“The Loyal Orders” A Biblical Examination
Association of Baptist Churches in Ireland
Balance is indispensable. Without it no one could sit on a chair, stand upright, walk down the street or do any of the thousand and one other things taken for granted and that are essential for general well-being. What is true is in the physical realm is equally true in the spiritual. Balance is indispensable. Thus in the consideration of those religious groups with whom churches committed to Scripture may fellowship and co-operate, all groups must be considered and not just those from one particular point of view. There is a need to consider “Protestant” groups every bit as much a “Roman Catholic” groups. In the cultural context of Ireland this leads inevitably to a consideration of the “loyal orders”.
Since their inception, and in spite of their chequered history, the various Loyal Orders have woven their way into the very fibre of Protestantism in Northern Ireland. So much so that in the minds of many they are virtually synonymous, Protestantism is the Loyal Orders, the Loyal Orders are Protestantism. This has led to a deep reticence on the part of many to confront this issue at all. However it is of the essence of the Baptist position that everything should be brought to the bar of God’s Word no matter how difficult that may be. This is the great distinguishing mark of our Baptist principles.
We must be clear as to the questions being addressed in this paper. The issue is not whether it is possible to be a member of these organisations and be a Christian. It is readily acknowledged that there are true and sincere believers within the ranks of these organisations. Rather the issues being addressed are whether it is in accordance with the teaching of God’s word for:
- a believer in the Lord Jesus to be in membership in these groupings; and
- Baptist churches to have links with the Orders.
Before addressing these questions directly a little background information is necessary, for although the Loyal Orders have a high profile in our society many non-members of these organisations actually know very little about their history, structures and practices. There are five main groupings that are categorised as the Loyal Orders.
1.1. Apprentice Boys of Derry
This Order was established in 1714 by Colonel John Mitchelbourne, a veteran of the siege of Derry, to commemorate the group of apprentices who closed the gates of the city in defiance of King James 2nd. Approximately 80% of Apprentice Boys are Orangemen.
1.2. Orange Order.
This, the best known of the Orders, was formed after what has become known as the Battle of the Diamond. This took place in Co. Armagh in 1795. The ‘founding fathers’ were James Wilson, Dan Winter, James Sloan, Thomas Sinclair and Captain John Gifford. The new
Order was quickly formed into Lodges and a number of degrees or levels of attainment were formulated for the initiation and instruction of members.
1.3. Royal Arch Purple
In the years subsequent to the formation of the Orange Order controversy raged within its ranks over the nature and ritual of some of the degrees that had been formulated. Efforts were made to limit the degrees to just two, The Orange and Plain Purple degrees. However despite all the efforts to suppress other practices these continued. This culminated in the attempt in the early part of the 20th century to have a further degree, the Royal Arch Purple, officially incorporated as the third degree of the Orange Order. The attempt failed and the degree was not recognised by the Grand Lodge of Ireland but it was received in Scotland and elsewhere. In Ireland the Royal Arch Purple (RAP) became an independent Order. However it retains close links to the Orange Order, using its halls and drawing its membership solely from the Orange. It is estimated that 95% of Orangemen are in the RAP. It takes precedence over the Orange. This is evidenced in its proceedings. For example when a RAP meeting immediately follows an Orange meeting the meeting is said to be “raised”. Conversely when an Orange meeting follows a RAP meeting the meeting is said to be “lowered”.
- Royal Black Preceptory.
Royal Black Preceptory Lodges have been in existence since the earliest days of the Orange Order though some of its historians would seek to give it a far greater antiquity tracing its origins back to the Mediaeval Crusades. It declared itself as an independent order in 1864. It draws its membership solely from the Royal Arch Purple. The term Black is supposedly a reference to the fact that its members are mourning for ‘brother Joseph’ who was sold into slavery in Egypt. Within the Black there are eleven degrees ranging from “The Royal Black Degree” to “The Red Cross Degree”. It is estimated that 40% of those in membership of the Royal Arch Purple are also members of the Black.
- The Independent Orange Order.
This is the most recent of the Orders. It was formed in 1903 as a result of a disagreement within the Orange Order. Tom Sloan and Lindsay Crawford were its founders and main motivators. While retaining the two degrees of the Orange Order it has also integrated the Royal Arch Purple as its third degree.
