Mormonism and the Apostasy Narrative

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Introduction

I had two young Mormon (LDS / Latter-Day Saint) missionaries come by my house the other day. Although I have had many meetings with Mormon missionaries in the past, this time I wanted to take a different tack than before. I wanted more than a contentious theological response that basically boiled down to “I have beliefs that disagree with yours.” I also did not want to launch into a philosophical criticism of their theology that required a grasp of infinite set theory. This time I decided to go after the very foundation of Mormonism’s claims: the so-called Great Apostasy.

Mormons are taught that their first prophet, Joseph Smith Jr., led a restoration of true Christianity which had been lost since the deaths of the apostles. This “apostasy narrative” is essential to Mormon legitimacy – for if the Christian Church did not disappear from the Earth for nearly 1,800 years, then LDS founder Joseph Smith had nothing to “restore” when he started the Mormon faith. What evidence is there to support such an idea? And how does it fare? Here is a brief exposition and critique.

(For a full critical review of the main Mormon text on this subject, see Was There a Great Apostasy??.)

Mormon Church History

LDSApostacy70-1820The “Great Apostasy” (About 90% of Church History)

The story of the founding of the Mormon Church begins in 1820 when a 14 year old boy named Joseph Smith Jr. prayed to God to ask which church he should join. The problem was that there were so many, and they all taught different things:

The Presbyterians were most decided against the Baptists and Methodists, and used all the powers of both reason and sophistry to prove their errors, or, at least, to make the people think they were in error. On the other hand, the Baptists and Methodists in their turn were equally zealous in endeavoring to establish their own tenets and disprove all others. 10 In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it? (Hist. 1:9-10)

Smith, confused by all the different churches and teachings around him, read James 1:5 and decided it meant that God would reveal answers to people if they pray. (Note: It doesn’t.) He went into the woods, prayed, and “God and Jesus” appeared to him with this response:

I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof. (Hist. 1:19)

This is known as the “First Vision” (such things were popular in Smith’s day). Time passed, and eventually Smith is said to have translated (/plagiarized) the Book of Mormon. This is the book that LDS missionaries wish people to read and pray about to determine whether Smith was a true prophet of God (Moroni 10:4). Eventually Smith’s status was elevated to “Prophet” when he began the LDS faith.

This “restoration” of Christianity was supposed to counteract the loss of the priesthood and Church of Jesus Christ (another idea popular in his day). Although some gospel teachings survived in diluted form through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Without priesthood authority, religious leaders and individual believers could only try to do their best with the Light of Christ and these fragments of truth to guide them.” (Seminary Teacher Resource Manual). Try as they might, Christians had no authority to baptize or teach the truths of the gospel, thus the faith was lost until Smith came along 18 centuries later.

Mormonism has now lasted over 175 years. Per Smith, this obliterates the record set by the Church Jesus founded:

I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet. (Joseph Smith, History, 6:19)

The Mormon prophet of today, Thomas Monson, is said to be the authorized successor to Joseph Smith: “He and the Church’s other Apostles trace their priesthood authority back to Jesus Christ in an unbroken chain of ordinations” (Mormon.org). Now, this “unbroken chain” only traces back to Joseph Smith himself, of course. It is Smith’s claim to have been ordained to the restored priesthood by Jesus that grounds his claim – not an historical line of “authorized successors” from the apostles to Smith. This is to be expected, though, because, according to Mormonism, between the deaths of the apostles and Smith, the priesthood was gone from the earth due to the “Great Apostasy.”

The Great Apostasy

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Mormons “believe that apostasy occurs whenever an individual or community rejects the revelations and ordinances of God, changes the gospel of Jesus Christ, or rebels against the commandments of God, thereby losing the blessings of the Holy Ghost and of divine authority.” These “apostasies” differ from “dispensations” which are times of prophetic guidance. Apostasies have allegedly recurred throughout human history – the longest stretching from the deaths of the apostles in the 1st Century to the founding of Mormonism in the 19th Century. That’s quite a claim. The problem for Mormons is that such an idea fits neither Church history nor Christian scripture.

It is Against History

Because all Christian groups believe they were ultimately founded by Jesus Christ, all who wish to be considered legitimate need to explain why they did not exist prior to their (actual) founding date. The gap is usually explained by what I call an “apostasy narrative” – a tale of how the “real” Christians somehow were excluded from the apostate church of whatever date one chooses to see as the beginning of the downfall of true Christianity. This explanation is given to justify the restoration/reformation of the Church at whatever date a given group began. Such an idea, though, is not grounded by a shred of non-question-begging historical evidence. The argument basically boils down to “The early Church did not teach Mormonism.” The best attempt I have seen a list various false teachings that existed at different periods of time. Theological errors have always been around, though. If the mere presence of heresy in some quarters grounds a “Great Apostasy” then there has never been a period of time that wasn’t an apostasy – including the times of the prophets, apostles, and Jesus himself! Like other “apostasy narratives,” the only reason Mormons have to believe in this “Great Apostasy” is the fact that their teachings are not found in the early Church. Nor are they justified by apostasy warnings in the Bible.

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It is Against Scripture

This startling 1,800 years apostasy is allegedly predicted by the Bible, but that idea fares no better than the Mormon’s false historical narrative.  Mormons try to show that this “Great Apostasy” was predicted by in the Bible, but the passages are all either so general as to be useless for a specific prediction, or they are so precise that they cannot refer to the time period Mormons say they do.

