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The Great Apostasy

Responses to Mormon Claims

 

 

      “One by one, the Apostles were killed… The perfect organization of the Church no longer existed, and confusion resulted.  More and more error crept into Church doctrine, and soon the destruction of the Church was complete.  The period of time when the true Church no longer existed on earth is called the Great Apostasy.” (Gospel Principles, p.105 – An official teaching manual of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)

           

      Matthew 16:18I 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 goal of the third discussion of Mormon missionaries is to convince investigators (prospects) that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ( commonly known as the Mormon Church) is the only true church. A missionary from Tasmania drew a simple picture of a building with a horizontal line at the bottom to show a foundation. Then he wrote words Apostles and Prophets on the foundation. He explained that apostles and prophets are foundations of the church, and then he crossed out the foundation. He asked me, “If the apostles and prophets no longer exist, what happens to the building?” “It collapses.” The missionaries tried to put me in a position where I would give the answer they wanted. Then the missionary showed me a flip chart which said;
 
THE APOSTASY
“ For that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first.” 2 Thessalonians 2:3
 
He wanted to prove that there was an apostasy in Christendom. I told the missionaries to look at the context of the passage. The apostle Paul was talking about events immediately preceding the Judgement Day. Then I quoted Matthew 16:18 which flatly denies the loss of keys for the primitive church. I asked the missionaries, “Do you think Jesus was confused or wrong when he said the gates of hell (Hades) shall not prevail against His church?” They said, “Oh, no.” I watched their faces. Nothing seemed to be registering!  In what way did we fail in our communication?
 

The Mormon Church stands on the grounds that true church with its priesthood authority was taken from the earth after the death of the apostles until Joseph Smith restored it in 1830. The Mormon Church claims that there was a universal or complete apostasy from the Christian church, and many of the major teachings, such as priesthood authority, correct ordinances and continuing revelations, were lost by the end of the second century.There had been no true church on earth for 1700 years. Does the Bible support these claims? Do the teachings of some LDS Church leaders contradict this idea? We will not address LDS teachings on priesthood authority here.  We wish to focus on whether or not the universal apostasy did happen. Then we will go back to the issues raised when having discussions with LDS missionaries: Why does The LDS Church ignore Matt.16: 8 which declares the continuation of the Christian church? What is the foundation of the church? 

 

1.   Does the Bible teach about a total apostasy?

 

The Mormon Church leaders teach that apostasy consists in the abandonment and forsaking [of] the” true gospel” and the “true government” (Mormon Doctrine, p.43 – Non official LDS source). The Mormon leaders stress personal and group abandoning beliefs once held (a universal apostasy). To support their teaching on the universal apostasy, the LDS Church quotes Bible passages like Isaiah 29:13, Amos 8:11-12, Acts 20:29-31, Galatians 1:8, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, 1 Timothy 4:1-3, 2 Peter 2:1-3 etc (UNIFORM SYSTEM FOR TEACHING THE GOSPEL ,3-7 - An official LDS manual for missionaries). But none of these passages talk about complete apostasy, and some of them do not apply to the church! 

 

The Bible teaches that apostasy is a deliberate rejection and abandonment of the biblical faith one has professed (Hebrews 3:12).2 Nowhere does the Bible teach a complete apostasy where God’s authority fully left the earth. The NT gives warnings against the danger of apostasy (Matt. 24:9-11,1 John 2:19, Hebrews 3:12,  6:4-6). The apostles warned about apostasy in the church, culminating in the appearance of the man of sin (2 Thess. 2:3, 1 Timothy 4:1-3, 2 Peter 2:3-6). Let’s turn to 2 Thessalonians 2:3, shall we?

 

     2 Thessalonians 2:3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.”

    

     This passage does refer to an apostasy, but does not refer to a total apostasy of the universal church.  The context of the passage is that some of the Thessalonians Christians mistakenly thought the day of the Lord had already begun. Paul corrected their misunderstanding, saying that before this happens, there will be a distinguishable apostasy headed by a distinguishable man of sin (anti-Christ).3 Please note that Paul is talking about an end time apostasy before the second coming of Christ.  The apostasy in 2 Thess. 2:3 will culminate in the second coming of Christ, but not the formation of the LDS Church.4

 

The Mormon Church also uses 2 Peter 2:1-3 to support a universal apostasy. 2 Peter 2:1-3 says that many will follow the pernicious ways of false prophets. But the passage does not say that that all will follow the pernicious ways of false prophets.   In 2:7-11, Peter gives the example of Lot in the city of Sodom to show God’s mercy and his ability to deliver his own.  Lot was not a sinless man, but he put his trust in God and was spared when Sodom was destroyed. Just as God rescued Lot from Sodom, he is able to rescue believers from the temptations and trials they face in this wicked world.

