sacrifice, and Babylonian mysticism.
During Israel’s captivity in Egypt, the Egyptians worshiped many false gods like Ra, Osiris and Isis. Their religion also emphasized mysteries and symbols, with secret rituals and knowledge reserved only for certain priests and initiates. In Genesis, Joseph resists an attempted seduction by Potiphar’s wife, who likely had connections to these cults:
She spoke to Joseph day after day, but he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. One day she caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.” (Genesis 39:10-12).
Later, as the Israelites are delivered from slavery, God judges the gods of Egypt through miracles and plagues. Exodus 12:12 says, “Against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord.” The superiority of the one true God was displayed over the mystery cults.
When Israel finally entered Canaan, the Promised Land, they were surrounded by pagan peoples who practiced depraved rituals like child sacrifice, witchcraft and divination. Deuteronomy 18:9-14 provides a stern warning:
When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord.
Tragically, later generations of Israelites ended up adopting these detestable Canaanite practices, earning God’s judgment. But His original desire was for Israel to drive out and avoid these corrupt religions altogether.
The book of Daniel tells how the prophet Daniel rises in leadership in the pagan Babylonian and Persian empires. These nations were controlled by powerful royal cults and astrologers who claimed to possess secret knowledge. Court figures like the sorcerers and magicians in Daniel relied on black magic, divination and communication with evil spirits. But Daniel stayed committed to the true God and his gifts surpassed the pagan occultists, even when he was tested in the lions’ den. God showed it was His wisdom and power that was real, not the dark mysticism of Babylon.
Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. The king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.” (Daniel 2:46-47)
These Old Testament accounts set a precedent for believers to avoid the ways of secret societies and cling to God alone. All through Scripture, the people of God are called to reject deceptive mixtures of truth and error that originate from man-made religious systems.
New Testament Warnings Against Legalism and Gnosticism
In the New Testament era, two dangerous false teachings threatened the early Christian church – Jewish legalism and gnostic philosophy. Both operated with some level of secrecy, reserved for elite insiders. The apostles strongly condemned these groups for undermining the gospel message.
Some Jewish Christians maintained that Old Testament rituals like circumcision were required for salvation, along with faith in Christ. The book of Galatians provides extensive teaching against this legalistic sect that was confusing new believers. Paul resisted their efforts to add secret initiation procedures and mystical knowledge on top of the free gift of grace by faith in Jesus:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! (Galatians 1:6-8)
Paul went on to declare righteousness came only through faith in Christ, not through legalistic observances. Grace plus works actually distorts the gospel into a false pathway to God.
Another threat in the early church was Gnosticism, which emphasized secret spiritual knowledge and a dualism between spirit and matter. Gnostics rejected the incarnation of Christ and believed the material world was evil.
Colossians 2:8 provides a warning against their false doctrines:
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
1 Timothy 6:20-21 also instructs Timothy to avoid “contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge” by those who have deviated from the faith.
Like many secret societies, Gnostics claimed to have special access to mysteries and revelation. But their teachings undercut the truth of Scripture concerning creation, the nature of God, humanity and salvation.
Marks of Deception in Modern Secret Societies
Having reviewed some biblical warnings, we also need to exercise discernment regarding secret organizations that still exist today. Not all exhibit the same extreme dangers as ancient cults, but many promote unbiblical beliefs or practices that contradict Scripture. Here are some indications that a society is involved in deception:
- Superior, privileged status: Societies may teach they alone have access to secret knowledge that gives them heightened spiritual power or an exalted status before God. But the Bible condemns notions of spiritual elitism, superiority or hidden wisdom that goes beyond general revelation available to all (Luke 18:9-14).
- Religious syncretism: Mixing varying forms of belief is common in secret orders, blending bits of Christianity, the occult, New Age spirituality, Gnosticism, Eastern mysticism and other influences. Yet Scripture teaches that adding other practices to the gospel distorts true faith (Deut. 12:29-32, Gal. 1:6-9).
- Light and darkness: Some societies claim to have both Christ and Lucifer as members or they display both Christian and occult symbols. This ignores the Bible’s teaching that there can be no partnership between righteousness and lawlessness or light and darkness (2 Cor. 6:14-18).
- Oaths and vows: Many societies require members to swear vows of intense loyalty and secrecy upon joining, with dire consequences if broken. Yet Jesus prohibited such oaths, teaching our speech should simply be yes or no without needing to swear vows (Matthew 5:34-37).
- Salvation by works: Certain societies teach that attaining higher degrees or knowledge levels contributes to one’s salvation. But the Bible condemns seeking salvation by works rather than grace. Our righteousness comes through faith in Christ alone, not secret rituals or knowledge (Galatians 2:15-21).
