Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that after Christ was killed, the church He established fell away from many of His teachings. Because of the wickedness of the people, the authority of the Priesthood was lost, many of Christ’s doctrines were corrupted, and for ages, the fire of the gospel was reduced to a few glowing embers. That is, until the 1800s when we believe Jesus Christ once again started to restore that which was lost.
But the question on everyone’s mind is, was there actually an apostasy? Could that even have been possible? Let’s dive in.
Before we really get into this I want to clear up 3 misconceptions about The Great Apostasy that both non-members and members of our church sometimes believe: First, the Apostasy didn’t happen overnight. It happened gradually over hundreds of years. Second, the Apostasy didn’t end overnight either. And third, we do not believe that everyone living during the Apostasy was evil and uninspired. It wasn’t all bad.
“The line of Priesthood authority was broken. But mankind was not left in total darkness or completely without revelation or inspiration.” There was still truth and goodness available, but Latter-day Saints do believe that key doctrines were changed or lost from the church completely. The nature of God, eternal marriage, essential ordinances, and of course, Priesthood authority, among other things, all needed to be restored.
Many people believe that there couldn’t have been an apostasy, because if there was, it would mean that Christ “failed.” Many people surely felt the same way about Christ’s crucifixion. Their Savior, their great leader, their prophet, was arrested and publicly executed. But Christians know Christ didn’t fail. Yes, he was killed, but three days later he took his physical body back and was resurrected. If Christ’s physical body can die and be resurrected, I don’t find it hard to believe that the spiritual body of Christ, the church, fell away and was later restored as well.
But let’s back up a bit. First of all, our God is a God of order, and there was organization to His church. Christ was at the head, followed by a quorum of 12 apostles. When the apostle Judas died, they replaced him with Matthias, maintaining the group of 12. But even though apostles were later dropping like flies, no new apostles are called to the quorum. Probably because they couldn’t exactly send out a group text saying, “Hey, I’m about to be beheaded. Start looking at resumes.” There are a couple of people, like Paul, who is sort of an ‘honorary apostle,’ but not one of the 12. So one of the foundations of Christ’s Church was dissolving. But the apostles weren’t going down without a fight. The second half of the New Testament shows us very clearly that the apostles were trying to correct the false teachings that were starting to seep into the church:
In 2 Timothy, as Paul is in prison in Rome waiting to be executed, he writes “This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me…” He talks about people who are “overthrowing the faith of some” with false doctrines. He prophesies, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” To the saints in Ephesus, he said, “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.”
To the Galatians he wrote, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.”
Jude recognized that the gospel was being distorted.
“…it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares … ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Later he writes, “But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit” (Jude 1:3-4, and 17-19).
In Revelation, the apostle John reveals stark warnings to most of the seven churches as apostasy starts to break them apart. Make sure you pause to read the quote by Kent Jackson. The scriptures just go on and on and on with prophecies about impending apostasy and examples of it. And then the scriptures end, and we have to look beyond the scriptures, into history, to learn what happened after the age of the apostles.
Hegesippus, an early church chronicler is quoted by Eusebius as saying, “…when the sacred choir of apostles became extinct, and the generation of those that had been privileged to hear their inspired wisdom had passed away, then also the combinations of impious error arose by the fraud and delusions of false teachers. These also, as there were none of the apostles left, henceforth attempted, without shame to preach their false doctrine against the gospel of truth.” And this analysis is expanded upon by later historians. Pause the video and read what they had to say.
For over 300 years Christians were pressured by outside Pagan and Jewish persecution to leave their faith, while the influences of Greek philosophy and pagan and gnostic beliefs warped Christianity from within. Doctrines that we respectfully disagree with, such as infant baptism, non-immersive baptism, transubstantiation, traditional trinitarianism, and a universal priesthood, are all examples of teachings we believe were not elements of Christ’s original Church.
But again, that’s not to say that all truth was gone. There were many wonderful Christians who lived throughout the Apostasy, who did the best they could with what they had. All truth is gospel, and there was still a lot of truth, for which we should all be eternally grateful.
What really defines this time as an apostasy was the loss of priesthood authority. Now that’s not to say that nobody on earth had the priesthood, but rather that eventually nobody on earth was authorized to use that priesthood to officiate in the Church and its essential ordinances, such as baptism.
If you’re Catholic, you’ll hear that and think, “now wait a minute, Catholicism can trace its priesthood line all the way back to Peter. It was never lost.” And I totally respect that belief, but we believe that the prophecies of Paul and other prophets, together with the corruption of key doctrines, ordinances, and organization, is evidence that the priesthood was either not passed down, or was revoked somewhere fairly early on down the line. The popular Protestant belief is that of a Universal Priesthood, which I talk about in this episode. Latter-day Saints are unique in that we believe Priesthood authority was lost and then restored to the prophet Joseph Smith in the early 1800s.
That was a ton of information crammed into one short video, so check out the links in the description for more information on this topic, and have a great day!
- Read “The Great Apostasy” by James E. Talmage for free: https://bit.ly/31CKONy
- From the Encyclopedia of Mormonism: https://bit.ly/2N3ivUr
- Did the Great Apostasy mean Christ failed?: https://bit.ly/2MgeNqT
- Why did God let the Great Apostasy happen?: https://bit.ly/31HFh8f