Apostasy is Back on the Bookshelf

Once upon a time, The Great Apostasy by Elder James E. Talmage was on every Mormon’s reading list. But somehow that topic went out of fashion for a couple of decades — no LDS books treated the subject and it received considerably less attention in General Conference talks. Suddenly, the Great Apostasy seems to be back.

First, the books. In 2005-06, four LDS books on the subject were published, two by Deseret Book (Tad Callister’s The Inevitable Apostasy and the Promised Restoration and Alexander B. Morrison’s Turning from Truth: A New Look at the Great Apostasy), one by FARMS and BYU Press (Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary LDS Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy, edited by Noel Reynolds), and one by Cedar Fort (Scott R. Peterson’s Where Have All the Prophets Gone?). The most recent FARMS Review conveniently summarizes all four books in two short reviews (here and here). My sense of the reviews is that if you’re buying one for yourself, buy the volume edited by Reynolds; if you’re buying one for your mother, buy the one by Morrison. Comments by anyone who has read these books are welcome (I’ve read only the first few articles in the Reynolds volume).

Then there was Elder Holland’s talk in the most recent Conference, “The Only True God and Jesus Christ Whom He Hath Sent.” It’s not the only recent talk to include commentary on the Great Apostasy (there was Elder Oaks’ talk in 1995), but Elder Holland included rather bold statements on the topic, including the following:

It is not our purpose to demean any person’s belief nor the doctrine of any religion. We extend to all the same respect for their doctrine that we are asking for ours. (That, too, is an article of our faith.) But if one says we are not Christians because we do not hold a fourth- or fifth-century view of the Godhead, then what of those first Christian Saints, many of whom were eyewitnesses of the living Christ, who did not hold such a view either?

So is the Great Apostasy back on the menu? Are there any other signs from official or unofficial sources of a new willingness to explicitly address and discuss this logically necessary precursor to the Restoration?

68 comments for “Apostasy is Back on the Bookshelf

  1. Cicero
    March 4, 2008 at 9:25 pm

    I think it’s always been around. The Great Apostasy was picked up at Deseret Books by one of my investigators back in 1999. Gospel topics tend to fluctuate in and out of popularity, and I think it is presuming a bit too much to assume it’s all by deliberate design.

  2. March 4, 2008 at 10:25 pm

    Anyone familiar with a series of cassette tapes on the Apostasy by a former Evangelical pastor who ended up converting later on?

    It seemed popular among missionaries which is how I first came to know them.

  3. Bob
    March 4, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    If we are talking about the book ” The Great Apostasy”, I am sure for some, it still has an appeal. But, if I were hearing Elder Holland from the outside, I would think he was calling me dumb (“We declare it is self-evident from the scriptures…”), and all who are not Mormon, are still in Apostasy and not true Christians.(?)

  4. Ray
    March 4, 2008 at 11:12 pm

    It appears that the Apostasy is open to current discussion in the Church of England:


  5. March 4, 2008 at 11:38 pm

    My wife is in a Ph.D program in Early Christianity (4th-6th centuries), which might be called the “Study of the Great Apostasy.” She once jokingly suggested to a BYU prof that they ought to let her teach a class on her field of study entitled just that, “The Great Apostasy.” The BYU prof, who incidentally had a CES background, sternly rebuked her, telling her that the Church did not talk about it like that anymore. Anyway, there is little to no place made at BYU for studies of this particular area from the perspective of a religious historian, even with a more sympathetic title. We know from looking.

  6. Bob
    March 4, 2008 at 11:40 pm

    #4: Wikipedia doesn’t seem to feel N.T. Wright is mainstream Church of England.

  7. Kevin Barney
    March 5, 2008 at 12:07 am

    The Early Christians in Disarray volume is available to be read for free on the FARMS website. That one was the result of an informal group of academics that met over a period of time at BYU that critiqued various conceptions of apostasy.

  8. March 5, 2008 at 1:00 am

    I reviewed Early Christians in Disarray back when it first came out in 2005. It challenges much of the older scholarship and traditional Mormon modes of thinking about the apostasy. When I was more active in discussions with Catholic adherents, the need to make advancements in our apostasy and restoration narratives was ever present.

    I have also read Scott Peterson’s book awhile back and it was interesting. I started out on the wrong foot in the book. The author uses the Genesis story of Cain offering up garden produce instead of a animal sacrifice, to show that individuals have redesigned rituals on their own initiatives since the beginning of time. This was suppose to be an archetypal story of apostasy. Trouble is that sacrificing “first fruits” seems to be a legitimate practice (Christ is the first fruit of the resurrection harvest), so Cain’s sin had more to do with his attitude and cross-purposes and not ritual form.

    I think Peterson did a good job of finding strands of thought among the early christians that resonate well with Mormon teaching and speculation. However I think this type of proof-texting can obscure how different from Mormonism that ancient Christianity could be. I think that many differences can be accounted for by recognizing some things about each dispensation’s extended gospel are subject to social conventions that might be unique to that generation. I think the notion of covenant entails this as new members into new relationships with God and fellow Saints. These relationships are more important than having a time-proof systematic theology to determine what is essential to avoid apostasy.

  9. March 5, 2008 at 1:32 am

    One recent book that hasn’t been reviewed by FARMS so far, may be even more important than any of the above. Nibley’s Apostles and Bishops has the most coverage of the topic I think is the most crucial, that of the loss of apostolic keys and the rise of local Bishops. I talked to a acquaintance of mine (who is more up on non-Mormon scholarly literature on the subject) about doing a review at last year’s FAIR conference, but I haven’t heard from him since.

  10. m&m
    March 5, 2008 at 1:42 am

    Hm. I’m not sure it ever wasn’t an important part of our teachings. I know we taught it as missionaries, and it still has a prominent place in Preach My Gospel. It’s hard to teach the Restoration without teaching the Apostasy, just like it’s hard to teach the Atonement without teaching the Fall.