Old Testament verses cited by Mormons to prove the coming of the Great Apostasy only indicate some future falling away or judgment of God for disbelief (e.g., those in Isaiah). When particulars are given, however, they run contrary to what Mormons teach. The most cited passage, for example, is Amos 8:11 which Mormons are taught is a prediction of the “Great Apostasy.” It is clear from both the Bible and history, however, that this is not the case. The chapter uses pretty standard Day of the Lord language, found throughout scripture to indicate God’s judgment (often via invading armies). Amos specifically named these northern tribes as the object of his prophecy in chapter 2 (vss. 6-16). In chapter 8 he says it again: “The end is come upon my people of Israel.” Amos 8:12 says Israel will look to solve their famine of revelation “from the north even to the east.” Why not “from north to south”? because in the south (i.e., Judah) revelation did not cease!  Amos also describes the recipients of this prophecy as the northern cities of Samaria, Dan, and Beersheba. Amos prophesied these things around 760 B.C., and they all happened around 723 B.C. when the Assyrians invaded. Thus, the prophecy had been fulfilled for  2,550 years before the Mormons tried to apply it to the Christian Church. Mormons may claim that this is an instance of dual-fulfillment, but they will need to contend with the specific details of this prophecy that do not fit the Christian Church. Besides all the specified names and geographical details above, Amos says the reason God’s judgment is coming: because Israel mistreated the poor (8:4-6), and for worshiping false gods (v. 14). Whatever else its failures may have been, the Christian Church of the second century was hardly worthy of this judgment. It treated the poor very well and was not idolatrous.

The New Testament verses cited by Mormons to prove the coming of the Great Apostasy (e.g., Mt. 24 or Acts 20) only indicate some future falling away – none give a useful timeline nor any non-question-begging details that pick out some second century event(s). For example, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 only indicates a promise some future falling away. It could have been immediately or it could have been 1,000,000 years in the future. What is worse for the Mormon here is the solution offered to the general problem of apostasy that Paul gives just a few verses later: “stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.” So it is the tradition of the Church that safeguards believers against apostasy – but the Mormons would have us believe that this tradition died with the apostles. In 2 Timothy 4:1-3 Paul indicates here that at some time in the future there would be false teachers and those who follow them. Two things ruin the Mormon understanding of this verse: (1) Paul is writing to Timothy – his chosen successor. He tells Timothy to pass on the sound teaching he learned from Paul to other Church leaders. Mormons would have us believe this did not take place. And once again, the protection from apostasy is found in apostolic tradition two verses earlier (2:22).

Now, even if early Church history seemed to fulfill these biblical predictions, the Great Apostasy as described by Mormon teachings is theologically impossible. When Jesus founded the Church, he said “the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Mt. 16:18). Jesus prayed that Peter – who Mormons acknowledge as the Chief Apostle and the one to whom Jesus left the Church – would not fail (Lk. 22:32). Unless Jesus failed his own test for wisdom (Mt. 7:24-27), his Church cannot have gone into apostasy nor disappeared from the earth. Paul calls the Church the “pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). The apostle Paul says Christ’s kingdom cannot be shaken (Heb. 12:28). Thus, the Church that existed after the time of the apostles cannot have gone into apostasy nor disappeared from the earth.

Conclusion

Between the founding of the Christian Church and the arrival of Mormonism is a period of 1,800 years. If the Great Apostasy narrative were true, it would have invalidated about 98% of the history of the Christian Church up to that point. If Jesus would remain with his apostles to “the end of the age,” and his gospel went to the “whole world” in their lifetime, and the Church established by that gospel could not be shaken or overcome, then how could the “plain and precious truths of the gospel” be lost the instant the last apostle died? Did every one of the apostolic successors simply forget the gospel? Did the worldwide believers fail to notice that the chosen leaders of the Church were teaching a false gospel? Would such things not constitute an “overcoming” or a “shaking”? Yet the inspired writers of the Bible say this can never happen. Thus, the Mormon narrative that includes the apostasy of the Church is false.

This conclusion is in agreement with Mormonism’s own teachings:

The restored Church affirms that a general apostasy developed during and after the apostolic period, and that the primitive Church lost its power, authority, and graces as a divine institution, and degenerated into an earthly organization only. The significance and importance of the great apostasy, as a condition precedent to the re-establishment of the Church in modern times, is obvious. If the alleged apostasy of the primitive Church was not a reality, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not the divine institution its name proclaims. (James E. Talmadge, The Great Apostasy, Preface)

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25 thoughts on “Mormonism and the Apostasy Narrative

  1. Just a few comments

    The Bishop of Rome, who claimed authority to lead the church, had no direct evidence to support this claim except that he was ordained a Bishop by Peter. Note that he was not ordained an Apostle, and thus for him to claim the authority as leader of the church (authority held only by apostles) is in itself direct evidence that the true line of leadership was broken at that point. So, you can claim a line of authority all you want, but it is a line of false authority, seized without right and against the order that God has laid out.

    As to Christ’s promise, please quote the entire verse. Matthew 16: 17-18 states that the church was to built on the rock, which is revelation or direct guidance from Christ. If so founded than the gates of Hades could not prevail against it. However, if it ever left that foundation the promise is made void, and this is what happened when the Bishop wrongly claimed authority. In Luke 22: 32 Christ does not pray that Peter does not fail, but that his faith doesn’t fail, meaning he is praying that Peter never falters and falls away, which didn’t happen, so there is no problem here. (I am not sure what the Parable of the Prodigal Son has to do with this – Luke 15: 28-30)

    As to Paul’s statements in Romans 1: 8 and Colossians 1: 23, unless you can give proof that every person living on the earth at the time that he wrote (including those in America) had been taught the gospel than you have nothing to stand on here. As such is obviously not the case, as history proves, we can easily see that Paul is using figures of speech and not being literal.
    Jude never actually states it was taught to all saints, and even if he did it would merely be a reference to the fact that those who had been baptized at that point had been taught.
    In Hebrews 12: 28 it says the church cannot be moved, and it never was. However, the people left the church, and thus they lost it. Apostasy doesn’t happen because God leaves the people, but because the people leave God. God is always there.

