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Crash Course Mormonism: Great Apostasy

By Eric Johnson

The Great Apostasy is the idea that true Christianity lost God’s authority soon after the death of Christ’s apostles, which made it necessary for God to restore the true church through Joseph Smith and the founding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1830. If there was no Great Apostasy, there would be no need for the LDS Church.

According to the History of the Church, “Nothing less than a complete apostasy from the Christian religion would warrant the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (1:XL).  A number of authorized church manuals have gone into great detail about this event:

Explain that after Jesus Christ was crucified, His Apostles presided over the Church. But soon persecution, divisions, and apostasy increased. Within a few decades, there was a falling away from the Church, as the Apostles had prophesied (Acts 20:28-30; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3; 2 Timothy 4:3-4). This falling away is known as the Great Apostasy (Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, 1999, pp. 11-12).

One by one, the Apostles were killed or otherwise taken from the earth. Because of wickedness and apostasy, the apostolic authority and priesthood keys were also taken from the earth. The organization that Jesus Christ had established no longer existed, and confusion resulted. More and more error crept into Church doctrine, and soon the dissolution of the Church was complete. The period of time when the true Church no longer existed on earth is called the Great Apostasy. Soon pagan beliefs dominated the thinking of those called Christians (Gospel Principles, 2009, p. 92).

After the Savior ascended into heaven, men changed the ordinances and doctrines that He and His Apostles had established. Because of apostasy, there was no direct revelation from God. The true Church was no longer on the earth. Men organized different churches that claimed to be true but taught conflicting doctrines. There was much confusion and contention over religion. The Lord had foreseen these conditions of apostasy, saying there would be a “famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. . . . They shall . . . seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it” (Amos 8:11-12) (Gospel Principles, 2009, p. 95. Ellipses in original).

Joseph Smith claimed that he, as a 14-year-old boy, saw God the Father and Jesus in a grove of trees near his home. Known as the First Vision, Smith explained in Joseph Smith-History 1:18-20a (found in the Pearl of Great Price) how he was told that the Christian churches in his area had been completely corrupted:

18 My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join.

19 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; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”

20 He again forbade me to join with any of them;

Gospel Principles reiterates:

The Savior told him not to join any church because the true Church was not on the earth. He also said that the creeds of present churches were “an abomination in his sight” (Joseph Smith— History 1:19; see also verses 7–18, 20) (p. 96)

Fortunately, according to Mormonism, all authority could be reestablished through Joseph Smith:

Parts of the holy scriptures were corrupted or lost, and no one had the authority to confer the gift of the Holy Ghost or perform other priesthood ordinances. This apostasy lasted until Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son appeared to Joseph Smith in 1820 and initiated the restoration of the fulness of the gospel (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 2004, p. 13)

Mormonism teaches that it is only through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that God’s complete authority is found:

The fulness of the gospel has been restored, and the true Church of Jesus Christ is on the earth again. No other organization can compare to it. It is not the result of a reformation, with well-meaning men and women doing all in their power to bring about change. It is a restoration of the Church established by Jesus Christ. It is the work of Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you can receive blessings that were absent from the earth for almost 2,000 years (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 2004, p. 136).

As you help investigators see the pattern of apostasy and restoration, they will be prepared to understand the great need for the latter-day Restoration. They will see the need to accept the restored gospel, receive the ordinances of salvation by the authority of the restored priesthood, and follow the way to eternal life. Help people recognize that the Church is not just another religion, nor is it an American church. Rather, it is a restoration of the ‘fulness of [the] gospel’ (D&C 1:23), the same as was revealed and taught from the beginning (Preach My Gospel, 2004, p. 7).

What does Christianity Teach

The Gospel of Matthew ends with Jesus saying, “I am with you always, even to the end of the earth.” He also said that he would “never leave”  nor “forsake” His people. A Latter-day Saint may utilize certain passages to teach that all authority was lost, but these passages are all taken out of context. Some of the more popular references used include:

Other articles to consider

Test your Understanding

  1. Approximately when have Mormon leaders suggested the “Great Apostasy” began?

A) 200 BC       B) AD 6       C) AD 100-200        D) AD 1300-1500

2. Which of the following is NOT a part of the teaching associated with the Great Apostasy?

A) All the disciples had been killed

B) False doctrines began to be taught

C) True church is no longer on the earth

D) Organization of the church was no longer established

E) All of the above are true

3. Where is the authority of God found today?

A) In the minds of each individual     B) In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints    C) It continues to be lost   D) Any church with Jesus’s name in it

4. According to Joseph Smith and the “First Vision” account as recorded in Joseph Smith-History 1, what was Smith told about the churches of his day?

A) They were all wrong    B) They were mostly wrong    C) They were partially wrong   D) It depends on each individual of any other church

5. According to this vision, which church no longer has authority to baptize, hold the priesthood, etc.?

A) Baptist churches          B) Presbyterian churches         C) Roman Catholic churches     D) Eastern Orthodox churches    E) All of the above

Answers are below the video

Answers to the quiz

  1. C. No exact date is ever given, but it supposedly happened beginning a few decades are the last apostle.
  2. E
  3. B
  4. A
  5. E

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