The Not-So-Great Apostasy

February 8, 2012 | 50 comments
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I have seen several notices publicizing an upcoming conference at BYU, Exploring Mormon Conceptions of the Apostasy. Sounds interesting, particularly in light of the one-paragraph blurb stating goals for the conference, which challenges rank and file members of the Church as well as scholars to reconsider LDS views of “the Great Apostasy”:

Examining claims of historical apostasy is a pertinent task for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For the last hundred years, the Great Apostasy narrative has shaped Latter-day Saint historical assumptions, contributed to the construction of Latter-day Saint social and theological identity, and impacted the ability of the Church to develop ecumenical relationships. The contributors want to raise awareness about the influence of this narrative as well as to reconsider some of the assumptions made by this narrative. We hope to cultivate scholarly discourse among the contributors as well as the Latter-day Saint community about the challenges and consequences of simultaneously acknowledging complexity, causality, and providence when interpreting history for theological purposes. We hope to develop a richer understanding of the definitions, connotations, social functions, and theological implications of Latter-day Saint conceptions of the apostasy.

So let’s take that invitation at face value and begin a discussion about “claims of historical apostasy” and “some of the historical assumptions made by this narrative.” The simplest form of the narrative is that there was an original church from which something essential (doctrine, scripture, authority, priesthood, the Spirit) was lost.

Looking for the Original Church

Until the 20th century, no Christian really questioned this assumption (of an original church), and few do now. Catholics claim an unbroken chain of authority and tradition from the original church. Protestants claim there was an original church, but that the excesses of the Roman Catholic church in later centuries necessitated Protestant reforms. The LDS Church claims there was an original church, but that reforms were not enough to restore lost authority: a restoration of divine authority and new provision of the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ through newly revealed scripture was needed.

Here’s the problem. Scholarship in the 20th century suggests that the original condition of Christianity in the decades following Christ’s death — the very beginning of the early church — was not any sort of essential unity but instead was radically diverse. In other words, there never was an early Christian Church, there were, at the very beginning, many different churches (and yes, I recognize that the term “church” is somewhat anachronistic in this early context, but that is sort of the point). Bart Ehrman makes the case for early Christian diversity in his book Lost Christianities: The Battle for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (OUP, 2003). He also summarizes that view in the last lecture in After the New Testament: The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers, a Teaching Company set of CDs (hey, I drive a lot). Here are his essential points from that lecture:

  • Prior to the later 3rd century, there were many competing Christian groups with a wide range of beliefs and practices.
  • The term “proto-orthodoxy” refers to those early Christians who held views that eventually (in the late 3rd century) pushed out competing Christian practices and doctrines.
  • Older historians simply assumed that the orthodox view (held by the proto-orthodox) had always, even from the earliest period following the death of Jesus Christ, been the dominant one.
  • They were wrong.

The standard account of orthodoxy and heresy derives from Eusebius, the Christian historian of the early 4th century. In his victor’s version of early Christian history, everything that wasn’t proto-orthodox was heresy. The newer account rejects the validity of those labels: “orthodox” as right-thinking was evident only in retrospect. It instead stresses the initial Christian diversity that only gradually, over the course of almost three centuries, developed into a more unified Christian Church, by way of an early, slow-acting version of correlation emanating from the influential church at Rome. Ehrman identifies Walter Bauer, a 20th-century German theologian, as the scholar who first articulated this newer view, although his original arguments have been updated by more recent scholars.

An example might help illustrate the degree to which the retrospective and biased view of history can actually obscure earlier events. This is from Henry Chadwick’s classic The Early Church (Penguin Books, 1967).

The Jewish Christians, excluded by their fellow-countrymen, continued to observe sabbaths, circumcision, and other Jewish feasts. As this distressed many Gentile Christians, they became lonely, unsupported groups. … From Irenaeus onwards Jewish Christianity is treated as a deviationist sect rather than as a form of Christianity with the best claims to continuity with the practice of the primitive church at Jerusalem. The Jewish Christians called themselves Ebionites, a name derives from the Hebrew word meaning “the poor” …. Since some of them had never accepted the tradition of the virgin birth of Christ, Irenaeus classified the Ebionites with other heresies that denied this; soon Tertullian was supposing that they originated with a person named Ebion, and later anti-heretical writers even felt able to quote from Ebion’s alleged writings.

And thus we see how a strong normative view of what was supposed to have happened in the past (like the orthodoxy and heresy view of the 4th century) can create its own facts, even its own documents.

An Emerging LDS View?

So here is a general question for the LDS view of the apostasy: How does the idea that the early church was, in fact, a variety of diverse churches with different beliefs and practices affect our view of the Great Apostasy? Rejecting the orthodoxy and heresy account and instead locating the emergence of a unified Christian Church in the later third century certainly raises new questions about what happened in the first and second centuries. Maybe the Great Apostasy wasn’t really so great.

The LDS view in the 20th century seems to be that the original church had God’s favor while the apostles were alive, but lost God’s favor when the apostles died without establishing proper successors. An alternative LDS view, sketched in 1 Nephi 13, is that the Bible (or sacred writings that preceded the Bible) once “contained the fulness of the gospel” (v. 24), but that parts of that fulness, “many parts which are plain and most precious” (v. 25, 28), were later removed.

A discussion that suggests updated LDS views is found in Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary LDS Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy (FARMS and BYU Press, 2005). In the opening chapter, “What Went Wrong with the Early Christians,” Noel B. Reynolds notes how Hugh Nibley’s work on early Christian writings refocused LDS scholars away from the Protestant critique of the excesses of the medieval Catholic Church and towards the first centuries and even the first decades following the death of Jesus Christ. Likewise, he notes that Richard L. Bushman, in a book review published in the mid-sixties, urged LDS historians to move away from Protestant models and take a fresh view of the apostasy. Reynolds highlights the early change from covenant-making ordinances to sacraments (dispensing God’s grace) as a key development in apostasy. He lists three myths about the apostasy that are critiqued by later contributors to the volume:

  • Myth 1: The apostasy happened because of outside persecution.
  • Myth 2: The apostasy was caused by the hellenization of Christianity or the incorporation of Greek philosophy and culture into the teachings of the early church. [This happened a century too late to be a causal explanation.]
  • Myth 3: The Roman Catholic Church specifically is the great and abominable church spoken of in Nephi’s vision. [It is not.]

Reynolds notes that “as our knowledge of these times [the first Christian centuries] grows, the apostasy is again pushed back further, even into the first century.” So here is a second and more particular question for the LDS view: How early can the apostasy be pushed back? The harder we look, the earlier it seems to get. At some point you get early enough that the evidence no longer argues for an apostasy, it argues for the failure of an original church (from which the Christianity of later decades or centuries apostatized from) to ever be established or organized. You end up, I think, with the sort of early radical diversity posited by the Bauer hypothesis and updated by Ehrman.

