Thursday, April 3, 2008

Apostasy and Restoration

The LDS Church claims that the early Christian church apostatized, and that itself is a restoration of the original and true church of Christ. An obvious corollary to that is that it must also be the only true Church of Christ in the world today. That claim is usually challenged by non-LDS Christians and LDS critics by asking two main questions:

1. When did the Apostasy occur?

2. What evidence is there for the apostasy?

Before attempting to answer either of those two questions, it is important that we define exactly what we mean by the Apostasy. By that we do not mean that the entire church became wicked, or that there were no more true Christians left in the world who had a saving faith in the Christ. Rather, by that we mean the loss of the priesthood and Apostolic authority of the Church, which resulted in the loss of the ability to communicate directly with God, and to lead the church by revelation, as it used to be while the Twelve Apostles were still on the earth. It also means that valid sacraments could no longer be performed by the church, and the appointment of unworthy or unrighteous persons to high positions in the church could not be prevented. It also meant that the gradual degradation of the doctrinal, structural, and organizational integrity of the church could not be avoided. The following extract from the LDS Church History summarises the LDS theology of the Apostasy:

Nothing less than a complete apostasy from the Christian religion would warrant the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints … there was no possible excuse for the introduction of a new Christian sect. But if men through apostasy had corrupted the Christian religion and lost divine authority to administer the ordinances of the gospel, it was of utmost importance that a new dispensation of the true Christian religion should be given to the world. (History of the Church, Vol. 1. p. XL) [Emphasis added.]

In answering the above two questions, it is important that we bear this definition in mind.

Q1. When did the Apostasy occur?

Those who ask that question seem to think that that is a trump card. They appear to believe that unless one can put an exact date to the Apostasy, it invalidates the claim. That in itself is based on a false assumption, because there are many historical events which we know have occurred, but which we are not able to put an exact date to—or at least, one that all historians will agree with. For example, when did the Roman Empire fall? Ask two different historians that question, and you may get two different answers. But there is one thing that no one will argue about: the Roman Empire did fall! We know that it fell because we can see that it is not around any more. But ask two different people for a date, and you are likely to get two different answers. The same applies to the early Christian church. We know that it apostatized because we can see that the same church, with its original doctrinal and organizational characteristics, no longer exists in the world; but putting an exact date on it will not be possible for obvious reasons.

The Apostasy was more of a process than an event. That can be illustrated with an analogy. If you cut someone’s head off, he still has his limbs and torso, but they are lifeless and he cannot use them. It takes time for the rest of his body to decompose and crumble to the earth. The same is true of the church. When the head was cut off, the organizational structure that the Apostles had left behind still existed, and it took time for it to degenerate into something completely alien to it. Paul in fact compares the church to a human body, where every limb is necessary for it to function properly.

1 Corinthians 12:

18 But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.

19 And if they were all one member, where were the body?

20 But now are they many members, yet but one body.

21 And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.

So although all members are necessary for the functioning of the body, the head is the most important part. If the head is cut off, then everything else dies, and that is what happened to the Christian church. The head was cut off, but the rest of the body was still around, giving the impression that it was still alive, while in reality it was dead, and in process of time it degenerated, doctrinally as well as structurally, into something alien to what the Apostles had originally established.

However, since the critics often insist that we should put a date on the Apostasy, that is also possible by coming to an intelligent approximation—just as historians attempt to put an intelligent date on the fall of the Roman Empire. If I had to put a date on the Apostasy, I would say that it occurred when the last Apostle died, or when his ministry in the church was terminated. That is when the priesthood authority was lost. That is when the keys of the kingdom were taken away, and the line of communication between the heavens and the earth was cut off. That is the point at which the church could no longer be led by revelation from the Lord, and began to drift away doctrinally and structurally from that which Jesus and the Apostles had left it with. Equally important, that is the point at which valid sacraments could not longer be performed in the church.

Bearing in mind that we define the Apostasy as the loss of the priesthood authority of the church, and that John the Revelator (the last Apostle) is believed to have continued in the church until around 90 AD, I would put the date of the Apostasy at the close of the first century. By the end of the first century the Apostasy was complete. This does not mean that there were no more good Christians left. It means that at that time the authority was lost. It means that the church could no longer be led by revelation, which in turn means that the ministry could not be kept pure. People were called to high positions in the church who were not worthy of it, as Jesus foresaw in the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24–30). It meant that the doctrinal and organizational purity of the church could no longer be maintained.

