The apostasy that never was

Central to Mormonism is the story that truth was slowly lost after Christ came to earth.  An apostasy occurred, necessitating that the true church be restored by Joseph Smith in the last days.  This account, however, rests on the assumption that there ever was a moment when people understood the “truth.”

Reading through the Old Testament books–books that were written after Christ’s death rather than first hand–I’m struck by how frequently the writers reveal their own lack of surety.   In numerous instances, writers record how they only see through a glass darkly, the apostles are depicted as not understanding the parables, we learn that people cannot see the Light.

Nor did there appear to be a clear blueprint for a church.  We see disciples, principally Paul, making administrative decisions as new circumstances arise.  We see humans attempting to fit Christ’s messages into an organization that Christ appeared to spend relatively little time setting up.  Indeed, Christ didn’t seem particularly interested in ensuring the transmission of divine knowledge.

What I’m proposing is that the accounts in the New Testament challenge the idea that there ever was a prior moment when there was a consensus about Christ’s gospel.  Instead of apostasy, we see in the New Testament and beyond people struggling from the beginning to turn Christ’s life into a unified message, but acknowledging throughout the limits of their knowledge.

Seen through this lens, the latter-day restoration is not so much a restoration of past knowledge, though we acknowledge a literal restoration of the priesthood (a subject beyond the scope of this post), but the addition of new knowledge to help us as we still press forward in relative darkness about God.

Comments

  1. Natalie,

    Central to Mormonism is the story that truth was slowly lost after Christ came to earth…This account, however, rests on the assumption that there ever was a moment when people understood the “truth.”

    If we change “truth” to “authority” in this statement, then it a) reflects what I’ve always understand to be Mormonism’s claim regarding the Apostasy and b) negates the need for any particular level of understanding.

    I think we get a bit fast and loose sometimes when we talk about what exactly was lost, but I have always understood that, once we peel back all of the rhetoric, it wasn’t so much about understanding as it was authority. No?

  2. Good point. I’d put two thoughts out there to add to it:

    1) The NT never purports to be a complete version of much of anything, much less a CHI for Christ’s time or even a Doctrine and Covenants. How much of the uncertainty that you rightly highlight is a function of choices made by the already-apostate compilers of the NT? Who knows? It’ll be interesting to get a “true” reading of that history someday when the books are open for all.

    2) You’ve hit on the wonderful elements of the restoration–that it’s not merely a restoration of NT Christianity but a restoration of all things related to God’s plan. What a blessing!

  3. What Scott said. While the Restoration isn’t just about the Priesthood being restored, that’s always been my understanding of was primarily about. The Priesthood and the authorization to run Christ’s church. Whether or not the content of the organization is the same as NT, it’s the authorization for an organization to exist at all that is back. But I do agree with the conclusion of your post, that a lot of the content was new revelation.

  4. I believe there was a restoration in the sense of a new dispensation. I do not know how much it is necessary to believe in a “great apostasy” as traditionally described to believe in the necessity and benefit of a restoration/dispensation of the fullness of times. To me, it is similar to the question how much does one have to believe in “the Fall” as traditionally described in order to believe in the necessity of a Savior. I believe in the Restoration, my mind is open about what the “apostasy” or “great apostasy” means or the necessity of its acceptance.

  5. One of the mistakes we make, IMHO, is relying on Eusebius’ Historia Ecclesiastica for our understanding of how early Christianity developed, and how heresy was identified and rooted out. From Eusebius’ perspective there was a single Christian Church that began in the 1st century, developed over time, excommunicated heretics, and eventually emerged triumphant in the fourth century as the Catholic (universal) Church. Latter-day Saints riff off of this by claiming that this one Church fell into apostasy as it moved further from the doctrines of the apostles.

    But this view of early Christian development is wrong, and scholars have rejected it since the 1930s, based on ancient documents that have been discovered (like the Nag Hammadi texts). The seminal text on this is Walter Bauer’s 1934 book Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im ältesten Christentum (“Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity”).

    The reality is that 1st and 2nd century Christianity was very fractured, with many “Christianities” rather than a single, unified Church. These different views of Jesus competed for adherents and condemned one another. Among them were Gnostics, Arians, Ebionites, Marcionites, and other groups. There was also a group, which Bart Ehrman calls the “proto-orthodox”, whose views eventually triumphed and became orthodox Christian thought.