So that’s a discussion I would enjoy hearing at the BYU conference next month. Can the LDS view of the apostasy be reconceptualized in light of this newer view of early Christian diversity? Maybe we view the original church not as a plane that crashed after takeoff but as one that never really got off the ground. Perhaps we can view the apostasy in two complementary stages, with the original church not enjoying God’s favor because it wasn’t really a church yet (a “proto-apostasy”) and the eventual unified church of the late 3rd century not enjoying God’s favor because it had, by then, lost or changed key doctrines or practices (the fulness of the apostasy).

Any other ideas about the apostasy you’d like to hear about from LDS scholars?

50 Responses to The Not-So-Great Apostasy

  1. John Mansfield on February 8, 2012 at 7:00 am

    This doesn’t seem much different from the standard LDS New Testament Sunday School narrative: The apostles fought apostasy in the scattered churches. Just look at these epistles where they are always staightening out one thing or another! Oh, how blessed we are to have apostles once more to keep us from also straying.

    The difference would be whether or not the apostles worked in a united fashion or were also scattered among independent factions. I don’t see anything above about the apostles one way or another.

  2. Kent Larsen on February 8, 2012 at 7:02 am

    Fascinating. There are some details of my understanding of the early Christians that I need filled out in order to understand the idea that the Christian “church” never actually got started. Doesn’t the scriptural record indicate Peter’s leadership of the Christians? If there wasn’t really a Church, then what was he leading?

    I’d also be interested in hearing about the relationship of these ideas and the writing of the various Christian documents, some of which were later canonized. I suspect the view you describe helps explain the origins of these documents to some degree (all of which, as I understand it, are believed to have been written after 100 AD).

  3. Russell Arben Fox on February 8, 2012 at 7:05 am

    Nice summary of the current state of the discussion, Dave; this is one BYU conference that I’d be very interested to attend.

    Any other ideas about the apostasy you’d like to hear about from LDS scholars?

    Well, there is my particular hobby-horse: why to we implicitly frame the “apostasy,” whatever it may or may not have been, as a negative thing, from which there was a need for recovery/restoration? Yes, of course, there are the statements of Joseph Smith about the words of God in the grove. But if we also believe in a God capable of intervening in human affairs, a God who can see the end from the beginning, then it seems reasonable to me that the “apostasy” must have represented God’s intentions. It’s not as though God’s will can be thwarted, after all; the death of the apostles could have just meant God revealing Himself and calling new prophets and apostles, as He did Paul and as He did Joseph Smith. So while obviously there was something valuable which the restoration through Smith provided, it can’t really be that all that existed otherwise in the Christian world was displeasing to God, because it was His actions (or inactions) which led to that world from the death of Jesus onward.

  4. Aaron on February 8, 2012 at 8:23 am

    I’ve always found the claim of an original church unconvincing but allowed that it was probably something that eluded my understanding. In other words, while it surely did not resemble 20th century Mormonism, it may have had an identity or structure all its own. I am not sure exactly what Peter did, and I wonder why we continue to ignore any role James the brother of Jesus played in early Christianity. Likewise the role of women in the early church. So I welcome any discussion, any further scholarly study of this fascinating topic.

  5. Adam G. on February 8, 2012 at 8:36 am

    So while obviously there was something valuable which the restoration through Smith provided, it can’t really be that all that existed otherwise in the Christian world was displeasing to God, because it was His actions (or inactions) which led to that world from the death of Jesus onward.

    I agree with your conclusion in a modified form, as it happens. But not with how you get there. The implicit assumption is that God would not let the agency of the early church do injustice to subsequent Christians by leaving them in an ‘apostate’ state. But agency that affects others and justice are in irreducible conflict and there is no natural halfway point between them which we can use to decide what God “must” do.

  6. Adam G. on February 8, 2012 at 8:42 am

    One side note.

    Be careful when talking about the apostasy with your Christian friends. To us, the Great Apostasy is a technical term that means loss of authority or of that je ne sais quois that distinguishes an imperfect church that God claims as his own with the imperfect church that God does not (my own preferred candidate for this secret sauce is a doctrine of continuing revelation). To them, however, apostate Christianity means much the same as apostate Christian. It implies that we think that Christianity is in active rebellion against God.

    Now, some Mormons do think this, and in some contexts we probably all do think this to a degree. If offense must be given, give it. But when you don’t need to give offense, use different terms or explain your meaning of apostasy to avoid giving it.

  7. Dan on February 8, 2012 at 9:00 am

    I’m for learning everything about everything. I think it is great to get a better sense of the actual history of the early church.

  8. Raymond Takashi Swenson on February 8, 2012 at 9:05 am

    The Acts of the Apostles depicts a unified leadership of the apostles, traveling to found and guide congregations of the church, and using letters carried by deputies like Timothy to maintain unity and orthodoxy into the 60s AD. The gospels appear to have come out in the next few decades to supplement the first hand teaching of the apostles. This period is the “primitive church” as I understand it, which generated these writings which have been generally recognized as originating from the original church and therefore authoritative.

    The activities of the apostles in Acts and the epistles and Revelation depict a constant irruption of apostacies and misunderstandings and contention, which the apostles fought. The picture is one of converts who have difficulty leaving behind the assuptions if their prior beliefs, in either Judaism or paganism or philosophy, to the point of rejecting apostolic guidance.

    We might compare it to the Nephite apostacy, which took a century longer, but took place despite the open presence of three of the original disciples ordained by Christ, and who eventually were withdrawn because of that rejection. The stubbornness that enabled many of the Jews to reject Jehovah in their midst also enabled proud men to think they had a better idea for running the church than the apostles.

    The Book of Mormon narrative clearly asserts that the diminished version of the Gospel carried by Europeans to the Americas still enabled them to fulfill God’s long range plan of creating nations that could host the restoration to the earth of the fulness of what the scriptures depict as the original church of Jesus Christ. The diminished churches were able to preserve enough of the scriptures to enable people to be prepared for participation in the restoration.

    Another aspect of the Apostacy that LDS should remember is that the church of Christ was also established in the spirit world as soon as the Atonement was completed. It has operated uninterrupted there ever since, and “captures” all the people who have been affiliated with some branch of Christianity on earth, making up the deficit in their understandings of God and salvation. It is the mercy of God, which mitigates the thought, horrifying to traditional Christians, that God could abandon his people on earth for millennia. The true church has indeed been one that, under the ongoing leadership of Peter holding the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, has prevailed against the “gates of hell” and liberated the dead, and preserved the primitive church among all mankind, until the resurrection brings about a reunion.

