The Orange Order


It would go too far to write about the history of the Orange Order from 1795 till now. A more relevant topic is: What is the Orange Order?  This is a significant question, for there is hardly an organisation, which is so often misunderstood as the Orange Order.  This is partly due to bad public relations. In the past the Orangemen were so convinced that they were right, that they did not think it necessary to defend themselves. So although almost everyone has heard of the Orange Order, it is still a rather obscure organisation. Nobody really knows what the Order exactly is and does.


Organisation and structure


The actual name of the Orange Order is “Loyal Orange Institution of Ireland”. It is a Protestant fraternity, its organisation formed after that of the Freemasons.[70] The Order is built up from some 1400 lodges all over the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland and some British dominions.[71] There used to be a lodge in The Netherlands as well.[72] Every lodge has its own number (the lodge involved in the Drumcree crises is called Portadown L.O.L. no. 1) and its own history. Some lodges are based upon location, a particular village or district, or an area where people used to live, such as lodges in Belfast that connect to the counties of Fermanagh, Tyrone or Donegal.  They meet in so-called Orange Halls. Each private lodge has a number of elected officers, including the Master, Secretary, Treasurer and Chaplain. The lodges elect six representatives each to the District Lodge, of which there are 126. Those district lodges have their own elected officers, District Orange Halls and parades. They elect 7 to 13 officers to one of 12 County Grand Lodges. 250 representatives from the County Grand Lodges and some 100 other elected officers form the Grand Lodge of Ireland. A Central Committee consists of 25 members from the six counties of Ulster and the southern counties of Cavan, Donegal, Monaghan and Leitrim. This Central

Committee makes policy recommendations to the Grand Lodge and issues press and public statements on matters of public concern. There are also committees on finance, education, and the Order's monthly newspaper The Orange Standard. The Grand Lodge meets several times a year with representatives of the Ulster Unionist Party, the largest unionist party in Ulster. The Order has had formal links with the UUP since the end of the last century and has considerable influence in that party.  The former Grand Master, Martin Smyth, is an MP for the Ulster Unionists.




It is not easy to say how many members the Orange Order has. The Pat Finucane Centre writes about "100,000, but the real figure may be around half that number."[73] Ian McTear estimates the membership at 80,000.[74] The members of the Order come from various Protestant denominations, like Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Quakers. One of the purposes of the Orange Order is to unite Protestants "in opposition to Biblical error and the encouragement of Scriptural truth".[75] Membership is only open to men who were born and raised Protestant. Women and young people have their own lodges. In order to become a lodge member, one must be proposed by a member of a lodge. He must assent to the so-called Basis, in which the Orangeman is qualified:


"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. He should cultivate truth and justice, brotherly kindness and charity, devotion and piety, concord and unity, and obedience to the laws; his deportment should be gentle and compassionate, kind and courteous; he should seek a society of the virtuous, and avoid that of the evil; he should honour and diligently study the Holy Scriptures, and make them the rule of his faith and practice; he should love, uphold, and defend the Protestant religion, and sincerely desire and endeavour to propagate its doctrines and precepts; he should strenuously oppose the fatal errors and doctrines of the Church of Rome, and

scrupulously avoid countenancing (by his presence or otherwise) any act of ceremony of Popish worship; he should by all lawful means, resist the ascendancy of that Church, its encroachments, and the extension of its power, ever abstaining from all uncharitable words, actions and sentiments, towards his Roman Catholic brethren; he should remember to keep holy the Sabbath day, and attend the public worship of God, and diligently train up his offspring, and all under his control, in the fear of God, and in the Protestant faith; he should never take the name of God in vain, but abstain from all cursing and profane language, and use every opportunity of discouraging these, and all other sinful practices, in others; his conduct should be guided by wisdom and prudence, and marked by honesty, temperance, and sobriety; the glory of God and the welfare of man, the honour of his Sovereign, and the good of his country, should be the motive of his actions."[76]




