Mormonism 201: Chapter 6 – Apostasy

Response to Barry R. Bickmore
Rejoinder by Sharon Lindbloom

In order to make this review
easier to read, all original quotes from
the Mormonism 201 rebuttal are boldfaced and italicized to separate
these from the rest of the rejoinder.

Joseph Smith, the first Mormon
prophet, said,

I have more to boast of
than ever any man had. I am the only man that
has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of
Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul,
John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a
work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day
Saints never ran away from me yet.

(History of the Church 6:408-409)

Such boasting may cause
discomfort among twenty-first
century readers; nevertheless, Joseph Smith has here summed up the core
LDS doctrine of a complete apostasy of the early Christian church. In
Mormon thought, the true church was obliterated shortly after the
deaths of the original apostles, necessitating a full restoration. In
Mormonism
101
, Bill McKeever and Eric
Johnson examine various elements
of Mormon teachings on this subject. With Bible in hand, they logically
and systematically deal with each one. It has become the task of LDS
apologist Barry R. Bickmore to defend the Mormon doctrine of complete
apostasy against the arguments set forth by McKeever and Johnson. My
purpose in this paper is to evaluate the objections and
counter-arguments presented by Mr. Bickmore in Mormonism 201.

Mr. Bickmore begins by asking
the question,

What is a "Complete
Apostasy?"

He states,

…McKeever and
Johnson provide a somewhat twisted version of the LDS
apostasy doctrine, and attempt to refute it—a classic straw
man
approach to polemics. Even if they did refute such a thing, it would
have no bearing on the status of the real LDS apostasy doctrine.

In Mormonism 101,
McKeever and Johnson present teachings of
recognized LDS authorities in order to define the "real LDS apostasy
doctrine" (79-80). Mr. Bickmore agrees that the quotes they use "are
actually quite good, and fairly representative…" He
summarizes the main
points:

  • Rebellion within and persecution from without finally overcame the
    Church.
  • The
    Apostles were killed, and the perfect organization of the Church no
    longer existed on the Earth.
  • The
    priesthood—the authority to act in God's name—was
    lost from the earth.
  • Various
    errors crept into Christian doctrine.
  • Creeds were formulated,
    which set in stone many of the errors that
    had crept in. Such mixing of human error with scripture is an
    "abomination" to God.

Beyond this, however, there is
a difference of opinion
between Mr. Bickmore and McKeever and Johnson regarding the finer
points of the LDS apostasy doctrine. McKeever and Johnson argue that
"complete apostasy" means the apostasy was actually complete, universal
and total; that, as stated by LDS apostles,

The people were left in
darkness, and gross darkness covered
their minds, and we had a complete
apostasy from the truth.

(Mark E.
Petersen, Conference
Report
, April 1945, 43,
GospeLink 2001; also
quoted in Mormonism
101
, 80; emphasis mine)

For hundreds of years,
following the universal
apostasy, the
inhabitants of the earth walked in spiritual darkness. They became
divided and sub-divided. Satan had obtained such power over their
thinking that the fundamental principles of the gospel ceased to exist
among them.
(Joseph Fielding
Smith, Answers
to Gospel Questions
, 5:xi,
GospeLink 2001; emphasis mine)

There is to be absolute,
total, complete apostasy after
John's day and before the angelic ministrations commence. The falling
away shall be complete, the apostasy universal. Gross darkness shall be
everywhere. The gospel shall not be found in any nation, among any
kindred; no tongue shall teach its truth…

(Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal
New Testament Commentary
, 3:
529, GospeLink 2001; emphasis mine)

It is clearly reasonable to
conclude from these
authoritative sources that the LDS doctrine of apostasy includes the
idea that neither spiritual truths nor true believers remained on the
earth. In essence, the true church ceased to exist. In the LDS belief
system, this would also mean that there were no priesthood holders, no
apostles, and no prophets. This is the sort of "complete apostasy" that
McKeever and Johnson discuss in chapter six of Mormonism 101;
it is the
doctrine as historically taught by LDS leaders.

But Mr. Bickmore argues for a
more limited view. A concise statement summing up his definition is
this:

…when
Latter-day Saints say there was a "complete" apostasy, we do not
mean that every single Christian personally rebelled against God.
Rather, the rebellion, along with outside persecution, was extensive
enough that the earthly Church organization was in a shambles, and was
taken over by hostile forces. God allowed this because the culture was
not prepared to allow the pure Gospel message to flourish in its midst,
so God allowed a somewhat watered-down version to be substituted.

Rather than a loss
of truth, Mr. Bickmore argues for a
lesser amount of truth. He believes there were "true Christians" on the
earth during a time when, according to LDS leaders:

  • the people's minds were
    covered in gross darkness
  • Satan had power over their
    thinking
  • the gospel could not be
    found in any nation or among any kindred
  • no tongue taught gospel
    truths

In addition, Mr. Bickmore
writes:

…the
doctrine of the apostasy does not imply that everyone outside the
Church of Jesus Christ is going to hell. It does not preclude the many
beliefs and values we hold in common with other Christians.

…there has
always been wheat among the tares.

Thus, Mr. Bickmore scoffs at a
suggestion made by McKeever and Johnson:
that if there were four righteous priesthood-holding men on earth
during the apostasy (the Apostle John and the Three Nephites 1),
the LDS
doctrine of "a complete apostasy
becomes a problem in light of the fact
that these men were promised success in making converts."