  11. Jonathan Green
    March 5, 2008 at 3:58 am

    Dave, I’m still asking myself if the Apostasy was downplayed, or if I only heard other people claim the Apostasy was being downplayed, but I have also noticed lately that the topic is definitely with us now. I don’t think it’s going away any time soon, either, as the Restoration is part of our core message and you can’t get to a Restoration without an Apostasy.

    That being said, my impression from looking at Talmage’s book a few years back is that it’s a dismal piece of work, and reading the reviews you linked to wasn’t giving me a lot of warm fuzzies, either. I think we’re still looking for a way to talk about the Apostasy that isn’t overly defensive, purely inward-looking, reflexively anti-Catholic, or a toxic mixture of all three.

  12. Jonovitch
    March 5, 2008 at 6:40 am

    During Elder Holland’s talk last fall I was cheering audibly (at home) — he didn’t pull any punches. That was a good show — I thoroughly enjoyed it. :)

    That said, I think the best way to approach the Apostasy (responding to Jonathan Green [9]) is by saying simply that the leadership of the original Christian church was scattered and destroyed, and the authority to continue running a church in God’s name vanished with the death of the apostles. (We have no record of that first quorum passing their authority on to another body, only speculation.)

    That doesn’t mean that every specific church established between the first and the 19th centuries was evil. To the contrary! Certainly every man-made organization has flaws (and there were pernicious priests to be found in churches here and there), but the majority of good, faithful Christians sought to come closer to God as best they could, just like any of us are trying to do today. I do not blame early Christians for organizing churches and performing ordinances in God’s name when they had no authority to do so, rather I applaud them for even trying and for continuing on faithfully for so long. They were doing the best they could. God will judge our brothers and sisters according to the light and knowledge they had at the time, and for me to attempt to supersede him in that role would be foolish at best and blasphemous at worst. I will not declared anyone “saved,” and I certainly will not declare anyone “damned.”

    Through the centuries, the light and knowledge that Christians had available to them became more and more (through the scientific study, illuminating inventions, and enlightened teachings of inspired men) until one day, God again revealed himself to the world to again establish his kingdom on the earth, as he had done many times before, in many eras of human history. With this final, modern revelation, God restored the authority to organize and run his church in his name that had vanished with the death of the original apostles so long before.

    * * *

    I don’t see that explanation as particularly defensive, inward-looking, or anti-Catholic. For what it’s worth, we owe the Catholic church a debt of gratitude for sustaining Christianity for nearly two millenia (okay, that statement might be viewed as self-serving, but it’s a heckuva lot better than the “great and abominable” fallacy that unfortunately still lingers in too many Mormons’ minds).

    Mine is a mindset that anyone who goes to church (whatever the denomination) is doing a good thing. I invite them to join me at mine, if they’re so inclined. If not, I encourage them to strengthen their faith in Jesus Christ as much as they possibly can in their own church — to attend every week, to read the Bible consistently, to teach their kids to believe. Our purpose in the Church is to bring people closer to Christ. If the best way to do that is to encourage my friends to go to *their* church more often (because they wouldn’t dare set foot in mine) I will do so. I don’t consider that a failure, rather a close second.

    Having said that, and remembering our common purpose of bringing people closer to Christ (not of just scoring another conversion), I’ll always invite my friends and neighbors to try out my church, because I sincerely believe the *best* way to establish a relationship with Christ (of the closest, fastest, and deepest kind) is through the teachings and ordinances of the restored Church of Jesus Christ. If my friends view my invitations to visit my Church simply as invitations to come even closer to Christ than they currently are (which they themselves are trying to do), I think they will recognize my sincerity and appreciate the invitation.

    Of course that sincere invitation to come even closer to Christ is wrapped in the prominent message of the Restoration, which by definition requires an Apostasy, which by definition means my friends have been attending less-than-divinely-mandated worship services their entire lives, which can be a bit of a sticky wicket. In the end people believe what they want to believe (in politics, religion, sports, you name it!) regardless of what the actual facts may be.


  13. Joel
    March 5, 2008 at 9:25 am

    Two comments.

    First, I think that the Apostasy is the only explanation for the religious violence that occurred in Europe during the Crusades and then during 16th and 17th Centuries. I know that Mormons have violence in their own past as well, but it does not even begin to compare to the number of people killed in the name of God during these two time periods.

    Second, one problem with focusing on the Great Apostasy is the question of why the Lord waited so long to restore the gospel. Maybe the answer is partially found in the violence described above?

  14. March 5, 2008 at 11:01 am

    The Sixteenth Century — and particularly Spain’s role, but not overlooking the contribution of Northern Europe to the picture of horror — is a study in the fruits of the Apostasy.

    Dave, I think what you are trying to get at is that discussions of the Apostasy have been taking a less strident and sectarian tone in recent decades (perhaps owing to the influence of Ezra Taft Benson in an outreach to Protestants as a favor for political alliance, as hypothesized by JNS on the recent BCC thread). If you’re saying anything more than that, I would have to disagree. My perspective is that awareness of and focus on the Apostasy has always been not only with us but emphasized by us to outsiders and among ourselves. If Talmage’s book became less well known, maybe it was because its material and tone were outdated but not because of the substance it investigated.

    I second Jonovitch’s comment # 10 — that was well expressed. Students of European history can discern a long period of a reign of blood and horror that cannot unjustifiably be laid at the feet of certain ecclesiastical institutions. Despite the facts that lead to this conclusion, the Catholic Church and most of its Protestant creedal Christian offshoots deserve a lot of credit for preserving the religious truths found in the Bible, even if we as Latter-day Saints believe that they did not necessarily interpret what is written in the Bible correctly.