Of course the Orange Order does not exist for the sole reason of parading. It has a social function. It unites rich and poor, employer and employee, on a basis of equality.  The lodges serve the local community. This can take the form of protesting at the closure of a rural school, fundraising for cancer research, handicapped children and the Heart Foundation, like other service clubs as the Lions Club and the Rotary. The Orange Hall, of which there are about a thousand, is the focal point of Orange activity. It officiates as the meeting point of the lodge. The hall is also lent out to churches, clubs, etc. It often has a function as a local museum. A very important function of the Orange Order, especially the Junior Orange Lodge, is the education of young people. Because of its influence, it could bring up young men as respectable members of society. It could influence them to keep their hot heads in check, thus avoiding them to drift into paramilitary activity.


Not a secret society


It is widely believed that the Orange Order is a secret oath-bound society. This allegation is not difficult to refute. Orangeman C.M. Canavan wrote in the Belfast Telegraph: "No oath is asked for and none is given". He invokes Matthew 5:34-37.[77]  Rev. Zijderveld also denies that there are any secret oaths.[78] As for the Order being secret: An organisation that annually puts thousands of its members colourfully and noisily onto the public streets could scarcely be called a secret society! From many people it is known that they are Orangemen. This would not be the case if the Orange Order were secret.[79]  Paas quotes Martin Smyth: "The Orange society is not secret, but that doesn't mean that, like in consistory meetings, there are no matters that one had better not expose to publicity. For instance: Our society has always done a lot of charity, and that often demands a lot of discretion."[80] Lodge meetings are not open to non-members, and in dangerous times secret passwords were used. So rather than a secret organisation, the Orange Order can be described as an organisation with secrets.


Is the Order anti-Catholic?


Another claim by opponents of the Orange Order is that the Order is anti-Catholic. This depends on what one understands by that. This is one of the differences between Rome and Reformation. When the Roman Catholic church condemns a doctrine, it condemns the believers of that doctrine also. See the Council of Trent: "If anyone shall deny….let him be accursed".[81] And the Roman Catholic church murdered millions of so-called "heretics" in the times of the Spanish Inquisition, the Rebellion of 1641, the St. Bartholomew's night in France and so on and so forth. The churches of the Reformation, on the other hand, condemn only the doctrine. The Heidelberg Catechism condemns the doctrine of the "popish mass" as "accursed idolatry".[82] So a true Reformed Christian hates the sin but loves the sinner, while the Roman Catholic Church hates the sinner. From the publications of the Orange Order one can indeed conclude that the Order is anti-Catholic. The booklet Het geloof van de christen, which was published by the Dutch Orange lodge, consists of "Twelve statements against the Romish doctrine". It starts with: "To our Roman Catholic friends, we send you this proclamation out of love to Christ and to your eternal salvation".[83] This can hardly be called hatred! The Order is anti-Catholic in the way that it does not like the Roman Catholic church as a world power and a system, but, as the Ulster Examiner states: "Being reconciled with God, they are at peace with their neighbour".[84] Portadown district LOL expresses its views for the future on their website: "We believe that in the new Northern Ireland there is room for both our traditions and room for mutual respect between both our communities. It was Christ who commanded "Love thy Neighbour" and it is in that Christian spirit that we approach the continuing challenges of cross-community relations in our locality". [85]


Anti-Orangeists have always tried to link the Orange Order with the Protestant paramilitaries. The Pat Finucane Centre links the Order to the so-called Orange Volunteers, while Martin Fletcher wrote an insinuating article in The Times, in which he revealed that Portadown was the birthplace of Billy "King Rat" Wright, the leader of the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) who was assassinated in the Maze prison in 1997.[86] By writing this fact in an article on the Orange parade in Portadown, he suggests a link between the Order and the LVF.  There may be individual Orangemen that are members of the paramilitaries, but as an organisation the Orange Institution has always condemned violence and terrorism.