Q2. What evidence is there for the Apostasy?

There are plenty, both in scripture as well as in history. The apostasy was prophesied of in the Bible. The Prophet Isaiah spoke of a day when “darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people” (Isaiah 60:2). He also spoke of a time when The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant” (Isaiah 24:5). The prophet Amos wrote of a time when God 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” (Amos 8:11). Again he writes: “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).

In the New Testament too there are numerous predictions of the Apostasy. Paul wrote of the Second Coming of the Lord that “that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed” (2 Thes. 2:3). To Timothy he wrote: “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth” (1 Timothy 4:1–3). And again: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Timothy 4–3). In the book of Acts he states: “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29). Peter wrote of the “false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways . . .” (2 Peter 2:1–2).

There are many passages which suggest that the Apostasy had already begun in the days of the Apostles. For example, to Timothy Paul again writes: “This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me” (2 Tim 1:15). To the Galatians he writes: “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel . . . O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth . . . ?” (Galatians 1:6; 3:1). Jud writes of “certain men crept in unawares . . . ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4). Paul writes to Titus of those who “profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable . . .” (Titus 1:16). To the Corinthians he writes: “I hear that there be divisions among you . . .” (1 Cor. 11:18). To Timothy again Paul writes of those who “concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some” (2 Timothy 2:18). John the Beloved writes of those who “went out from us, but they were not of us . . .” (1 John 2:19); and in the Revelation he writes of those who “say they are Apostles, and are not . . .” (Revelation 2:2).

But of all the scriptural proofs of the Apostasy, the one that I like best, and quote most often is in Paul’s second epistle to Timothy. He gave a prophecy about the condition of religion in the last days, and to me provides the clearest evidence of the Apostasy:

2 Timothy 3:

1 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.

2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud,

* * *

5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

Nothing describes the apostate condition of the Christian world today more accurately than this verse does. “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” means that they look like the real thing, without actually being such. They have the looks, shape, form, and appearance of the genuine article; and make all the claim and pretence to be such; but lack the necessarily divine power that must go with it to be the real thing—i.e. the priesthood authority to communicate directly with God, and lead the Church by revelation from God, as the ancient church used to be able to do. The “power thereof” is the ability to receive revelation, and to communicate directly with God. It is the ability to lead the church by revelation from God, instead of by the wisdom of men. Well, this is an accurate description of the state of the Christian world today—not just of Catholic, but Protestant and Orthodox and all the rest. That is the “power thereof” which is lacking in the Christian churches today. They have lost the direct communion with the heavens that ancient church used to have, when the Apostles were still alive. They are not led by revelation any more, as they used to be. They cannot add to the canon of scripture, as they used to be able to do when they were led by prophets and Apostles. Their leaders truly have “a form of godliness,” but “deny the power thereof”. That is what we mean by the Apostasy of the early Christian church.

Common Objections to the LDS Doctrine of the Apostasy

LDS Critics have raised a number of objections to the LDS doctrine of the Apostasy, of which the following main point may be mentioned:

Objection 1. The scriptures cited imply that only certain individuals apostatized form the church, not that the entire church became apostate.

That is partly true; but the same scriptures also suggest that in the early church, the apostasy of the “individuals” became so pervasive, and was on such a scale that the entire ecclesiastical establishment became corrupted. Shortly before he died, Paul called together all the elders and leaders of the church at Ephesus, and gave them these parting instructions:

Acts 20:

28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.

30 Also of your own selves {i.e. the church officers and elders} shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.

31 Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.

Paul here is addressing these remarks not just to ordinary church members, but to those who were made “oversees” of the church—i.e. its leadership. He is saying that he knows that after his death (implying the death of the Apostles in general) “grievous wolves” shall arise from among the leadership of the church; and that they will not spare the flock (i.e. the church). That is another way of saying that they will destroy the church. That does not mean that there will not be any true Christians left in the world; it means that the ecclesiastical structure of the church will be destroyed. The authority will be lost. It means that the church will no longer be able to be guided by revelation as it used to be when the Apostles were alive.

