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In this twelve-part series we are taking a brief look at some of the major cults, past and present, that have found adherents in the United States. Your pastor can help you if you’d like a more in-depth study of a particular group.

In the arena of secret societies, historic Rosicrucianism was a champion. It perfected secrecy to such a degree that some suggest it was founded upon an elaborate work of fiction.

Prominent men sought membership, only to be denied because one had to be deemed worthy and chosen by an existing Rosicrucian. Members lived ordinary lives, not disclosing their secret affiliation to anyone—not even families.

Complex symbols and diagrams abound in Rosicrucianism, but a simple hieroglyphic rose crucified upon a cross represents the “Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross.” For those who attempt to place a layer of Christianity upon Rosicrucianism, the cross symbolizes Christ, but truer to the order, the rose and cross represent the experiences and challenges of a thoughtful life well lived.

The accounts of Rosicrucianism’s genesis are many and varied, but none is able to claim historic certainty. In general, the beginnings are traced to three documents published in three successive years beginning in 1614. Together, these documents are known as the Rosicrucian Manifesto.

The manifesto tells the story of a poor German man from noble descent who is “the Highly illuminated Father C.R.C.” Placed in a cloister when he was five years old, he later studied with philosophers and mystics across Europe. He chose three other men and with them began the “Fraternity of the Rose Cross.”

The discovery of the founder’s tomb led to the publication of the manifesto because, it was said, finding the tomb was a sign that the world was ready for Rosicrucian wisdom. The manifesto’s message electrified Europe with intense excitement. The existence of a secret brotherhood of alchemists and sages who were preparing to transform the arts, sciences, religion, and politics sparked glimmers of hope in a land that far too often appeared darkly hopeless.

An 18th century variation of Rosicrucianism had considerable influence on Freemasonry. Many Freemasons became Rosicrucians, Rosicrucianism was established in many Masonic lodges, and the eighteenth Free masonry degree was named the “Rose-Croix.”

In 2017 Rosicrucianism was added as one of 216 religions recognized by the U.S. Armed Forces. Today’s Roscicrucians fall into three groups: Esoteric Christian Rosicrucians, who profess Christ and claim to possess a unique knowledge of inner Christian teachings; Masonic Rosicrucians;  and Initiatory Rosicrucians, who claim to follow pure and ancient Rosicrucianism.

Rosicrucianism is devoted to the study of ancient mystical, philosophical, and religious doctrines. Its teachings are a combination of occultism and other religious beliefs and practices. The central feature is the belief that its members possess secret wisdom that was handed down to them from ancient times which they seek to use in reforming society, culture, and religion.

Just as Rosicrucianism once offered the excitement of hope in Europe’s darkness, today’s Rosicrucians also offer a compelling siren call: “Imagine having the ability to actualize your highest potential in all areas of life. Imagine developing greater creativity. Imagine setting a new course for your future!” In sharp contrast, the true God says, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men . . . and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8) “When they say to you, ‘Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people seek their God? . . . To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Isaiah 8:19-20)

Rosicrucianism claims that it is not a religion and that one can retain his own god and worship while still following this so-called higher wisdom. The truth is that Christ’s disciples simply cannot follow a “wisdom” that contradicts the Word of their Savior. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)

Wayne Eichstadt is pastor of Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Spokane Valley, Washington.