 

Consider Elijah’s story in 1 Kings 19.  When Jezebel was determined to kill Elijah, he escaped into the wilderness and bemoaned his fate to God. Elijah thought that all the Israelites rejected God, and he was the only person left who was still faithful to God. What did God say to him?  God preserved seven thousand believers in Israel (who had not bowed to Baal)(19:18). God gave Elijah a companion and successor, Elisha!

 

Even Mormon scriptures deny a total apostasy.  3 Nephites 28:1-8 tells the story of three “Nephite apostles” who were to remain alive until Jesus’ coming.  Some LDS missionaries use Mormon 1:3 in the Book of Mormon to say that God took three Nephites away as a result of the wickedness that prevailed “upon the whole face of the land”. The Apostle John is allegedly the only apostle, of the original twelve, left on earth (Doctrine & Covenants 7:1-8). According to Mormonism he was to live until the Lord came. It is logical that he has all the "keys," all authority.5 Therefore he could appoint and ordain new apostles and keep the Lord's church going on earth.6 Brigham Young seems to agree when he said:

 

"How vain are the imaginations of the children of men, to presume for a moment that the slaughter of one, two or a hundred of the leaders of this church could destroy an organization, so perfect in itself and so harmoniously arranged that it will stand while one member of it is left alive upon the earth.

Brethren be not alarmed, for if the Twelve should be taken away still there are powers and offices in existence which will bear the kingdom of God   triumphantly victorious in all the world. This church may have prophets many, and apostles many, but they are all to stand in due time in their proper organization, under the direction of  those who hold the keys."(Brigham Young, History of the Church, Aug. 15, 1844, 7:250)

 

Jesus promises when two or three people pray according to God’s will, their requests are granted (Matt.18:20). Ephesians 3:20 says that God the Father receives glory by Christ Jesus throughout all ages.

Ephesians 3:20,21    “20Now unto him that is able to do exceedingly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.  21Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.”

 

How would the Heavenly Father receive glory if the entire church went into apostasy?  Jesus purchased his church with his own blood (Acts 20:28).  We conclude that nowhere does the Bible teach a complete apostasy where God’s authority fully left the earth and, therefore, the LDS is not the restoration of the New Testament church.

 

2.   Why does the Mormon Church ignore Matt. 16: 8 which declares the continuation of the Church?

                  

                    Matthew 16:18  “I say also unto thee, That though art Peter, and upon this rock, I will build   my church: and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

 

One of the passages that flatly repudiates LDS’s claim of complete apostasy is Matthew 16:18.  But, the Mormon Church does not take any notice of this straightforward passage. Why? The LDS Church interprets the word rock in a different light.

           

     The Mormon Church and its top leaders teach that the rock is revelation.

          

          “Jesus in His teachings says, ‘Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’  What rock? Revelation. (History of the Church, 5:258)” (Doctrine & Covenants Student Manual, p. 26 - an official teaching manual of the Mormon Church)

 

           “But suppose it were true that the wholly untenable apostate view were correct, and that the Lord had set up his kingdom with Peter as the rock, still any church claiming  to trace its authority back to Peter would be a false church unless it believed in and  operated on the principles of  modern revelation.  Why?  Simply because conditions in the world today that a church without daily revelation cannot make the change necessary to meet those conditions…… Clearly it is only by revelation that the Lord establishes his work among men.  In the final analysis, no person can have conclusive knowledge as to the true meaning of this passage without revelation from that God who is no respecter of persons and who giveth wisdom liberally to all who ask of him in faith”

            (The Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ & His Apostles, pp101-102 – an official teaching manual of the Mormon Church )

   

     What is the rock in the Bible?  The rock on which Jesus would build his church has caused endless arguments throughout the history of Christendom.7 Undoubtedly Peter is assigned pre-eminence.  In fact, he was the spokesperson who was responsible for the formation of the church at Pentecost (Acts 2-5). Traditionally the Roman Catholic Church sees the rock as Peter. Peter is the first bishop of Rome and his authority transferred to succeeding popes. But, the passage does not say anything about succession of headship.  Though Peter was widely honoured, the early church did not regard Peter as head of the church. 8

    

     It seems that the rock refers to Peter as the foundation of the new people of God.9 The word for church used in the Greek translation of the OT means the people of God.10  The church is not an institution but assembly of God’s people. The name Peter means rock and Jesus played on this meaning to designate Peter as the foundation of the new people of God. Jesus referred the church as my church.  The church would be built by Jesus, not by Peter. Jesus assures his disciples that the gates of hell (The King James rendering) will not prevail against his church, his church will never die.  Nothing in the world or next cannot overthrow his church.