Another important passage indicating the scale of the Apostasy comes from the last letter Paul wrote to Timothy, shortly before his death:

2 Timothy 1:

15 This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes.

Asia was that part of the world in which Paul had done most of his teaching, preaching, and converting. All the cities and churches to which he wrote his letters (Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossi, Thessalonica) were in Asia. Now he is saying that all of those people had “turned away form him,” meaning that they had apostatized. Obviously this does not mean every single one of them had; but it means that a great majority, including many in the leadership positions had. In modern LDS scripture the Lord has explained this extraordinary phenomenon in these words:

D&C 86:

1 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servants, concerning the parable of the wheat and of the tares:

2 Behold, verily I say, the field was the world, and the apostles were the sowers of the seed;

3 And after they have fallen asleep the great persecutor of the church, the apostate, the whore, even Babylon, that maketh all nations to drink of her cup, in whose hearts the enemy, even Satan, sitteth to reign—behold he soweth the tares; wherefore, the tares choke the wheat and drive the church into the wilderness.

“Drive the church into the wilderness” means that they did not kill off the true church completely. The true church (consisting of the true believers in Christ) continued to survive; but it was “driven into the wilderness;” which means that it became “invisible” to the superficial eye. The true church continued to live on in the hearts of the true believers in Christ. The “wheat” and the “tares” were mingled together in such a way that it was not possible, by looking at the whole bunch, to know who was of the true church and who was not. Only God, who knew what was in the hearts of men, would know.

So in answer to the objection that not every single Christian had apostatized, that is true; but those who had apostatized were sufficiently numerous and influential that they had usurped the ecclesiastical authority over the church, and thus the ecclesiastical structure of the church was destroyed. It could no longer establish direct contact with the heavens. That is what we mean by the Apostasy.

Objection 2. The Twelve Apostles were not meant to continue in the church. The bishops were the successors of the Twelve Apostles.

There is absolutely no biblical support for that claim. It was never intended that the institution of the Twelve Apostles should be done away with. That is demonstrated by the fact that when Judas died, Matthias was ordained to succeed him (Acts 1:15–26). Similarly, Paul was also ordained an Apostle, probably to succeed James who had been beheaded by Herod (Acts 12:1–2), although he had not been one of the original disciples of Jesus. The Twelve were always intended to remain Twelve. To the Ephesians Paul wrote:

Ephesians 4:

11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

All these offices are necessary for the “perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,” not just some of them; and All of them are necessary in order that “we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ,” not just some of them. That obviously includes the offices of “Apostles” and “prophets”. They were meant to continue, just as the offices of “evangelists,” “pastors,” and “teachers” were meant to continue. The institution of the Twelve Apostles was meant to last forever. The individual Apostles would have died, and others would have been appointed to succeed them. The Apostasy had prevented that institution from being perpetuated in the church.

Jesus had many disciples; but He only chose 12 men whom He called Apostles. Later on He called seventy others to go and preach the gospel; but they were not ordained Apostles. The Apostles remained twelve at all times, even after His death. They are the ones to whom He had given special authority to go and preach the gospel to the inhabitants of the world, and to build up His kingdom on earth. Hence Paul wrote: “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, . . .” (1 Corinthians 12:28). He also said: “And [you] are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20). This, coupled with the fact that whenever one member of that group died, someone else was called to replace him, to maintain the number always at Twelve, proves that they were meant to always be Twelve. It was to them that Jesus had said: “Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, . . . shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matthew 19:28). So, if they were not meant to be Twelve, why were they always Twelve?

By the same token, the bishops were never intended to be successors to the Apostles. The bishops had only localized jurisdiction over their own local areas, not over the whole church. The bishop of Rome had jurisdiction over Rome, and the bishop of Antioch had jurisdiction over Antioch, and the bishop of Jerusalem had jurisdiction over Jerusalem. The bishop of Rome could not go to Antioch and tell the bishop of Antioch what to do; and the bishop of Antioch could not go to Jerusalem and tell the bishop of Jerusalem what to do. It is only after the Apostasy had set in that bishops began to compete with each other for supremacy, and the bishops of larger metropolitan sees assumed supremacy over the smaller provinces, and the bishop of Rome gained supremacy over the whole church (for political reasons).