    So, as Latter-day Saints, we need to push our understanding of the apostasy back all the way to the 1st century, to the time immediately after Christ. By the early 50s, Paul was already fighting against the teaching of incorrect doctrines, and 1 John (c. AD 90?) was arguing against Gnosticism. If there was a “one true Church,” it disappeared within a generation after Jesus.

  6. the title is misleading because it implies then that the authority was never lost (or that people of that time never “fell away” from the right authority), which is one of the main reasons for the existence of our church.

  7. Thomas Parkin says:

    What was lost were, to say it in the old Mormon style, keys to the knowledge of God. After the apostasy, people were unable to come to correct conclusions, even roughly, about the nature of God.

    I think it is right to see apostasy in relative terms, though. There are two opposing trends, learning (about God) and apostasy, and both are active at any given time with any given people. We are definitely in a state of relative collective apostasy now, and always have been.

    By the by, I consider Mormonism to be a gnostic religion in os far as we believe we are saved by knowledge rather than faith. Faith, for us, is a temporary condition, on any specific point. We do turn the Gnostic attitude toward matter and the material world on its head, however.

  8. john willis says:

    If at all possible I would strongly encourgage you to read the 1984 book “The Churches the Apostles Left behind” by the late Father Raymond E.Brown a Roman Catholic priest and one of the outstanding New Testament scholars of his generation.

    He looks at Christian Communites that developed after the death of the Apostles ( the community that produced the Gospel of Matthew, the community that produced the Gospel of John and the Johannine Epistles for example) and finds each of them had different theologies on the message of Jesus and how the church should be organized.

    His book fits in well with views expressed in comment #5. I think it is a mistake to see the Apostasy as one “false Church” replacing one “true Church”. Rather there were a variety of Christian Communites trying to make sense of the nature of Jesus, what his teachings were and how to organize a church each in their own way. As was pointed out earlier first and second century Chirstianity was very diverse.

    Again read Father Brown’s book. It is short and non- technical as it is based on a series of lectures given at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond Virginia.

  9. I have also understood the issue to be authority rather than knowledge.

    It seems the period of early Christianity was like our own, with many different groups trying to define truth as they see fit and understand. While there may be some who get it wrong maliciously, it seems most do the best they can.

  10. I think it is sort of Mormon folk doctrine that Christ established a “church” as we think of it today. Implicitly, I suspect that lots of Mormons imagine Christ having organized an institution complete with sacrament meeting, Primary, PEC and a General Handbook. But I don’t think there’s anything in LDS scripture or doctrine to support this view – rather, Christ established essential doctrines (e.g., fulfillment of the Law of Moses, atonement, resurrection), rituals (baptism, sacrament) and authority (notably apostles). And other than some BOM references to things like specific means of performing ordinances, there’s little evidence he did much more than this in his time with the Nephites, either.

    Apostasy would be better understood as the gradual loss/misunderstanding of these key elements as communication with prophet-leaders dwindled and ceased, and Restoration as their re-establishment. Thus, what was restored was not a Church (institution) but a core Religion around which the institutional Church has grown and evolved and can continue to do so.

  11. Thomas Parkin says:

    Jon,

    Agree with your perspective. I’m not sure if I’d even call it a core religion, though. Those few core doctrines and ordinances through the exercise of which we can ‘grow and evolve’, individually and therefore collectively, in our knowledge of divine truth. Authority seems almost beside the point. Where this core exists, authority exists. Where it doesn’t, authority is lost. It seems to me that in so far as the church points to this core it fulfills its purpose in inviting folks to come to Christ. In so far as it instead points to itself, problems ensue.

  12. But I don’t think there’s anything in LDS scripture or doctrine to support this view – rather, Christ established essential doctrines (e.g., fulfillment of the Law of Moses, atonement, resurrection), rituals (baptism, sacrament) and authority (notably apostles). And other than some BOM references to things like specific means of performing ordinances, there’s little evidence he did much more than this in his time with the Nephites, either.

    That’s fine and all–and I tend to agree with it. But that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing in our “teachings” (my word, not yours) to support this idea. Notably, our current curriculum. In other words, it may be a folk doctrine, but that is certainly not it’s standing at present.

  13. As a missionary we always taught it from the aspect of priesthood authority, the loss of the direct correcting link from God. Not that the Church was what we see.

    Some speculation about temples and other priestly ideas which seem similar to what we do has been apart of what we expect the church to have been like.