    And, in terms of the Apostasy, I also believe that the question of valid priesthood authority is the key issue, and not necessarily heterodox belief on any given point, or even on a collection of points. As we know, understanding of doctrine does change over time as more truth is discovered and revealed. But the absence of priesthood authority is kind of a bright-line definition of Apostasy, although a focus on this as the touchstone of Apostasy does change our perspective of the Great Apostasy to something that happened to the earliest Christians rather than the result of specific bad acts on their part.

  15. Bob
    March 5, 2008 at 11:08 am

    #10: Apostasy: ” ..is by saying simply that the leadership of the original Christian church was scattered and destroyed…”.
    But this is not what Elder Holland said. 1) The Apostasy was coming to believe in the ‘Trinity’, 2) Those who believe in the ‘ Trinity’, are still in the Apostasy.

  16. CraigH
    March 5, 2008 at 11:21 am

    As I’ve stated before, it is much easier to make sweeping generalizations about the nature of religious life between the ancient church and the restoration if you don’t bother to study in any detail the nature of that religious life. I don’t know where to begin with the sweeping generalizations that I am seeing here, except to suggest that in order to get a better view of that long period of history, and thus a better understanding of any apostasy, people should study more closely. If you’re looking for signs of apostasy, you can find them. If you’re looking for signs of light and truth, you can find them. (It’s a slippery game, for instance, to compare the 4th or 5th century church to the original church, and say ah ha, it’s different, therefore apostasy; because by using the same approach one can find plenty of things in the modern LDS church that are likewise different from the original church, but the LDS changes will be attributed to inspiration.) To me the most fruitful approach has been to try to understand the religious life of the time as people experienced it. And when you do this, things look a lot different from the sorts of generalizations made above.

  17. March 5, 2008 at 11:35 am

    I believe Talmage’s book drew heavily off of Edward Gibbon’s classic “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.”

    Wouldn’t you be better off just reading Gibbon instead?

    It will be interesting to see how much of the inter-religious outreach was due to the late Pres. Hinckley and how much of it the other apostles internalized. If they didn’t internalize that much of it, maybe the gloves are indeed “coming off.”

  18. Brad Kramer
    March 5, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    Seth R.,
    Kind of like how you’re better off reading Farrar’s Life of Christ than Talmage’s Jesus the Christ…

  19. Bob
    March 5, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    #10″He didn’t pull any punches. That was a good show — I thoroughly enjoyed it. :)” + #15: “Maybe the gloves are indeed “coming off.”.
    How does that line up with #10: ” Our purpose in the Church is to bring people closer to Christ.”?

  20. March 5, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    re # 14, that’s why I think that Priesthood is the main issue in discussion of the Apostasy, and not (necessarily) doctrine (with the exception, perhaps, of belief in the one-substance Trinity) and especially not policy/tradition/custom within the church.

  21. CraigH
    March 5, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    John F., that may well be, but I’m not sure how focusing on studying changes in priesthood will make things any more clear than studying changes in policy, tradition, and custom. There were changes in all, and there still are, and change alone won’t convince others that a change was wrong. That becomes a matter of faith. For instance, how about choosing the new apostle, after Judas, by lots? Was that part of good priesthood governance? At the time, they obviously thought so. But would a modern LDS person? S/he might look at that practice as irregular. My point is, it’s trick to look at a lot of religious practices in the past if you simply try to label them “apostate” or “true.” I think it’s more useful to try to understand how the people of the time thought of them, and get that as accurate as possible, before making the larger judgments and constructing big schemes of history.

  22. Bob
    March 5, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    #18: “I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight;”
    I think it is this is part of the : “policy/tradition/custom within the church. “.

  23. March 5, 2008 at 2:18 pm

    Alas Brad, I’m too sentimentally attached to my copy of “Jesus the Christ.”

  24. Ray
    March 5, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    Too short a summary, but:

    Loss of Priesthood authority equals loss of an understanding of the true nature of God, the Father; loss of that understanding leads to a dilution of our potential as “children of God”; that dilution leads to an incorrect understanding of the reason for our creation; that misunderstanding leads to the practical elimination of the Father as a real and unique Being – our Father in a literal way; the elimination of the Father leads to a denial of the power of godliness, codified into creeds like the Athanasian Creed and the Westminster Confession.

    Bob, JSH 1:19 gets misinterpreted constantly in the Church and by its opponents. There isn’t a single statement in it that is harsh, when the actual words are parsed carefully. I wrote about that in one of Kaimi’s posts: http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=4359#comments – comment #61.

  25. March 5, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    Tyndale, an Evangelical publishing company, has recently issued “Pagan Christianity” by Frank Viola and George Barna. Barna is a prolific Evangelical author who is widely read. Viola is a leader in the “home church” movement, and the book is an argument in support of that movement. Viola wrote the original version, and Barna has assisted in a revision.

    Basically, the thesis of Viola is that the Christian church lost its way after the death of the apostles (Viola calls them “itinerant apostolic ministers” and tries to downplay the distinct leadership authority of Peter and the other apostles), and began to adopt all sorts of practices and forms of worship from pagan practices. He attacks the professional, paid clergy as a pagan evil. He asserts that the evidence of the New Testament is that all the Christians participated in worship. He labels this as the Protestant “priesthood of all believers” concept (again ignoring the distinct references to priesthood held by some Christians and not others, as in the story in Acts about Peter and John going to Samaria to give the gift of the Holy Ghost to people baptized, and being offered a bribe by Simon Magus so he could have the priesthood power to confer the Holy Ghost). He attacks elaborate church buildings and set agendas of worship. He is constantly talking about how Greek sophists were the model for the single Christian pastor leading a congregation and giving the weekly sermon. One thing he will not do is admit that the Greek elements of the same Neo-Platonist philosophers that corrupted, in his view, the early church in its forms of organization and worship also corrupted its doctrines in exactly the same way.