For three hundred years until the time of Constantine in fact the Christian church did not have a central governing authority at all. That central governing authority had been the Twelve Apostles, which had disappeared from the face of the earth. Each bishop did what he liked, which is why there grew such diversity of practices throughout the church. The churches in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire (the Greek speaking part, where the majority of the Christians lived) did not recognize Rome as their governing authority. Rome’s influence extended only to the Latin speaking part of the Empire, which had a smaller and much less influential concentration of Christians. All the great centers of Christian learning (Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem), as well as concentrations of Christians (such as Asia Minor), were all in the East (Greek speaking) part of the Empire; and these did not accept any authority over them from the bishop of Rome.

If the bishop of Rome was the governing authority at the time of Constantine, why did Constantine convene the council of Nicaea and not the bishop of Rome? Why did Constantine preside over the council and not the bishop of Rome? It is only in the time of Constantine that the Christian church for the first time acquired a central figurehead—and that figurehead was none other than Constantine himself. That is why I sometimes facetiously say that Constantine was the first Pope! He was the one who called church councils, and issued decrees on behalf of the Church. Later on as the political influence of Rome declined, the bishop of Rome acquired the mantle of the Constantine, and became the central figurehead of the Christian church. But it had not been so prior to that time.

Objection 3. Even though the Apostles had died, the bishops and elders of the church could pass on their priesthood to their successors by the laying on of hands; therefore the priesthood authority of the church was not lost.

This is a clever objection that requires a somewhat technical theological explanation. With the death of the Apostles, the keys of the authority of the whole church were taken away. In the LDS Church, we make a distinction between the priesthood, and the keys of the priesthood. The priesthood itself is something that when it is conferred on someone (assuming it is done by proper authority), it cannot be taken away. He that receives it remains a priest forever (unless he loses it through some very serious transgressions). But the keys of the priesthood is something else, and it can be taken away. An office in the priesthood is something that confers certain keys on the individual, which he can then exercise as long as he holds that office in the Church; and when he is released, those keys are revoked. For example, a bishop has to be a high priest in the Melchizedek priesthood to be ordained a bishop. When he is ordained, he is given the keys to function in that capacity in his own ward (and not in any other). That gives him the right and authority to do certain things pertaining to his calling in his ward. When he is released from that position, those keys are revoked; but his priesthood still remains. Those keys always have clearly defined limits and boundaries, and are always delegated and function under the authority of a higher officer. The bishop holds the keys of his office under the authority of the stake president, and he in turn holds the keys of his office under the authority of the President of the Church. The President of the Church is the only one who holds all the keys of all the offices in the Church, and he delegates those keys to others to exercise in their respective callings. He holds those keys in conjunction with his two counselors who form the First Presidency of the Church. In the absence of the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles exercise those keys over the Church. Now suppose that through some catastrophic event, all the general leadership of the Church was wiped out. What would happen to all the keys of priesthood offices delegated to the rest of the Church? The answer is that they would become dysfunctional. Nobody would hold any keys, until the authority was restored again by divine intervention and angelic ministration to the Church. That is how the priesthood works in the Church. In the early Christian church, with the death of the Twelve Apostles, the keys of authority of the whole church was taken away; and the “laying on of hands” of the ministers of the church could not have conferred any keys, priesthood, or indelible authority to another. Those who held the priesthood would remain priests; but they would not be able to exercise their priesthoods legally as officers in the church, until the proper authority at the head of the church was restored.

Objection 4. It is not necessary for the church to receive revelation, or be able to add to the scriptural canon, because Jesus has completed the work of the Atonement, and given us all we need in the Bible to govern the church.

Whenever God has had a true church on earth, it has always been in direct communication with Him through His chosen agents whom He had appointed as overseers of that church. It is only when it has apostatized that it has ceased to be able to do so. It is not worthy to be called God’s Church if it is not in direct communion with Him, and cannot receive revelation directly from Him. Amos wrote: “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). And Paul wrote: “And [ye] are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20). Prophets, Apostles, and revelation from God are the very life blood and foundation of the true church of God in any age of the world. If a church is incapable of receiving revelation from God, and add to the scriptural canon, that means that God has turned His back on that church, and is no longer in communion with it; therefore it can no longer be rightly called God’s true church.