(Mormonism
101
, 84) Mr. Bickmore
maintains,

This section of the
chapter [in Mormonism 101], more than
any other, exhibits the poor reading comprehension skills of McKeever
and Johnson. Has there ever been a Latter-day Saint who claimed that
John and the Three Nephites did not and will not make any converts
during their long ministries? And even if they had been promised that
they would "bring souls unto Christ" every single day they lived,
Latter-day Saints have no trouble believing that these four men brought
"souls unto Christ" without baptizing them into the earthly Church, as
has already been explained.

Mr. Bickmore would like us to
believe that these four
righteous priesthood holders brought souls unto Christ yet did not
baptize any of them
. 2
This is
his opinion, but he is at odds with the
teachings of LDS leadership. For example, Apostle James E. Talmage
wrote,

Though [the Three
Nephites] lived and labored as men among
their fellows, preaching, baptizing,
and conferring the Holy Ghost upon
all who gave heed to their words, the enemies to the truth were
powerless to do them injury.

(James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ,
739;
emphasis mine)

Furthermore, President Joseph
Fielding Smith, in answer to a
question about whether the Nephites had a church organization before
Alma's time, wrote,

If [the Nephites] were
baptized and had the gift of the Holy
Ghost in the days of Lehi, then they had a church organization, which
endured all through the Nephite history, notwithstanding the constant
apostasies that occurred among them.

(Joseph Fielding Smith, Selections
from Answers to Gospel Questions
,
155)

The logical syllogism
resulting from these authoritative LDS teachings is this:

  • If
    baptized people possessing the gift of the Holy Ghost equaled a church
    organization (as stated by President Smith)
  • And
    if the Three Nephites baptized and conferred the Holy Ghost on people
    during the apostasy (as stated by Apostle Talmage)
  • Then
    the church organization existed on the earth during the apostasy
  • Therefore
    there was no complete apostasy of the church as taught by LDS leaders

McKeever and Johnson have done
an admirable job interacting with and
refuting authoritative LDS teachings regarding the apostasy. Mr.
Bickmore rejects these arguments because he rejects the historical
complete
apostasy doctrine in favor of a limited
apostasy.
Nevertheless, it is clear that Mr. Bickmore, Mr. McKeever, and Mr.
Johnson all agree on one thing: that the LDS doctrine of apostasy
includes a hostile takeover of the church Jesus established, resulting
in the loss of spiritual authority among men. Mr. Bickmore confirms
this:

Christians apparently
rebelled in large enough numbers (and
many who did not rebel were martyred) that God thought it wise to
remove His priesthood authority, and leave the world with a lesser
amount of truth…

Having established this common
definition of the LDS
doctrine, we shall move on to Mr. Bickmore's next question in Mormonism
201
, which concerns what the Bible
says about apostasy.

Does the Bible Predict a
"Complete" Apostasy?

In Mormonism 101
McKeever and Johnson acknowledge, "While some
apostasies were certainly predicted [in the Bible], a complete apostasy
where God's authority fully left the earth was never predicted or
implied."
(81) Mr. Bickmore
believes McKeever and Johnson are using a
straw man argument, maintaining,

…when
Latter-day Saints say there was a "complete" apostasy,
we do not mean that every single Christian personally rebelled against
God.

Whichever definition one wants
to attach to complete
apostasy
, the conclusion is
the same: the Bible neither predicts nor
implies either view. However, Mr. Bickmore believes the Bible supports
his idea of limited
apostasy and presents his case. He cites numerous
biblical passages, but these say nothing more than those cited by
McKeever and Johnson. In a nutshell, the verses highlighted by Mr.
Bickmore state:

  • wolves would enter into the
    fold to draw away disciples (Acts 20:29-30)
  • Galatian believers were
    being deceived and turning to another gospel (Galatians 1:6-8)
  • believers must be careful
    of false apostles (2 Corinthians 11:13)
  • certain men denied the Lord
    Jesus Christ (Jude 3-4; 17-18)
  • "all" in Asia had been
    disloyal to Paul (2 Timothy 1:15) 3

Nowhere in these
verses—or in those cited by McKeever and Johnson—is
there basis for the assertion that God's authority had been (or would
be) taken from the earth. In fact, taken as a whole, the apostolic
writings are not about failure, but about Christ's victory as He builds
His church.

For example, consider Jude. He
begins his epistle exhorting
believers to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all
delivered to the saints." They are to stand firm for the
truth—the
truth whose preservation is proclaimed ("once for all")—in
the face of
those who would pervert the Gospel and draw people into sin. "But you,"
Jude says to the church, "remember the words which were spoken before
by the apostles.…" "But you,"
he says, "keep yourselves in the love of
God." In the end, Jude offers us an inspired doxology expressing the
truth of God's power to preserve His people to the end:

Now
to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling,
And to present you faultless
Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy…
4

The exhortations and warnings
of the apostles—and of Jesus, for that
matter (e.g., Matthew 7:15; 24:24)—never declare that the
church would
be taken over by hostile forces and God's authority would be taken
away. To reach that conclusion, one must add substantially to
scripture. The sin or defection of individuals is not proof or even
support of a complete apostasy. Nevertheless, if it were, Mormons
themselves would be forced to conclude that the LDS Church is
completely apostate.