    But the comments of the Jesus Christ to Joseph Smith are the most telling in what the Restoration was about and why it was needed.

    [T]he 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.”

    Seems to be fairly straight forward.

  14. ByTheRules says:

    It appears that the emerging concensus is that our church restored authority, and then utilized that restoration as a framework upon which to consolidate into a whole, much of the knowledge drawn from all other dispensations.

    Also, of note is that there are multiple “true” churches on earth. The Jews had their religion organized by Christ/Jehova and is the religion to which Jesus himself belonged. It has since ceased to be a “living” church due to the loss of authority and knowlege. Thus, there is only a single “true AND living” church today.

  15. Wes Brown says:

    I agree with everyone thinking the apostasy is more closely related to loss in authority than to knowledge. However, I think everyone’s comments here support Natalie’s thesis. As far as we know, Jesus provided little to no information about ‘truth’ or about organizing a church. The doctrines and church structures associated with Christianity have little to do with the teachings of Jesus.
    Regarding authority, I don’t know if the church has an official position on when or how the priesthood was lost. I think most members would agree with the description of The Great Apostasy on lds.org saying, “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.” This quote makes the assumption that Natalie was addressing.
    How can men corrupt principles that were never there (that we know of)? If Christ never set up a church, how can any organization be authorized. Also, it would be nice to know the specifics of the diversions.
    One more question- The church today often changes organizationally and doctrinally. Many of these changes are done without official recognition or revelation. How are we to know if these are authorized or not?

  16. StillConfused says:

    I like #10. Though the more I learn about Joseph Smith and the early beginnings of the LDS Church, the more I question (1) whether it ever is/was the sole true church (2) whether there really is a single sole true church.

    Rather than say that the LDS is the one true church, I tend to say that it is the church that works best for me. (though even that is questionable at times) If there were to be a single “true” church, it would not have the spotted past that any of the organized religions have.

  17. Stephanie says:

    What Scott said. I’ve always understood that the Apostasy was about the Priesthood Authority being lost, and the Restoration was about the Priesthood Authority (with all its attendant keys) being restored.

  18. Thomas Parkin says:

    “more closely related to loss in authority than to knowledge.”

    It’s a distinction without much difference. Authority to do what? Restore and/or administer the keys of knowledge – basically the ordinances – chief among them being baptism and receipt of the Holy Ghost, which is the agent of knowledge. It isn’t a carte blanche authority. The church doesn’t have the authority to change the ordinances, at least to the point where they no longer point to an accurate knowledge of God. When they do, as the bit you’ve quoted indicates, the authority is removed.

  19. Very strange views on this board. The apostasy was first internal (inside the church) and later became external (outside the church), but most LDS members only refer to the latter. One only needs to read Acts to see the division between Paul and Peter/ with James. Paul was right to say that the Jewish Christian converts should put away all past rites of Moses’ laws, but Peter through James did not want that to be part of the new doctrine. Instead, the gentile Christian (minority) converts were to follow the true order of Christ atonement while the Jewish Christian (majority) converts were allowed to hold on to the unnecessary law of Moses rites.

    It seems kind of silly to discuss on this board whether we should focus on authority vs. truth. I think people should understand more fully what started to fall in the first place. Christ certainly understood this. The Book of Mormon clearly proves this point as one of its purposes.

  20. I’ve always seen the apostasy about truth and priesthood…not the how to run a church stuff, but the Jesus has a body, and is separate from God and is His son…that type of knowledge.

  21. Mark Brown says:

    As long as one of our Articles of Faith states that “We believe in the same organization that existed in the primitive church….” I think we have to believe that Jesus established an organized church which was later lost to apostasy.

  22. Wes Brown says:

    The 6th article of faith is almost rederend meaningless by the “and so forth” at the end. The fact that we know almost nothing of Jesus organizing a church makes it hard to claim we belive in the same thing.

  23. Mark Brown says:

    Wes, I’m addressing the claim that when we speak about the apostasy we are really just speaking about a loss of authority. If a) our articles of faith and b) our correlated missionary discussions both claim that an organized church went into apostasy it is very difficult to dismiss the notion that Jesus organized a church which was later lost as nothing more than a folk doctrine or semantic confusion. Natalie asks a difficult question, and I don’t think we can sidestep it by watering down our definition of apostasy.

  24. “Reading through the Old Testament books–books that were written after Christ’s death rather than first hand–”

    You mean New Testament, not Old Testament, right?