    Basically, these two Evangelicals are asserting that the manner of worship and organization of every Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant church today is more pagan than Christian, and a clear departure from the practices of the authentic First Century Christian church. The do not use the word “apostacy,” and do not cite the statements of Paul and others about the apostacy that they were fighting even then. Yet they strongly argue that the conventional Christian churches are inauthentic and lacking in authority for their forms and practices. Because he believes in the “priesthood of all believers” he thinks that the primitive church can be restored by just restarting the First Century practices. He claims that the “home churches” he has been involved with are spontaneously led by the Spirit in their worship, as each member steps forward to sing, exhort, recite a poem, or read a scripture passage, and that they all come out in orderly fashion with a theme discernible at the end, without anyone directing it.

    Viola still has blinders on about the pagan source of parts of the creeds, but he is very clear in explaining the development of the traditional Christian church under the influence of pagan models. He feels the traditional church form muffles the expression of the Spirit and suppresses the true “priesthood” of members of a congregation.

    There are plenty of observations that Viola makes that are interesting for Latter-day Saints beyond his basic affirmation of the loss of the primitive church. His belief that professional clergy are a pagan practice that is anti-Christian in effect is an idea that is touched on in the Book of Mormon references to the evils of “priestcraft”, but it makes one appreciate how much the more participatory model of LDS wards, though not the spontaneous “house church” Viola promotes, does in fact give dozens of the members of each ward an opportunity to express the influence of the Spirit in our lives.

    On a given Sunday, besides speakers in Sacrament meeting, there are a couple dozen teachers in Primary, Sunday School, Young Women, and Priesthood Meeting who get to speak. Members of a class are invited to participate. And of course, there is Fast and Testimony Meeting. Then we are enjoined to hold our own “house churches” in each of our families, in family home evening and in regular scripture study and prayer together. Pondering Viola’s criticism of the Spirit-suppressing characteristics of traditional Christianity makes one see the wisdom in seeking to have the Spirit involved in each of the meetings we have with our families and ward families.

    Viola is so hard over on certain Protestant axioms (such as the sharp demarcation between the Old and New Testament laws) that he takes some wrong turns, in my view, such as his attack on tithing or any requirement to give financial support to the church. He argues that Malachi does not apply after the atonement of Christ, though Christ himself clearly did not think so (see his quoring of Malachi 3 and 4 in 3 Nephi). He points to the Creeds as a bulwark against a house church falling into false doctrine, even though his argument attacking pagan influences on the church could be applied to the unitary, non-passionate god of the creeds.

    His assertion of authority by way of faith in Christ is not given any scriptural support in his book, even though it is the foundation of his claim that authentic churches can be organized without new revelation from God. He makes a cogent criticism of the kind of “proof texting” common among Protestants, in which verses are lifted out of context and given new meanings, saying it is one step removed from cutting out individual words and phrases and reassembling them to support our own prejudices. Yet it is clear he avoids whole swaths of scripture that undercut his thesis, such as Acts 10 (the revelation to Peter on taking the gospel to gentiles) and Acts 15 (the Jerusalem council of the apostles).

    Pagan Christianity is another example of how returning to the Bible, and shaking off at least some of the blinders of traditional interpretation (which Viola discusses), is leading some Traditional Christians to positions that bear an interesting resemblance to those of the LDS Church. Thus, the theologians that support the “Open God” idea believe that the Neo-Platonic ideas about God have distanced modern Christians from the real loving Father and Son.

    Other theologians have wrestled with the problem of God’s justice and the millions who die without hearing the gospel, and some come to the conclusion that the only way judgment on unbelievers can be just is for there to be an opportunity to accept Christ at or after death. Most Catholic writers affirm belief in some means, but do not identify what it is. Other writers point to the same passages in 1 Peter and the ancient but poorly remembered idea of the “harrowing of hell” as evidence that there is an opportunity to hear and repent between death and resurrection. The one passage of scripture they hold back from is 1 Corinthians 15:29, concerning baptism for the dead. Indeed, one of the critics of post-mortal salvation says “If you take 1 Peter literally, you might as well do the same with 1 Corinthinans 15:29!”

  26. Bob
    March 5, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    #22: “For the want of a nail, a shoe was lost. For the want of a shoe, a horse was lost. For the want of a horse, a rider was lost. For the want of a rider the battle was lost. For the want of a battle, the war was lost.”.
    Ray, I hope the few words of God in 2,000 years, given to a young boy, are not in that much need of being ” parsed carefully”, for the common man.

  27. Ray
    March 5, 2008 at 5:35 pm

    Bob, I have absolutely no clue what that means.

  28. Ray
    March 5, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    BTW, Bob, my point is that JSH 1:19 is criticized by those outside the Church for saying things it doesn’t say, largely because members often claim it says things it doesn’t say. I think it is incredible how it describes the Apostasy so concisely and accurately *without* all of the value judgments members too often apply.

    When I’m dealing with God summarizing almost 2000 years of religious history in one verse, I’m going to take extra care not to misinterpret what He actually said. I happen to think He chose specific words to present His message – that there is a reason why He used the words He used. For example, “wrong” simply means “not right”; it doesn’t mean horrible or evil or bad or any other word He might have used instead, so we shouldn’t claim it does.

    Are you saying we shouldn’t parse the words?

  29. CraigH
    March 5, 2008 at 6:37 pm

    Very interesting summary, Raymond, and observations. But I can’t think of any church that hasn’t changed significantly from what it might have looked like in the first century of its existence, including the Mormon church. Change alone isn’t sufficient reason to suggest that change is drastic and fatal. And what many observers with a particular axe to grind tend to do is just what these fellows have done: start with a “pure” church, then regard any changes (or at least changes beyond a certain point) as corruption. And one’s view of whether it’s corrupt or not has a lot to do with whether it matches one’s current view of proper or true faith. The problems with this are many, but most fundamentally it neglects that a religion is born within a particular context, and is experienced in later times within a specific context. That is, if neo-Platonism affected early Christianity, is that any more surprising than that American culture should have influenced 19th-century Mormonism, or free-market capitalism have influenced 20th century Mormonism? This gets to the problem Wilfried raised in discussing the American quality of the church. It’s no more surprising that then-current trends would have played a role in Christian thinking, and that later trends in thought would also influence Christian thinking. Thus the process of change is in my mind constant, as is the presence of current cultural influences—even at the birth of a religion. The question then becomes not whether it changed or was influenced by the surrounding culture, but when the change became unacceptable.