Documented history confirms
that there were many instances
of members and leaders in the early days of the LDS Church who not only
left the fold but spoke out against the Prophet, attempting to draw
Latter-day Saints away after themselves. There have been dozens, if not
hundreds, of break-off groups—many with people claiming the
main body
of the LDS Church lost its authority, which now can be found only
within their churches. 5
Would it be fair or accurate to insist that
these circumstances prove the true LDS Church ceased to exist? We would
be hard-pressed to find many Mormons willing to reach that conclusion;
though there are, no doubt, many "apostates" who would heartily agree.

Considering the schisms that
have troubled the LDS Church in
its short history, it is bewildering that Mormon apologists continually
turn to this argument. Despite a history of persecution, individual
apostasy, schisms, etc., the LDS Church maintains it is not only
capable of surviving, but is guaranteed
to do so. Logical consistency
demands either an abandonment of the tired appeal to defectors in the
early Christian church or an admission that the LDS Church was also
taken over by hostile forces and inevitably ceased to exist.

Continuing in the quest for
biblical support, Mr. Bickmore cites 1 John 2:18:

Little children, it is
the last time: and as ye have heard that
antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we
know that it is the last time.

Mr. Bickmore asks, "Could
it be that the flooding of antichrists into Christianity signaled the
end of the Church of that age?"

The answer is no. Mr. Bickmore
has set up a false scenario. John says
there is an Antichrist coming, but even now there are many antichrists
troubling the church. John identifies who the current antichrists are
in verse 22: anyone who denies the Father and the Son. Because there
are "many" who deny the Father and the Son (then and now), must we
conclude that the church is flooded and overcome by these people? John
tells us in verse 19 that "they went out from us" and no longer
continued with the true believers. Their going out, according to John,
made it evident to all that they were not part of the church. In other
words, they left
the church; they did not corrupt or overcome it. They
themselves had been rejected by the faithful.

In conjunction with 1 John
2:18, Mr. Bickmore cites 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 and 7-12, quoted here in
part:

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; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above
all that is called God, or that is worshiped; so that he as God sitteth
in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.

(vv. 3-4)

About this Mr. Bickmore
writes:

Most
commentators link Paul's "son of perdition" with the antichrist. There
is ample reason, from Paul's own use of the Temple as a symbol of the
Church organization, that this prophecy predicted the takeover of the
earthly Church organization by enemies.
6

It is a rather bold assumption
to think that Paul is
predicting a hostile takeover of the Church organization. The evidence
that this passage is not
talking about the demise of Christ's church is
found in the greater context of Paul's letter. Instead of telling his
readers that the days of the church are numbered—that she is
soon to
fall to her enemies—Paul encourages the Thessalonians and
reminds them
of God's faithfulness. In chapter 3, Paul promises them that God will
guard them from the evil one and expresses confidence that, because of
God's faithfulness, they will continue in the faith. (3:3-4)

Mr. Bickmore's appeal to the
opinion of "most commentators"
may leave the reader with a false impression. True, many scholars link
"sons of perdition" with the Antichrist, but those outside the LDS
Church do not find support for the LDS view of apostasy in 2
Thessalonians—or anywhere else in the Bible, for that matter.
Though
there may be questions regarding some of the finer points of Paul's
prophecy, it is understood that Paul is warning the Thessalonians of a
future rebellion against God in which many people will choose to follow
a false god. The scope and intensity of this rebellion sets it apart
from the general opposition to God which was already at work (2:7),
but, like the other Bible passages mentioned above, this prediction
gives no indication that God will allow His church to be overrun and
will remove His authority from the earth.

Did the Gates of Hell
Prevail Against the Church?

After demonstrating the absence
of an explicit biblical prediction of
complete apostasy—that is, a hostile takeover of the church
and
complete loss of spiritual authority—McKeever and Johnson
continue,

One passage that goes
against the complete apostasy theory
is Matthew 16:18. It reads, "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."
(82)

Consequently, in Mormonism
201, Mr. Bickmore writes,

The
stock argument against the LDS case for a complete apostasy appeals
to a single verse in Matthew…McKeever and Johnson assert,
"Because the
literal meaning would eliminate the 'loss of keys' for the primitive
Christian church, many Mormons choose to spiritualize this otherwise
straightforward verse…"

The problem with McKeever
and Johnson's analysis of LDS
exegesis of this passage is that they are the ones spiritualizing the
meaning of the passage, and the LDS are taking it quite literally.

When McKeever and Johnson draw
a comparison between the
non-LDS "literal" understanding of Matthew 16:18 and the LDS
"spiritualized" interpretation, I believe they intend to distinguish
between the plain or obvious meaning of Christ's words as opposed to
the more esoteric sense in which many Mormons read and apply the
passage. McKeever and Johnson provide several examples of LDS
interpretations, quoting President Harold B. Lee and the Encyclopedia
of Mormonism
to illustrate
and support their observation.

In Mormonism 201,
Mr. Bickmore includes the Encyclopedia of Mormonism quote:

The Savior's reference to
the "gates of hell" (Hades, or the spirit
world; Matt. 16:18) indicates, among other things, that God's
priesthood power will penetrate hell and redeem the repentant spirits
there. Many have been, and many more will yet be, delivered from hell
through hearing, repenting, and obeying the gospel of Jesus Christ in
the spirit world after the death of the body.