  25. #20 – Mark, “the primitive church” doesn’t have to mean Jesus established it in mortality. The words still fit even if it was established after his death by those who appear to have been his chosen disciples.

    Also, given how we view revelation, there’s no reason that the establishment couldn’t have been directed and/or inspired by Jesus – even if it was after his death.

    I think that’s the general message of that Article of Faith – that the organization established most immediately after the death of Jesus was approved of and inspired by him – that the general structure (apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, etc.) in place at that time matches the general structure in place now. That’s a much less stringent standard than saying Jesus himself established a church before he died – and that our current structure (or that of the original Restoration) matches it perfectly. That last idea is indefensible, imo – while the similarity of general structure described in the epistles isn’t far-fetched at all.

  26. Reading through the Old Testament books–books that were written after Christ’s death rather than first hand

    I assume you mean New Testament?

  27. Antoinette says:

    When I first investigated the church, I read about the apostasy, and it made sense to me.
    I guess because I’ve been to different churches and I’ve seen variances in not only ritual, but also doctrine and belief. Some I agreed with, some I disagreed with, and some I balked at.
    When I think of the apostasy, I immediately think of Paul’s epistles. Those are examples of new Christians trying to redefine simple truths. I think that was the catalyst for God taking away priesthood authority from the earth.
    By Joseph Smith’s days, the effects of those early conflicts were being felt here in America, so I think that the issue with apostasy was that the basic precepts of the ancient church had been diluted and twisted and necessitated the restoration of not only the priesthood, but understanding of those concepts that had been not necessarily lost, but willfully discarded.
    Also at this time, there was competition, which is also important to remember. It was just as much a power struggle as it was a religious struggle. Many factions and groups were targeted because of their differing beliefs about Jesus or how to run the church.
    Even today, there are some remnants of that, where there are pastors and preachers who have gone way off topic, when what’s on the real is right in front of them.

  28. I think the error is in assuming the public Church was the Church as we think of it. Rather I think the way to take most LDS teachings is that there was a hidden Church with a limited set of things taught openly and a small group with secret teachings that never passed them on. While I know a lot here like to look askew at apologists there really are a lot of early Christian texts that suggest this.

  29. I think the idea of a Great Apostasy has to deal with the whole body of the Church. Therefore, what it was or was not should come only from the upper leadership of the Church, not it’s members. What have they said?

  30. The apostasy began almost right away and only continued to magnify as time went on. One of the false doctrines taught in the church today is that Peter became the equivalent of our president. That is not the case. The church did not have a president or first presidency, just the Twelve Apostles who were to testify of Christ. Joseph Smith himself was the one who created the office of First Presidency because the Lord only ever called him to be an apostle, nothing else after the founding of the restored church. After his death, the Twelve Apostles were to continue to testify of Christ while the presiding bishopric handled the temporal affairs. According to Parley P. Pratt in his autobiography, after Joseph’s death he received a revelation telling him that Joseph still held the keys of the last dispensation, meaning he was still in charge and the Quorom of the Twelve was to stay as it was. However, Brigham Young decided otherwise and we now have the system that we do today.

  31. Personally, I think it is more than a little naive to think that the apostasy progressed gradually and then God decided one day no more priesthood for you. That sort of formalism is immensely counterproductive and most explicitly contrary to what God’s own interests almost certainly were in preserving and propagating the remaining truths of the gospel through any righteous channel available.

    Either that, or one is reduced to concluding that holding the priesthood is some sort of ecclesiastical formality that God withdrew recognition for one day, but that the spiritual power waxed and waned from age to age without formal recognition.

    The first option, that priesthood is some sort of binary state is about as silly as maintaining that no one outside of the formal Church has ever felt the influence of the Holy Ghost. Much more viable it seems to me to consider other ecclesiastical orders having diminished, distorted, and less properly organized versions of the priesthood.

    Call it “apostodicy”, as in why in the world would God shoot himself in the foot, by completely pulling the rug out one day from under religious leaders trying to do and teach what is right?

  32. you mean to tell me that Home Teaching and Scouting were not around during Christ’s mortal ministry? Shocked I am!

  33. So is the apostasy ending every dispensation just as unlikely? Is the noah apostasy the normal type..in which God secrets off the small remaining good guys (city of enoch or ark)and that leaves the apostasized majority? God doesn’t have to take the preisthood if other people just kill the last good guys (ala book of Mormon apostasy).