  9. JKC on February 8, 2012 at 9:38 am

    The evidence that there was never really a doctrinal orthodoxy in the primitive church might cause us to reconsider our common assumption that a loss of certain doctrines or teachings or practices was the key feature of the apostasy. It might cause us to place less emphasis on doctrinal differences between the LDS church and other denominations and look elsewhere for the essence of Mormonism.

    Priesthood authority seems to be the obvious alternative, but the evidence of diversity among the early church should cause us to pause before we assert that the structure of the priesthood (aaronic and melcheizedek, deaconc, teacher, priests, no women, etc.) is what was lost rather than the authority of the priesthood.

    For me, this seems to indicate that perhaps God cares less about whether we get a point of doctrine right or wrong and more about whether we honor our commitments to him and to each other.

  10. jasie on February 8, 2012 at 9:38 am

    I’m currently reading a book called After God by Mark Taylor about religion and secularism and he quotes Nietzsche’s critique of early Christianity, claiming that it was Paul who reversed or annulled the gospel of Christ by “setting sinful human beings against a transcendent God and promising their reconciliation only in the afterlife” (Taylor). He points out that Jesus didn’t preach about a distant God, but demonstrated “how one must live in order to feel ‘deified’” (Nietzsche). First I think it’s interesting that Nietzsche discusses the role of Jesus as demonstrating how everyone can attain some kind of deification. Second, I think it’s a very compelling idea to think that the “church” (churches) established by Paul on his various missions in the Greek world might not have been built on the Gospel of Jesus, but on the Gospel of Paul, his own rendering of Christianity. I hesitate to say it, but maybe the Great Apostasy started with Paul?

    I also find it interesting that if this did happen it was for the sake of logistics, of reaching out to the “pagan” world in a way they would accept and in a way to establish and build up churches, at the expense of the Gospel of Christ. We Mormons frequently justify the hierarchy of the Church, Correlation, and its status as a corporation, because of its efficiency in holding the whole thing together and reaching out to the entire world. But at what expense?

    And yet, perhaps a church that follows exactly what Christ taught could not exist, and the Gospel of Christ is simply an ideal for us to move toward. And for all of this, I have a very difficult time with the notion of a “Great Apostasy” especially when I read Acts and see what a hell of a time they had right after the death and resurrection of Christ.

  11. Jettboy on February 8, 2012 at 9:49 am

    I think looking at the Scriptures themselves is the main way to answer this question. The conclusions made on this discussion for Latter-day Saints were:

    “splits start around 50
    priesthood authority is lost around 80-90
    true church extinct by X

    I think that’s historically defensible. I think you want the true church extinct prior to about 120 otherwise there is just too much data. I know that’s earlier than most Mormons would like it.

    Which is why I think the more modern approach with the splits already existing… helps ..”

  12. Jon W on February 8, 2012 at 10:02 am

    In looking at the fate of Christianity during the early church period, one can see the break between the James version (as identified as the Jewish Christians) and the rest during the apostolic debate over how Christians spread the gospel to other Jews vs Gentiles.

    If there is a time period where this papering over divisive cracks came to a head you could see it happening around the Nero persecutions and the eventual destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD by Titus and Vespasian.

    With the two major Apostolic factions eliminated during that decade you would have a power vacuum even with other apostles still around.No one had the same cache as Peter, James or Paul with these groups. Most were gone and their over all ability to correct and repair ceases to be as strong.

    None of that precludes the fact there were competing versions of Christianity during that period in fact there is increasing evidence that there was a lot of disunity and a lot of infighting over what made a Christian. Certainly it appears that way if you read Acts.

  13. Casey on February 8, 2012 at 10:10 am

    If you follow Ehrman and other scholars back to the role of Jesus himself, you end up with a very different picture of him as well. LDS teaching tends to imagine a genteel Jesus traveling from town to town organizing the Church, which was intended to survive beyond his death. As I understand it, a lot of scholarship presents a messier picture in which Jesus never intended to found a church and possibly never meant to be a Messianic figure at all, but was a radical, itinerant apocalyptic prophet warning about imminent end times. So according to these narratives the church was (or rather, churches were) founded by his disciples as they tried to make sense of his death and the seeming failure of the Kingdom of God to manifest itself.

    I’m far from an expert and there’s enough disagreement among scholars to case some doubt on any narrative, but Ehrman seems to be on solid ground. So what I’m wondering is, to what extend can you accept these explanations of early Christianity and still believe in a historical foundation for modern LDS and Christian beliefs? And if that foundation is as tenuous as it seems, how does that affect your faith overall? I don’t have any really good answers myself :)

  14. Blake on February 8, 2012 at 11:00 am

    Why isn’t apostasy simply the failure to listen to new revelation that comes through God’s prophets? That is what it was in the Old Testament. That is how it was conceived in the Book of Mormon. We don’t need some narrative of a “unitary pristine primitive church” to account for this apostasy. It was a “church” in the sense of a community with a recognized hierarchy of authority that attempted to maintain continuity through revelation (e.g., to Peter regarding the Mosaic law) and priesthood action (the meetings of the Elders in Jerusalem where James was recognized as the leader). However, that ceased when the ongoing revelation ceased and the faith was solidified into a closed canon and those who claimed ongoing revelation lacked authority to act for the body or community of saints. That seems to me to be not merely a defensible view to me, but what actually occurred.

  15. Jonathan Green on February 8, 2012 at 11:09 am

    Dave, as one of the people who will be giving a paper, I’m very interested in the comments here. Thanks for this post.

    What about applying your last post to the questions you raise in this post? If the world of the Book of Mormon is the world of the KJV Bible, we could also say that the Early Church is what we find in the Bible, while Apostasy is what we find everywhere else, largely as a matter of definition. Based on an engagement with the meaning of the NT that predates Joseph Smith, we have an idea of what early Christianity should look like, so any document that shows a conflicting image is evidence of apostasy taking hold. I don’t think this view is wrong or illegitimate – it’s simply the result of approaching the question with a set of assumptions that many Mormons share. Scholars who are studying early Christianity and Mormons who are talking about Apostasy may both mention some of the same documents, but they’re each playing games that have distinct goals and rule sets.

  16. Dave on February 8, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. In reply to RTS (#8), here is another quote from the Reynolds article. After recounting several New Testament examples of internal strife and dissension, he writes:

    Virtually every epistle in the New Testament bears witness to divisions and rebellions in the church, though like most Christians, Latter-day Saints do not usually read the text with that in mind. We tend to see these as calls to repentance and assume that they were probably effective. But should we assume that they were effective? The apparent collapse of the church in the first century suggests that in the final analysis, they were not. When the second century opens, we are confronted with clear evidence of a growing variety of competing versions of Christianity, and the original structure of priesthood leadership has disappeared.

    I’m not sure how to differentiate between seeing those New Testament references as examples of internal division versus seeing them as examples of early competing versions of Christianity.