  30. Mark B.
    March 5, 2008 at 6:55 pm

    Re: 25

    On top of all that, Frank (“Sweet Music”) Viola was a darn good lefthander who won a lot of games for the Minnesota Twins and then the New York Mets in the 1980s and early 1990s.

  31. Bob
    March 5, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    #28: I am saying I am not going to parse the words. I will take “all their creeds were an abomination in his sight;” without parsing. I don’t see where the loss of the Priesthood is described. Neither does Elder Holland state that, nor does the Catholic Church.
    Again, the question is: what does the Great Apostasy mean to the Mormon Church? The loss of the Priesthood, or the loss of the understanding of God?

  32. Swisster
    March 5, 2008 at 10:23 pm

    I liked many parts of Elder Holland’s talk and the fact that he obviously did some good research. No one should be calling us non-Christians based on a 4th- or 5th-century point of view. But the scriptures are not self-evident on some of these points; that’s why we need prophetic interpretation. I also don’t like how Elder Holland invents his own narrow definition of “Christian” as follows:

    “Any who dismiss the concept of an embodied God dismiss both the mortal and the resurrected Christ. No one claiming to be a true Christian will want to do that.”

    Quite defensive, in my opinion.

  33. Ray
    March 5, 2008 at 10:44 pm


  34. Swisster
    March 5, 2008 at 11:38 pm

    Well, it just seems that Elder Holland is taking on the job of defining a Christian, when his whole talk is meant to show that other people should not be doing that with Mormons. Ray, help me out here.

  35. Bob
    March 5, 2008 at 11:41 pm

    #33: See #11: “I think we’re still looking for a way to talk about the Apostasy that isn’t overly defensive,”

  36. Ray
    March 5, 2008 at 11:59 pm

    Swisster, I think I see what you mean – that he was responding defensively to the charges that we aren’t Christian. Semantics, perhaps, but I just didn’t see it that way.

    If anything, I saw it as offensive – as in, assertive or aggressive. It was like he was saying, “You’ve been attacking us for years and we’ve been taking it; we’ve been on the defensive. Enough of that; it’s our turn to set the standard.”

    Also, he didn’t say that those who disagreed weren’t Christian, like they do to us. It’s subtle, but he said that anyone who professes to be a Christian “will not want to” “dismiss both the mortal and the resurrected Christ”. He challenging them to see the reality of the physical resurrection and understand the consequences of not doing so.

    Perhaps it was aggressively defensive. *grin*

  37. Swisster
    March 6, 2008 at 12:12 am

    Ray, I agree with your assessment. Thanks. Yes, he’s subtle, but for me the offense is exposed when I imagine this kind of wording used against us: “Any who profess to be Christian will not want to deny the undivided substance of the Trinity.”

  38. Ray
    March 6, 2008 at 12:16 am

    #35 – Thanks, Bob.

    Fwiw, Swisster, I try to address apostasy as a historical process and condition of every culture since Adam, then position the Great Christian Apostasy as just one of many throughout time. If I’m talking to a Priesthood Prep class, for example, I start with the Great Spirit Apostasy (the War in Heaven), move to the Edenic Apostasy, discuss the First Great Mortal Apostasy (from the early patriarchs to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and detail at length the Great Jewish Apostasy of the extended silent heavens (Malachi to John, the Baptist) – before even beginning to address the Great Christian Apostasy. I then move to the concept of “short term apostasy” so prevalent in the Book of Mormon and individual apostasy that always is current – and talk about how easily such “individual and institutional apostasy” can rear its head even in the Restored Church.

    I don’t think that approach is “overly defensive, purely inward-looking, reflexively anti-Catholic, or a toxic mixture of all three.” I also think it’s the best way to frame it for those outside our church, since Protestants and Catholics and those of other religions usually understand the basic concept even if they don’t accept our specific solution.

    *Note*: The names are mine and intended only to make broad distinctions. I don’t worry in a setting like that about trying to find “the perfect title” for each example of apostasy.

  39. Swisster
    March 6, 2008 at 12:20 am

    Sounds like a great approach.

  40. Ray
    March 6, 2008 at 12:21 am

    #37 – I agree, but I am fine with that phrasing – compared to, “You are going to burn in Hell, you serpent.” (That’s a rewording of something I was told by a co-worker in Alabama years ago.)

  41. Jonovitch
    March 6, 2008 at 1:12 am

    Ray (38), that’s a brilliant way of teaching the apostasy! I’m stealing it. Thanks!

    Mark B (30), don’t forget about the 1987 World Series (one of the best ever), where Viola was named MVP. (We watched some of those games in our school classrooms up here — it was magical.) Who knew all along that he had such an interest in pagan Christianity? ;)


  42. Ray
    March 6, 2008 at 1:52 am

    Also, it is fascinating to compare the criticisms leveled against Jesus and his followers by the Jewish leadership and the criticisms leveled against Joseph Smith and his followers by modern Protestants. The similarities in criticism are incredible – from a closed canon, to blasphemy, to exclusive predestination, to cult charges, to political fears, etc. That foundation (the Jewish reaction to Jesus) provides another good launching pad to discuss “The Apostasy”.

  43. Bob
    March 6, 2008 at 2:17 am

    Ray, I agree, ” Apostasy ” may be one of those ‘Natural man’ things. But don’t we also see in history men try to work against it? Can’t we at least call Martin Luther, or Thomas Aquinas “True Christians” ?
    (that’s a friendly question).

