This is one of a series of reviews from a Christian perspective on the weekly lessons found in the Come, Follow Me (New Testament, 2023) for Individuals and Families published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To find the index of these reviews, visit here.
Bold face type in this article comes from the Church’s curriculum. (Note: Not every sentence is being reviewed.)
July 24-30, 2023
Among the Lord’s final words to His Apostles was the commandment “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19–20). While the Apostles didn’t quite make it to all nations, Acts 16–21 does show that Paul and his companions did make remarkable progress in establishing the Church. They taught, baptized, and conferred the gift of the Holy Ghost. They performed miracles, even raising a man from the dead, and foretold the Great Apostasy (Acts 20:7–12, 28–31).
Let’s stop right here. Does Acts 20 foretell a “Great Apostasy“? Of course, this doctrine plays a major role in Mormonism, because without a complete falling away from the Gosepl, there is no need for the “restored” church to have been founded by Joseph Smith. Otherwise, this religion would just be another denomination. As LDS Church historian B.H. Roberts put it, ““Nothing less than a complete apostasy from the Christian religion would warrant the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” (B.H. Roberts, History of the Church 1:XL)/
Let’s take a look at Acts 20:7-12, 28-31 to see exactly what the church writers were citing:
7 On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. 9 Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. 10 Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!” 11 Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. 12 The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted. . . . 28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
The first part of the passage takes place in Troas describing how Eutychus was raised from the dead after falling out of a window. I’m not sure what this passage has to do with the Great Apostasy. The second part of the passage (verses 28-31) is Paul’s s goodbye to the church in Ephesus after a long stay. When Paul mentions “savage wolves” who “will come in . . . and will not spare the flock,” it is certainly a reference to Jesus’s words in Matthew 7:15-16a, which says, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. “
The majority of those who read this chapte will not look up the passages given as “support” for the Great Apostasy. Even the most casual observer will see that a person must read pretty deeply into this section of scripture to even suggest that this is referring to a “Great Apostasy.” Obviously, it’s just not there. The warning is similar to 1 John 4:1, which says, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” These warnings are for the people of that day and is certainly not a reference to a time when the entire authority was lost due to apostasy.
For more information on this topic, see:
- Should Mormons be considered Christians? Only if they deny the Great Apostasy first
- Crash Course Mormonism: Great Apostasy
- The Great Apostasy
- Acts 1 and the issue of “12” apostles
And the work they started continues with living Apostles today,
As mentioned in the review from last week, the writers are emphasizing the authority of their leaders, even though the passage says nothing about this. It is an assumption that is engrained in the mindset of the Latter-day Saint people, as the mantra of the Great Apostasy is repeated over and over again to Mormons from all ages, from primary through institute and adult services.
Ideas for Personal Scripture Study
The Spirit will guide me in my efforts to share the gospel.
The Prophet Joseph Smith declared, “No man can preach the Gospel without the Holy Ghost” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 332). As you read Acts 16–21, consider why the Prophet’s statement is true. Note instances in which the Spirit aided Paul and his companions. What blessings came as they followed the Spirit? When have you felt the Spirit prompting you in your efforts to share the gospel?
As a Bible-believing Christian, I completely agree–I as a Christain can do nothing without the Holy Spirit. I have been baptized by the Spirit, I yearn to be filled with the Spirit. And I want to be characterized by the fruit of the Spirit.
To a Christian, the Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, fully God but not the same person(s) as the Father or the Son. In Mormonism, the Spirit is part of the Godhead but is not fully God in the same sense the Father is. Apostle John Widtsoe taught that the Spirit is God’s influence:
“The chief agent employed by God to communicate his will to the universe is the holy spirit, which must not be confused with the Holy Ghost, the personage who is the third member of the Godhead. The holy spirit permeates all the things of the universe, material and spiritual. By the holy spirit the will of God is radiotransmitted, broadcasted as it were. It forms what may be called the great system of communication among the intelligent beings of the universe. The holy spirit vibrates with intelligence; it takes up the word and will of God as given by him or by his personal agents, and transmits the message to the remotest parts of space. By the intelligent operation and infinite extent of the holy spirit, the whole universe is held together and made as one unit.”Rational Theology, 72-73.