  17. Dave on February 8, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    Kent (#2), I don’t want to overstate the facts. Many scholars reject the Bauer hypothesis. There is an argument to be had over whether radical diversity was a second-century development (as depicted, for example, by Reynolds in the quote in my prior comment) or whether it extends back into the first century, as Ehrman argues.

    As for texts, 1st Clement is widely accepted as being written in the 90s and predating some canonized NT texts. Crossan argues that the Gospel of Thomas and maybe the Didache date to the first century, but most scholars give them a later date.

  18. clark on February 8, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    I think it’s pretty problematic to say that the question of authority as the root of apostasy isn’t scriptural. For one I think it overlooks the nature of the apocalyptic imagery in 1 Ne 13. I’d mentioned this is the other thread.

    Within the apocalyptic imagery the real issue is who is the ground of the Church. Is it God or the worldliness of Satan? I know a lot of people have problem with the strict dualism of Nephi is all this. However if you see it in terms of ground as authority it really makes a ton of sense. Further the later dualistic imagery in say Alma makes much more sense there as well since the goal is to be sealed to God. It’s all a question of ultimate grounds.

  19. Aaron on February 8, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Re: #6 “Now, some Mormons do think this…”

    Adam, I think you understate the significance of this. This isn’t merely a conflation that “some” hold. This is a traditional conflation perpetuated and fostered by correlation and traditional teachings of prophets and apostles (and other notable authors).

    “As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the Lord has admonished us to be ‘ready always to give an answer to every man, for our faith in the restored gospel.’ This we owe to the inhabitants of this mortal world. 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).

    “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.” (Joseph Smith—History 1:19)

    “…for I contend that the Latter-day Saints are the only good and true Christians, that I know anything about in the world. There are a good many people who profess to be Christians, but they are not founded on the foundation that Jesus Christ himself has laid” (Joseph F. Smith, November 2, 1891, [Stake conference message], Collected Discourses, 2:305).

    “Here is divine authority. Do any of our friends or neighbors make such a claim? We know the claim of the Catholic church, and all we say in response is that ‘By their fruits ye shall know them.’ These were the words of our Savior, and that is enough on that score. But our Protestant friends do not even have that much of a claim. They have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof. And because they do not have the authority themselves they think no one else has” (Charles W. Nibley, Conference Reports, October 1926, p. 24).

    “How, we inquire, can Christianity have been perpetuated, while its virtues, its legitimate powers, its distinguishing features, its very life and essence have ceased from among men? Or, of what use is it if it does exist? Is a compass of use when its needle has lost its magnetic attraction? Is water of use when it no longer seeks its level, or quenches thirst? Is fire of use when it loses its heat? Is a sun dial of use on a dark and cloudy day; or a watch without a mainspring? Or, are the mere forms and ceremonies of any system of use, when the divine, or legitimate powers, for which such forms were instituted, are withdrawn? O man! be no longer deceived by solemn mockeries of things sacred, or by great and holy names applied to corrupt and degenerate systems. When the miracles and gifts of the divine Spirit ceased from among men, Christianity ceased, the Christian ministry ceased, the Church of Christ ceased. That ministry which sets aside modern inspiration, revelation, prophecy, angels, visions, healings, etc., is not ordained of God, but is anti-christian in spirit. In short, it is that spirit of priestcraft and kingcraft by which the world, for many ages, has been ruled as with a rod of iron. The sooner the present generation lose all reverence and respect for modern ‘Christianity’ with all its powerless forms and solemn mockeries, the sooner they will be prepared to receive the kingdom of God. The sooner the treasuries of nations, and the purses of individuals, are relieved from the support of priestcraft and superstitions, so much sooner will they be able and willing to devote their means and influence to print and publish the glad tidings of the fullness of the Gospel, restored in this age, to assist in the gathering of the house of Israel, and in the building of the cities and temples of Zion and Jerusalem” (Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology, 1978, pp. 67-68).

    “After our Lord’s first coming and before his dreadful return, there is to be a day of absolute, total, and complete apostasy from the truth. Men are to be left to themselves, wanderers in darkness, without hope and without God in the world” (Bruce R. McConkie, The Millennial Messiah: The Second Coming of the Son of Man, p. 36).

    “As we gaze in awe at the grand picture, we see the Lord Jesus ascending from Olivet as angelic witnesses testify that he shall come again in like manner at that place. From this splendid scene our eyes turn to the dark and dire and devilish days when Satan has dominion over his own. We see false churches, false worship, and false prophets. Iniquity abounds and evil is everywhere. There is universal apostasy; darkness covers the earth and gross darkness the minds of the people; it is the evil night that must precede the dawn of the restoration” (Bruce R. McConkie, The Millennial Messiah: The Second Coming of the Son of Man, p. 563).

    “What can we say of the original Church in the light of history, after it had existed one hundred years? There was very little left of it. The apostasy which commenced to show itself in the days of Paul had spread to such an extent that after the great lights of the Church had fallen as martyrs, the great majority of the Saints had turned away from the gospel as originally taught by the Savior” (Andrew Jensen, Conference Reports, April 1924, pp. 136-137).

    “Thus a mist of darkness filled the earth in what we have come to call a universal apostasy. It engulfed the priesthood, its keys, all the ordinances of salvation and the ordinances of blessing, and the offices of the priesthood and its officers. Plain and precious things were taken from holy writ, and other things were added in their place. The purity of every doctrine and principle of salvation was lost. In their stead came an oppressive tyranny over the hearts and minds of men. Where once there had been love unfeigned, now there was a blood-stained sword. Where there had been robes of righteousness, now there were silks, and scarlets, and fine-twined linen, and precious clothing. Worship was replaced by ritual; the prayer of faith, by gold and silver. So darkness covered the earth and gross darkness the minds of the people (see Isaiah 60:2)” (BYU Professor Emeritus Joseph Fielding McConkie, Answers: Straightforward Answers to Tough Gospel Questions, p. 39)

    “But who in this generation have authority to baptize? None but those who have received authority in the church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints: all other churches are entirely destitute of all authority from God; and any person who receives Baptism or the Lord’s supper from their hands will highly offend God, for he looks upon them as the most corrupt of all people. Both Catholics and Protestants are nothing less than the ‘whore of Babylon’ whom the Lord denounces by the mouth of John the Revelator as having corrupted all the earth by their fornications and wickedness. And any person who shall be so wicked as to receive a holy ordinance of the gospel from the ministers of any of these apostate churches will be sent down to hell with them, unless they repent of the unholy and impious act.”(Apostle Orson Pratt, The Seer, p. 255)

    The Book of Mormon itself seems to promote this conflation:

    > “Because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceedingly great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them.” (1 Nephi 13:29)

    If Mormonism is going to recast its own apostasy narrative, it might as well be frank about the fact that the traditional narrative was not just a cultural bottom-up problem among members, but a top-down teachings of the leadership of the Church. Reducing the traditional narrative / conflation to a belief among “some” members is just historical revisionism.