    I am not going to comment on the prophecies at this time, as that is a longer discussion. But on everything else you fail to prove anything, except that you interpret the Bible differently than we do.

  2. Shematwater,

    I did cite some of the historical evidence for the chain of ordination of the Roman Bishops. No one disputes that they are not Apostles (i.e., one of the 12) – nor does that have anything to do with the claim. Leadership of the Church was passed on from the Apostles to the Bishops (we even see this in the NT), and that is all that is necessary to substantiate what I said in the post.

    Quote it all you want, Mt. 16 says nothing of the founding of the Church on “revelation or direct guidance from Christ.” God’s revelation to Peter is the cause of his confession, but that is not the subject of the sentence in question. Peter’s faith was never recorded as having failed after Christ prayed this prayer – where do you find that? Peter had a moral failure when he denied he was one of Jesus’ disciples, but that hardly counts as losing his faith (or falling into heresy).

    Good call on the prodigal son, that was a C-n-P error. 🙂 It was supposed to point to the wise builder (Mt, 7:24-27). I fixed it.

    I actually do not need every person on earth to have the gospel preached to them to make my point. Jesus spoke of the whole world in the same context in Mt. 24 and Mt. 28 that Paul did in Romans and Colossians. The point is that the gospel was all over the place by then, and not something that could be easily lost.

    Individual apostasy is possible within the Church (what else would it be, right?) and predicted in the Bible. Thus, citing individual apostasies or even hereticla movements within the Churhc is no proof of the Church’s apostasy (cf. Mt. 13 parable of the tares). But an apostasy on the scale demanded by the First Vision and subsequent LDS apologists would equate to The Church ceasing to exist. You seem to treat the Church as some abstract entity that exists whether it is populated or not. What is The Church if it is not the people?

    I do interpret the Bible differently, but it is in accord with a 2,000 year old authoritative Church that began in the Bible and can be easily traced historically to today – not on the tales of a 14 year old boy who came along 1,800 years later and (eventually) taught things completely absent from the historical record. If you can have faith in the latter, I don’t think any evidential argument will sway you.

  3. “Leadership of the Church was passed on from the Apostles to the Bishops (we even see this in the NT)”

    Local Leadership was passed to the Bishops, but it never once says that church leadership was passed to the bishops. That is a claim the bishops made without any grounds to make it. The historical record, including the Bible, does not directly support what you claim, and that is my point. What you see as evidence of a direct line we see as evidence of a departure from the true church.

    Now, if you care to go back and read what I said you will not find any claim that Peter’s faith failed. I clearly state that it never did and thus Christ’s prayer for him was fulfilled, whether the church failed or not. As to Matthew 16, the term for Peter is the Greek refers to a small stone, but the rock on which the church is built refers to bedrock, clearly making a distinction between the two. Peter was not the foundation. So what is the bedrock foundation that Christ is referring to? It is the revelation that Peter received and on which his testimony was founded. On that principle the church was to be founded, and if it stayed on that foundation dead would not prevail against it.
    I realize you see this differently, but the next supports what I have said.

    Speaking of the church, the church is indeed the assembly of the faithful, meaning those who have taken on them the name of Christ through Baptism and Confirmation by proper authority. However, it does not have to be on this earth to exist. During the apostasy the gospel was lost and the true church was not to be found on the Earth, but it existed in world of Spirits and in the Heavens. Death did not prevail against it, for even in death the faithful still assemble to worship the one true God of Heaven and work to spread His Gospel. But on the earth the people left God and thus lost the church.

    Now, your historical record doesn’t prove what you claim, and that was the main point I was making. What you believe you take on faith just as much as I do. If historians are to be trusted we can point to the many indications that the original doctrine of the church was altered and made to fit more easily with Greek Philosophy, and thus even historians would generally say that the actual original doctrine is not something that can be declared with any real confidence from the historical records.
    There is also very little in our doctrine that is not found in the historical record of Christianity. Just because you call it heresy does not prove it to be so, and that is actually another great proof to me that the apostasy did actually take place. I am reminded of the prophecy that the people would call good bad and bad good. (Isaiah 5: 20)

  4. Shematwater,

    I’m not going to keep quoting the same passages. The evidence clearly favors the traditional reading. The apostles settled doctrinal issues by council, so did the Bishops. The apostles pronounced sins as forgiven, so did the Bishops. Etc. The faith delivered to the saints that contained “all Jesus taught” was all over the world and the writings we have agree that bishops were the successors to the apostles. Anyone can say of what is that is wrong, but atleast we have an “it” in existence to point to.

    What you said concerning Peter was that Jesus “is praying that Peter never falters and falls away, which didn’t happen.” Since Jesus’ prayer was for Peter’s faith, you did make that claim, even if indirectly. If you are referring to some other prayer of Jesus for Peter in LK. 22, please cite it.

    The Greek argument concerning petros is not as cut-and-dried as you seem to think it is. The distinction does not hold in Aramaic and simply follows gender (i.e., not renaming Peter with a feminine title). This is not important to my overall argument, but you can check sources both Catholic and Protestant to substantiate what i said.

    That is an interesting and novel approach to Mt. 16 and the Gates of the Grave. But again, I defer to history. And when I say history I am not meaning skeptical scholars or critics or secularists of any kind. The history of the Church, the story of her life, is what counts. THAT story leaves no room for your claims.