    As for the church at the time of Christ. the AoF seems to indicate organzation and teaching..like the 12 Christ called and commissioned in Jerusalem and America…not necessarily the block schedule and closing prayers by preishtood holders and basketball courts in every building.

  34. Mike #5, It goes deeper than that with Eusebius of Caesarea. He was considered a heretic by many of his peers, including St Jerome. He was a strong follower of Origenism, which included the concept of Christ being subordinate to the Father, and being a separate God. Eusebius’ history ends prior to the Nicene Council, wherein he was exiled for his beliefs, but only after he acceded in accepting the Nicene Creed. Still, he attacked the concept of consubstantiation afterward, causing a rift between him, Jerome and Athanasius, etc.

    I think the reason the 1st century Church was not well developed is two-fold:

    First, Jesus and most early Christians believed the second coming would come shortly. That being the case, there was no big reason for a well developed church system and teachings.

    Second, a foundational set of writings were not available until much later. Every church had its own set of apostolic epistles and versions of the gospels. Gnostic Christians often maintained their relationship with the proto-orthodox Church, but then secretly met to discuss their mysteries. They adopted some early documents, changed some (such as Luke), and penned others under apostolic pseudonyms.

    Without a foundation of scripture, the doctrines of the early church swayed violently back and forth on many different concepts. The struggles at the Council of Nice are just one key example of this, and of the loss of doctrine via established creeds. However, Councils such as Nice were the beginning of cementing key doctrines for the Church. They became part of the foundational scripture of the early church, stabilizing it against the various factions of belief that were rampant.

    So, apostasy IS a perfect term to use. Not only was authority lost, but due to politicization and lack of an inspired structure, many of the early teachings of the Christian Church were done away with: based on living apostles/prophets, the concept of the Godhead, continuing revelation, etc.

  35. Bob: I think the idea of a Great Apostasy has to deal with the whole body of the Church. Therefore, what it was or was not should come only from the upper leadership of the Church, not it’s members. What have they said?

    Consider the Jewish body. We still believe they have their priesthood. They just lost the higher ordinances and many teachings became corrupt. Why not say something similar happened to the Christian bodies? There actually are early Christian texts that suggest this. That there were secret teachings held by the Apostles and an inner circle that weren’t passed along to the general body of the Church. For a good analogy consider the status of the Church in Nauvoo. There was an inner circle who had the teachings we consider Mormonism and then the main body largely ignorant of those.

  36. Clark makes very good points here. There were secret Christian sects with secret hidden truths. The Gospel of Thomas and other early Christian books show this. The Gospel of Phillip even tells about the temple’s Holy of Holies being the place for marriage, and discusses the holy garment. Or the Apocalypse of Paul, where Paul ascends through the heavens with his guide, the Holy Ghost (as a child), and has to give a token to a sentinel/god in order to pass to the next higher level.

    These clearly are teachings that some early sects had, but were lost as proto-orthodoxy rejected certain teachings, and established their own.

  37. I vew the restoration as something that is only 1% complete, give or take some percentage points. Joseph kicked it off by helping bring forth truths that already existed, but there is still a *lot* more truth to be revealed or brought to light. I think God’s just waiting for us to pull our heads out and be ready to receive and understand it. It’s actually probably right in front of us but we aren’t able to recognize it because of our seeing through a glass darkly.

  38. rubyeyedshepherdess says:

    I would love to see a post on *why* there was an apostasy. Why would God withdraw his priesthood power from the earth and all his millions of children for hundreds of years? Why didn’t one of the apostles come forth as “the Prophet” after Christ died- like Brigham Young did when Joseph was killed? Is there one great apostasy or an apostasy at the end of each dispensation?

    Why didn’t the restored gospel flounder after Joseph died? There certainly were many break-offs and lots of confusion as to who should lead. If it didn’t dissolve then, then why in New Testament times?

    I believe there is an essential connection between “The Restoration”, the freedoms of the United States and the enlightenment of the 1800’s.

    I would love any good book suggestions that might address some of my questions?

  39. I think the answer lies in Alma 29:8. God gives to every nation and people the amount of truth they are ready and willing to accept. Apostasies occur because people reject all or a portion of the gospel. I do not believe there was an absolute apostasy during the Middle Ages. If there were, we would not have the Bible or teachings of Christ available today.