For the Christian, the Spirit is not just God’s way to communicate but is God Himself. Consider Acts 5 and the story of Ananias and Sapphira. who sold some land and claimed they were giving the whole amount to the church. Acts 5:1-10 says in part. Peter saw through the ruse and said,
“’Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.’”‘
At this, Ananias died. Later Sapphira died as well. Notice, they did not lie to man but to God. The Holy Spirit is more than just God’s influencing presence.
I can declare the gospel in all circumstances.
Being thrown in prison for preaching the gospel might seem like an understandable reason to stop preaching. But to Paul and Silas, it became an opportunity to convert a jailer (see Acts 16:16–34). Throughout Acts 16–21, look for other examples of Paul’s willingness to share his witness with everyone. Why do you think he was so bold and fearless? What do you learn from Paul’s example?
Here is a story that isn’t talked about in this lesson, but let me share the story when Paul and Silas were in a Philippian jail. There was an earthquake and the cell door opened. The jailer was about to commit suicide because he thought the prisoners had escaped. Then he realized that the prisoners had not left. “What must I do to be saved?” he asked them. Verse 31 reports,
31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.
Several lessons here on soteriology (the study of salvation). First, “believe in the Lord Jesus” is the command and answer to the question. Not, “believe, get baptized, confirmed, join the true church, attend worship services, honor the Sabbath day, and be sure to get endowed in the Jersualem temple.” Instead, salvation is quite simple: “Believe” and “you will be saved.” Yes, the following verses explain how the family was baptized, but it’s important to note that this came afterward, very similar to the passage in Acts 10:44-48 described in last week’s lesson.
Of course, this account is ignored in the lesson. Could it be that this story might contradict the requirements of Mormonism regarding what a person has to do for salvation?
“We are the offspring of God.”
In Athens, Paul found people with diverse opinions and religious views. They were always seeking “to hear some new thing,” and what Paul had to offer was definitely new to them (see Acts 17:19–21). They worshipped many gods, including one they called “the unknown God” (Acts 17:23), but they believed that gods were powers or forces, not living, personal beings, and certainly not our Father. Ponder what Paul said to help them come to know God. What does it mean to you to be the “offspring of God”? (Acts 17:29). In your opinion, how is being a child of God different from being just one of His creations? How does understanding this truth influence how you see yourself and others?
While difficult passages are typically ignored thorughout this series, a passage taken out of its context like this is certainly included. Acts 17 has been used by a variety of LDS leaders to explain that all people have divine potential to become gods. For the Evangelical Christian who is reading this, it should be pointed out that when a Latter-day Saint calls someone a “child of God,” this is a reference to the preexistence where Heavenly and Father procreated every person on the earth.
“We have a mother in heaven. We are the offspring of God. He is our Father, and we have a Mother in the other life as well.”The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, 191.
BYU professor Robert J. Matthews uses a citation out of the Pearl of Great Price to make his point:
“The human family is literally, in every sense, the offspring of God. This is according to divine law, for the scriptural accounts state that living things reproduce and bring forth ‘after their kind’ and that the ‘seed could only bring forth the same in itself, after his kind’ (Abraham 4:11-12,21,24-25). Mankind, both male and female, was created in the image and the likeness of the Gods (see Abraham 4:26-27).”Selected Writings of Robert J. Matthews: Gospel Scholars Series, 468.
Another BYU professor Tad Callister wrote,
“On the other hand, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that we are the spirit offspring of God with inherited spiritual traits that give us the divine potential to become like our parent, God the Father”“Our Identity and Destiny,” BYU Magazine, Winter 2013, 46.
An LDS reference work explains how all people are children of God:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints views all descendants of Adam and Eve as the children of God—not in an abstract or metaphorical sense, but as actual spirit offspring of God the Father and a Mother in Heaven.”Encyclopedia of Mormonism 2:853.
This teaching is contrary to what the Bible says and is therefore rejected by Christians.
Ideas for Family Scripture Study and Home Evening
Acts 17:10–12; 18:24–28.