  20. Raymond Takashi Swenson on February 8, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    “I’m not sure how to differentiate between seeing those New Testament references as examples of internal division versus seeing them as examples of early competing versions of Christianity.”

    I don’t think there is a difference. Ehrman does not believe in the reality of the resurrection, and therefore discounts the idea that there is a God who was directing His church on earth via revelation to apostles. The value to Latter-day Saints of the Restoration is that we have direct testimony from Christ, John the Baptist, and Peter, plus Moroni through the Book of Mormon, that the authority to act in God’s behalf on earth was lost and needed to be restored. In other words, that there was initially a body of apostles with real authority delegated by Christ and with His instructions to them, including during the period between his resurrection and ascension.

    We don’t have detailed information about the ways that apostate factions competed against the apostles, but there are those references to opposition in Acts and the epistles, as well as in Revelation that confirm the existence of rebellion and faction. We LDS have no prior commitment to the narrative of the “Church Triumphant” and uninterrupted, so we don’t need to downplay the opposition to the apostles.

    In Mormon history, there are plenty of examples of people who felt they could do a better job of leading the Saints than Joseph Smith, including some who had murderous intent. The amount of dissension in the short 15 years of Joseph Smith’s leadership of the Saints is remarkable, and offers an example of how easy it is for people who were once dedicated followers of a prophet to have that devotion flip into anger and resentment. Could one or more of the more obscure apostles even have led one of those factions, the way modern apostles did during and immediately after the life of Joseph smith? Of course. And there were plenty of other people holding leadership positions in the restored Church who rebelled for reasons both theological and personal.

    So my basic understanding is that there was a core of saints who were most of the time followers of the apostles and the leadership of Peter, but also from early on there were members and even leaders within the church who began opposing certain teachings of the apostles. A local leader could more easily lead his flock to adopt what he no doubt believed was a “clearer” or “more intelligent” version of the gospel.

  21. Dave on February 8, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    Well, Aaron (#19). You haven’t come around for awhile. Certainly the Apostasy is a good topic for you to weigh in on, given how incoherent the Protestant view on the topic is. As I recall, the last time we exchanged comments was when you asked me to change a statement (to the effect you and you cobloggers at Mormon Coffee were making money off of your anti-Mormon ministry), which I did. I then asked you about changing the misleading title of your website Mormon Coffee (as Mormons don’t drink coffee, the whole point of the title is misleading at best). You gave me some stupid answer and went on your way. So you don’t have a lot of credibility in my book (that is, you appear to be quite willing to misrepresent LDS beliefs and LDS history to advance your agenda). The best thing I can say about you is that Todd Wood considers you a friend, although I haven’t decided whether that works to your benefit or his detriment.

    Your quotes represent a dated view of what was traditionally referred to in LDS discourse as “the Great Apostasy.” Now it is typically referred to as the Apostasy or (with no cap) as the apostasy.

    Go read the Reynolds article I cited and the other articles included in the book. You will learn that the harsh rhetoric (of the type you quoted) resulted from early LDS commentators borrowing from Protestant scholarship, which was often virulently anti-Catholic. That we have moved away from that historical Protestant view and tone is to our benefit.

    I visited my local Baptist church a couple of weeks ago — they were putting on a “History of Mormonism” presentation and invited the public. As it turned out, it was just the local Baptists in attendance, and as I was a visitor I did not raise my hand to comment on the each misrepresentation offered. When I heard him, it reminded me of your outfit.

    Not once in my life have I heard an LDS speaker or presentation or talk that singled out some other Protestant denomination for criticism. That’s just not how we do things in the LDS Church. It’s too bad you can’t learn from our example.

    Here’s a couple more current quotes you might consider using in the future. From President Gordon B. Hinckley, in the August 1998 Ensign, p. 72: “Let me say that we appreciate the truth in all churches and the good which they do. We say to the people, in effect, you bring with you all the good that you have, and then let us see if we can add to it. That is the spirit of this work. That is the essence of our missionary service.”

    From Elder M. Russell Ballard in his book Our Search for Happiness (Deseret Book, 1993), p. 25, from remarks to a group of Canadian ministers: “We believe that truth can be found wherever people sincerely seek it, and we believe there are many sincere and wonderful people in every religious denomination. But I must tell you with all due respect that only The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. … We love all people as our brother and sisters, and we believe we are all the spirit children of the same Heavenly Father.”

  22. clark on February 8, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    Well bloggers do target Calvinists a lot – although that’s more a theology rather than a Protestant sect.

    I do think we should be clear there isn’t an apostasy discourse. That said I think Talmage’s thoughts were pretty influential and probably dominate the 20th century conception. However clearly that’s just Talmage’s own exegesis and itself highly influenced by the dominate Protestant exegesis from the time.

    I think it fair to say that “some” Mormons believe this simply because there’s not necessarily a single view among Mormon thinkers. Further Talmage himself would not want his theories equated with scripture even though they became rather dominant.

  23. Mark D. on February 8, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    Myth 1: The apostasy happened because of outside persecution.
    Myth 2: The apostasy was caused by the hellenization of Christianity or the incorporation of Greek philosophy and culture into the teachings of the early church. [This happened a century too late to be a causal explanation.]

    Do I have to say that there are few things more juvenile than referring to a proposition with real, defensible merit as a “myth?”.

    The right way to understand general apostasy is as a process, not an event. Without constant correction, reformation, and repentance, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would drift into apostasy just as well as any other. That ought to be obvious enough.

  24. kirk C on February 8, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    Mark, when you say that “constant correction, reformation, and repentance” is needed to avoid apostasy, are you referring to individuals within the church or the institution of the church itself?

  25. Stephen M (Ethesis) on February 8, 2012 at 10:40 pm

    Raymond Takashi Swenson — nicely said.

    I don’t think there is a difference. Ehrman does not believe in the reality of the resurrection, and therefore discounts the idea that there is a God who was directing His church on earth via revelation to apostles. — I also agree that is important to keep in mind.

    Dave — well said.

  26. Brad on February 8, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    I favor the view that you put forward: that there were competing versions of Christianity not long after the death of Christ. This is readily apparent between the Paul, who favored adopting Gentiles into Christianity without them first going through the process of becoming a Jew, and the Judaizers, who promoted Jewish tradition. James was partial to the Judaizers: “faith [referring to the idea that Paul was promoting] without works [of the Jewish law] is dead.”