- Nature of the Orders
Central to the discussion is the question of the nature of these orders. Are they religious or are they political? Although there has been a degree of debate regarding this issue, the official statements of the Orders and their representatives leave little room for doubt. The Official website for the Grand Lodge of Ireland states, “The Order with its proud history is primarily a religious organisation”.1 Again in reply to the question, “What is the Orange Institution?” The answer is given, “It is both a religious and a patriotic association…”2 W.W Porter states clearly, “The Orange Creed is “mere Christianity”.3 That being the case the associations entered into with these Orders are religious associations. Their gatherings are religious gatherings and their rituals are carried out in a religious context. This is of fundamental importance to the argument of this paper.
- Considering Associations with the Orders
In examining the Loyal Orders in the light of the Word of God there are a number of areas that must be addressed:
- The taking of oaths and the attendant rituals.
- The fellowship and brotherhood that is said to exist within the Orders.
- The role that the Orders claim for themselves as defenders of the reformed faith.
- The relation between church and state that the Orders perpetuate.
- The effect on Christian witness and evangelism that the Orders have exercised.
3.1. The taking of oaths and their attendant rituals.
The Lord Jesus gave very definite directions with regard to the taking of oaths. The teaching given by Jesus is quite unambiguous,
“Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.”4
This teaching is reiterated elsewhere in the New Testament, particularly in James 5:12 ,
“But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.”
This teaching was taken very seriously by our Baptist forbears some of whom suffered unspeakably due to their determination to abide by their understanding of the command of Christ and not engage in oath taking5. Reflection on the issue led them to hold that the taking of oaths was only scripturally permissible in very restricted circumstances and in a very restricted manner.
“1 A lawful oath is a part of religious worship, wherein the person swearing in truth, righteousness and judgement, solemnly calleth God to witness what he sweareth, and to judge him according to the truth or falseness thereof.
- The name of God only is that by which men ought to swear, and therein it is to be used, with all holy fear and reverence; therefore to swear vainly or rashly by that glorious and dreadful name, or to swear at all by any other thing, is sinful and to be abhorred; yet as in matter of weight and moment, for confirmation of truth and ending all strife, an oath is warranted by the Word of God; so a lawful oath, being imposed by lawful authority in such matters ought to be taken.
- Whosoever taketh an oath warranted by the Word of God ought duly to consider the weightiness of so solemn an act, and therein to avouch nothing but what he knoweth to be truth; for that by rash, false and vain oaths the Lord is provoked and for them this land mourns.6
When considering the loyal Orders in this regard, three questions arise. Do the Loyal Orders require oath taking? Are those oaths warranted by scripture? Are they taken consciously as an act of true worship?
Some commentators have sought to minimise oath taking by creating the impression that oaths, even if they are taken, are not important to the life of the Orders. However in the case
of the Orange Order such statements are to say the least disingenuous. For example on the official website of the Grand Lodge of Ireland we find the following question and answer,
“Do members have to take an oath?
No. A prospective member simply has to affirm his acceptance of the Principles of the Reformation and loyalty to his country.”7
However the ritual an initiate undergoes states:
“Let me impress upon you the solemn promises you have made, promises which we take as being as binding upon you as an obligation.”
Now while it may be argued that in strict terms no oath is taken it is quite clear that undertakings have been given which are viewed as being absolutely binding. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines an obligation as being a “Binding agreement …constraining power of a law, precept duty, contract etc.” Further at every Lodge meeting if a member wishes to address the lodge he must place his right hand over his heart, bow to the occupant of the chair and say, “Worshipful Master, Deputy Master and Brethren”. The reason for this form of address is given in the ritual:
“By placing your hand over your heart you recall the solemn promises you have made.”8
Thus on joining the Orange Order every member makes solemn, binding promises which are called to mind frequently.
In the case of the Royal Arch Purple the issue is much more clear cut. At the outset of the initiation ritual the initiate is told:
“Before we can impart to you any of the secrets or mysteries of the Royal Arch Purple Degree you will be required to take upon yourself a solemn, sincere, binding, yet entirely voluntary obligation, binding you to us, as we are bound to one another as Royal Arch Purplemen.”