Objection 5. Apostasy means the total renunciation of Christianity. The Catholic Church has not done that, therefore it cannot be apostate.

This is an objection that I have only heard from Catholics; but there is an answer to it. Do not Catholics consider Protestantism to be an apostasy from Catholicism? Well, the Protestants haven’t “totally renounced Christianity” either—or at least, they wouldn’t say that they have. On the contrary, they claim to be the true form of Christianity, and Catholicism the false version. So how can they be apostates, without having “totally renounced Christianity”?

Was not the Jewish church or religion at the time of Christ in a state of apostasy? Did they not, en-mass, institutionally, as a religious establishment, after witnessing all the signs and wonders, reject Jesus who was their God and Savior? Does not that amount to an apostasy, not just of individuals, but of the entire religious establishment? But the Pharisees would not have said that they have “totally renounced” true religion. They would have said that they had the true form of the religion, and Jesus and His followers were outcasts!

So it seems it is possible for a church or religion to claim or pretend to be genuine, and even act and look like one, but without actually being such. Jesus explained it to the Jews in this way:

Mark 7:

6 He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.

7 Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

8 For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.

Therefore it is possible for a church to outwardly make a show of piety, and “honor God with their lips,” and pretend to be the real thing; but inwardly to be apostate. The Apostle Paul’s prophecy about the condition of religion in the last days is practically identical to what Jesus said about the Jews. I have quoted it once before; but it is worth quoting again:

2 Timothy 3:

1 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.

2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud,

* * *

5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

This is a perfect description of the state of Christendom in the world today; and it matches precisely the apostate condition in which the Jews were at the time of Christ. Amos’s famous prophecy puts the final nail in the coffin of apostate Christendom:

Amos 3:

7. Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets”.

How can God “reveal his secret to His servants the prophets,” if there are no “prophets” for Him to reveal His secret to? The answer is that He can’t—and He hasn’t been—until the Restoration took place through the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Objection 6. The church could not have apostatized because Jesus promised that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18); and that “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).

The church did not apostatize in that sense of the term, and the “gates of hell” did not “prevail” against it. There is more than one way of defining a church. If you define the church sacramentally and ecclesiastically, then yes, it did apostatize, because the priesthood authority in it was lost. But if you define the church as the body of true believers in Christ (which is the literal meaning of it), then no, in that sense it did not apostatize, because as explained earlier, there were many true believers in Christ in the Christian world throughout its history, which constituted God’s true “church”. The “wheat” and the “tares” were mingled together, so that it was not possible to distinguish between them (Matthew 13:28–29). The “wheat” constituted God’s true church. But only God knew what was in their heats, and who were the “wheat” and who were the “tares”.

The Restoration of the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith is further evidence that the gates of hell did not prevail against the church. The purpose of this Restoration has been precisely to “gather together the wheat” to keep them safe; while the “tares” are bound in bundles ready to be burned (Matthew 13:30). This is actually taught in modern LDS scripture:

D&C 101:

65 Therefore, I must gather together my people, according to the parable of the wheat and the tares, that the wheat may be secured in the garners to possess eternal life, and be crowned with celestial glory, when I shall come in the kingdom of my Father to reward every man according as his work shall be;

66 While the tares shall be bound in bundles, and their bands made strong, that they may be burned with unquenchable fire.

Jesus did not build His church on Peter. Peter was a mere mortal. If the church had been built on Peter, then when Peter died the church should have gone with him. Where there was no Peter, there would be no church. The “rock” refers to the testimony of the Holy Ghost which Peter had of the divinity of Jesus Christ:

Matthew 16:

13 When Jesus came into the coasts of C├Žsarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?

14 And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.

15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?

16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.