    We can’t understand the concept of apostasy (the concept by itself, not how other LDS have seen conceptualized it throughout history) without a greater reflection on the relationship between organized religion and God. Apostasy literally means a ‘standing off’ and connotes distancing oneself from God’s law and order, particularly knowingly. Yet I think it fair to say that no single human, not even the prophet himself, can comprehend the fullness of God’s law. This concept is well-established in 2 Nephi 28: 27-30: “[God gives to humans] line upon line, precept upon precept.”

    Religion is an evolutionary process that is based largely on the context of human social experiences. Different communities have different preferences in how they convey and transmit spirituality. Some practices may fall closer in line with God’s preferences than others. However, even if God can actually give instruction for how to best form an organized religion, human finite minds couldn’t comprehend all of the intricacies. Plus God allows humans latitude in experimentation and learning by trial and error. So it is incorrect to believe that one religious institution would or could be completely apostasy-free and represent exactly what God would do in every way, shape, and form. They are all human social experiments constructed by humans and subject to changes and evolution.

    The notion of the Great Apostasy in the LDS church is very much an old Protestant notion that early LDS church leaders latched on to and carried forward. Embedded in much of the LDS rhetoric (both early and arguably more recent) is the notion that the Catholic church was very apostate and the Protestant churches less so. However, more recently it appears that discourse in the LDS circles is abandoning these notions and embracing the idea that truth and goodness is to be found in all religions. Additionally Protestant reformers and early Bible translators are repeatedly celebrated in LDS church discourse. Traces of the old apostasy notion linger, however, in order to highlight the LDS church’s claim to be a restoration of an ancien church.

    But ultimately apostasy should be seen as humans distancing themselves, especially consciously, from God. Genuine human attempts to find and convey God, no matter their form or institutional attachment, shouldn’t be labeled as apostasy. The Great Apostasy doctrine is a misreading of history and I think that the LDS church leaders can comfortably distance themselves from it.

  27. Blake on February 9, 2012 at 1:06 am

    Brad: #26: “The Great Apostasy doctrine is a misreading of history and I think that the LDS church leaders can comfortably distance themselves from it.”

    Then why not just Reform and retool? Certainly we need some narrative as to why putting new wine in old skins was not possible. All Reform theologians see the need for constant reformation. But that isn’t enough — there was need to Restore. The key question then is this: What was restored that was lost? If the Great Apostasy can be dispensed with, certainly the notion of Restoration cannot.

  28. Mark D. on February 9, 2012 at 2:15 am

    Kirk C (#24), as I understand it, one of the primary purposes of revelation is so the Lord can direct the church, the institutional church and the members both, in the right path. Official Declarations 1 and 2 are first magnitude examples of this occurring.

    Those members who thought that prior authorities were infallible, that they couldn’t make any mistakes, caused the second major schism in the modern church, and we have the fallout with us today. There could hardly be a more dangerous or more fatal doctrine than the suggestion that a church leader cannot make mistakes on matters of doctrine.

    In my opinion, that is a first rate abomination, and has as great a potential to destroy the church as any creed ever did. It is legislation of limited understanding, and a practical rejection of the spirit of revelation. This much, no more, we have had enough. We are sticking with what so and so taught.

  29. Brad on February 9, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Blake (#27), I agree that the Restoration can’t be dispensed with, but can it be reinterpreted? The problem is that the Great Apostasy connotes that a pristine original organization based on God’s true order did exist, but was lost. But in reality the LDS organization is in so many ways completely novel. The Restoration and the Great Apostasy have traditionally been viewed as going hand in hand, with the latter connoting the restoration of this pristine primitive organization.

    So how can we dispense with the Great Apostasy yet maintain the Restoration? The restoration can be interpreted as restoration of prophetic authority rather than organization as a whole. This way novelty, evolution, and change can be justified.

    Also we have to account for the fact that what JS did was based upon experimentation and innovation rather than just following straightforward orders from God. God must have allowed JS some latitude in constructing a new social order.

  30. Steve Fleming on February 9, 2012 at 10:56 am

    The paper I’m giving at the conference is on the notions of the apostasy during Joseph Smith’s life. Mormons were very critical of Protestants and didn’t say much about Catholics. When they did, they would make the point that Protestants were just as bad or even worse. The idea that Protestants were better comes later.

  31. clark on February 9, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    I don’t think I said Protestants were better but that key figures were inspired. I think the anti-Protestant mood went well into the 20th century. You’re right Joseph usually talked more positively about Catholics and the like. I found a really interesting Brigham Young quote as well.

    Leaving the mother church, we will go to her children–the other churches of Christendom. And here permit me to politely invite my Christian brethren all over the earth, never to speak evil of their mother. “What do yo mean?” say they. I mean, do not speak evil of the church from which you have derived your authority and priesthood. You hear the Protestants crying against and depreciating the character of her who bore them. I would say to all that portion of the Christian world not in communion with the Church of Rome, if you must speak evil of your beloved mother, do it very softly; she is your mother and you are her offspring. It is true that the Greek Church does not acknowledge this, and the Protestants more or less deny it, but still if you trace the matter to its source, you will find they derive their authority from the mother church; and she is as good as any of her children.

    Yes, I will venture to say that there are just as serious, honest, virtuous and truthful men and women in the holy Catholic Church as there are in any other on the face of the earth, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints not excepted so far as our truth and honesty as individuals are concerned. But go to each and all of the churches of Christendom and can we find the ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ practiced amongst them? We may find a few of them. (Brigham Young, Aug 4, 1867 Utah Historical Quarerly 29:66-76)

  32. clark on February 9, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    Brad (29), does apostasy connote a pristine Church? I don’t see why that is and it’s certainly not true in the major texts on the apostasy within the LDS tradition. I think Nibley’s position was that there was an inner circle with more knowledge but that was never given to the wider Church. Thus a lot of the early apostasy (especially the gnostics) was claiming to have this inner knowledge. In some ways it’s analogous to what happened in Nauvoo but which became much more open after the move to Utah.

    I recognize some neglect the evolutionary aspect of our Church and assume that the Church in first century Palestine must look identical with the Church of 2010. That’s just erroneous but I think we are creating a straw man if that’s what we take as the mainstream view of apostasy among thinkers. Now if you are talking about laity I might be more sympathetic. But I then just respond, “so what?” The typical member gets a lot of doctrine and policy wrong.

    With regards to changes by Joseph, some things were experimentation but I think we also have to say some things weren’t. Probably with much God does things are “good enough.” I think some people do expunge that more pragmatic aspect of the gospel as a possibility. I’m far from convinced as many people do this as some suggest. (I’ll leave seminary teachers out of the discussion – let’s focus on major writers)

  33. Steve Fleming on February 9, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Clark, great quote, thanks. I didn’t mean to way that praising the reformers was wrong, I was just pointing out that early Mormons didn’t do it much. There was some praise for John Wesley, but not much for Luther.