("Hell," volume 2, 586)

In agreement with the Encyclopedia of Mormonism—at
least to
a point—Mr. Bickmore examines the meaning of the word
"Hades." He
maintains:

So "Hades" was not the
place of final punishment, the domain
of Satan. It corresponds to what Latter-day Saints call the Spirit
World—a place where the spirits of both the righteous and
wicked dead
are kept until the Resurrection.

In an effort to discern the
meaning of the phrase "gates of
hell," Mr. Bickmore presents his readers with some ancient poetic
descriptions of Christ's visit to Hades between His death and
resurrection. He then concludes:

Therefore, according to
the early Christians, the "gates of
Hades" kept everyone, including the Church, inside Hades until Jesus
would come and release them into a glorious resurrection. So when
Latter-day Saints apply Matthew 16:18 to the release of Spirits from
the Spirit World rather than to the survival of the earthly Church,
they are taking the passage quite literally.

Mr. Bickmore is missing the
forest for the trees. As Matthew
records the words Jesus spoke to His apostles in the region of Caesarea
Philippi, it is clear that He was not teaching them about Hades or the
doctrine of resurrection. Jesus was teaching them about the church:

…I will build
my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

(Matthew 16:18)

The plain meaning of Christ's
words is this: Jesus Christ promised to
build His church and, employing a figure of speech, declared that
nothing could or would stop it or overcome it. There has been no
confusion over Christ's statement throughout the entire history of the
Christian church. However, when one redefines His idiomatic expression,
the clarity of Jesus' message becomes obscured.

Mr. Bickmore's
release-of-spirits-from-the-spirit-world
interpretation of "the gates of hell shall
not prevail"
does not fit
with LDS scripture either. For example, in Doctrine and Covenants 17:8,
the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon are told,

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.

Or 3 Nephi 11:39 from the Book
of Mormon:

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.

These verses communicate the
idea of "spiritual safety,
security and stability." 7
In these examples and elsewhere, LDS scripture
uses "gates
of hell"
in a way that is
consistent with Jesus' use of the
phrase in Matthew 16:18. 8

Several Mormon leaders also
disagree with Mr. Bickmore's
hypothesis. These leaders understand Matthew 16:18 to be referring to
the preservation of the LDS Church:

God knows everything
connected with this work, from the
beginning to the end. The troubles that we are now going through are
all known to the Lord. He knew them before they took place. He knew the
position we would be in. He knew how we would act. He knew it by His
foreknowledge, which is infinite. He knows how these persecutions will
terminate. He knows that salvation will come. He knows that Zion has
been founded, never to be overthrown. He has told us this will be the
case. The gates of hell will never prevail against the Zion of God. No
matter what we may go through, no matter what we may have to endure,
this is the infallible promise of the Lord Eternal which is made to us.

(President George Q. Cannon [First Counselor], April 27, 1890,
Collected
Discourses
, volume 2, page
76, GospeLink 2001)

Jesus 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. 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 Church of Christ today is built upon this same
principle, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. They did
not prevail against us in our infancy; they did not in our boyhood;
they did not in our early manhood; and I will assure you they will not
now that we are seventy years old.

(President Lorenzo Snow, Conference
Report
, April 1900, 2-3,
GospeLink 2001)

"But whom say ye that I
am?" The reply came from Peter with
equal directness: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Christ approved that answer and declared that the basis of the
knowledge implicit in it was the rock upon which he [sic] would build
His Church. He said more than that. He said that being so foundationed
the gates of hell should not prevail against it. That is a very
important assurance. It promises solidity and perpetuity. That is the
essence of the message which His disciples bore to the world.

(Apostle
Albert E. Bowen, Conference Report,
April 1942, 59, GospeLink 2001)

Discussing the identity of the
"rock" in Matthew 16:18,
McKeever and Johnson provide a biblically consistent exegesis of the
passage:

…Christ is
the rock on which the church is built. In
Ephesians 2:20, Paul states that Christ Himself is the cornerstone, a
rock or stone placed in the corner of a proposed building on which all
the other stones must align. The "apostles and prophets" do not
necessarily mean offices, as the LDS Church implies; rather this phrase
encompasses the teachings of the prophets (Old Testament) and the
apostles (New Testament).

In 1 Corinthians
3:10-11, Paul says that the wise
masterbuilder builds on the foundation of Christ Himself. In saying
this, He warned others who also build on this foundation to "take heed"
how they did so. This conclusion (that Christ is the rock) seems to
more adequately explain what Peter said in answer to Christ's question
in Matthew 16:15. Peter declared that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of
the living God. Because the true church is based on Christ, His
sovereign protection would never allow its death; hence, the
expression, "the gates of Hell [or Hades] would not prevail against
it."
(82-83)

Mr. Bickmore claims Matthew
16:18 is "the
stock argument
against the LDS case for a complete apostasy,"

but rather than address
McKeever and Johnson's detailed analysis, he virtually ignores it. The
truth of the matter is that this is an extremely problematic verse for
the LDS Church because its claims of the early church being overcome by
evil directly contradict the words of Jesus Christ.