Examples of Secret Societies to Avoid
With this foundation laid from Scripture, we can analyze examples of modern secret societies that believers should avoid based on unbiblical elements:
Freemasonry is one of the most prominent secret societies that has continued over centuries, with membership estimated around 5 million worldwide. It promotes belief in a generic “Supreme Being” but prayers and rituals draw from a variety of religious sources. Though some Christian language is used, oaths are taken to protect fellow Masons even above close family ties. Higher level rituals are involved in reaching the 33rd degree as a Mason. Such practices contradict biblical teachings on treatment of family, oaths, and teachings that mix elements of different religions that may even include the occult.
Skull and Bones Society
This secret order was founded at Yale University in the 1800s and admitted only 15 members annually. The group emphasizes occult numerology and rituals symbolizing death and the afterlife. Members take vows of secrecy and loyalty to fellow members. The society’s secrecy and fixation with death seem to contradict biblical values calling for transparency and celebration of life in Christ. As a university society, its existence on campus could pressure Christian students to take part.
Rosicrucianism dates back to the 1600s in Europe and blends mysticism, seances, secret teachings and Masonic-style degrees and orders. The Rosicrucian belief system draws from Egyptian and Babylonian occultism, Gnosticism, Jewish mysticism and Eastern religions. This directly opposes biblical warnings against blending pagan practices with Christian faith. Additionally, the Bible prohibits attempts to contact the dead through seances (Deut. 18:9-12).
Ordo Templi Orientis
This ritual magic order gained notoriety under occultist Aleister Crowley in the 1900s. Its teachings incorporate occultism, sexual magic, alchemy, kabbalah, yoga and other pagan rituals. Despite Christian-like terms used in some ceremonies, the Ordo Templi Orientis honours Crowley, who indulged in rampant immorality and founded a dictum to “Do what thou wilt.” This contradicts biblical morality which condemns unrestrained indulgence of sinful desires. Christians must flee from participation in such rituals.
This secretive men’s club for artists, politicians and businessmen has met annually in California since the late 1800s. Its ceremonial rituals stem from pagan Druids. Activities include worshiping a large owl idol representing the Canaanite deity Moloch. The Bible clearly prohibits engaging in false worship. And membership criteria based on power, status or gender exclude those who are equal before God. Our Christian relationships must transcend such worldly divisions (Gal. 3:28).
This covers just a sampling of secret societies that Christians should prayerfully avoid, based on unbiblical elements. Many more could be analyzed, but this provides an outline of how Scripture equips us to discern truth from deception.
Guidance for Christians Regarding Secret Societies
In closing, here are some principles for Christians to keep in mind when it comes to secret organizations:
- Test all teachings carefully against Scripture and reject what contradicts God’s Word, regardless of any claim to secret knowledge (Acts 17:11).
- Avoid any participation in oaths, pledges, initiation rituals or mystical ceremonies associated with a society. Do not come under such spiritual bondage (Gal. 5:1).
- Be wise about areas of influence. For example, if attending a university where a secret society is active, exercise caution to avoid compromising situations. Do not let peer pressure shake your loyalty to Christ alone.
- Do not be bound together with those who deny essentials of biblical doctrine, such as Christ’s full divinity and humanity (2 John 1:7-11).
- Avoid fear-based control that restricts your freedom to leave or pressures you to stay. Stand firm in the liberty of the gospel (Gal. 2:4-5).
- Do not buy into claims of attaining secret spiritual power or wisdom. God’s truth is fully revealed in Scripture and wisdom comes from revering Christ alone (Col. 2:3).
- Remember God sees and judges the heart. Nothing is hidden from Him (1 Sam. 16:7).
By examining these guidelines along with other Scripture, we can equip ourselves to avoid unbiblical secret societies. Our loyalty is to Jesus Christ and His Word alone. Let us hold to the saving gospel message He has made freely available to all who call on Him!
- Secret societies often promote false teachings that contradict God’s Word, so we must compare their claims carefully against Scripture.
- Loyalty to a secret society can become greater than commitment to Christ, which is idolatry. Our highest allegiance belongs to Jesus alone.
- Initiation rituals, oaths and mystical ceremonies used by secret orders have no place in the Christian life because they go beyond biblical boundaries.
- Secrecy among societies breeds distrust, not true community. As Christians, we are called to open relationships that point people to the light of the gospel.
- Watch for elements of spiritual elitism, mixing of religious practices, connections to the occult, and salvation by works that mark a society as unbiblical.
- The Bible provides many examples of pagan secret societies and false teachings that believers should avoid.
- When discerning secret societies, focus on loyalty to Christ and His Word as the ultimate authority.