    The people received what they generally were ready for in regards to the gospel of Christ. Later, as people were ready for new ideas and concepts, the Reformation and Renaissance occurred, questioning the beliefs and practices of the universal church, as well as issues of divine right of kings, etc. This isn’t to say there weren’t defectors previous to the Reform, there were, but they were usually smaller groups that were not permanent.

    Each step brought people closer or further away from the gospel, depending upon what things they accepted, rejected or ignored. Voltaire’s Candide shows us the many attitudes of his day regarding the universal church, including some of its priests! Some things do not change, but others did, simply because people like Voltaire challenged the status quo regarding religion, politics and science.

    The Restoration occurred when it did because of these things, not in spite of them. There would have been no Restoration without a Reform, religious freedom, and a United States of America. Even with the Restoration, people world wide are in varying levels of apostasy – and this includes Mormons. To the extent we do not accept gospel truths or are ignorant of them, we are in apostasy.

  40. Observer (f.k.a. Eric. S.) says:

    (38)(39) Good thoughts. But I think we need to be careful in claiming to know “the answer” to questions that begin with “Why did God . . . .” We don’t *know* why God did this or much of anything. There are many things that God does and we don’t know why, despite our best hypothesis, research, learning, and exhaustive study. For example, Alma 29:8 doesn’t mention an apostacy, the retraction of authority, the retraction or introduction of “Truth”, etc. It actually just says the Lord grants his word to be taught in nations in their own tongue as “he seeth fit” in wisdom. That’s it. I’m just not seeing *the answer* in absolutes as to why God acts the way he does.

    Can we be comfortable and secure, and is it acceptable to us, to not have an answer after all that we can learn?

  41. I wish I had time to read all the comments, but I only have time to say that I taught the Gospel Principles lesson “The Church of Jesus Christ in Former Times” recently, and was dismayed at the negativity of the section “Apostasy of the True Church.” It went a lot further than saying authority was lost. It said the following things:

    – more and more error crept into Church doctrine
    – pagan beliefs dominated
    – people lost the understanding of God’s love for us
    – people did not know they were God’s children
    – people did not understand the purpose of life
    – there were no spiritual gifts.

    I couldn’t teach that part of the lesson because I don’t believe that list describes all of Christianity except for Mormonism. Natalie’s take on this is so much more positive and relationship-enabling than what the Church has offered for us to consume in Relief Society.

    I’ll paste the relevant sections from the manual, in case anyone’s interested. It’s lesson #16 in the current manual.

    “Because of wickedness and apostasy, the apostolic authority and priesthood keys were also taken from the earth. The organization that Jesus Christ had established no longer existed, and confusion resulted. More and more error crept into Church doctrine, and soon the dissolution of the Church was complete. The period of time when the true Church no longer existed on earth is called the Great Apostasy.

    Soon pagan beliefs dominated the thinking of those called Christians. The Roman emperor adopted this false Christianity as the state religion. This church was very different from the church Jesus organized. It taught that God was a being without form or substance.

    These people lost the understanding of God’s love for us. They did not know that we are His children. They did not understand the purpose of life. Many of the ordinances were changed because the priesthood and revelation were no longer on the earth.

    The emperor chose his own leaders and sometimes called them by the same titles used by priesthood leaders in the true Church of Christ. There were no Apostles or other priesthood leaders with power from God, and there were no spiritual gifts.”

  42. #41: Emily, I agree with you. This takes Mormonism back to Talmage(?) I would like to know who wrote this and have them defend it, before it is taught as truth.
    Two thousand years of Christianity had more depth to it (IMO) than this implies.

  43. Overreaction folks. The manual isn’t talking about 2000 years. It’s talking about a pretty specific period and place. Constantine was no sincere Christian. He adopted the religion for political reasons and used it for political ends. He had no concept of true priesthood authority. He was a pagan at heart and he mixed his pagan beliefs and practices into the church doctrines to suit his will and his purposes. This doesn’t necessarily make him a bad guy, but he wasn’t an inspired religious leader either, and the church he established had nothing to do with the will of God.

  44. #43: “The period of time when the true Church no longer existed on earth is called the Great Apostasy”.
    I say that’s 2,000 Years___What’s is your time frame?

  45. Bob, the excerpt quoted above in Emily’s comment is talking about a specific time, not describing the entire 2000 years. Just because it mentions the name “the great apostasy” doesn’t change that fact.