17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The “rock” was the testimony of the Holy Ghost that Peter had expressed. God’s true church are ultimately those who have that testimony ingrained in their hearts by the indelible witness of the Holy Spirit, regardless of what church they belong to. Those who have that testimony will recognise the truth of the Restoration, and will join the LDS Church. Thus the “wheat” are gathered together for safety, while the “tares” are bound up for burning. The system is in fact so perfect that it is retroactive. It not only affects the living but also the dead. Through the keys of the priesthood that have been restored, and vicarious baptisms for the dead, not only the living are saved but also the dead. It is a perfect plan. It is a divine organization. The early church certainly did apostatize, but the “gates of hell” did not prevail against it. Those are two different principles.

Objection 7. If the early church apostatized, then Jesus failed. His mission to establish His church and kingdom on earth was a failure.

Apostasy is always a failure of man, not of God. It was not a failure of God that Judas apostatized and betrayed Jesus; it was the failure of Judas. It was not the failure of God that Adam fell; but a failure of Adam. It was not the failure of God that Cain killed Able; but the failure of Cain. It was not the failure of God that the inhabitants of the world before the Flood became so wicked that they all had to be destroyed; but the failure of those antediluvian sinners. It was not the failure of God that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire and brimstone; it was their own failures. It was not the failure of God that the Jews had become apostate from their own religion, and rejected Jesus; but a failure of the Jews.

Apostasy and restoration has been the pattern of God’s dealing with mankind since creation. Whenever one religion has apostatized and died, God has intervened at some point in history to restore His true religion on earth by a new dispensation of the gospel. An equally recurring pattern has been that old, dead, and apostate religions have always opposed and fought against the new dispensations, until they have been overwhelmed by them.

God has given man an agency, a freewill, and made him responsible for his actions. God will not override man’s freewill to stop him from sinning. He will only warn him of the consequences of his actions, and punish him when he sins. But He will not intervene to stop him sinning (and suffer the consequences) if that is what he is determined to do.

The fallacy of that objection is like the fallacy of those who ask, “If there is a God, and He is good, why is there so much evil and suffering in the world? Why does He not intervene to stop it?” The answer is that God has given man an agency, and made him free. Good an evil are presented to all men, and they are free to choose for themselves which way they want to go. A law has been given, and a punishment affixed to those who break the law and choose to do evil. This is a period of trial and testing to see who will choose the good, and who will choose the evil. Unfortunately, those who choose evil do not just injure themselves, but inflict pain on innocent victims. The good news is that this period of test and trial lasts for a very short time. At the end of it there is a day of judgement, when those who have done good will enter into an eternal world in which there is no evil; and those who have done evil will enter into an eternal state in which there is no good. In the mean time, the momentary pains and sufferings of this world is something that needs to be patiently endured in faith, as Paul said, “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). And again, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

Jesus’ mission was not to prevent His church from apostatizing—if that is what they were minded to do. His mission was to atone for the sins of the world, and to “bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37). His church was made of men who had the freewill to apostatize if they chose to. But contingency plans were made to Restore that true church at an appropriate time in history by means of a new dispensation of the gospel, as has been done numerous times in the past. That is what God has now done, as Paul again prophesied: “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him” (Ephesians 1:10). That “dispensation of the fullness of times” has now commenced with the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Objection 8. If Christianity Apostatized in the early centuries, why did God abandon mankind for 1800 years, and wait until now to Restore the Church?

There are two answers to that question: Firstly, God does things in His own time and way. We cannot determine God’s timing for Him. If He had done it at any other time, the critics could still ask the same question: Why at that time and not at some other time? God does things when He determines in His wisdom the time is right for it to be done. He obviously couldn’t have done it in the first or second centuries, because if that was the right time, the church would not have apostatized at that time in the first place. So when should He have done it? In the third, forth, or fifth centuries, with all the persecution of the Christians, and the later upheavals that was going on, and the eventual fall of the Roman Empire under the weight of its own corruption and the barbarian invasions? Should He have done it during the Middle Ages, with all the ignorance and prejudice, and the dictatorships that existed then? I think those who ask that question should be prepared to suggest a suitable time when in their opinion God should have affected the Restoration, and explain why? If they can’t, then God’s timing will always be the correct one.

The second answer to that question is that Christ did not “abandon mankind for 1800 years”. The church of God continued to survive in the hearts of the true believers in Him, according to the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew13:24–30). The purpose of this Restoration is to gather together the “wheat” to safety; while the “tares” are “bound in bundles” ready to be “burned”. The timing (and the place) of the Restoration was right according to God’s plan.