    You are right that mycalling something heresy does not make it so. Neither does a 14 year old farm boy known for telling tales and who has been objectively proven to be a liar when it comes to his gifts of interpretation (e.g., the laughable “Book of Abraham”). So who does get to call out heresy? The Church. The same Church that defined the very contents of the Bible that Joseph Smith took for granted (until he added himself to his “translation” of Genesis, and even to the Book of Revelation in violation of 22:19). That Church that you call apostate.

  5. “The evidence clearly favors the traditional reading.”

    The evidence only clearly favors it because you want it to favor it. In all actuality the evidence that is not based on faith doesn’t support either one of our claims clearly, which is why it is a matter of faith.
    Oh, and you never quoted anything about the bishops, only made claims without direct support.

    “The apostles settled doctrinal issues by council, so did the Bishops. The apostles pronounced sins as forgiven, so did the Bishops. Etc.”

    This proves nothing. Anyone can call a counsel and draft a list of approved beliefs, and anyone can declare sins to be forgiven. But if they do this without proper authority they prove themselves to be in apostasy, claiming that which they do not have.
    And the Apostles didn’t settle things by counsel anyway. They settled things by revelation, and generally it was Peter who had the final word, as the Head Apostle. In Acts 15 it is Peter that ends the debate, referencing a revelation he had previously had, and after he has spoken they all keep silent. In Acts chapter one, when deciding who would replace Judas in the counsel of Apostles they prayed that God would “shew whether of these two thou hast chosen” showing they were relying on revelation from God.

    Now, I was referring to Luke 22, and I never made any claim, even indirectly that Peter’s faith failed. I stated “In Luke 22: 32 Christ does not pray that Peter does not fail, but that his faith doesn’t fail, meaning he is praying that Peter never falters and falls away, which didn’t happen, so there is no problem here.”
    What part of this indirectly claims that Peter’s faith failed? Where are you getting this? It is not in my words, and cannot be logically deduced from my words.

    As to heresy, only God can declare what is and what isn’t heresy, and only one who has the authority to speak in his name and receive revelation from him can share such knowledge with the world. The Bishops cannot prove their authority any more than we can, and I don’t really care to try. I believe that Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ. I believe that John the Baptist and later Peter, James, and John all appeared to him and conferred on him the proper keys of authority which were lost sometime after the ancient apostles died. You can believe what you want, but you have no more proof for it than I do.

    (Oh, and there is no objective proof that Joseph Smith lied about anything. Their is subjective speculation and that is it.)

  6. If I may jump in:

    shematwater writes:

    “In all actuality the evidence that is not based on faith doesn’t support either one of our claims clearly, which is why it is a matter of faith.”

    “You can believe what you want, but you have no more proof for it than I do.”

    It sounds like you’re saying that your belief in the General Apostasy, and my disbelief (as a Catholic) in the GA, have the same basis: faith. I agree and disagree.

    It seems to me that for you, the GA is a direct article of faith: it’s the whole ground upon which the Restoration of the Church is based. Without the GA, there would have been no need to call J. Smith as a prophet. In a sense, you could say that for you, the GA is equivalent to original sin for a Catholic: It’s the problem that our Church was founded to solve. No Fall of Man, no sin to be saved from, no Incarnation, no Catholicism.

    For a Catholic, disbelief in the GA is not an article of faith in itself, but a mere by-product of our faith in Christ: Christ claimed to be God, did miracles to back up his claim, founded a Church, promised he would be with it until the end of time, and that the Holy Spirit would guide it into all truth.

    Thus far we agree.

    But we Catholics see the Catholic Church around today, that it is continuously traceable to the time of the Apostles, and conclude that it must be the same as the one Christ founded. On this basis, granting for the sake of argument that after Christ’s death, the early Christians disagreed and bickered and squabbled, we assume that the faith that survived is the true one, unless it be proven otherwise. Ultimately this belief is based on faith in Christ, and in what he said and did, as revealed in the Gospels, which we accept as reliable historical documents — all of which premises are shared by you.

    Whereas you, based on revelations given to Smith and not based on historical evidence (as you admit), believe you have received an *additional* article of faith: that the Church and priesthood needed to be restored to the earth because of the GA having occurred.

  7. Agellius

    Most of what you say I agree with, with one exception. You say my claims are not based on historical evidence, when they are based on that evidence, just as much as yours are.

    You say “But we Catholics see the Catholic Church around today, that it is continuously traceable to the time of the Apostles, and conclude that it must be the same as the one Christ founded.”

    We, on the other hand, see the Catholic church today, understand that it is traceable back to the Bishop of Rome that was ordained by Peter, and conclude that the Bishop, not being an Apostles had not right to assume the leadership that he did. As such, the historical record of his claim to authority supports our belief in the Great Apostasy.

    Now, we also acknowledge that our conclusion is not directly stated in any historical document, and also acknowledge that yours is not either. As such, neither of our conclusions concerning the historical evidence is sufficient proof to establish the Great Apostasy as historical fact or historical fiction. Thus, either conclusion requires one to have faith in the church they choose and neither has greater support than the other.

  8. Shematwater,

    You say, “either conclusion requires one to have faith in the church they choose and neither has greater support than the other.” This is based on a faulty historical method. The claim you are up against derives from the actual historical fact of succession and the Church’s self-understanding that the historical writings reveal – not a theological presupposition that is overlaid without historical evidence over the historical facts. One does not do good history by basing a theory on what is not evidenced.

    Your narrative is completely circular: “we understand . . . therefore history supports our belief.” No. That would be like me saying, “I understand a false prophet to be one who is polygamous. Joseph Smith Jr. was polygamous, so the historical record supports my belief that he was a false prophet.” The fact that the historical understanding of the Church goes against Mormon theology is exactly why your view is not historically evidenced. Your circular method could be used to prove anything, therefore it proves nothing.