    You also have to read this manual in context. It’s not a historical treatise. It’s a basic principles manual designed to convey basic religious doctrine. There’s no way it can satisfy the demands of those who wish to convey all the accurate details and nuance of a 2000 year period of history.

    I think this portion of the manual accomplishes the goal it was designed to accomplish, that of conveying the doctrinal concepts that the truths of the gospel were lost and had to be restored. those on this thread who have said it was only a loss of authority are trying to retroactively revise our doctrine. We have never taught that it was only a loss of authority.

    We odten quote these bible verse from Amos 8 when teaching about the apostasy:

    11¶Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord:

    12 And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.

    That is not describing just a loss of authority. It’s describing the fact that the full truth of the gospel was not found on the earth.

  46. It does change things to look at the Amos scripture..the desire to know and to seek is it’s own gift. We celebrate the work of the reformation .

    There were other apostasies..what makes this one greater? Noah’s was pretty amazing

  47. The great battle of the 2nd century was between the Gnostics and the top-down leadership. The Gnostics were a very diverse group with an emphasis on personal revelation. The top-downs were centered on the cessation of revelation (anti-Gnostic) and gathering the reins of leadership into a few hands. (This is very simplistic.) Constantine wanted a single Church, so guess which one succeeded?

    If there was a departure from the truth, it can reasonably be argued that the Gnostics were the ones which had it and the top-downers were the ones who destroyed it.

    As mentioned above, Mormonism is a Gnostic religion. There are many, many similarities between the Gnostic beliefs and Mormon beliefs, like two levels of understanding, psychic and pneumatic, corresponding roughly to Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods. The Gnostics believed in a plethora of Gods. They were pro feminist, they were the ultimate in personal revelation. But they were led by a host of charismatic leaders who could not unify against the top-down proponents.

    I have heard of one interesting theory. The Gospel of John is one of the most beautifully written of all the Gospels. It was written late in the 2nd century. A theory has circulated that it was a reworking of the Gospel of Mary, a Gnostic text. As I read John this argument seems more and more persuasive.

    At any rate “apostasy” has an unusual meaning. My thought on it is that Joseph Smith, in reading the NT, picked up the subtle Gnostic influences and amplified them into a new package called Mormonism and refined them by his own revelations. One of the most far-reaching was the establishment of a top-down Gnostic structure.

    Today we are feeling the strain of this basically antithetical merge of personal revelation and top-down control. What will emerge from this thesis and antithesis in Hegelian fashion?

  48. Several months ago, Rice Univ Bible scholar April DeConick did a survey on her blog entitled, “Are you a Gnostic?” establishing different levels of gnostic beliefs. I rated as a reformed Gnostic, and we had an interesting discussion regarding Mormonism as a modern Gnostic movement.

    As RW mentioned, ancient Gnostics believed in a dual belief. They had no problem attending regular services, but also had their secret rites and beliefs: the difference between Sunday Sacrament service and the temple endowment. We have members and non-members who only attend the first, but a few who attend the second. Additional revelation is connected to the temple.

    But the proto-orthodox first fought off the Gnostics, partially by cementing the books in the Bible to the ones we now have, and by refusing concurrent revelation or miracles. They intentionally closed off the heavens. Later, fights within proto-orthodoxy led to the Council of Nice regarding the nature of the Godhead. Without revelation, they chose Athanasius’ view, which correlated with Aristotle’s view of a God of pure substance, and the rest of us from a different substance. For Father and Son to both be God in a monotheistic Greek world, one had to make Father and Son of the same substance.

    These are clear effects of the apostasy that occurred. There was still a level of truth of the gospel, but it would be (as RW mentioned) like comparing the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood to the Melchizedek Priesthood.

  49. Oh, for those wanting to take the Gnostic test, here it is:

    http://forbiddengospels.blogspot.com/2009/10/are-you-gnostic.html

  50. Ram,

    I looked at the Gnostic test and the comments that followed. There is a confusion, some people take Mormonism as gnostic, some do not. My opinion is that given the basic confusion of the top-down religion with the personal revelation, some people feel this elephant as non-Gnostic. Those of us who look at the roots and see the machinery beneath the surface totally comprehend the Gnostic antecedents.

    One of the interesting parts of Mormonism is the Calling and Election Made Sure, which is a completely Gnostic concept found in Paul. The Baptists and Catholics know nothing of this concept. If one does not look for these things the only other thing to do is sleep in sacrament meeting.

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