How can we be more like the Saints in these verses? What might it mean to “[receive] the word with all readiness of mind”? (Acts 17:11). What can we do to be “mighty in the scriptures”? (Acts 18:24).
Oh, I LOVE these questions. Let me answer.
Acts 17:11 says, “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” When the word “scriptures” is used, we must understand that it’s not talking about the Standard Works scriptures. Instead, this is referring to the Hebrew scriptures, or what we call the Old Testament. But noticed what the Bereans did: They searched the Bible to see if what Paul was saying was true; thus, they were called more noble than the Thessalonians, who believed in the message but did so only through blind faith. Here there is no “praying” about the message or looking for a good feeling. Rather, they wanted to understand if what Paul taught cooresponded to the Bible. That’s what modern-day Bereans want to do today.
As far as Acts 18:24, Apollos “had a thorough kowledge of hte Scriptures,” with the next verse adding that he “taught about Jesus accurately.” To answer the question in the lesson, we can be “mighty in the scriptures” by spending the necessary time in doing the study and reserach into what God’s Word has in store for us. Later, in Acts 19:8, it says that Paul spoke in the synagogue in Ephesus for three months, “arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God.” A person cannot truly believe in his or her heart until there has been an understanding of what the Gospel really entails. Without Jesus and the Spirit, there just is no Gospel at all.
These verses can help your family have a discussion about the importance of being baptized and confirmed. To better understand the truths in Acts 19:1–7, you could discuss some things that are useless without something else, such as a cell phone without a battery. Or you could share this teaching from the Prophet Joseph Smith: “Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half—that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 95). Why is baptism “good for nothing” without receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost? (see 3 Nephi 27:19–20; Moses 6:59–61).
In Mormonism, a ceremony takes place after water baptism that confirms the “receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost,” where hands of those with priesthood authority are laid upon the head of the individual. Biblical Christians believe that a person receives the Spirit upon belief. The passage at hand is talking about not understaning the difference between John the Baptist’s baptim and believer’s baptism. As Paul asked in verse 2, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
This is a no-brainer question. Yet these men said they did not even hear of the Holy Spirit. They had apparently been so involved with John the Baptist and following his ways–though he had been killed years before–that they apparently never heard of Pentecost described in Acts 2.
As commentator I. Howard Marshall explains, “This story has often been used as the basis for doctrines about the reception of gifts of the Spirit subsequent to conversion; but it has no real connection with these. Rather Paul was dealing with an unusual sitaution which required special treatment” (Acts, Tyndale New Testament Commentaires, 305).
Without the power and influence of the Holy Spirit, the Bible does not indicate a person can be a true follower of Jesus. (See John 3:5; Acts 11:17; Rom 8:9; 1 Cor. 12:3; Gal. 3:2; 1 Thes. 1:5ff; Titus 3:5; Heb. 6:4; 1 Pet 1:2; 1 John 3:24, 4:13).
Marshall writes on page 307, “It would be wrong to conclude from this incident that people today who did not receive the Spirit at their baptism ought to be rebaptized in order to receive the Spirit.”
This is a unique situation that has nothing to do with water baptism as a requirement for salvation. Rather, it describes how the Holy Spirit must be a part of anyone’s testimony. One is not saved without the Holy Spirit, which these disciples of John the Baptist apparently never heard about.
I’ve talked about it before, but the authors have a tendency to emphasize those passages that they believe support their church’s unique doctrine while not talking about those that would be difficult to reconcile with LDS teaching. This happened again when Acts 17:16-34 (“offspring of God”) was the topic, as it appears to be a perfect passage to support the idea that all people have divinr natures. Meanwhile, the assage in Acts 16 (Philippina jailer) is dismissed with nary a mention.
And this is why I have a hard time with this weekly “Bible study” series. This is not a Bible study as you might get at many Evangelical Christian churches. Rather, it’s indoctrination in the ways of Mormonism. If you are a Latter-day Saint, please don’t think what you are doing in Come, Follow Me is a study where you are learning about the Bible. While I’m glad you are reading the Bible, to think that the commentary given in this series is Gospel truth is just not true. I would encourage you to find a Bible study conducted by Bible-believing Christians and join them. You may see explanations in these passages you have never seen before.