Apostles in the New
Testament Church

Continuing with his examination
of McKeever and Johnson's major points
relating to the apostasy, Mr. Bickmore discusses apostles in the New
Testament church. He begins,


McKeever and Johnson proffer a series of arguments against
the LDS belief that Apostles are a necessity in the Lord's Church, but
surprisingly never mention the Bible passage most often quoted by
Latter-day Saints in this regard.

[Ephesians 4:11-14]

Mr. Bickmore misrepresents or
misunderstands McKeever and
Johnson. The arguments to which he refers are not general discussions
of apostles in the New Testament church, but rather an examination of
the LDS doctrine of "apostolic chain of
command."
(Mormonism 101,
86)
McKeever and Johnson focus their remarks on this specific aspect of LDS
apostleship because it relates directly to the Mormon claim of complete
apostasy. McKeever and Johnson reason:

If,
as LDS leaders proclaim, the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints reflects the practices and beliefs of the "primitive"
church, it must be assumed that the early church had a chain of command
similar to that found today in Salt Lake City. If this is true, then
the apostles must have had a set of checks and balances to ensure that
a successor would always be available.

If an apostle was killed
or died of natural causes, a godly
replacement to carry on the goal of his predecessor would have been
picked, much like the system set up today in modern Mormonism. However,
if the primitive church did not have this system in place, then the LDS
Church leaders have no right to claim they represent the same church as
that led by Christ and the biblical apostles.

(86)

McKeever and Johnson affirm
that there are those beyond the
twelve who are called apostles in the New Testament. In fact, on this
point they agree with the LDS Bible Dictionary which says,

The title
[apostle] was
also applied to others who, though
not of the number of the original twelve, yet were called to serve as
special witnesses of the Lord.

(Bible
Dictionary
, Apostle, appendix
in
LDS edition of the King James Version, 612. See Mormonism 101,
87, for
McKeever and Johnson's agreement)

Please note, the particular
issue at hand is the LDS
doctrine of apostolic chain of command.
LDS Church leaders believe that
their system in place for replacing apostles (as it becomes necessary)
preserves and protects the Church. After describing the keys and
authority of the LDS Church's twelve (modern-day) apostles, Bruce R.
McConkie states,

…and through
this system of apostolic succession, the Lord
has made provision for the continuation and preservation of his kingdom
on earth.
(Mormon Doctrine,
Apostolic Succession, 49)

What McKeever and Johnson (and
others) question is how could
a complete apostasy (in which God's authority was completely removed
from the earth) happen in the early church with such provision in
place? 9
Mr. Bickmore answers,

…many of the
prophecies coming from the apostles in New
Testament times were about the impending apostasy. They knew a
rebellion was in the works. So if God told them not to ordain new
apostles because of the rebellion that was underway, that is what would
have happened. The apostasy was not an accident. It was a purposeful
rebellion on the part of many Christians, tearing the Church apart.
When this rebellion was combined with massive persecutions that wiped
out a large number of faithful Christian leaders, God undoubtedly
thought it wise to remove His priesthood.

Mr. Bickmore allows for
potential error in his theory. By
choosing to say "if
God told them…", he truthfully confesses he does
not know the answer to the question or how to solve the problem this
poses for the doctrine of complete apostasy.

More often than not, LDS
leaders do not attempt to explain
why the remaining apostles did not ordain replacements; they merely
acknowledge that the apostolic office disappeared. For example, Apostle
Ezra Taft Benson said,

As the restored Church,
we affirm that with the passing of
the apostolic age, the Church drifted into a condition of apostasy,
that succession in the priesthood was broken, and that the Church, as
an earthly organization operating under divine direction and having
authority to officiate in spiritual ordinances, ceased to exist.

(Ezra
Taft Benson, Conference Report,
October 1949, 26, GospeLink 2001)

In this same vein, Sterling W.
Sill, Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said,

Jesus had built his
Church upon the foundation of apostles and
prophets. When the foundation was destroyed, the building crumbled. In
time what had once been a divine organization became merely a human
institution.
(Sterling W.
Sill, Conference
Report
, April 1963, 41-42,
GospeLink 2001)

In the absence of an official
LDS Church declaration,
popular notions have developed among Mormons to explain the
disappearance of the biblical apostles. Some say that, due to
persecution, the apostles were not able to gather together and form a
quorum to ordain replacements. Others suggest that the apostles were
killed off so quickly that choosing new apostles became impossible.
These theories, like the one proposed by Mr. Bickmore, are inadequate.
Speaking at a General Conference, Apostle George Q. Cannon taught,

If every man of the
Twelve but one were slain, the remaining
one would have the right to organize a First Presidency of the Church,
to choose Twelve Apostles and to organize the Church in its fulness and
power and to preside over it. And his acts would be accepted of the
Lord and binding upon the people. This is the authority of the
Apostleship.
(Gospel Truth,
Two Volumes in One, 208)

So not only could one
apostle—John, for instance—have
organized a First Presidency, which would in turn choose Twelve
Apostles, it was his right
and responsibility
to do so. Apostle Cannon
attributed John's failure to act in this manner to a lack of "faith and
men" remaining on the earth at that time. But in order for this to be a
tenable explanation, Mr. Bickmore's limited
apostasy doctrine must go
and he must concede that the scope of the apostasy was much greater
than he has previously argued.