  44. Ray
    March 6, 2008 at 3:21 am

    Definitely, Bob. I also think we can call numerous people “prophets / prophetesses” even if we can’t call them “apostles” or “Prophets”. (and I think there probably were “Prophets” of whom we simply aren’t aware)

  45. Bob
    March 6, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    My feeling is, The Great Apostasy (Not the book), is as big a mine field as Evolution is for religion. If the Church wishes to engage large institutions, like Evangelicals, Jesuits, Secular Universities, ( Like Harvard or Claremont), on this, they will need more than Gibbon, Toynbee, and Talmage to define themselves.

  46. Christian
    March 6, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    I think that Stephen Ricks’ 1988 article on the apostasy shows how we can reread the BoM statements on the Apostasy through what more recent sholarship has taught us about the church from 1-4 AD. Ricks treats the apostacy as something that happened through the pre-Catholic groups, pointing to the Gnostics, Marcionites, Ebionites, etc. as the mutineers so to speak that carried off the apostacy, and suggests that the Catholic church did as best it could under the circumstances to pick up the pieces.

  47. Jonathan Green
    March 6, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    Christian, where did that article appear?

  48. David B
    March 6, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    In a worldwide church, I think that it is important that we strive to have a much broader view of the apostasy than what I’ve seen or heard in the past. Given what we know of the Jewish diaspora and early Christian missionary work in much of the “known world” I’d like to see more that encompassed the Eastern, Coptic, and other churches and traditions, rather than being focused solely on Rome and the West.

    As others have expressed here on other threads, it makes me really cringe whenever I hear talk of the Apostasy tied so closely to the “Dark Ages” as evidenced in a decline in learning and culture. But what are the implications when we take into account the flowering of knowledge, culture, and wealth in other parts of the world — China, India, Islam, etc. etc.? I’d certainly like to have a more comprehensive view of what was proclaimed as a Universal Religion, than a supposed straight line from Peter to Constantine to Anselm & Patrick to the Reformers to Joseph Smith and the Restoration of “all things”.

    It was usually easy to talk about the Apostasy as a missionary in Japan but sometimes hard for people to see the relevance.

  49. March 6, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    Ak! Sorry, Stephen Robinson, not Stephen Ricks. The title is “Warring against the Saints of God, in the Ensign, January 1988 (see link on my name):

    It would be an error to blame some modern denomination for the activities of an ancient great and abominable church. The other error is to go too far the other way, dehistoricizing the abominable church altogether. The term then becomes merely a vague symbol for all the disassociated evil in the world. We cannot, in the face of the scriptural evidence, accept this view… Can we, then, identify the historical agency that acted as the great and abominable church in earliest Christianity? Such an agent would have had its origins in the second half of the first century and would have done much of its work by the middle of the second century. … Clearly, whatever denominational name we choose to give it, the earliest apostate church and the great and abominable church that Nephi and John describe are identical. The fact is, we don’t really know what name to give it. I have proposed hellenized Christianity, but that is a description rather than a name. … Babylon in the first and second centuries may even have been a collection of different movements. Some Jewish Christians couldn’t let go of the law of Moses and eventually gave up Christ instead. The Orthodox Christians adopted Greek philosophy. The Gnostics wallowed in the mysteries and in unspeakable practices on the one hand or in neurotic asceticism on the other. Second-century compilers like Tatian and Marcion rewrote the scriptures, the latter boldly chopping out anything he didn’t like. And all of them together forced the virtuous woman, the true church of Jesus Christ, into the wilderness.”

  50. Christian
    March 6, 2008 at 8:23 pm

    Warring against the Saints of God, By Stephen E. Robinson {not Ricks, sorry), January 1988 Ensign.

    “Babylon in the first and second centuries may even have been a collection of different movements. Some Jewish Christians couldn’t let go of the law of Moses and eventually gave up Christ instead. The Orthodox Christians adopted Greek philosophy. The Gnostics wallowed in the mysteries and in unspeakable practices on the one hand or in neurotic asceticism on the other. Second-century compilers like Tatian and Marcion rewrote the scriptures, the latter boldly chopping out anything he didn’t like. And all of them together forced the virtuous woman, the true church of Jesus Christ, into the wilderness.”

  51. Christian
    March 6, 2008 at 8:25 pm

    Here’s the link.

    Can we, then, identify the historical agency that acted as the great and abominable church in earliest Christianity? Such an agent would have had its origins in the second half of the first century and would have done much of its work by the middle of the second century.

    This period might be called the blind spot in Christian history, for it is here that the fewest primary historical sources have been preserved. We have good sources for New Testament Christianity; then the lights go out, so to speak, and we hear the muffled sounds of a great struggle. When the lights come on again a hundred or so years later, we find that someone has rearranged all the furniture and Christianity has become something very different from what it was in the beginning. That different entity can accurately be described as hellenized Christianity.

  52. CraigH
    March 6, 2008 at 9:20 pm

    If you really think Christianity is muffled after 150, it might be good to have a look at the writings of Peter Brown, who is the best person alive on understanding Christianity as it unfolded after 200. I like Stephen Robinson, but the paragraph quoted above is not exactly enlightening. To say that the Gnostics walled in the mysteries is a huge generalization. The idea in Luke that the Kingdom of God is within you, is a gnostic idea for instance. And to say that the lights went out is not terribly helpful, because the Bible, especially the New Testament, was put together first around 200, and finalized over the next couple of centuries. Not a bad book that, even without whatever plain and precious things people suspect were removed. It does occur to me that one person’s plain and precious things were another person’s editing, precisely what churches do today with official texts. Also, if they really wanted to remove lots of plain and precious things, there were a lot more they could have taken away. The point is, if you want a very early apostasy, it means the Bible we recognize as God’s word, and were recently encouraged to again pay attention to, was put together after it occurred. Things like this just make me thing we need to rethink the whole process, rather than regard anything that’s foreign to us, or different from the original, as apostate. Maybe there’s a better term, a better way to understand what happened.