  9. Shematwater:

    I don’t think it’s as simple as saying that our claims have the same basis, i.e. “faith in the church [we] choose” in both cases. I think it works differently in each case.

    In my case, “faith in the church I choose” doesn’t come before my lack of belief in the GA. The idea of the GA doesn’t even enter my head since, historically (as you acknowledge), there’s no more reason why I should believe in the GA than that I shouldn’t.

    Faith in the church I choose follows faith in Christ, and is based on his promise that his Church would endure, and that he would remain with it. In other words, logically speaking, belief that the Church would endure comes before belief in my particular Church, and is a reason why I choose to believe in it.

    Whereas for you, belief in the GA *follows* belief in the Church you choose. If you didn’t believe in that Church, then you would have no reason to hold a particular belief in the GA.

    Your belief in the GA is a product of your Church. My belief that Christ’s Church would endure continuously to the end, is a preambulum fidei, i.e. it precedes faith in my particular Church.

  10. Agellius

    “Your belief in the GA is a product of your Church.”

    I have to disagree with this as well. The idea of the Apostasy is not really new. the reformation was based on the same basic principle; that the Catholic church had strayed from the true faith causing a need for the church to be reformed to return it to what it was originally. Some tried to reform the Catholic church itself, while others simply try to re-establish the church through a different organization. The leaders of the reformation recognized that there was something wrong, as Joseph Smith did in the 1800’s, and as we do today.
    I don’t need to believe in LDS church to believe that the Catholic church is not the same one that Christ set up, and thus to believe in an apostasy. The historical record is sufficient to support such a belief. I referenced the Bishop of Rome because that was the example that had already been used, but there are others, as I have mentioned above.
    Taking these two things together I agree with the men of the Reformation that something was wrong, and I see the claim of the Bishop of Rome as part of what was wrong. I don’t need the LDS church to show me this. All the LDS church does is admit this same basic idea and then show us how to fix what was wrong.

    Soul Device

    I have said nothing that is circular. I never once said that history supports our belief because we believe it. I have said that I am able to see these things because of my perspective, and that is perfectly true. I am also able to see your perspective, which is why I don’t claim that the historical record proves either one.

    “The claim you are up against derives from the actual historical fact of succession”

    And yet the historical record does not establish a fact of succession; only a claim of succession, and that is one of my points. The claim I am up against is derived from a claim made for which there is no evidence the man making it had any right to do so.
    And talk about circular reasoning: “the Church’s self-understanding that the historical writings reveal”
    The church understands it this way and thus it is historical fact. This is exactly what you tried to accuse me of.

  11. Shematwater:

    I hope you don’t mind my saying that I think you’re confusing the issue a bit. The belief that the Catholic Church is not the one Christ set up, is not sufficient to constitute a GA; nor is the fact that people “recognized that there was something wrong”. The GA, according to the LDS Church, consisted mainly in the loss of apostolic succession and the valid priesthood and ordinances. (“Therefore, a restoration, not a reformation, was required. priesthood authority did not continue in an unbroken line of succession from the Apostle Peter. … Thus, restoration of priesthood authority through divine messengers was the only possible way to overcome the Great Apostasy.” https://www.lds.org/manual/preach-my-gospel-a-guide-to-missionary-service/lesson-1-the-message-of-the-restoration-of-the-gospel-of-jesus-christ?lang=eng)

    The Catholic Church also defines a genuine “church” as one which possesses apostolic succession and a valid priesthood and sacraments. When these things are lost is when there is no true Church on earth.

    Since we agree on these things, I assume when discussing the GA with a Mormon, that this is what we’re talking about. Therefore I don’t see what the Protestants have to do with the matter.

    The Protestants didn’t believe that the Church had apostatized due to having lost the valid priesthood and sacraments. Quite the contrary, their main contention was that priesthood and sacraments, as well as ongoing apostolic authority, were a lot of humbug. They didn’t believe the Gospel had been lost from the earth, so much as that too many things — such as priesthood and sacraments — had been tacked onto it. And they are critical of the Mormons for precisely the same reasons (among others).

    The question is, how can we know that the apostolic succession, priesthood and valid ordinances/sacraments have been lost from the earth, apart from a revelation from God telling us so? You admitted — at least I thought you had — that the historical record alone is insufficient to establish the fact. After all, how can history tell us whether or not a priesthood is valid? Surely this is a matter of faith. For this reason, I wasn’t addressing the historical record. I was addressing the logical order in which we arrive at the conclusion that the GA had occurred, or not occurred.

    I arrive at it, logically, before I arrive at the conclusion that the Catholic Church is Christ’s own Church; and you arrive at it as a result of a direct revelation given to J. Smith. After all this was your own argument: That in the beginning, issues were settled not by the reasoning and discussion of a council, but by revelation given to the Apostles, in particular St. Peter. You argued that only God can say who is a heretic. Is it not also true, based on that premise, that only God can say when the valid priesthood has been completely lost?

    It’s the Catholic Church that believes in arriving at truths of revelation by reasoning from things directly revealed, to things that are implied by direct revelation. Which is what I did: From the premise that Jesus was God, established by his having performed miracles, and his having founded a Church, etc., I reasoned that the Church which can be traced to his time and is still around, must be his. You, on the other hand, must have arrived at a belief in the GA (i.e. loss of valid priesthood, etc.) through direct revelation of the fact. Otherwise, I’m at a loss as to how to reconcile your various arguments.

  12. Agellius

    I don’t think we do agree on what the Great Apostasy was. You quote from Preach My Gospel, but you don’t understand what the quote is saying. It is not equating apostasy with the loss of the priesthood, but stating that a restoration of the priesthood was required to fix the apostasy.