The most incredible point
regarding Mr. Bickmore's
theory—that God commanded church authorities to stop
ordaining new
apostles—is that he expects us to believe God, knowing a
rebellion was
in the works, chose to remove the very thing He had put in place to
protect His church against apostasy: prophets and apostles. In
Mormonism
201
, Mr. Bickmore writes
about the purpose of prophets and
apostles in the church,

…one need only
look to the reasons Paul gave for God's
establishment of these offices in the Church, which include "That we
[henceforth] be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about
with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, [and] cunning
craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive…."

On this point Mr. Bickmore is
in agreement with LDS leaders. Apostle Mark E. Petersen wrote,

These apostles and
prophets, the revelators of God, were to act as a
protection for the people against false prophets and false teachings.
…If you want to know what the word of God is, go to the
Council of the
Twelve or the First Presidency. They are the foundation of the Church;
they will keep you on the right track so that you will not need to
worry.
(Quoted in Teachings of the Living
Prophets
, Student Manual
Religion 333, 30)

Consider also this Deseret News
report from the LDS Church's October 2004 General Conference:

Jesus Christ has called
prophets, seers and revelators to direct his
church in ancient and modern times, said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland.

"Thus the apostolic and
prophetic foundation of the church
was to bless in all times but especially in times of adversity or
danger, in times when we might feel like children, confused or
disoriented, perhaps a little fearful, times in which the devious hand
of men or the maliciousness of the devil would attempt to unsettle or
mislead."
(LDS are praised
and warned, Dennis Romboy, Deseret Morning
News
, A01, 10/3/04)

It is unreasonable to think
Christ established apostles in
His infant church in order to protect it but then removed them at the
first sign of trouble. Mr. Bickmore's theories notwithstanding,
McKeever and Johnson have raised a valid question: "If the early church
had a prophet like the modern LDS prophet guiding it, how could it ever
fall into a state of apostasy?"

(87) We have yet to see a credible
answer.

The "Priesthood of All
Believers"

Following
the discussion of apostles, Mr. Bickmore challenges the biblical
doctrine of a priesthood of all believers. He begins,

As has been discussed,
Latter-day Saints believe that
because of the apostasy, priesthood authority was lost, and therefore
had to be restored. McKeever and Johnson, on the other hand, counter
with the standard Protestant argument for a "priesthood of all
believers."

Mr. Bickmore is correct on one
point: McKeever and Johnson
do discuss the issue of the believers' priesthood; however, their
argument against Mormonism's priesthood doctrine goes much deeper. In
Mormonism
101
McKeever and Johnson
write,

The Aaronic priesthood
was for the priests of the temple, as
defined in the books of Moses known as the Pentateuch. The New
Testament shows no need for such a priesthood for Christian believers.

(89)

To which Mr. Bickmore
responds,

McKeever and
Johnson give no evidence that the Aaronic priesthood was not to be
perpetuated in the New Testament Church, but we need not defend such a
proposition. …In any case, we see the Aaronic priesthood as
a subset of
the Melchizedek priesthood…

Mr. Bickmore is in error; the
LDS position must be defended
in light of Hebrews 7:18, which tells us that the Aaronic priesthood
was annulled
because it was weak and unprofitable. That is, it was
unable to permanently accomplish the reconciliation of sinful human
beings to their Holy God. The fact that the LDS Church claims a
continuation of this priesthood, whether under the umbrella of the
Melchizedek priesthood or not, does need to be explained when the Bible
tells us this priesthood was set aside in favor of a better hope.

McKeever and Johnson further
comment on the Melchizedek priesthood,

Hebrews 6:20 says Jesus
is the "high priest for ever after the order of
Melchisedec." Hebrews 7:24 says that because Jesus lives forever, He
holds His priesthood permanently.

(89)

Mr. Bickmore writes,

As for the Melchizedek
priesthood, nobody disputes the fact that Jesus holds His priesthood
permanently, so it is difficult to discern McKeever and Johnson's
reason for pointing this out.

The reason is rooted in the
Bible: The Old Covenant required
many mediators—priests—to be continually engaged in
the never-ending
work of offering sacrifices on behalf of themselves and the people in
an effort to eliminate their guilt before God. But with the change in
the law and the priesthood, "there is the bringing in
of a better hope,
through which we draw near to God."

(Hebrews 7:12, 19) As the book of
Hebrews so clearly shows, the New Covenant is far superior to the old,
requiring only one Mediator and only one Priest. Jesus Christ is that
Priest and Mediator, and He lives forever as Priest and King. (Hebrews
7:23-28) Therefore, if one priest is enough to mediate the New
Covenant, and that Priest "continues forever,"
any others claiming to
hold a priesthood "after the order of Melchizedek" are fraudulent. 10

Despite contrary scriptural
evidence, Mr. Bickmore suggests
there are a number of points to support the proposition that others can
hold the Melchizedek priesthood. He asks,

First,
what kind of priesthood did Melchizedek hold? Was his
priesthood "after the order of Melchizedek?" If so, then obviously
people other than Christ can belong to this order.

This is clearly answered in
the New Testament. After telling
his readers Jesus has "become High Priest
forever according to the
order of Melchizedek,"
the
author of Hebrews explains what this
designation means. Melchizedek was

  • priest of the Most High God
  • superior to Abraham
  • king of righteousness
  • king of peace
  • without father or mother
  • without ancestry in regard
    to priesthood
  • without beginning or end of
    life
  • a priest continually
    (Hebrews 7:1-3)

The point being made is that
Christ, who does not have a legal claim to
the Aaronic priesthood because He is not of the proper Israelite tribe,
is nevertheless the Great High Priest. The author of Hebrews is
developing a typology between Melchizedek and Christ. Melchizedek
foreshadowed Christ; his position as a priest foreshadowed Christ's
position as Priest.