  53. CraigH
    March 6, 2008 at 9:45 pm

    Sorry, I should have said muffled after 50, as you meant after the first half of the first century. Peter Brown is still valuable. I’d say it’s complicated to know what New Testament Christianity is, if by that you mean by the time period the gospels are meant to cover. Because of the course the gospels were written decades after that period, and subject to editing from the start, then beyond, and especially copyists as they were transmitted. In other words, by the time the New Testament church is written about, it’s taken another shape. And does Paul’s New Testament church really look like James’?

  54. Bob
    March 6, 2008 at 11:30 pm

    My point is the “mine field” I see in engaging other groups, as I outlined in# 45, is NOT when, how, or if the Apostasy STARTED, but when Mormons say it ended. And *IF* those who don’t accept a Mormon timeline, are therefore, (per Mormons), still in a state of Apostasy.
    I think it is a hard sell to anyone that Christianity ended around 100AD(?), when you look at the art, cathedrals, writings, and stained glass windows of the Middle Ages.

  55. Christian
    March 7, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    “The idea in Luke that the Kingdom of God is within you, is a gnostic idea for instance.”

    I don’t think that Robinson was saying that any of those sects lacked *any* truth. You’re crediting the Gnostics for producing that idea? Or merely for holding onto it while they let go of so much more?

    “It does occur to me that one person’s plain and precious things were another person’s editing, precisely what churches do today with official texts.”

    Hence Robinson’s equasion of the apostacy to mutiny. Yes, mutineers run many of the same ship functions like the captain does, but they aren’t the captain, and they don’t head the same direction that the Captain would have taken us. And the LDS church doesn’t go around burning and destroying problematic source texts.

    “Also, if they really wanted to remove lots of plain and precious things, there were a lot more they could have taken away.”

    Who? Some groups were trying to hold on to what they had (which was incomplete). Others were systematically rewriting the scriptures along a narrow track and destroying those they disagreed with.

    “The point is, if you want a very early apostasy, it means the Bible we recognize as God’s word, and were recently encouraged to again pay attention to, was put together after it occurred.”

    Well yes. Except that there were different groups editing stuff in different directions, and the Catholic Church really did exercise honest scholarship trying to sort out the original stuff from the frauds. Marcion might edit big sections of Luke and Paul, and destroy other books, but some of the originals and other books were recoverable from other sects. The Ebionites might tear out the beginning of Matthew, but that also is recoverable from other sects. Unfortunately not all of the books, or portions of the books, were recoverable, and doubtlessly some changes did get propagated despite honest Catholic scholarship.

    “Things like this just make me thing we need to rethink the whole process, rather than regard anything that’s foreign to us, or different from the original, as apostate. Maybe there’s a better term, a better way to understand what happened.”

    I think that believers should probably stick to the terms provided in the prophesies of Paul and Nephi.

  56. Bob
    March 7, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    #55:Am I reading you correctly, that the Apostasy was some kind of loss or change in scholarship or Bible writings?

  57. Christian
    March 7, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    Here’s the link again to Steven Robinson’s article.
    “Even if we use the term Catholic for the church Constantine made the state religion in a.d. 313, the New Testament as we know it was already widely circulating. That is, the plain and precious parts had already been removed. The notion of shifty-eyed medieval monks rewriting the scriptures is unfair and bigoted. We owe those monks a debt of gratitude that anything was saved at all.

    By the time of Constantine, the Apostles had been dead for centuries. Furthermore, the early Orthodox church can hardly be accused of immorality. It had, in fact, gone to the extremes of asceticism. In some areas of the world Orthodoxy replaced an earlier, already corrupt form of Christianity. And during much of the period, members of the Orthodox Church were not in a position to persecute anyone, as they were being thrown to the lions themselves. The Catholic church of the fourth century was the result of the Apostasy—its end product—not the cause. ”

    #56, No, but that was one of the major effects.
    “The Greek word apostasia (apostasy, falling away) means rebellion or revolution. It conveys the sense of an internal takeover by factions hostile to the intentions of the previous leaders. I personally prefer the translation mutiny, as it suggests that unauthorized members commandeer a ship and take it where the ship is not supposed to go. Since early Christians often thought of the church as a ship, I think mutiny conveys the sense of what Paul and others meant by the term apostasia. (See 2 Thes. 2:3.)”

    So in other words, the apostasy involved replacing the authorized leaders of the church with factions, unauthorized leaders, and perhaps some ordained folks that decided to run the show their own way.

  58. Jonovitch
    March 7, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    CraigH (52), let’s nor forget that Luke was the Greek (i.e., non-Jew) physician, writing primarily to his fellow “non-believing” countrymen (and perhaps even the early Gnostics?).

    Not to mention, if the Gnositcs or philosophers got their hands on Luke’s writings before they were canonized, they themselves might have inserted the idea that the kingdom of God is within us, at which point, it becomes a circular argument.

    It’s all kind of…muddy.


  59. Christian
    March 7, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    According to “Lost Christianities,” the Gnostics were always kind of a secret society within the other sects (e.g. Marcionites, Ebionites, or Proto-Orthodox sects) rather than a sect unto themselves. The Gnostics tended to keep their texts reserved for their elite analogous to our treatment of the temple ceremony, and the leadership of the Orthodox societies abhorred the Gnostics. So I doubt very much that gnostic thought would have infiltrated Luke unless Luke himself was influenced by Gnosticism.

  60. Bob
    March 7, 2008 at 7:03 pm

    Thank you Christian. You seem to know a lot about this area of history. I don’t see an evil hand in this period , I see men and times changing (as they always do in history). The question of the post was: is “The Apostasy” making a comeback in Mormon thinking? I see nothing wrong with that if it is the case. But, if they are going to engage others outside the Church, they must be ready for some hard questions.