    It is at https://www.lds.org/topics/apostasy?lang=eng that we get an actual definition as to what constitutes apostasy and what characterized the Great Apostasy.
    “When individuals or groups of people turn away from the principles of the gospel, they are in a state of apostasy. One example is the Great Apostasy, which occurred after the Savior established His Church. After the deaths of the Savior and His Apostles, men corrupted the principles of the gospel and made unauthorized changes in Church organization and priesthood ordinances. Because of this widespread apostasy, the Lord withdrew the authority of the priesthood from the earth.”

    The loss of authority is not what the Great Apostasy was, but was a result of that Apostasy. The people turned from the true principles of the gospel, they altered church organization (in giving authority to bishops and not apostles) and changes the ordinances of the priesthood. After they had fallen into this apostasy the authority was withdrawn.

    As to the main point of the discussion, I will concede that my faith in the church came before my historical reasoning of the Apostasy. That is because I was taught the doctrines of the church before I became familiar with the history surrounding it.
    However, I still contend that it is not necessary for it to be in this order, as is evidenced by the reformation, as well as by many other men and women throughout the centuries. As I said, the men of the reformation saw that something was wrong. Now they did believe that it was in large part the priesthood and the ordinances that were the problem, which I would agree with. Their solution was, in large part, to do away with these things, and that I would disagree with. But they prove that one can look at the historical record and see an apostasy on the scale that we believe.

    Now, as to a few of your comments
    “The belief that the Catholic Church is not the one Christ set up, is not sufficient to constitute a GA”
    I would agree, but it does help support it, and that is all I have claimed. I have maintained that nothing in the historical record is sufficient to prove the Great Apostasy, and this is no exception.

    “the historical record alone is insufficient to establish the fact. After all, how can history tell us whether or not a priesthood is valid?”
    Yes, and it is also insufficient to establish that there wasn’t such an apostasy.

    “It’s the Catholic Church that believes in arriving at truths of revelation by reasoning from things directly revealed, to things that are implied by direct revelation.”
    I would not call this unique to the Catholic church. The LDS have taught and maintain that sound reasoning should be applied to all the revelations. The difference here is not is our approach, but what we accept to be directly revealed. I agree that only God can declare what the Priesthood has been removed, and I believe that He has declared that it was removed. That has been directly revealed.
    So all you are saying is that you have arrived at your faith through reasoning from what you accept as direct revelation, and I have arrived at my faith through reasoning from what I accept as direct revelation (as you said “direct revelation given to J. Smith”). This is basically what I have said from the beginning.

  13. I took the missionary lessons at least 3 times, and the understanding I received was basically this: That the Gospel early on was lost, and later on needed to be restored. The loss of the Gospel entailed not only people believing erroneous things, but also losing the priesthood, prophecy and ordinances. When the Gospel was restored, the priesthood, prophecy and ordinances also were restored. I always thought that the Gospel being lost from the earth was more or less synonymous with the GA, and no one ever told me otherwise; now you’re saying that’s not the case.

    That’s fine, but still, the Church never talks about the GA without mentioning the loss of the priesthood (“LP”), presumably because the priesthood (and prophecy and ordinances) was part of the Gospel, therefore when the Gospel was lost, so were these things, and vice versa.

    Indeed, Talmadge says that had the priesthood not been lost, then the Gospel would not have needed to be restored; and when the LP occurred, the GA was complete, i.e. that’s when the Gospel was completely lost from the earth. So even if the LP is not technically part of the GA, surely both are included when speaking of the Gospel being lost from the earth.

    Now getting back to my original argument, reworded slightly, it was basically this: That I was able to arrive at a belief that Christ’s Gospel would never be lost from the earth, before arriving at faith in my particular Church (indeed that was a reason for believing in my Church); whereas you could not have arrived at a belief that the Gospel was lost from the earth (including the LP), without first believing in your Church.

    I agree with you that there are many evidences of widespread apostasy throughout the Church’s history. I would agree that the Arian heresy may be considered a great apostasy, since it involved large numbers of Christians over a wide area. The Protestant Reformation itself I consider a great apostasy, since again, large numbers of people over a wide area abandoned belief in apostolic succession, priesthood and the sacraments. But, looked at objectively, from a neutral standpoint, none of this leads to the conclusion that the Gospel was lost from the earth. It only leads to the conclusion that large numbers of people apostatised.

    The Protestants didn’t believe that a general and complete apostasy had occurred, and neither did the Catholics or the Orthodox. All of them believed that a substantial segment of genuine Christianity had survived.

    For the Protestants, the Gospel consisted of sola fide and sola scriptura. Luther had faith, and he had the scriptures, therefore in his eyes he had the Gospel, and did not believe it had been lost from the earth, but only that it had acquired extraneous excrescences.

    So while there are good grounds for believing that “great apostasies” have occurred at various times throughout the Church’s history, you would pretty much have to be Mormon to conclude that every Christian faction through history has been without the true Gospel, since you would have to believe that every Christian faction has been wrong. I submit that there’s no criteria by which to judge that to be the case, other than Mormon teaching.

  14. On the point of what the Apostasy is I think I understand the problem in understanding, and it seems that Brother Talmage solved it. The loss of the Priesthood is part of the Apostasy, but not the beginning. It was the finishing touch you might say.