The initiate is then instructed to kneel on his right knee with his right hand placed upon the Holy Bible and enters into this ‘solemn obligation’ concluding with the words:
“O help me, Almighty God, and keep me steadfast in this my solemn vow, but voluntary obligation, being that of a Royal Arch Purple man …”
At a later stage in the ritual the initiate, who by this time is blindfolded etc., kneels on the representation of a coffin. When subsequently asked the meaning of this act he declares that it was:
“to testify that I was duly prepared to suffer death and all its penalties, before I would divulge anything I had received, or was about to receive.”
Later still in the ceremony the candidate has explained to him the “three great and solemn penalties of a Royal Arch Purpleman”. While not quoting these in detail, it is sufficient to indicate they entail the throat being cut from ear to ear, the breast being torn open and the heart removed, the body severed in two, one part carried to the east, the other to the west and other such punishments “should I Divulge, part or parts, secret or sign, sign or token, of anything I had received, or was about to receive, or may hereafter be instructed in”.
95% of Orangemen and all members of the Independent Orange Order and the Royal Black Preceptory go through this ritual. The Black has a further eleven degrees with similar ritual.
Where did all this ritual come from? Although many attempts have been made to circumvent this question the answer is straightforward. All of the original founders of the Orange Order were Freemasons and they simply adapted much of the ritual with which they were familiar for the new Order. In this they were assisted by a noted Mason, John Templeton. Orange writers, though somewhat reluctantly, do admit the Masonic background with words such as; “because some of the founders had been masons they used the Masonic system which they knew worked”.9 The same writers also acknowledge that the Royal Arch Purple degree “is the most Masonic-like part of our ceremony”10. This is remarkable in light of the fact that this is looked upon as the “sublime degree”.
There have been many attempts to lessen the impact of the Masonic influence reflected in the degrees of the Orders. Writers hold that they have been altered to give them a Christian ethos. However, given the facts that few if any of those who formulated the rituals were Christians in the Biblical sense of that word and first and foremost were committed Freemasons, the best that can be said is that the rituals flow from a polluted stream.
The taking of such oaths is clearly wrong and indeed sinful for the child of God. If it is objected that the initiations are meaningless pieces of historical ritual then those who undergo them are guilty of making “promises” in the presence of God and invoking his witness to these in a frivolous and careless manner. Scripture reminds us that every idle word will be brought into judgement. It also commands, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord your God in vain”.
3.2. Brotherhood & Fellowship
As believers in the Lord Jesus the brotherhood to which the people of God are bound is the brotherhood of other believers. The fellowship we are to delight in is fellowship with those who have “fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John1:3) This was a distinguishing feature of the life of the early church: “they continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine, and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42) This brotherhood and fellowship is dependent upon, and flows from, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and the consequent presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit in the lives of those who know him as such.
This fellowship is of fundamental importance and is to be nurtured and protected. To do so requires separation from any commitment that would detract from it. The word of God commands:
“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore 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.”11
Here the Apostle Paul emphatically outlines the responsibility that is placed upon believers to avoid all binding and close associations with those who do not belong to the people of God. Why? God’s people are indwelt by God himself and have the inestimable privilege of being classified as the Temple, the dwelling place of God. Those who are so honoured ought
not to enter into close association or seek to cultivate fellowship with those who do not belong to the people of God because true fellowship cannot exist between them any more than light and darkness can co-exist. Rather, God instructs them to turn away from all other associations so that they may enjoy an ever deepening fellowship with the Father and with his people.
All initiates to the Orange Order are informed and declare that they are one of “the elect”, that is a member of the people of God. The first question asked in the Orange degree is, “Who art thou?” The answer given is, “One of the elect”. This thought of being one of the elect is re-enforced in many ways and is latent in the thinking of many within the Orders. This finds expression in many ways. For example the poem, “What are you?”, ends with the lines:
“These are simple questions, to each your answer give
The world will prove its value by the life you try to live
If you’re a would be Orangeman then choose some other sect,
But if a worthy Orangeman you’re one of the elect.” 12
All of the members are classified as “Brethren”. The concept of brotherhood is an integral and indispensable part of the Orders. The Grand Lodge of Ireland website addresses this issue:
“There is also something of a ‘bonding’ between the members of the Orange Institution, because those things which we share in common and hold dear are much more important than things which may divide us”13
The admonition of Peter regarding the love that is to exist between the people of God, “Love the brotherhood”14, is taken up and applied directly to the Orange brotherhood. Indeed so strong is this professed bond that the initiate into the Orange Order is instructed that he is to help and support his brother Orangemen in preference to those outside the Order. He is told:
“You have promised you will be true and faithful to every brother Orangeman in all just actions and never know him to be wronged without giving him due notice thereof. We can all realise what it means to be true and faithful: let these be not mere phrases or words. Help and support your brother Orangemen in preference to those outside the order…”
Those who take the Royal Arch Purple Degree are to promise not to bend the knee in prayer without remembering the brethren in the Royal Arch Purple. This promise is made as part of the five points of fellowship ritual which have been carried over, with very little alteration, from Freemasonry. This binds the initiate inextricably to his fellow Royal Arch Purple men.