  34. Steve Fleming on February 9, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    I think we can get to focussed on the notion of restoring the “primitive church.” Primitivism was a big deal in JS’s day and lots of people thought in those terms but we need to remember that the Book of Mormon presents a bigger picture. Terms like “the restoration of the House of Israel” and “restoration of all things” are more accurate. What went on in the apostles day is just one piece of that bigger puzzle. I mention these ideas in this post: http://www.juvenileinstructor.org/pure-sources/#more-6472

  35. clark on February 9, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    Yes, and I wasn’t thinking of Nauvoo but rather certain pamphlets put out by the Church in the 60′s through 80′s for Missionary Work.

  36. clark on February 9, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    BTW – my favorite 19th century discourse on apostasy is Brigham Youn in JD 12:64-71. It’s interesting since he argues that there were more divisions and more confusion early in the Church when the apostles were alive and even among the apostles than in his day. So he definitely doesn’t accept a kind of primitive pure Church. He sees it much like the Church of the late 19th century only more so. (Admittedly a lot of the talk consists of veiled criticism of Orson Pratt – but that just highlights the issues)

    It’s interesting in that Young seems to think there is a corrective power in the living Church such that the weaknesses of the members doesn’t screw things up. That’s interesting both in light of how we rejected certain aspects of Young’s views but also in that it ends up being pretty similar to Protestant arguments for why the apostasy couldn’t happen the way Mormons suggest.

  37. Brad on February 9, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    Clark (32), the notion of a primitive church (as stated in Article of Faith no. 6) is well-accepted. As to the pristineness of this church, there may be some disagreement among leaders, but it hasn’t been too apparent. Here is Hugh B. Brown in a 1957 conference talk:

    “If this claim of a restoration be true, then we should expect the pristine Church to be a prototype of the restored Church, for not only he but also his teachings are the same, yesterday, today, and forever. It follows then that to outline and delineate the difference between the restored Church and other churches, one needs only to become familiar with the Church as it was organized by Christ and his apostles in the Meridian of Time and then compare the churches of modern times with that pristine Church.”

    Here Elder Brown argues that not only was the primitive church pristine but easily identifiable in the scriptures.

    My belief is different. A single unitary primitive church was never well-established and divisions among leaders (notably Paul and James) became apparent early on.

  38. clark on February 9, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    Brad, I think you’re reading too much into “primitive church” and “prototype.” For one most prototypes are barely functional with pretty rough edges that need refinement. Hardly the image of a pure ur-Church. For an other one can accept the existence of the primitive Church without accepting that it had fewer problems today or had the same exact structure.

    The other problem is that, as the quote from Brigham Young attests, there were always problems and tensions both in the contemporary Church as well as the ancient Church. Some people aren’t aware of that in the contemporary Church (although there are fewer problems today than in the 19th century) and thus assume there weren’t such in the primitive Church. I’d note that Brigham Young agrees with Brown about the truths of the gospel. Indeed his point is that despite all the commotion both in the primitive Church as well as the Church in the 1860′s that this was true. So it rather undermines how you are attempting to use those notions. I fully agree that some take those notions to indicate a pristine ur-church. My point is that they shouldn’t. One should probably remember the tensions of the Church at the time of Brown as well as a corrective to how pristine that Church was.

    So I guess I am saying I don’t disagree with your view of the early Church. I just disagree how incompatible that is with the traditional rhetoric.

  39. J. Madson on February 9, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    Part of the problem of “restoring” to a primitive pristine church is that there is no pristine original church and more problematic may be that this desire and idea did not come from Joseph/God but from Rigdon and his band who were already seeking to do just that.

    It seems to me that mormonism is not simply the result of restoration via God but a product of the surrounding culture as well as predetermined ideas about what a church is or should look like that Rigdon and others brought in.

  40. Brad on February 9, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    Clark, you’re making this more complex than it needs to be. Sure, traditional views of church leadership on the nature of the primitive church may leave some room for a range of interpretations, but belief in a primitive ‘true’ church is well-stated. If you accept the notion that early Christianity was fragmented into competing movements, then how do we determine which one most greatly represented the ‘true’ one? Hugh B. Brown seems to suggest that this was readily apparent. I don’t believe it to be so.

    J. Madson, well-said. The LDS church, like all other religions was indeed a product of its surrounding environment. Sidney Rigdon did play a significant role in shaping the doctrine. It was he, after all, who suggested that the church’s name include ‘of Latter-day Saints.’ Although I think that you are not giving enough credit to JS for the shaping of much of the doctrine.

  41. Dave R on February 10, 2012 at 8:23 am

    Dave, I really enjoyed this post, and like the comparison to a plane that failed to take off. I think that comparison more closely reflects what appears to have happened.

    One question for you. What do you make of Paul in this case? Is he a defender of the original church that first emerges out of Jerusalem, or is he one of those who made his own changes. Personally, I’m grateful to Paul, because I suspect without him, Christianity never hits the critical mass it needs to become a world religion. However, it seems to me the gospel he taught differs in some significant ways from what Jesus taught. Further, Paul himself doesn’t seem that tied to Peter or the Jerusalem church. In Galatians, He states he did not receive authority to teach from the Jerusalem Apostles, and was rather emphatic that he didn’t need it. Nor did he receive the message he teaches from them. He publicly disagrees with Peter, calling him a hypocrite. And it may not be entirely clear how well they were ever reconciled.

    So if we change our view of the apostasy, does that mean also modifying our view of Paul?

  42. clark on February 10, 2012 at 10:53 am

    Brad, here’s my thing. I believe in the terms of that rhetoric. Honestly I have no trouble with the traditional rhetoric. Yet I also think the primitive Church had issues, wasn’t fully developed, and more importantly would never fully develop. I guess I don’t see how that is making it complex.

    As for which movement was the true Church I think that assumes Church = movement. I don’t think that. I think to illustrate that you need only look at LDS history. During Brigham’s life which was the true movement? The one Pratt was expressing or the one Brigham was expressing? What about Talmage/Roberts vs. Joseph Fielding Smith. The Church is where the authority is.

    Dave R, I see Paul as analogous to the period when there were many Mormons in Britain and was largely being run independent of the 12 in Utah. There was a lot of tension when that group gathered in Utah (manifesting in the Godbeite apostasy). Yet I don’t think we want to exaggerate the significance. I think that because of the intellectual trajectory set by Paul people exaggerate the divide when Paul was alive.