Mr. Bickmore argues that if
Melchizedek's priesthood was
"after
the order of Melchizedek," then "people other than Christ can
belong to this order."

However, it appears he is misunderstanding
scripture. When the Bible speaks of the "order of Melchizedek," it is
not talking about a group of people constituting an ecclesiastical
fraternity to which people belong
(e.g., an elder's quorum). Within
scripture there is no such thing as the Melchizedek priesthood
(that
is, a priesthood group that operated like the Aaronic priesthood that
encompasses multiple participants). There is but a man, Melchizedek,
who was a priest of an order or type
that foreshadowed the eternal and
perfect High Priest, Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 7:28)

The reason for discussing
priesthood in this context rests
on the issue of authority.
McKeever and Johnson are not denying the
practice of specific people being called and set apart to particular
offices within the church (e.g., pastors, elders, deacons, etc.); nor
do they deny the necessity of a High Priest. The church has a High
Priest—an ordained priesthood, if you will—who
ministers daily in the
heavenly temple. McKeever and Johnson are specifically
dealing with
whether or not spiritual authority from God was fully removed from the
earth for a period of 1700 years. For if it was not, the LDS doctrine
of apostasy is proven untrue.

Scripture does not support the
sort of priesthood assumed by
the LDS Church for New Testament believers. However, the Bible does
speak of a different priesthood authority—spiritual authority
given by
God to His people. This is the topic McKeever and Johnson discuss in
Mormonism
101
. They write,

As for the authority of
the Christian, 1 Peter 2:9 says he
or she is part of "a chosen generation" and "a royal priesthood." The
believer is given the right to be called a child of God [John 1:12].
Indeed, when speaking of believers, 1 John 3:2 says that "now are we
the sons of God." First John 5:5 adds that only those who believe "that
Jesus is the Son of God" have overcome the world. They, then, are the
ones who have been given divine authority.

(89)

Mr. Bickmore wrongly asserts, "McKeever
and Johnson's claims
about a 'priesthood of all believers' essentially rest on a single
verse in the Bible."
Clearly,
McKeever and Johnson have provided much
more than one verse to support their claim. Indeed, even more can be
offered, including passages from Revelation (1:6 and 5:10) and Peter's
amazing words to those "chosen by God and
precious"
:

…you also, as
living stones, are being built up a spiritual
house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable
to God through Jesus Christ.

(1 Peter 2:5)

Mr. Bickmore believes the 1
Peter 2:9 reference employed by
McKeever and Johnson is without merit as they argue for a priesthood of
all believers—or the authority of all believers. He writes,

…it is easy to
see that Peter was here paraphrasing a
passage from the Old Testament spoken by the Lord to Israel through
Moses [Exodus 19:6]. …Although Israel is referred to as a
"kingdom of
priests," in some sense, obviously there was still an ordained
priesthood in Old Testament times, which did not include every
Israelite.

In Exodus 19 God is declaring
His intentions to His people:
He will make them a kingdom of priests. Being sinful, the Israelites
did not obey God and were unable to obtain the promises under the Old
Covenant. The Levitical or Aaronic priesthood, while it served in a
limited function of mediation between God and man, was unable to
permanently eliminate sin. This priesthood was simply a picture of the
reality which was to come. Now, under the New Covenant, things have
changed
.

As the New Testament explains,
through God's New Covenant He
has given His people the outpouring of His Holy Spirit. The same Spirit
that anointed Jesus Christ has also anointed the people of God. 11
Jesus
offered the final physical sacrifice for sin, thereby fulfilling the
Aaronic priesthood. 12
God's people, being filled with the Holy Spirit,
have the authority and obligation to offer spiritual sacrifices to God.
13
Furthermore, this Holy Spirit, designated as "the Spirit of truth," is
promised to "abide with [them] forever." 14
Christ, as the head of the
body (the church), works through His people, using them to spread the
Good News of the Gospel and thereby build His church. 15
As Dr. Richard E.
Averbeck of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School writes:

…we are
responsible to carry out the ministry of proclaiming
to the world "the praises of him who called you out of darkness into
his wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:9b). (Evangelical Dictionary of
Biblical Theology,
"Priest,
Priesthood," 637)

For its doctrine of priesthood
authority, the LDS Church
must begin with several assumptions, one being that the New Testament
church embraced an ordained priesthood. The burden is on the LDS Church
to show the operation of such a priesthood—patterned after
the Old
Testament—functioning in the New Testament. Instead, the
biblical
evidence frustrates the LDS priesthood assertion. In the New Testament
we find the Old Testament priesthood "annulled," the necessary
atonement for sin perfectly completed, and the restricting veil of the
temple ripped asunder. 16
We find God freely pouring His Spirit into His
people, empowering and equipping them for the tasks to which He calls
them, using each one as a conduit for His grace. God has made a New
Covenant with His people, establishing them as a kingdom of priests who
continually offer spiritual sacrifices to the Lord who redeemed them.

