Was Pastor Russell a Freemason?
By having clearly and plainly discouraged membership in Freemasonry, it should be clear that Pastor Russell was not, nor ever was, associated with the Free Masons.
Those who have accused him have done so with the hope that it will somehow show Pastor Russell had occult connections, and as a result would invalidate everything he taught. While it is true that even Pastor Russell himself printed a letter in The Watch Tower which expressed the idea that Masons participate in occult activity, the truth of the matter is quite to the contrary.
Ever since the 18th and 19th centuries, the Papacy has condemned the Masons, and every other organization that it could not get its hands into. Is there something more to their condemnations than mere words? It would appear so. History scholars have shown that the Masonic Order is a covert political organization formed with the goal of destroying the influence of Papacy and the Roman Catholic Church. If that is true, then the Free Masons are the antithesis of the Roman Catholic Jesuits who are also a covert political entity formed with the intent of destroying Protestantism.
In 18th century France, Masons were openly acknowledged to have been the instigators of the Revolution which ultimately lead to the Papacy's overthrow, and the death of the "Holy Roman Empire." Having succeeded in those measures, the Masonic movement throughout America began to deal with the government to try and prevent Catholics from entering our great land. (most of the "Founding Fathers" were Masons) Unable to accomplish this, Masons in the United States went underground. The Papacy took advantage of that, and began to circulate the idea that Masons worshipped the Devil. Because Masons represent a secret Society, and because their efforts could not be publicly known, not only could they not reply to such claims, but it was in their best interest to allow this slander to be believed.
Evangelical and "Charismatic" Protestants, who have consistently followed the lead of Catholicism for over a century, have continued to spread the false and unsubstantiated rumor that Masons are devil worshippers. Masonic activities seem to have quieted down, as it has become more evident over the decades that true Protestantism has practically perished from the Earth. Very few Christians actually "Protest" anything against the "Mother Church" anymore.
With all this in mind, it becomes easy to see why Bible Students and Pastor Russell could conceivably be harmed by making false claims. It has been published that because many Bible Students rent Masonic Lodges in which to meet, that this is proof Bible Students (and as a result Pastor Russell) are involved in Satanic, and occult activities. Such claims are false. To make such claims is no more logical than to say that Bible Students who meet in Schools are secretly teachers, or those who meet in YMCA's are secretly Athletic Directors. Some Bible Student congregations have rented Masonic Halls for conventions and other services simply because they are conviently located, and are inexpensive. Bible Students have at times rented or used baptismal pools in local churches, but this would not prove they are part of that church. It only takes a little logic and reason to plainly see the truth.
Neither Pastor Russell, nor Bible Students have any connection with the Masonic movement. Bible Students are one of the very few Protestant groups who still teach that the Papacy and Catholicism represent the Biblical antichrist. Just because Mason's believe the same does not prove a linkage as many in the Anglican Church believe the same thing.
"But," some may say, "did not Pastor Russell use symbols from Freemasonry and the Knights Templar, not to mention an Egyptian sun-disk on his literature?" Let's consider these points, and clear this up once and for all:
Beginning with the issue of January 1st, 1895 there appeared on the cover of The Watch Tower both a Cross and Crown symbol, along with the symbol of a knights helmet. The Cross and Crown was an adaptation of a long used Roman Catholic symbol. The scripture says "if we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him," and "he who would be my follower must take up his cross daily and follow me". The combined thought of suffering and eventually receiving "the crown of life" are what is symbolized in the Cross and Crown. However, an additional element was added to the symbol: the palm leaves encircling it on the outside. The scriptures indicate that the palms represent our "victory". The use of this symbol no more proves Pastor Russell to support the occult than it would prove that he was a Roman Catholic!
As for the knights helmet, critics fail to notice that behind the helmet are a sword, a shepherds staff, and an axe. This in fact is neither a Masonic nor Knight's Templar symbol. This image was independently derived from concepts found in the Scriptures that we are to put on the "helmet of salvation; the sword of the spirit", "his rod and staff comfort me", and "all who walk rightly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." The life and struggle of the faithful Christian is represented in this symbol, not some secret allegiance to a man-made organization which the scriptures say we should not have anyway.
For over twenty-years a lamp emblem appeared on the spine of the "Millennial Dawn" series. (later renamed "Studies in the Scriptures"). As of 1911 the
lamp was replaced by a winged "solar-disk" on the front cover. For some reason, this seems to be one of the most significant issues to critics. In harping on the use of this symbol and claiming that it is of the occult critics believe they therewith have solid proof of Pastor Russell's occult connections, and therefore invalidate all of his life and study in one fell swoop. What is the truth about this symbol? Why was it used, and what does it mean? Though Egyptians did incorporate this symbol into their culture, it actually pre-dates them by several centuries, putting its creation and use very close to the time after the Great Flood. The symbol has also been found in the ancient cultures of Mesopotamia, Asia, South America, and even Australia. In fact, archaeologists recognize its origin as coming from two different types of earthly observations. Firstly, during a full solar eclipse when the sun is totally covered by the moon, there appear for a split second "streamers" or "wings" on either side of the sun. In our day they are called "coronal streamers". From these observations the ancients developed a winged solar-disk. The symbolism represented the domination of the light over darkness. Eventually, the symbol also came to represent the concept of that which was dead being restored to life. (For images of eclipses, and suns with wings, click here ) Secondly, at the dawn of the day, when the sun first emerges on the horizon, there is a split second when it appears to have "streamers" or "wings" on either side. Of course, the sun also seems to display 'beams' when it is in the sky. From these observations we have the basis for the messianic prophecy found in Malachi 4:2 (or Malachi 3:20 in the Hebrew Nevi'im) "The SUN of righteousness shall ARISE with healing in his WINGS." Thus, we see that a winged solar-disk is used in the Old Testament Jewish scriptures, and tied to the emergence of Christ's millennial Kingdom.
So why did this symbol appear on the covers of "Studies in the Scriptures"? It was a common symbol, appearing as a decoration on many things in the early-mid 20th century. (even Chrysler automobiles and Harley-Davidson motorcyles still today!) But, that's not why Pastor Russell chose it. He used it for the same reason he had previously used the lamp symbol: the light of Bible truth was again shining brightly for the first time in over 1,500 years! By 1908 Pastor Russell's writings were amongst the most distributed on earth, and it was clear that the errors of the DARK Ages were being overcome by the LIGHT of truth. Additionally, Pastor Russell believed that Christ had returned invisibly, and that therefore the Malachi prophecy was literally being fulfilled, that the SUN of righteousness was already RISING, that the dawn of the Millennial thousand-year day had begun, that God's Kingdom was emerging in its incipient stages. There is no mystery, or hidden meaning implied in it's usage. It was a proclamation to the world that Christ has returned, and his Kingdom is finally now being set up to bless all the families of the earth.
Pastor Russell was once asked about the illustration appearing on the cover of The Watch Tower and gave the following answer, with a bit of his classic wit:
"(1910)—2—What do the three crosses on the tower of the Watch Tower cover signify?
"I never thought of that. They are simply made there by the artist to represent windows. I drew the original sketch in a rough way, and he followed the idea, and it merely represents the cross for a window instead of being some other shape. The three has nothing to do with it,—it does not prove the trinity." ("The Question Book", pg. 198)
Once we begin to think for ourselves, and not allow others with an axe to grind to rule over us and tell us what to think, it becomes easier to see the truth.