  61. Christian
    March 7, 2008 at 7:25 pm

    I didn’t mean to come off like an expert — truth be told, I’ve just read one book (Lost Christianities, by Bart D. Ehrman, a non-LDS professor at Duke, IIRC), and then the one Ensign article on the subject.

    “I don’t see an evil hand in this period” — neither does my Lost Christianities source, Bart Ehrman, who mourns the loss of the Ebionites, Marcionites, Gnostics, and early proto-Orthodox like Origen whom the Catholics later declared heretical. But even Ehrman concedes that Marcion et al dramatically revised their scripture and that the Catholics did make an honest effort to identify the real original documents — although Ehrman seems persuaded that they erred by admitting a few forgeries into the NT. When I get time, I’m going to dig into another Ehrman book, “Lost Scripture.”

    No, I’ll admit right off that I’m not basing my reading of the apostacy on Occam’s razor, but rather settling a theory that is consistent with the Book of Mormon and with the all of the available historical facts.

  62. Bob
    March 7, 2008 at 8:48 pm

    #61: http://www.ccel.org/gibbon/decline.
    I just ran into this site: I can give no pros or cons concerning it. But it looks like you can go deep..for FREE!

  63. CraigH
    March 7, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    Back to the original question, then, is the Apostacy making a comeback, I guess my point is, rather than simply reiterate the old ideas about Apostasy, or develop new big explanatory schemes, or insist on looking at religious life between the ancient world and Joseph Smith through the paradigm of Apostasy, why not investigate what was actually going on a little more closely, as much as possible on its own terms? If someone 300 years from now were studying Mormonism today, we’d like it to resemble something we would actually recognize, rather than something that people 300 years from now alone would recognize. So with studying any part of the past: we actually learn more from it if we take it on its own terms first, rather than impose our model of what it was supposed to mean. If someone then wanted to make a judgment of Mormonism today, fine, but at least get it right as possible. The same with studying religion after the New Testament. That’s where I’d like to put the emphasis, rather than start from the assumption that any deviation from the “original” church or our current understanding of religion should necessarily be labeled wrong. Why not just start with what it meant to them? By doing that, there’s actually a lot to be learned from various groups, including Gnostics. I didn’t mean to imply that Gnostics changed the text of Luke, but rather that gnostic elements were certainly in orthodox Christianity, just as various Greek elements were. And I’d say Joseph Smith had plenty of gnostic ideas going as well. This approach would help us see better what we have in common with other Christians, contrary to the usual habit of constantly trying to draw distinctions. Yet it would also help us get a better idea of what was really different or unique about Mormons; too many claims of uniqueness are made that are unfounded. So the irony is this: the less willing you are to impose a big explanatory scheme, and the more willing you are to study religious life in the past on its own terms, as people of the time understood it, the more able you are eventually to come up with a more convincing scheme. But it will be highly nuanced, it will allow closer connections to other religions, instead of paying lip service with such phrases as “portion of the truth” (meaning very little). There might be more to learn than we supposed, from others.

  64. Christian
    March 7, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    “Back to the original question, then, is the Apostacy making a comeback”

    Back to the original answer to that question, when did the Apostasy ever go away? Back in the 1980s, I seem to recall that the Apostasy was the second discussion of six. So far we’ve seen no evidence that the doctrine ever went away other than someone once walked into a bookstore that was out of stock of Talmage’s book. Now I love Talmage, but given what we’ve learned in recent decades about the early days of Christianity, I think that the historical information of the book “The Great Apostasy” is out of date, and the 1988 Ensign article by Stephen Robinson that I’ve cited you seems to represent the current church view on the Apostasy.

    I seem to remember some general authority’s talk from the 1990s that an apostate was one who took the gospel keyboard and insisted on playing just one note over and over again to the annoyance of others. In that light, I suppose that there were elements of Luke and the gospel that appealed to the Gnostics. And even a prophet might go overboard for a short time focusing on one particular element.

    “So with studying any part of the past: we actually learn more from it if we take it on its own terms first”

    Sure. That’s what I do when I read Bart Ehrman’s fascinating books on early Christianity. But this discussion is about the doctrine of the Apostasy, so that’s the frame that I look at it through for purposes of this discussion.

  65. Bob
    March 7, 2008 at 10:54 pm

    #63: I agree. What is in Christ’s message that all Christians can agree on? What did he say that has had a ‘shelf life’ of 2,000 years?
    (Despite good or bad efforts to change it). Is the re-study of the Apostasy, ( by Mormons), going to bring together Mormons and ‘Christians’, or again be a ‘wedge issue’, as it was during the time of Joseph Smith?

  66. March 9, 2008 at 8:13 am

    Nice comments, everyone. The link to Robinson’s 1988 Ensign article seems especially helpful for an updated LDS perspective on the Great Apostasy. And Ehrman’s Lost Christianities sounds like a book worth reading as well.

  67. mentat
    March 9, 2008 at 11:59 pm

    I wonder if the ever-increasing attacks on the church by so-called evangelicals, particularly their claim that we are not Christian because we don\’t conform to The Creed, has something to do with it? Perhaps to demonstrate that the foundations of their belief in The Creed have little historical evidence for being part of the church as taught by Christ and his Apostles.

  68. Christian
    March 10, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    ” Is the re-study of the Apostasy, ( by Mormons), going to bring together Mormons and ‘Christians’, or again be a ‘wedge issue’, as it was during the time of Joseph Smith? ”

    The anti-mormons aren’t going to let it go, period, and better that we discuss what it means than to let enemies of the church control the discussion about that aspect of our doctrine.

    Following Stephen Robinson’s article, it becomes incorrect to refer to other churches of our time as “apostate” since they aren’t the same organizations that wrested the leadership away from the disciples.

    Most churches still aren’t going to like our take on the apostasy, although some of them actually historically admitted that it had happened in exactly the way we say, and it’s only our claim of having true authority that offends those churches.

Comments are closed.