Some may respond that the terms ‘brother’, ‘brethren’ etc. are used in a merely general, fraternal fashion. However it was established at the beginning of this paper that the Loyal Orders are primarily religious organisations and as just demonstrated in this connection, the understanding behind the terms is invariably clearly biblical concepts used in a religious sense.
In so many ways all of this contravenes the plain teaching of scripture.
For what divides the person who by God’s grace and faith in the death of Christ is a member of the people of God from those who are not God’s people is infinitely more important than anything that they may appear to share!
“Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”15
“let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith”.16
The importance of this issue cannot be overstated for those who honour the Word of God. If 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 is rightly taught as prohibiting the unequal yoke in business, marriage and ecumenical relationships then balance, consistency and honesty demand that its implications with regard to the Loyal Orders cannot be ignored. The question must be faced, “Is it right for a child of God to bind himself/herself in a religious association with solemn promises and oaths to those who do not belong to the people of God and who in many cases are godless?” The answer is self evident.
- Defenders of the Faith
The New Testament teaches that there are certain privileges and responsibilities that are imparted to the church and to no other organisation or grouping. Among these is the responsibility to uphold the truth as revealed by God to men through the Scriptures. The church is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). It has been charged with the responsibility of “earnestly contending for the faith” (Jude 3) It is to hand on the faith untarnished from one generation to the next.
However the claims which the loyal Orders make in this area usurp the role God has imparted solely to the church. The Orange Order claims for itself the function of ‘Defending the Faith’. Further it makes astounding claims for itself that elevate it above the church. For example, the new candidate within the Order is told:
“We cannot at present convey to you any further information but we would impress upon you that you are now a member of by far the best and largest society of Protestants that the world has ever see” …and further… “there is something in the Orange society that elevates a man and raises him above the average of humanity, something that makes him a better man, morally, socially, and intellectually. An Orangeman.”
Individuals of note within Orangeism have made astounding statements regarding the Orders and their members. For example, Sir Basil Brooke is on record as having told a gathering of Orangemen in the Ulster Hall in 1947:
“Ye are the salt of the earth, the light of the world.”
James Molyneaux, at the time Sovereign Grand Master of the Royal Black Institution of the British Commonwealth informed the annual demonstration in Scarva in 1981:
“Apathy may be a luxury in which some races can indulge but you are a chosen people, a Royal priesthood, a dedicated nation and a people claimed by God for Himself.”
These are astonishing claims but they are fully in accord with the Loyal Orders’ view of themselves. For example, when explaining the meaning of the name of the Royal Arch Purple, historians write:
“The word Royal of course relates to the heavenly kingdom. ‘Ye are a chosen generation, a Royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light’ (1 Peter 2:9)”17
The first question which arises from this is, “What Faith are the Loyal Orders defending?”. At first sight the answer to that question seems quite straightforward. Orange statements and literature are replete with references to the Protestant Faith and the Faith of the Reformers.
“The Institution is composed of Protestants, united and resolved to the utmost of their power to support and defend the rightful Sovereign, the Protestant Religion …”18.
“To earnestly contend for the Faith which was once delivered to the saints, means that you defend and declare with all your strength the faith of the Reformers.”19
“Reference to the Diamond Bicentenary reminds us of the courage and determination of those great men who defended the Reformed Faith, our heritage and families from those who would have destroyed them in 1795.”20
However, membership and every office in the Loyal Orders is open to those who are in full fellowship in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian church which is Unitarian in doctrine and which denies many of the core doctrines relating to the nature of God and the person of Christ. Further the same privileges are open to those who are theologically liberal and who deny the fundamentals of the Faith. There also are many in the Ranks of Orangeism who have accepted and propagate the vagaries of British Israelism. All of this produces the amazing scenario of a man who claims to be a true child of God, bound by solemn promises to theological liberals, Unitarians and British Israelites in order to defend the Reformed Faith!
