Sunday Questions #5: Apostasy

September 5, 2010    By: Matt W. @ 1:19 am   Category: PH/RS Lessons

So I’m expanding from history a bit this week.

Is anyone aware of any writings where LDS theologians/authorities/thinkers have addressed any of the following questions?

1. Why would God allow an apostasy to happen?

2. Why would God put Christ on Earth only to follow up with 1800 years of apostasy?

3. Why couldn’t the apostasy happen again?

I was called as Elder’s Quorum Instructor last Sunday, and will be teaching next Sunday on the early church (Here’s my lesson outline) and would love to read up on any literature around these questions in the meantime.


  1. This represents the latest thinking on the topic of the apostasy:

    Comment by Kevin Barney — September 5, 2010 @ 5:43 am

  2. I skimmed that one Kevin. and didn’t see where it addressed this question set. It does have a lot of good stuff in it though. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 5, 2010 @ 6:49 am

  3. My own opinions on the three questions are:

    1- He couldn’t stop it
    2- If Jesus had come later than he did, he wouldn’t have been able to be successful.
    3-The apostasy could happen again.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 5, 2010 @ 6:52 am

  4. It’s a difficult question for me, because I think that some of the early church fathers have some very interesting things to say, and I think there were definitely still righteous people around, but here are the answers I’ve come up with.

    Mark E. Petersen of the Quorum of the Twelve:

    “Then the Lord took John out of the ministry. Nothing is heard of him after about the year 101.

    Why was John not permitted to tarry longer in that place? Because wickedness had nearly taken over the Church. Doctrines and ordinances were changed, authority was ignored, sin became rampant, even among the membership of the Church.” (From Which Church is Right?”

    Also Mosiah 27: 13, “Nevertheless he cried again, saying: Alma, arise and stand forth, for why persecutest thou the church of God? For the Lord hath said: aThis is my church, and I will establish it; and nothing shall boverthrow it, save it is the transgression of my people”

    2. The only answer is that the people weren’t ready. Possible suggestions are that the U.S. was necessary for the restoration or that the Reformation was necessary for people to realize that other options are possible for a Christian religion.

    3. It could, but God knows it won’t.

    Comment by Larrin — September 5, 2010 @ 8:10 am

  5. 1. Free agency applies to individuals and to institutions.
    2. Because the world is a better place for Jesus’ having come and established a church, even though, over time, people and institutions may have diverged enough for there to be a need for a refreshing, renovation or restoration.
    3. Institutions and individuals still have free agency and it could happen again. The belief that it cannot happen again is tied to the belief that Church leadership cannot lead the Church astray–how do we know that, because they said so. I would note that Jesus said that “the gates of Hell” would not “prevail” against the Church He established. What does that mean? I don’t know for sure. What does it mean when some Church leaders have said the institutional Church never apostasize again? I don’t know.

    Comment by DavidH — September 5, 2010 @ 10:46 am

  6. Historically, the answer to the question of why he waited 1,800 years for a restoration, has typically been answered along the lines of a atmosphere of freedom, space, and or technology to maintain large organizations.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 5, 2010 @ 5:40 pm

  7. J. I am familiar with that response. I guess I wonder not why he waited to do the restoration, but why he didn’t wait longer to put Christ on the Earth.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 5, 2010 @ 7:54 pm

  8. Here is an answer to #2, its an answer to a slightly different but related question – why did God put Christ on the earth when he did. From Adam Clarke (not lds) my favorite bible commentator who died in 1820. His opinion. Clarke’s Commentary Vol2 p.67

    “1. Christ was manifested in the flesh when the world needed him most.
    2. When the powers of the human mind had been cultivated to the utmost both in Greece and Rome, and had made every possible effort, but all in vain,to find out some efficient scheme of happiness.
    3. When the Jews were in the lowest state of corruption, and had the greatest need of the promised deliverer.
    4. When the fulness of the time came, foretold by the prophets.
    5. When both Jews and Gentiles, the one from their jealousy, the other from their learning, were best qualified to detect imposture and to ascertain fact.
    6. In a word, Christ came when his advent was most likely to promote its great object-glory to God in the highest, and peace and good will among men.”