Below are references to some additional articles by LDS writers on the doctrine of the Apostasy, for those who may be interested:

Apostasy and Restoration Dallin H. Oaks, Ensign May 1995:

The Restoration of All Things James E. Faust, Ensign May 2006

The Great Apostasy as Seen by Eusebius Hyde M. Merrill, Ensign November 1972

Whither the Early Church? S. Kent Brown, Ensign October 1988

What Happened to Christ’s Church? Shanna Butler, Liahona February 2005

Apostasy, Restoration, and Lessons in Faith Andrew C. Skinner, Ensign December 1995

Early Signs of the Apostasy Kent P. Jackson, Ensign December 1984


Anonymous said...

"The priesthood itself is something that when it is conferred on someone (assuming it is done by proper authority), it cannot be taken away. He that receives it remains a priest forever (unless he loses it through some very serious transgressions)."

One of many.

zerinus said...

While this subject was being discussed on another forum, an LDS poster raised an objection to my interpretation of the “gates of hell” prophecy in Matthew 16:18–19, as follows:

“I think most people misinterpret this passage because most English translations of the Bible have rendered the word "Hades" as "hell." The word conjures up in the minds of most people the domain of the devil—rather than the place of departed spirits, as it should be understood.

“This isn't a promise that the domain of the devil couldn't overwhelm the Church, it's a promise that the place of departed spirits couldn't keep its gates shut from an assault upon it by the Church. It's easily understood if you look at warfare from the perspective of those of the first century rather than from today's.

“In Biblical times, you would protect your city from invasion by building a wall around the city. Walled cities were difficult to assail and warfare concentrated on the "gates." If you could knock down the gates, you could take the city.

“If you attack your enemy and his gates prevail against you, you lose the battle. But notice, (and this is very important) gates don't ever attack. They are entirely defensive, intended only to impede access.

“Consequently, Jesus' promise should be understood to mean that the Church would attack the gates of hell, not the other way around. The language is very important. The Lord says, "and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it; and I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

“Immediately following the promise that the "gates of Hades" couldn't prevail against the Church, Jesus explains why those gates won't remain closed: "and I will give unto you the keys of the kingdom of heaven."

“Properly understood, this is an excellent foundation for the LDS doctrine of vicarious redemption for the dead. The church would assail (successfully) the gates of Hades, that is, the barrier between us and the dead. The apostles had the keys to seal and loose so that "whatsoever" they sealed or loosed would be effective in heaven as well. That's why we do work for the dead.”

I am afraid I am going to have to disagree with that. The expression “gates of hell . . .” occurs more often in modern LDS scripture than it does in the Bible, where its meaning in LDS theology is made clear. Here are the quotes:

2 Nephi 4:

32 May the gates of hell be shut continually before me, because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite! O Lord, wilt thou not shut the gates of thy righteousness before me, that I may walk in the path of the low valley, that I may be strict in the plain road

3 Nephi 11:

39 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.

40 And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.

3 Nephi 18:

13 But whoso among you shall do more or less than these are not built upon my rock, but are built upon a sandy foundation; and when the rain descends, and the floods come, and the winds blow, and beat upon them, they shall fall, and the gates of hell are ready open to receive them.

D&C 10:

69 And now, behold, whosoever is of my church, and endureth of my church to the end, him will I establish upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.

D&C 17:

8 And if you do these last commandments of mine, which I have given you, the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; for my grace is sufficient for you, and you shall be lifted up at the last day.

D&C 18:

5 Wherefore, if you shall build up my church, upon the foundation of my gospel and my rock, the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.

D&C 21:

6 For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name's glory.

D&C 33:

13 And upon this rock I will build my church; yea, upon this rock ye are built, and if ye continue, the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.

D&C 98:

22 And again I say unto you, if ye observe to do whatsoever I command you, I, the Lord, will turn away all wrath and indignation from you, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.

I think it becomes obvious from the context of these verses that by the “gates of hell” not “prevailing” against someone or something, it means that the powers of darkness or the devil will not prevail against them, or overpower them, not the opposite.