For those who know the Lord Jesus and who desire to be true to the Faith once delivered to the saints, the doctrines that focus particularly on the Trinity and the Person of Christ, His deity, virgin Birth and substitutionary and atoning sacrifice on Calvary, are of fundamental importance to that Faith. However the Orange Order professes to defend the faith by encompassing those who deny the fundamentals of that faith. The faith which the Order professes to defend is broader than what Scripture sanctions.
This brings us inevitably to the matter of who it is that are bound together by solemn promises in the Loyal Orders as defenders of the Faith. A lot has been written about the high standards that are expected of an Orangeman, for example:
“An Orangeman should have a sincere love and veneration for his Heavenly Father; a humble and steadfast faith in Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, believing in Him as the only Mediator between God and man.”21
However, this statement must be interpreted in light of the following:
“The Orange Order has never laid down conditions for membership of the kind that would exclude any decent Protestant man.”22
It is undeniable fact that the vast majority of those who are in the Loyal Orders are unregenerate men and indeed many of them are utterly opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ which is stands at the heart of the Faith once delivered. Any ’faith’ or ’belief’ they may
profess to have is at best a purely notional or mental consent. How can those who do not share “like precious faith” defend the faith?
This leads inevitably to the manner in which the Faith is to be defended. Scripture teaches us:
“We do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down every imagination, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. (2 Cor,10:3-5)
Nothing, but nothing ever justifies or warrants the use of physical force either in the defence or propagation of the Faith. Jesus is clear in his defence before Pilate:
“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were then would my servants fight.”
This is an area of thought and practice where these scriptural principles have become sadly polluted by the mindsets of those in the surrounding society. Baptists have a grand tradition and a glorious heritage in this matter. They were tortured, drowned and burned but they never replied in kind. The words of John Quincy Adams which are in accord with Scripture need to reverberate afresh through our consciences:
“The religious reformer does not … seek to force men by legal enactments to embrace his views, or profess attachment to his cause. He does not seek to unite the church with the State, or enforce his teachings at the edge of the sword and the point of the bayonet. He does not use persecution or oppression of any kind. He does not use authority of office, either civil or ecclesiastical … He utterly renounces compulsion of every kind. The gibbet, the rack, and the stake, are all discarded by him. Here was one radical defect of the Reformation of the sixteenth century. The civil arm was invoked, the State was united with the church, a political element was infused, and carnal weapons were used as freely by the Reformed churches in enforcing dogmas as by the Papacy in maintaining its heresies. The thorough religious reformer uses no such weapons …The Word of God. This is the double-edged sword of the Spirit. This is the grand weapon which is to cut its way through all error. Those only have been successful reformers, who have used this as their great weapon … Truth is only trammelled and retarded by the use of any but the heaven-approved weapons.”23
It is an inescapable fact that the Orange Order was formed in blood-shed, ostensibly in defence of the Faith. Its history is a history of battles. Its cultural expression in song and poetry are almost exclusively accounts of physical battles supposedly for the Faith. The question must be addressed as to how far all this is in accord with the teaching of the New Testament? Is this the way of the Saviour and the Apostles? The answer is self evident.
The first priority must be defending and propagating the Faith with all our zeal and energy. However Scripture teaches that it is the people of God gathered together, fully and actively involved in the life and work of the local church, which is the means by which this is to be accomplished. As Dr. F.L.Patton put it:
“The best way for a man to serve the church at large is to serve the church to which he belongs”.24
It is the church that requires and demands the total commitment of the people of God, giving their time, the exercise of their gifts and the contribution of their finances. In these days of pressurised living, stretched resources and constant demands on time all the energies of the
people of God ought be directed to the one body that God himself has ordained to do His work, the church. How sad it is that some Christians use their time, talents and money in the Loyal Orders but do not become involved in the life of their church and perhaps even refuse to join a church. How strange that many will willingly submit themselves to the man-invented ceremonies of the Orders but steadfastly refuse to submit to the God-ordained ordinance of baptism.