  43. Brad on February 10, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Clark, it is not a question of the early church having problems or not, but a question of recognizable authority. In the early LDS church JS was recognized as the head authority because he brought forth the BOM, even though Sidney Rigdon had a profound influence on the church’s early doctrine and dissemination. BY was recognized as JS’s successor by virtue of the fact that he didn’t question JS even on controversial issues such as polygamy as did others (including Rigdon). BY was also the brains behind the migration to the Great Basin and its political and economic development. Most saints recognized his authority because of such a great undertaking. Dissenters of JS had no BOM to show for themselves and dissenters of BY had no migratory undertaking to show for themselves, hence they had fewer followers.

    The case of early Christianity is completely different. Although Peter is chosen by Jesus to be the head of his movement, it is the non-apostle Paul who ends up shaping the doctrine and spreading the Christian movement more than Peter, James, or John, probably because of his intellectual upbringing and Roman citizenship. After the apostles and Paul die multiple Christians raise competing claims of doctrinal and administrative authority with some gaining more followers than the others. Eventually the successful ones manage to form a collective body and declare dissenters apostates. So I guess that early apostasy can be interpreted as a confusion and competition over doctrinal and administrative authority rather than a conscious rejection of an original established organization that never really existed, the idea of which is very much the construction of Protestant Reformers that was later adopted and modified by Rigdon and JS.

  44. clark on February 10, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    Brad, given the paucity of information on the structure and history of the early 1st century church on what basis can we make the claims you are making? The best source we have is Acts and within Acts there just doesn’t appear to be disagreement between Paul and the leaders in Jerusalem (i.e. the 12 Apostles). As such our best guess is that the early Palestinian church which expanded to a broader area did have a structure like our Church.

    The biggest unanswerable question is what happened after Peter died. Catholics claim a continuance but it seems like Mormons can simply say that the Great Apostasy was a process and that the key factor in the process was that Peter was never replaced. However Mormons could also argue that John the Apostle replaced Peter and that John withdrew from Christendom and that it was that withdrawal that constituted the key facet of the Great Apostasy. There really are tons of options for those adopting the more traditional view. The problem is that the history is so fragmentary that the best we can say is that there were competing movements. However that characterizes LDS Church history in its first 40 years as well.

    As for the claim about Peter vs. Paul I guess I don’t see the significance. While Bruce R. McConkie became an Apostle he was a Seventy (arguably in a function like Paul) when he had his greatest influence on the shape and theology of Mormonism. I think that analogy is indeed extremely close. The difference I would say is that since the LDS church is not under the Apostasy as a living Church it could continue and that individual thinkers don’t sway it too much. Thus the Church moved from some of Brigham Young’s notions that were later judged erroneous and moved from some of Elder McConkie’s views that were judged erroneous. It’s precisely that ability to be living that Brigham Young emphasized as the point of common ground between the primitive Church and his.

    So I guess I just don’t see the problem you do.

  45. Brad on February 10, 2012 at 7:17 pm

    If the primitive church was living (as you suggest), how did it fall into apostasy? There doesn’t seem to be a common method of succession agreed upon by early leaders. In Ephesians 4:11-12 Paul writes: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” suggesting that he didn’t necessarily acknowledge a strict hierarchy of authority but recognized different people working in numerous capacities to build the Christian movement, particularly away from the traditional fetters of Mosaic law-Judaism.

    There is no evidence that Paul urged people to join the Christian movement under the leadership of Peter. Paul even openly criticized Peter calling him a hypocrite for living like a Gentile yet “compell[ing] the Gentiles to live as the Jews”(Galatians 2: 11-14). Paul urged people to follow Christ, not necessary Christ through Peter. McConkie consistently urged people to follow the acting LDS prophet.

    In the LDS movement followers of JS urged others to follow Christ through JS (notably Rigdon early on, especially during the 1838 Missouri crisis). After JS what ensued was not a succession crisis but a JS crisis. Everyone claiming rightful successorship to the leadership position except BY rejected JS’s positions and lifestyle to some degree. BY advocated the continued following of Christ through JS, polygamy and all.

  46. Dave on February 10, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    Dave R (#41), I would say that Paul stands as evidence of the diversity in early Christianity, given his disagreements with other early leaders and given the evidence in Paul’s letters of disputes in the dispersed Pauline churches.

  47. Brad on February 10, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    Also note how the term prophet is used in the NT. Acts 11:27 notes that “prophets [came] from Jerusalem to Antioch.” Agabus is referred to as a prophet for advocating Christ and supposedly predicting a famine during the reign of Claudius Caesar. He also supposedly predicted that Paul that he would be apprehended at Jerusalem. How are these ‘prophets’ linked to the early hierarchy? Were they called to that position by Peter and others? I don’t know. But they appear to be simply Christian followers maybe with select followers, who claimed to be able to predict future events.

  48. clark on February 10, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    Brad, it seems to me that you’re arguing for the status of the early Church with a paucity of data. When Joseph died there wasn’t a common method of succession either. Isn’t that a common ground we have with the primitive Church rather than a difference?

    There no evidence Paul didn’t urge people to join under the leadership of Peter. I think the fact Paul worked with Peter and felt there were apostles is a reason to think he saw the unity of the Christian movement. Indeed there are texts that suggest he saw a unity and saw groups as apostate from that unity. So I don’t think you have a compelling argument there. I think his relation to the Jerusalem council can easily be read in Mormon terms. After all they are in Jerusalem deciding a controversy in Antioch. There’s not enough historical evidence for us to decide which reading to favor. However once again looking at Mormon history I don’t think one should make too much of Paul’s disagreement. Look at Brigham and Orson.

  49. Dave R on February 10, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    Dave, thanks. I agree. I’d like to see that viewpoint adopted by the Church, but given so much of the New Testament is attributed to Paul, I’m not holding my breath. However, I do think if we did consider Paul in that manner, people may actually read the New Testament.

    Clark, thanks for your reply. I still think depending on a couple of assumptions, there may be a larger issue between them.

    One of my assumptions about Paul (and I think Brad intended something similar when he wrote ‘the non-apostle Paul’) is that Paul was not an apostle like Peter. Paul was an apostle because he claimed the title after having a vision, but he was probably never one of the Twelve . . . he emphasizes he has received no authority from them (nor does he need it). To me, given that Paul doesn’t seem to recognize a central leadership, that makes disagreements between Peter and Paul seem more serious. Particularly when he goes out of his way to separate himself from them (for example, emphasizing that his gospel message doesn’t originate from the Twelve in Jerusalem).

    Also, I’m hesitant to accept Acts as historically reliable, particularly with regards to the relationship between Peter and Paul. If it is historically reliable, i think you’re right. Can’t have been that big a separation between them. However, if Acts was written in part to mend fences between those who followed Peter and those who followed Paul, then you’re back to questioning how big a divide existed between them.

  50. Blake on February 10, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    Brad: There are several studies of the “prophets” mentioned in the NT and they appear to have been merely itinerant preachers who taught as they were moved to teach by the spirit. We wouldn’t call them that.

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