 

     There is not a single biblical passage which supports the view that the rock in Matt.16:18 is revelation. The LDS Church and its top leaders seem to reinterpret the meaning of the rock in order to support LDS teachings of the ongoing revelation and the LDS concept of priesthood  authority.  We believe that, by doing this, the LDS Church top leaders and LDS scholars have managed to remove Matthew 16:18 from any discussions on the perpetuity of the Church.11   

 

3.   What is the foundation of the Church?

    

     The Mormon Church teaches that their church is true because it is built upon the foundation of 

      apostles and prophets. Latter-day Saints use Ephesians 2:20 to prove that living apostles and prophets must govern the church now. LDS missionaries often ask us, “Does your church have apostles and a prophet?”

      

      The Bible teaches that Christ is the rock/ foundation on which the church is built.  Peter describes the church as a living, spiritual house, with Christ as the foundation and cornerstone and each believer as a stone (1 Peter 2:4-6). Eph.2:20 says that the church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus himself chief cornerstone. Please note that the church is built upon the foundation of the specific apostles and prophets. In the NT apostles were the authoritative messengers commissioned by Christ to preach the good news. What were the qualifications for apostles?  Biblical apostles had to be eyewitnesses of Jesus’ baptism and ministry and resurrection (Acts 1:22). So the authority was not based on the office, but on their unique, personal witness of Christ. None of LDS apostles meet these requirements. Judas was replaced by Matthias.  The apostle James’ death was recorded in Acts 12:2 but the Bible does not say that other apostles were replaced.12

   

     The NT teaches that John the Baptist marked the end of the OT era and the need for a head prophet (Matt.11:13, Luke 16:16).This was because Jesus’ mission was about to be fulfilled, which would establish him as our only Prophet, Priest and King.13 Hebrews 1:1-2 says that Jesus Christ is the fulfilment and culmination of God’s revelation in these last days of human history.

          Hebrews 1:1-2  “1God, who at sundry times and in divine manners spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2Hath in these days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.”

 

     The foundation of apostles and prophets has always been Jesus Christ.

          1 Corinthians 3:11For other foundations can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

 

     Being “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets”(Eph.2:20) means that we should continue to hold on to the teachings given to us by the genuine apostles and prophets of the Christian church.  We are to contend for the faith that was once and for all time entrusted to the saints (believers) (Jude 3). No new foundation is needed.

 

      Conclusion Nowhere does the Bible teach a complete apostasy where God’s authority fully left the earth.  Mormon claims of the loss of the church from the earth and the restoration of it deny the teaching of Matthew 16:8 and Ephesians 3:20.  The church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus himself chief cornerstone. The foundation of the apostles and prophets has always been Jesus Christ. We should continue to hold on to the teachings given to us by the genuine apostles and prophets of the Christian church (Jude 3). Jesus is the cornerstone of the church, which means he is part of the church.  How could the church collapse when it had Jesus as its cornerstone and part of it? Jesus is the head of the body, the church (Colossians 1:18). The Heavenly Father gave Jesus all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18). If a restoration was needed, does it make sense that for about 1700 years the Lord could not find anyone to restore his Church on earth, that he stopped building his church and that had to wait for Smith?14  Jesus need not have waited for 1700 years.  Mormon claims insult the living head of the Church.

 

Notes

 

1.      Todd Compton, Apostasy in Encyclopaedia of Mormonism Vol.1 (N.Y.Macmillan Publishing, 1992, - http://www.lightplanet.com/mormons/basic/gospel/restoration/Apostasy)   

2.      L.G. Whitlock,Jr, “Apostasy” in “Evangelical Dictionary of Theology”, ed.Walter Elwell(Grand Rapids, Baker House,1984)p.70

3.      Ron Rhodes & Marion Bodine, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Mormons (Eugene, Harvest House Publishing, 1995) p.53

4.      Ibid.

5.      John Farkas, “Was there a complete apostasy?”(www.bcmmin.org)

6.      Ibid.

7.      This is seen as (1) Peter, (2) The faith Peter has just confessed - Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God), (3) Teachings of Jesus, or (4) Jesus himself. 

           8.    It was James, not Peter, who resided over the council in Jerusalem (Acts 15) and Peter rebukes Peter strongly (Gal.2:11-14). - Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary     (Leicester, Apollos, 1992) p.422

9.   R.T. France, Matthew in the New Bible Commentary (Leicester, IVP, 1994) p.926

10.   Leon Morris, pp.425-426

      11.  James White, “The Gate of HellSampling From the Old Mormon Echo” (05-22-93)  (http://aomin.org/SAGA.html)

12.  Marvin Cowan, Mormon Claims (Self-publishing, 1997) p.81

13.  Janis Hutchinson, The Mormon Missionaries (Grand Rapids, Kregel, 1995) p.93

14.   John Farkas

 

 

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