- Church/State Relations
Since the time of Constantine, there has been great confusion regarding the clear lines of demarcation that exist between the church and the State. The Reformation did little to clarify this matter and indeed in many ways compounded the confusion of the two. In Northern Ireland the Loyal Orders have supported and added to this confusion. In doing so, they have produced a conception of the church which has heavy Old Testament/Covenant rather than New Covenant overtones. They emphatically weld together the notion of the church with a political ideology. In its Basis of Institution the Orange Order makes this plain:
“The Institution is composed of Protestants, united and resolved to the utmost of their power to support and defend the rightful Sovereign, the Protestant Religion, the Laws of the Realm, and the succession to the Throne in the House of Windsor”.25
Sir James Craig, later Lord Craigavon, emphasised this linkage in a speech on 12th July 1936:
“Orangeism, Protestantism and the Loyalist cause are more strongly entrenched than ever and equally so is the government at Stormont.“26
A previous Grand Master of Ireland could say:
“There are a few Orange brethren who feel that we are exclusively a religious Order. While I agree we are mainly a religious body, the Order has been in the front rank for generations in preserving our constitutional position. The Orange ritual lays it down that it is the duty of Orangemen to support and maintain the laws and constitution. It is fundamentally important that we should continue to do so, for if we lost our constitutional position within the United Kingdom “civil and religious liberty for all” which we are also pledged to support would be endangered”.27
Another Grand Master put it more bluntly:
“The Orange Institution is simply a pressure group which is concerned to see that the Ulster Unionist Party remains firm on the Constitution”.28
Even the many political changes that have taken place over the recent past have not fundamentally changed this aim.
Christians have a right to hold political views and to be involved in political activity. The problem arises however when one particular political philosophy is characterised as the Christian view. As a result of this the notion has grown and has permeated all sections of our society. It implies that being a Christian necessitates accepting the particular political philosophy of unionism. This has been a tremendous stumbling block to many because they have misinterpreted conversion to Christ as entailing a conversion to this particular political view. It may not be comfortable for Baptists today but it needs to be remembered that some of the earliest Baptist influences in Ireland came from those who certainly could not be classed as Royalists! How would they fit into Baptist churches today?
Alongside this, and seemingly contradictory to it, is the fact that the allegiance which the Loyal Orders give to the authority of the State is conditional. They reserve the right to engage in acts of civil disobedience as and when they see fit. Most notably in the recent past this has occurred when parades have been banned or re-routed.
Scripture commands a different approach.
“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.29”
Many attempts have been made to obviate the impact of this teaching. However if these words are read with an unprejudiced mind, taking into account the political atmosphere of Paul’s day, there is no doubt that the requirement of God is that the people of God yield to the powers that be, even when they do not like their instructions. Peter drives home the same teaching in forceful manner:
“Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:”30
Only one area of life is reserved by Scripture from this submission to the authority of the State.
Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.
Peter implements the principle in the life of the early church when standing before the Sanhedrin he refuses to be silenced:
“We ought to obey God rather than men.”31
Except where the dictates of the State contradict the requirements of God his people are to yield humbly to those who rule. Even when the State acts against the commands of God they should suffer the consequences of obeying God rather than revolt. They are not at liberty to give conditional submission. Civil disobedience over issues such as re-routed parades etc has no warrant in scripture. God nowhere requires us to march to and from worship accompanied by bands and banners. It is therefore wrong to invoke Acts 5:29 in relation to these matters. At this point in time there is no legislation that has been placed on the statue books of our land that forbids the worship of God according to His revealed will. Therefore we have no justification for engaging in law-breaking.
Perhaps the words of a Presbyterian theologian are an appropriate conclusion to this section. Speaking of Christ’s kingdom he wrote:
“It can decide no question of politics or science which is not decided in the Bible. The kingdom of Christ, under the present dispensation , therefore, is not worldly, even in the sense in which the ancient theocracy was of this world. The latter organised the Hebrews as a nation, and directed all their municipal and national, as well as their social and religious affairs. It, therefore, could not coexist in time and place with with any other national organisation. The kingdom of Christ being designed to embrace all other kingdoms, can exist under all forms of government without interfering with any. It was especially in this view that Christ declared that his kingdom was not of this world …He intended to say that his kingdom was of such a nature that it necessitated no collision with the legitimate authority of any civil government. It belonged to a different sphere. It took cognizance of things which lie beyond the province of the secular power; and it left untouched all that belongs peculiarly to civil rulers. Christ, therefore, could be recognised and obeyed as king by those who continued to render unto Caesar the things which were Caesar’s. Every form or claim of the church, therefore, which is incompatible with the legitimate authority of the State, is inconsistent with the nature of Christ’s kingdom as declared by himself.”32
- Christian witness and evangelism.