    As to your arguments concerning the historical reasoning, I would still disagree, to a point. As I said, based just on the historical record I can conclude that the Catholic church is not the true church and is not the one that Christ set up. As that is the basis of the Reformation I am on solid ground. Then, once I have accepted that the Catholic church was not the church of Christ, I would have to look at the individual churches other than the Catholic church. Based on an understanding of the Bible (the need for the authority – Hebrews 5:4; and other things) and look at the history of each church and conclude that none of them have the gospel as taught by Christ and His Apostles.
    Now, if I were to try and point to a time or even a period of time in which the apostasy took place you would be right. This cannot really be done. But if one looks at each church individually it is perfectly possible, based on the historical records, to conclude that none of them actual have the full gospel, and thus, by default, prove the Great Apostasy.
    In simple reasoning I would also state that it logically follows that if the Catholic church did not contain the gospel than no church coming out of it could either. It is either the one true church with unbroken line back to Christ, or a divine restoration of the Gospel would be required; thus only the Catholic church needs to be accepted as false.

  15. Basically, you’re saying that you can arrive at the conclusion of the GA (which we’re now defining as including the LP) by reading the New Testament and comparing your interpretation of its teachings to the teachings of each individual Christian sect that has arisen since the death of Christ, thereby eliminating them one-by-one.

    As I see it, this presents three problems:

    1. It puts you in the position of proving a negative, i.e. that there is no Christian sect since the death of the Apostles that agrees with your interpretation of the scriptures.

    2. Another way of putting this, is that your interpretation disagrees with that of every Christian sect since the death of the Apostles, thus making your interpretation unique among Christian interpretations. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that said interpretation will bear a striking resemblance to the LDS interpretation of the scriptures, which also is unique among Christian interpretations. Thus again, you arrive at the conclusion of the GA by viewing Christian history through the LDS lens.

    3. You assume that because a church goes astray on various doctrinal points, it will for that reason lose the priesthood. But this premise, too, is based on LDS teachings. It’s not stated in the New Testament. The Protestant Reformers never claimed that the Church had lost the priesthood due to wickedness or false teaching. Rather, they claimed that the very idea of priesthood was unchristian, since Christ is “the only mediator between God and man”.

    Why can’t it be the case that a church could go astray doctrinally, yet still retain the priesthood? The Catholic Church teaches that the beliefs (or the moral character) of an individual priest have no effect on his ability to perform the sacraments, since in ordination the power of the priesthood is conferred on him indelibly. By what standard do you judge the Catholic belief wrong in this respect, and the LDS belief right, other than LDS teaching itself?

  16. Agellius

    Again you are wrong. In the 1800’s there were a number of men who came to these conclusions long before learning of the LDS and joining this church. They were not religious leaders, but simple men who read the Bible and became convinced that no church that they knew of contained all the doctrine and authority of Christ’s church.
    The main one that springs to mind is Wilford Wudruff who believed a man named James Mason and was searching for a church that held the proper authority and doctrines of Christ’s church. Maybe you should read up on him to see my point.

    As to loss of the priesthood, I know what the Catholic church teaches on this point, and I know that is some ways the LDS teach the same thing. If a person who is unworthy of their priesthood exercises it to perform any ordinance, as long as the beneficiaries of the ordinance do not know that they were unworthy God will uphold the ordinance on the basis of their faith. In other words, the congregation still gains the blessings of the Sacrament even if the one saying the blessing prayer is secretly not worthy. However, if the congregation knows they are unworthy than to allow them to perform the ordinance would be an act of disobedience and thus would not have God’s approval.
    However, it is not logical to say that a man who does not have the true gospel and thus does not believe the truth regarding God can exercise any kind of authority in the name of God. The loss of the Priesthood is a logical extension of the loss of the gospel.
    Tell men, if a Catholic Priest left the church to become a Baptist minister, would the church still allow that man to officiate at a Catholic mass as a Catholic Priest?

  17. We’re talking past each other. I didn’t mean to argue that no one could read the Bible and conclude that none of the existing churches completely reflects the content of the NT. Indeed one of the problems with the idea of sola scriptura is precisely this, that there is a practically infinite number of possible interpretations of the Bible, such that there are thousands of different Christian denominations to date.

    My argument was that you can’t arrive at the GA as defined by the LDS Church except through belief in LDS doctrine. Anyone can say they have concluded that something like the GA (including the LP) occurred, but the question is whether that conclusion is justified by the evidence. How could you know that God had withdrawn the priesthood without that fact having been revealed by God? The LDS are the only ones who claim to know that it has in fact been withdrawn.

    You write, “it is not logical to say that a man who does not have the true gospel and thus does not believe the truth regarding God can exercise any kind of authority in the name of God. The loss of the Priesthood is a logical extension of the loss of the gospel.”

    As we have defined it thus far, the loss of the priesthood was an integral part of the loss of the Gospel. So saying that “the loss of the priesthood is a logical extension of the loss of the gospel” is like saying that the loss of the Gospel is an extension of the loss of the Gospel. I assume you meant that the loss of the priesthood was a logical extension of the loss of correct doctrine.

    But it seems to me that if only God can confer the priesthood, then only God can take it away. Otherwise you’re left in an ambiguous position: Granting (for the sake of argument) that losing correct doctrine results in loss of the priesthood, the question remains, what percentage of doctrine do you have to get wrong before your priesthood is gone? Do you lose it if you make one mistake? What if your understanding of a doctrine is mostly correct, but you don’t quite grasp its finer points? Do you have to take an annual test to make sure your opinions on every doctrine are correct, in order to maintain your priesthood?

    One problem with this line of reasoning is that Mormons themselves admit that they “don’t do theology”, and consequently their doctrines are not all that precisely defined. Thus as I understand it, Mormons are allowed to believe that God was once a man who became God, but they’re also free to believe that he was always God. How, then, can priesthood hinge on believing correct doctrine about God, when there’s no official, precise definition of such doctrine?