Reformed criticism of the Order


A considerable part of evangelical Protestants have dissociated themselves from the Orange Order. This is not because of the Order's principles, which are sound Protestant as we can see in "the qualifications of an Orangeman", but because of unbiblical elements that have gained influence in the last few decades. There has always been disagreement in the Order whether the membership of the Orange institution was compatible with that of other organisations like the Freemasons. As we have seen the Order was formed after the Order of the Freemasons, and it has always had many masons in its ranks. This has also to do with the differences between Protestants. The more liberal upper class Protestants were less interested in orthodox forms of Protestantism. When in the nineteenth century the idea of Home Rule was raised, they saw the Orange institution as defenders of Ireland's British identity and joined the organisation. In 1869 the tension between those liberals and the more orthodox Protestants built up and a split was inevitable. A group of small businessmen, tenant farmers and workers separated from the Orange Order and formed the Independent Orange Order.[87]


Many evangelical Protestants don't feel at home in the Order. The Order unites all kinds of Protestants. The Free-Presbyterian Rev. Ivan Foster wonders in his magazine The Burning Bush how a person like Martin Smyth, who is "actively involved in the ecumenical movement", can be a leading figure in an organisation, dedicated to the maintenance of the Protestant faith.[88] The present Grand Master, Robert Saulters, is a Unitarian. Unitarianism denies the Trinity and the deity of Christ. How is this according to the "qualification of an Orangeman"? Rev. Robert C. Beckett, minister of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Belfast, said, pointing at an Orange Hall: "The Bible has disappeared from the table. There is drinking and dancing now. They will not see me there".[89] Rev. Ian Paisley is not a member of the Orange Order either. On 17 March 1972 he said in the Reformatorisch Dagblad: "The Orange Order has failed to put its own principles into practice. Some lodges have slowly grown into totally worldly amusement clubs, where people dance, drink etc. There is further a growing influence of the World Council of Churches noticeable. Although the Order has condemned the World Council, several Orangemen belong to denominations, which are members of this ecumenical organisation. Personally I sympathise with many members of the Orange Order. Regularly I speak on their meetings and give them my opinion."[90]


So we can conclude that the Orange Order in itself is a respectable organisation, which has had a positive influence in the Ulster society. It is based on biblical principles. Many Orangemen, although a minority of the Orange membership, do their best to put these principles in practice, but unfortunately the main stream of Orangeism has become ecumenical.[91] Foster warns: "Any professedly Protestant organisation which clutches to itself that which is utterly destructive of its being must decline and die, if not as an organisation, certainly as a force for good in society."[92]



[70] Kennedy, p. 8

[71] Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Ghana and Togo

[72]  This lodge was founded in 1964 by among others Rev. G.A. Zijderveld. (Lobbezoo in In het Spoor, Dec. 1996) Zijderveld had to resign as a member when one of his fellow-Orangemen appeared a rosicrucian. (De Saambinder, 28/8/69) Miss W.C. Taverne gave me a booklet called "Het geloof van de christen", published by the Dutch Orange Order.

[73] Pat Finucane Centre website

[74] "The Orange Order", Belfast Telegraph website

[75] Leaflet "What is the Orange Order?"

[76] Pat Finucane Centre, also: What is the Orange Order, also: RD 17/3/72

[77] Belfast Telegraph, 3/8/96

[78] De Saambinder, 28/8/69

[79] See also: The Orange Order; Common questions and answers and: De Saambinder, 28/8/69

[80] Paas, p. 51

[81] Chick, p. 7

[82] Lord's Day 30, Question and Answer 80

[83] Het geloof van de christen, p. 1

[84] Ulster Examiner, 22/6/99

[85] The Orange Order and some local history

[86] The Times, 29/6/99

[87] Paas, p. 53

[88] The Burning Bush, 1/8/98

[89] RD 19/5/98

[90] Quoted in Paas, p. 55

[91] An example of the views of the Order can be found in an article in the Orange Standard. In an article titled Protestant force for good, we read: "Protestantism also produced its bigots, and it had its own intolerant elements -the Puritans who sought to impose their ideas on others, including fellow Protestants- is an example"  (Orange Standard, Nov. 1999)

[92] The Burning Bush, 1/8/98