Apostasy of the Christian Church: Evaluating Mormon Claims that the Christian Church Ceased After the Apostles Part 1 of 2

Introduction

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS or Mormon interchangeably) holds many doctrines and beliefs that are contrary to orthodox Christian faith. The nature of God, who Jesus was, and the authority of Scripture, are among a legion of theological positions that separate Mormons from traditional Christian thought. Among these many differences is the Mormon claim that the church ceased to exist as an orthodox body after the death of the apostles. When speaking with those who hold to LDS teachings, this is usually a starting point for their apologetic.

If such a statement were true, then the ramifications would be significant. If the church were genuinely apostate beginning at the end of the first century, then all Christian thought after the apostles would be called into question. It would leave the gates wide open for acceptance of the Book of Mormon along with other LDS doctrinal documents as scripture. Conversely, if this claim is not valid, then the measure of all the other LDS claims is against traditional orthodox Christian doctrine. By that measure, LDS claims fall into heretical categories.

This essay will address the specific claims of the LDS, providing an accurate accounting of what Mormons believe on this subject. Then the particular ramifications of those claims will be discussed.  After this evaluation, the discussion will move to the orthodox Christian position on the continuation of the church. Finally, the ramifications of the orthodox Christian view will be discussed.

What Mormons believe about the church

It is essential for a Christian engaging with Mormons to understand what they believe and teach. In this understanding, the Christian must be able to represent the LDS position faithfully and accurately. By having this understanding, the Christian can engage in dialogue in a way that respects the Mormon person and belief system regardless of agreement.

For the Mormon, apostasy is “when individuals or groups of people turn away from the principles of the gospel.”[1] This apostasy means that those who have turned away from the LDS interpretation of “gospel,” the Lord withdraws from them.[2] According to LDS doctrine, the Church which Jesus established entered the era of “The Great Apostasy” after the last of His apostles died.[3] Two critical elements characterize this apostasy.

First, the Lord withdrew the authority of the priesthood from the earth. In LDS theology, the priesthood has two definitions. On the one hand, the priesthood is the power and the authority of God.[4] This form of the priesthood is eternal and how the Lord “created and governs the heavens and the earth” and how He “exalts His obedient children, bringing to pass ‘the immortality and eternal life of man.'”[5] On the other hand, the priesthood is also, in mortality, “the power and authority that God gives to man to act in all things necessary for the salvation of God’s children.”[6]

Second, men corrupted the principles of the gospel and made “unauthorized changes” to it.[7] Because of these changes, the church was not in harmony with Father God and no longer existed. It was not until Joseph Smith received the Mormon teachings and doctrine that the church found its restoration.[8]

Since the definition of priesthood reference “the Lord” and “God,” it is important also to define what the LDS means by those terms. Mormon conversations use much of the same language that orthodox Christians use, but they bring a different dictionary with them as to the meanings of these words. To avoid talking past each other, the Christian and the Mormon must agree on what these terms mean. At first glance, the definition of God seems almost orthodox: “God the Father is the Supreme Being in whom we believe and whom we worship. He is the ultimate Creator, Ruler, and Preserver of all things. He is perfect, has all power, and knows all things.”[9] However, the Doctrine and Covenants adds this piece about God:

“The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.” (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22)

For Mormons, God is not a triune God of orthodox Christian belief. However, God is the Father. The Son and the Holy Ghost are not God. But God none the less has a physical body and is a physical being. Humanity, if becoming faithful in and obedient to the teachings of the LDS church, can become gods themselves.[10]

Joseph Smith

With this understanding of apostasy, priesthood, and God, we can next move onto the subject of “the church.” LDS doctrine defines the church as that entity which faithfully continues the true belief of God the Father:

“And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually.” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:30)

In this passage, there is the continuation of the belief that the church, for some time, was apostate but then revived. The revival of the church coincided with Joseph Smith’s reception of prophecy, the Book of Mormon, and the establishment of the LDS church.

The passage in the Book of Mormon that speaks directly to the apostasy is found in 1 Nephi:

And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.

…And after these plain and precious things were taken away it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles; and after it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles, yea, even across the many waters which thou hast seen with the Gentiles which have gone forth out of captivity, thou seest—because of the many plain and precious things which have been taken out of the book, which were plain unto the understanding of the children of men, according to the plainness which is in the Lamb of God—because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceedingly great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them. (1 Nephi 26-29 Emphasis mine)

Mormons will also point to the book of Revelation in the King James Bible as further evidence of apostasy[11]:

And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority. And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast. And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? Who is able to make war with him?

And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months. And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. (Revelation 13:1-8 KJV)

Further, along with the passages from the Book of Mormon and Revelation, Mormons are quick to call out the number of denominations and disagreements among orthodox Christians. They state that the scriptures are proven with historical (corrupt church leadership, religious persecution, denominational splits) and theological (no central agreement on complete Christian doctrine) evidence.

Continue to Part 2.


[1] Apostasy. Accessed May 27, 2020. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/apostasy?lang=eng

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Priesthood. Accessed May 27, 2020 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/priesthood?lang=eng

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Apostasy.

[8] Ibid.

[9] God the Father. Access May 27, 2020. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/god-the-father?lang=eng

[10] Man, Potential to Become like Heavenly Father. Access May 27, 2020. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/tg/man-potential-to-become-like-heavenly-father?lang=eng

[11] All Bible quotations will be from the KJV – not because it is the best translation, but because this is the accepted translation by Mormons. In order to avoide a discussion on translations, Christians ministering to Mormons should use the KJV as a common Bible standard.

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