Mr. Bickmore's limited
apostasy doctrine claims true
Christians were on the earth even during the darkest days of
apostasy—a
premise McKeever and Johnson would affirm. But Mr. Bickmore does not
seem to recognize the implications of holding such a position.
Scripture tells us true believers, by right of adoption into God's
family, have the authority of God as sons and daughters of God to do
the work of God. 17
Through them, He builds His church. So once again the
doctrine of complete apostasy is undermined by the truth of God's Word.
Whether we use Mr. Bickmore's definition or the LDS Church's historical
definition, the verdict is the same: God's truth and authority did not
disappear, nor was it diluted. A complete apostasy of the church Jesus
founded never occurred.

Conclusions

Mr. Bickmore does not
acknowledge the intrinsic problems in his supposition of a limited
apostasy. He believes McKeever and Johnson's chapter on apostasy is
in that the authors "well
nigh useless""provide a somewhat twisted
version of the LDS apostasy doctrine, and attempt to refute
it—a
classic straw man approach to polemics."

As we have seen, McKeever and
Johnson come by their
"version" of the LDS apostasy doctrine honestly, via the teachings of
LDS authorities. Their arguments are directed at the LDS Church's
historical view of an actual complete
apostasy, but even considering
Mr. Bickmore's own spin on the doctrine—his suggestion of a
mere
limited
apostasy—McKeever and Johnson successfully refute these
claims
as well. They persuasively demonstrate that there is no biblical
evidence for a complete
apostasy of the early Christian church.
Therefore, as LDS Seventy B. H. Roberts would be forced to concede,
there is no possible excuse to warrant the establishment of The Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 18

Sharon Lindbloom
is the founder of Word for the Weary,
http://www.answeringlds.org,
a non-profit Evangelical Christian
organization formed for the primary
purpose of sharing the truth of
Jesus Christ with those questioning the validity of The Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints. Serving as director of this ministry since
1989, Sharon has authored numerous articles and tracts contrasting
biblical Christianity with Mormonism. She serves prayerfully as a
full-time volunteer lay-apologist and makes her home, with her husband,
in Minnesota.

  1. LDS
    Scriptures, Doctrine and Covenants section 7 and Book of Mormon 3 Nephi
    28:1-9, teach that John the Apostle and 3 Nephites, members of the
    "true church," did not die, but remain alive on earth to this day.
  2. This
    is a necessary condition for Mr. Bickmore's position because baptism
    signifies entrance into the Church—a church Mr. Bickmore
    insists did not exist.
  3. Paul's
    use of the word "all" in this passage is clearly hyperbolic as
    evidenced by the fact that Timothy himself was then in Asia.
    Furthermore, Timothy was instructed to pass the Gospel on to "faithful
    men," who would in turn teach others, indicating that faithful men
    remained. (2:2)
  4. Quotes
    from Jude 3, 17, 20-21, and 24 respectively. See also John 16:33;
    Romans 8:35-39; 1 Corinthians 1:8-9; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; 1
    Thessalonians 5:23-24; 2 Timothy 1:12; 1 Peter 1:3-5
  5. Examples
    include Church of Christ (Temple Lot) and Fundamentalist Church of
    Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. For more, see Steven L. Shields,
    Divergent Paths of the Restoration.
  6. Paul's
    varied use of the word "temple" calls into question Mr. Bickmore's
    interpretation of this passage. Paul used the word translated "temple"
    as a metaphor for the local church—on two occasions (1
    Corinthians 3:16-17; 2 Corinthians 6:16, first time). On two occasions
    he used the same word to describe the earthly body of individual
    followers of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16, second
    time). Once he used the word "temple" in describing an actual building
    (1 Corinthians 8:10) and once he used the word in describing the
    mystical body of Christ (Ephesians 2:21). Paul used the word only one
    other time, in 2 Thessalonians 2:4, the verse currently under
    discussion.
  7. Joseph
    Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the
    Book of Mormon, volume 4:61, GospeLink 2001. McConkie and Millet use
    these words specifically regarding 3 Nephi 11:39-40.
  8. For
    additional examples of LDS scripture's use of "gates of hell" see 3
    Nephi 18:13; Doctrine and Covenants 10:69; 18:5; 21:6
  9. Mormon
    doctrine teaches the "primitive" church understood the need for and
    exercised apostolic succession. See George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth, Two
    Volumes in One, 196; James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith, 198
  10. See
    Hebrews 10:1-23 for more information.
  11. See
    Acts 2; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4
  12. Hebrews
    9:11-15
  13. Romans
    12:1; 1 Peter 2:5, 9
  14. John
    14:16-17. See also 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, 5:5
  15. Colossians
    1:18
  16. The
    significance of the temple veil being ripped apart is explained: "The
    veil of the temple was the curtain separating the Most Holy Place from
    the rest of the sanctuary. It symbolized the unapproachability of God
    (Heb. 9:8). Jesus' death was His sacrifice at the heavenly altar (Heb.
    9:12, 24, 25), which opened the way to God (Heb. 10:19, 20), removing
    the veil. Heaven had been opened through the royal priesthood of Christ
    (1 Pet. 2:9)." New Geneva Study Bible, note on Matthew 27:51
  17. See
    Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 4:4-7; Matthew 28:18-20
  18. See
    Introduction, History of the Church, 1:XL; also quoted in Mormonism
    101, 79.