    The only proof to these statement he gives is that “the success that attended the preaching of Christ and his apostles, together with the wide and rapid spread of the Gospel, all prove that it was the due time, the proper season; and the Divine Wisdom was justified in fixing upon that time in preference to all others.”

    Comment by Greg R — September 5, 2010 @ 10:30 pm

  9. On slide 5, it’s Matthew 24, not 25.

    Comment by WVS — September 5, 2010 @ 10:57 pm

  10. And do you have a projection facility? Or are you using a TV? Nice slides.

    Comment by WVS — September 5, 2010 @ 10:59 pm

  11. Matt: why he didn’t wait longer to put Christ on the Earth

    That’s an odd question. Do you also wonder why Christ didn’t come earlier than he did? If not what is your explanation for that?

    Comment by Geoff J — September 6, 2010 @ 12:15 am

  12. Sorry, no literature to back it up but I think your reasoning in #3 is probably fairly accurate.

    1. I think the apostasy was inevitable. Lines of communication in those times would have been so slow compared to the 21st century that any kind of church regulation would have been close to impossible. This would have been compounded by the illiteracy of many of the members and also the lack of access to personal scripture for all but the most wealthy. False ideas and practices would have flourished in such an environment.

    2. For reasons not obvious to me (though #8 provides good food for thought) the time and place in which Christ came where optimal for affecting the greatest possible influence over the hearts of God’s children, past, present and future.

    3. I think it could; it’s just far less likely due to the opposite of the reasons outlined in point 1, ie. church regulation is far easier and quicker; the literacy and ‘gospel IQ’ (for lack of a better term) of the average member is likely much improved over saints in the early church.

    Comment by gomez — September 6, 2010 @ 3:16 am

  13. I don’t the ‘apostasy-as-inevitable’ argument adequately provides an answer for question no. 1. It is not just an apostasy but, according to our current conception, it was a general apostasy. Why would God allow that when it seems that it was never necessary before? The Book or Mormon is based, it seems in part, upon the idea that God will preserve sacred texts through Human interaction. It seems that God or Angels have always been able to share the message of salvation. So why did he stop?

    I think a better question than the one above is; what is an apostasy (general, local, etc.)? It seems to me that the evidence from the records we currently have in the Church is that an apostasy, as currently conceived, is unlikely. Primarily because I find it hard to develop a reason for why God would stop speaking or for what must have changed in humanity that would have made them incapable of being spoken to (and by implication, this change must then have been reversed prior to JS).

    Comment by Aaron R. — September 6, 2010 @ 3:46 am

  14. Greg R: I like that, thanks.

    WVS: Goof catch, and we have a projector shared between the two wards which use our building, but I may just print this as a flip chart for ease of use. We have a small EQ.

    Geoff: 1800 years of total failure after the event seems different to me than eons of issues before.

    Aaron R. I’d guess the lds position was that there was general apostasy before Christ as well as after, but good points. I can definitely see where this general apostasy is treated as worse than any other.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 6, 2010 @ 5:40 am

  15. Larrin: Interesting scripture from Alma. It is difficult to accept transgression as the asnwer, as we transgress so much now, but I do sustain the scripture.
    It just sounds more like it was transgression created by ignorance and situation more than malice. But the winners write the history, I guess.

    David H and Gomez: I agree completely.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 6, 2010 @ 5:46 am

  16. Matt,

    I don’t understand what your response to my question. Can you elaborate a bit more?

    Comment by Geoff J — September 6, 2010 @ 8:29 am

  17. Maybe one reason the apostasy happened was so that the hearts of the children would need to be turned to the fathers.

    Comment by rp — September 6, 2010 @ 10:03 am

  18. Matt I don’t believe there was a general apostasy before Jesus and the Book of Mormon seems to clearly suggest that there was not; assuming, of course, that it is a historical account.

    Comment by Aaron R. — September 6, 2010 @ 11:11 am

  19. Geoff: Assuming Christ added some exemplary value via his coming which having direct connection to him enhances, it would seem that the time before his coming isn’t really as important as the time after his coming. As for the time after his coming, I guess I was wondering if things would have been better if Christ had been alive in the 1830s rather than in 4 BC, ie- no period of apostasy, but ushering in the restoration with the life of Christ.