The last command Christ gave to the church was to go and make disciple of all nations baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything he had commanded. Such a task is overwhelming in the light of the fact that the vast majority of people are utterly careless about their spiritual state and even contemptuous of the gospel. However the authority of Christ over all things and his promise to be with his church encourages us to believe that it can be done even in the face of a hard, uninterested and unresponsive people.
In the fulfilling of this responsibility the purity of the gospel must be maintained. Every obstacle and stumbling block that lies in the path of sinners must be removed. Every excuse, legitimate and illegitimate, that prevents them coming to Christ is to be stripped away. At times this will mean the sacrifice of legitimate activities that may be misunderstood by people and become a stumbling block. It always entails the renunciation of those things that are contrary to God’s revealed will.
In the light of this truth and the points addressed in this paper, the question of the effect of a relationship with the Loyal Orders on the presentation of the gospel must be faced. Quite simply put, is it a help or a hindrance in this task?
For many the answer to that question is difficult. They point to the many benefits gained from such relationships over the years; the use of buildings for gospel meetings, good relations with the local community and many opportunities to witness. However in accepting these benefits, has the purity of the gospel been tarnished by its identification with one political ideology, by a dependence on the state to perpetuate it and by a consequent blurring of the separation which exists between the people of God and the world?
If the scriptural teaching set out in this paper is examined with honesty and candour the answer is self evident.
The issues addressed in this paper and some of the conclusions reached are difficult for many to accept. Some may feel aggrieved and offended. Others may feel that the issues should not have been addressed at all. However this paper seeks to present the biblical
teaching in these areas for prayerful consideration by the churches. It is driven by a passionate love for the Lord, his Word, his church, and the perishing souls of our fellow country-men, whatever their label.
The expressed belief in the final authority of Scripture in all matters of faith and practice does not make for a comfortable position. But that is the essence of what it is to be a Baptist. As a Baptist writer from a previous era put it:
“The man who can disobey God, because the thing commanded is of minor importance, has not the spirit of obedience in his heart; and the man who, knowing the will of God, forbears to declare it, because the weight of human authority is against him, fears men more than God.“33
“… Baptists ought to be holy in all things. Our profession requires us to be the best people in the world; and it should be our constant effort to walk according to this profession”.34
That is why many of our church buildings have the text, “Jesus Christ is Lord” emblazoned across their walls. That is why, historically, Baptists have been persecuted in equal measure by Protestant and Catholic alike. Our forbears raised their voices against and separated from the errors in both camps. That is an uncomfortable position to be in, but it is the place of blessing, for the Lord has promised, “Them that honour me I will honour.” (1 Samuel 2:20)
Many of our fellow countrymen are disillusioned with both institutional Protestantism and Catholicism, they yearn for a different voice. If we, as Baptists will be true to Scriptural principles and our heritage we can be that voice of Biblical Christianity in our generation.
2 Orangeism – A new historical approach quoted in Co. Armagh Grand Orange Lodge 305th Anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne publication (no page numbers)
3 Quoted in Evangelicalism and National Identity in Ulster, 1921-1998 Patrick Mitchel Oxford University Pressp142 (Hereafter Evangelicalism)
4 in Matthew 5:33-37
5 See Anabaptism in Outline Walter Klaassen (Ed) Herald Press p282-289; The Reformers and Their Stepchildren Leonard Verduin Eerdmans p243-252
6 The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689 chapter 23
8 Details of the rituals cited throughout have been gleaned from a variety of sources as well as private conversations and have been verified as to their authenticity.
9 Evangelicalism p142 footnote
10 The Rossnowlagh Twelfth 314th Boyne Anniversary Service publication (no page numbers)
11 2 Corinthians 6:14-18
12 Evangelicalism p144 footnote
14 1 Peter 2:17
15 James 4:4
16 Galatians 6:10
17 Quoted in An Army With Banners William Brown BTP Publications Ltd p148
18 Document issued by the Education Committee of the Grand Lodge of Ireland
19 Earnestly Contending For the Faith. Co. Armagh Grand Orange Lodge 305th Anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne publication.