    If you contend that loss of belief in correct doctrine leads to loss of the priesthood, can you tell me what specific doctrine or doctrines must be denied in order for priesthood to be withdrawn? Also, when and where such doctrines were denied and by whom? If you can’t name a specific doctrine the loss of belief in which triggers loss of the priesthood, then how can you know that the priesthood was lost, absent the fact having been revealed by the LDS Church? (Of course a further question would be, how do you know that the loss of belief in that doctrine triggers loss of the priesthood, absent that fact having been revealed by God?)

    You write, “Tell men, if a Catholic Priest left the church to become a Baptist minister, would the church still allow that man to officiate at a Catholic mass as a Catholic Priest?”

    Whether the Church allows a priest to perform priestly functions, and whether he is able to perform them, are two different questions. The Church can suspend or laicize a priest, but it can’t un-ordain a priest any more than it can un-baptize a Christian.

  18. “but it can’t un-ordain a priest any more than it can un-baptize a Christian.”

    So, if a priest is excommunicated they do not loose their priesthood?
    Actually, this is what we believe; that only excommunication can actually strip a man of his priesthood, but his authority to use it can be taken if he does not live worthily of it.

    As to the rest of it, you have basically stated what I have been saying. I have never once claimed that the specifics of LDS doctrine can be proven, only that a belief that a Great and General Apostasy did actually occur, which you agree is an idea that can be supported by the historical record. Therefore my point is made.
    Now, if you want to talk about specifics as to why it happened, or when, or how, then I would agree that the historical record can’t tell you much, which is why there are thousands of denominations. Many people, believing in the basic concept, have tried to sort it all out; but only through a direct revelation from God could the truth be made known.
    That is one reason I believe the LDS religion, because we do believe that only direct revelation could sort it out, and we believe that that revelation has come.

  19. You write, “So, if a priest is excommunicated they do not loose their priesthood?”

    Correct. Holy Orders (ordination), baptism, confirmation and marriage are permanent, non-revocable sacraments. The Church can command a priest not to perform priestly functions, but if he disobeys and performs them anyway they’re still valid (assuming the other conditions for a valid sacrament are met).

    You write, “As to the rest of it, you have basically stated what I have been saying … that a belief that a Great and General Apostasy did actually occur, which you agree is an idea that can be supported by the historical record. Therefore my point is made.”

    I acknowledged several comments ago that there is plenty of evidence for various apostasies having occurred in certain times and places. The problem for your argument, as I’ve said, is that those apostasies don’t amount to what the LDS Church means by the Great Apostasy.

    You now seem to be arguing that because there is an infinite number of possible interpretations of the Bible, and it’s possible for any given person to come up with an interpretation of the Bible that differs from everyone else’s, therefore the conclusion of a Great Apostasy is justified for anyone who does so. But this is hardly evidence that the GA, as defined by the LDS Church (including the LP) actually happened.

    You write, “That is one reason I believe the LDS religion, because we do believe that only direct revelation could sort it out, and we believe that that revelation has come.”

    Nothing that I have argued was intended to disprove the LDS belief in the GA. The fact that it’s an article of faith doesn’t make it false, obviously.

  20. You said “I didn’t mean to argue that no one could read the Bible and conclude that none of the existing churches completely reflects the content of the NT.”

    This is what I have been saying. And yes, a reasoning from scripture that this actually is the case is evidence of the apostasy. You seem to conflating the term evidence with the term proof. I have never argued that one can prove the case either way; only that one can take the Bible along with historical records and reasonably conclude that the church that Christ established was lost and did not exist for a period of time.
    I never said I could prove or disprove anything, only that you can’t either. That is the point. You can’t prove there wasn’t a great and general apostasy, and I can’t prove there was. Belief in either is a matter of faith, and the scriptures and historical record can be seen to support both views, depending on what perspective is taken. And, as is shown in the Reformation movement, as well as in the lives of many men since that time, one does not have to have the LDS perspective to believe in the apostasy.

  21. I’ll try to simplify my point: If all you’re arguing is that large numbers of people apostatized from the true Christian faith, then we have no quarrel. The existence of our mutually contradictory churches, each containing millions of members, is sufficient evidence of that by itself. But you’re taking the argument a step further, and saying that great numbers of people apostatizing constitutes evidence justifying the belief that the priesthood was completely lost from the earth. This, in my view, is a non sequitur.

  22. The problem with your statement is that you claim that what I am arguing in favor of is what I am using as evidence, when I am not.
    I am not saying that “great numbers of people apostatizing constitutes evidence justifying the belief that the priesthood was completely lost from the earth.”
    I am saying that the historical records allow for a belief that the original church that Christ organized was lost. By extension, if that church was lost than the priesthood it had was also lost, as it was part of the church.
    However, I am not using the fact that great numbers apostatized as evidence of anything. I am using the historical records and the scriptures to show that they did, in fact, apostatize.

    Now, your arguments in the beginning admitted apostasy on a smaller scale, while at the same time arguing that there was no evidence of a complete and total apostasy. I stated that it is possible to look at the churches that existed in the past, compare them to the Bible, and conclude that none of them are the church that Christ organized.
    So follow my reasoning.
    1. Jesus set up a church that can be demonstrated in the Bible.
    2. No church that existed between A.D. 400 and 1800 were the same as that church.
    3. So, the church that Christ organized was not on the earth during this length of time.
    4. As the church had been lost the world was in a state of apostasy.

    To support this conclusion would require a close examination of every church that existed in that time frame (which I am not going to even attempt right now) but the reasoning is sound and does not require any appeal to LDS doctrine.

  23. I think we are repeating ourselves at this point so I will just leave my prior comments to speak for themselves. God bless you and thanks for the enjoyable discussion.

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