    Aaron: I do assume it’s historical, and good point regarding the Book of Mormon, I wasn’t understanding previously.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 6, 2010 @ 1:35 pm

  20. Matt,

    I am not sure what specific value you are talking about Jesus bringing. I mean the atonement was in effect before Jesus came wasn’t it? Certainly the example of Jesus’ mortal ministry is useful to people who have access to the records. And the reports of his resurrection certainly are major part of the good news of the Christian message. Is that what you mean?

    It seems to me you are asking why God in heaven allows so many people on earth to live on earth without the ordinances of salvation. But that is an odd question. I mean even in 2010 more than 99% of the earth lives without those ordinances right? So from a numbers perspective the restoration of the priesthood has made basically no significant difference on the earth yet. In 1820 none of the population of the earth was baptized by priesthood authority. In 2010 less than 1% of the population of the earth have been baptized by restored priesthood authority. Not much difference there.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 6, 2010 @ 4:08 pm

  21. Good points Geoff, I’ll have to think on it.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 6, 2010 @ 7:10 pm

  22. Wasn’t there a pretty much “general apostasy” around the time of Noah?

    Comment by mondo cool — September 7, 2010 @ 5:45 am

  23. I’ve thought about this a lot. Given that the vast, vast majority of humans live without the gospel as we understand it (I mean we’re only 1% of Americans today) it must be that having the gospel in this life isn’t exactly a terribly important facet for the plan of salvation. It doesn’t really make much sense otherwise, as I can see it. God just doesn’t make everyone having much information as a terribly high priority.

    That’s not in the least to say having the gospel isn’t a blessing. Nor is it to say that doing missionary work isn’t entailed by our knowledge and the demands of fairness. But I think we still have a pretty limited view of the importance of mortality and the place of the spirit world and missionary work therein. As I’ve thought more and more I think that’s where the real action is.

    If all this is true then, to be frank, an apostasy is ultimately of relatively little importance in the big picture.

    Comment by Clark — September 7, 2010 @ 9:29 pm

  24. That’s true Clark. On the other hand, I think the “Problem of Evil” argument here is that for God to be “just” he has to be doing the best he can with the resources he has. So I think the apostasy pre-supposes some limit to God’s resources. I am not opposed to that, and I think Mormonism should be comfortable with that, but I often see instances where we don’t allow for it.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 8, 2010 @ 9:05 am

  25. There’s a pretty good non-LDS, historical analysis of the apostasy (although he wouldn’t call it that) in Bart Ehrman’s Lost Christianities. Unfortunately, he has no interest in the three questions so they are not addressed at all.

    Comment by ricke — September 10, 2010 @ 4:21 pm

  26. If you genltemen want to really discuss the doctrinal significance of the prophesied apostacy by Christ then you should consider the definition of apostacy. It does not mean the disolution of priesthood authority as the church has taught with the death of the apostles, but rather the rejection of God’s law and will by his appointed priested servants with the 1890 Manifesto. This should provide some intersting discussion.

    Comment by Mohonri — September 13, 2010 @ 7:14 pm

  27. I consider it apostasy when good ol’ Mormon names like Mahonri are misspelled.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 13, 2010 @ 8:30 pm

  28. No kidding Ardis. “Mohonri” also repeatedly misspelled the word apostasy in a post where the correct spelling of the word is in the title…

    Are most fundies that illiterate?

    Comment by Geoff J — September 14, 2010 @ 1:07 pm

  29. Ardis FTW.

    I’m old enough to remember when Peter apostatized by offering the gospel to the gentiles. The 41 AD Manifesto we used to call it.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 14, 2010 @ 1:19 pm

  30. Jacob: Seriously? Was that a church thing?

    Comment by Matt W. — September 14, 2010 @ 2:28 pm

  31. Matt, I can’t tell if my #29 crashed and burned or if you have built on my joke with such subtle irony that even I have missed it.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 14, 2010 @ 5:40 pm

  32. Sorry, the convert in me kicked in. I wouldn’t be surprised by anything at this point

    Comment by Matt W. — September 15, 2010 @ 6:52 am