The Tests of Apostasy

The LDS church claims that historic Christianity fell into apostasy. I’m wondering if there is a set of criteria that we could use to know the church was in apostasy. How could we have known? Do we know just because God told us it was? Or is there some way for us to have discerned the church’s wayward way?

If the LDS church were headed down the same path are there markers we could point to as evidence that it was happening? My point is not the create speculation that the LDS church is in apostasy, but rather to know how we could have known that historic Christianity fell from grace.

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60 thoughts on “The Tests of Apostasy

  1. In the Old Testament, where apostasy ran rampant at times, one of the main signs of the apostasy was lack of concern for the needy. So that would be one thing to look at.

  2. BrianJ: Yawn.

    Tim: There can be no further apostasy because continuing revelation guarantees that no matter what the current prophets do, they will be doing the right thing.

    Or even if they were to do the wrong thing you can’t call them on it because then YOU are in apostasy, because you have gone against the leaders.

    And even if you call them on it and they excommunicate you, you can’t go start your own church. After all, they have the authority to perform the ordinances, you don’t. The minute you break from the LDS church, you lose your authority.

    Bottom line, there can be neither a theoretical nor a practical way of discerning apostasy in the modern church. And even if you could, you couldn’t do anything about it.

    Of course, I have no idea why these rules did not apply in the ancient church, but apparently they didn’t.

  3. A further complicating factor is that even Paul and Jesus Christ acknowledged the authority of the existing Jewish system during their lives.

    Just to give you an idea of how bad a religion can go, and yet still have acknowledged authority.

  4. David,

    “Of course, I have no idea why these rules did not apply in the ancient church, but apparently they didn’t.”

    If you are saying that the primitive Christian church didn’t have a problem with untouchable hierarchy and no way to gauge apostasy, then I disagree. I don’t think these problems were any better under Paul than they are under Thomas S. Monson.

  5. So if we can’t even define what “apostasy” means for a church, why are we even talking about it? It’s as meaningful as saying “it taste bad to me.”

    Eric, have you listened to part 4 of that interview yet?

  6. Oh, I never said we could give a definition a good shot. I just said that we can’t expect a cast-iron “God approves this message” guarantee on our attempts.

  7. Well indulge me with a good shot. It is my faith that is failing here. I’d like to have at least a general idea why we’re apostate.

  8. Eric, have you listened to part 4 of that interview yet?

    I didn’t know until now there was a part 4. I’m not sure there’d be much in there that I’d find surprising, though.

  9. Well, here is my theory on why people might be reluctant to point to specific causes of the apostasy: Anything you can say about corruption in the early Christian church, a case can be made that similar corruption has happened or is happening in the LDS church.

  10. Well, here is my theory on why people might be reluctant to point to specific causes of the apostasy: Anything you can say about corruption in the early Christian church, a case can be made that similar corruption has happened or is happening in the LDS church.

    You win the matching washer and dryer.

  11. wouldn’t that be a reason to figure out what apostasy means, so that you can make corrections?

  12. If you are saying that the primitive Christian church didn’t have a problem with untouchable hierarchy and no way to gauge apostasy, then I disagree. I don’t think these problems were any better under Paul than they are under Thomas S. Monson.

    I’m not saying that. My point is that there is no possible way for the modern church to be in apostasy according to practice and doctrine. One would think that would have applied to the ancient church as well, i.e. that there would have been no way for them to go apostate either. After all if the church is a restoration of the old, then there can be no essential difference between the ancient church and the old church.

    Except it looks like there is. They underwent apostasy, which means apostasy was possible (an actuality is a possibility forever). Yet, it’s not possible for the modern church to apostatize. Why is that?

  13. Tim, I’m going to cite a Dr. Shades quote that I just heard today which pretty much cuts to the heart of this issue:

    Apostasy – When your church changes
    Continuing Revelation – When my church changes

    There are no specifics on what made Christianity apostatize because it’s a completely arbitrary designation, and that’s all there is to it.

  14. Except it looks like there is. They underwent apostasy, which means apostasy was possible (an actuality is a possibility forever). Yet, it’s not possible for the modern church to apostatize. Why is that?

    Wowzers.

  15. Could it be that apostasy is a complex thing and not well suited for linear forward prediction? Some things are well suited for reductionist description and analysis, some things aren’t. I’m not so sure apostasy is well defined by necessary and sufficient causes.

    My point is that there is no possible way for the modern church to be in apostasy according to practice and doctrine.

    This seems to assume an either/or state to apostasy. I’m not sure this is the only way to view things.

    it’s not possible for the modern church to apostatize

    I always thought it was because when things started to get really messy, the second coming came.

  16. I think very early Mormonism’s answer would be stale institutionalism and the loss of the charismatic practice of the gifts of the Spirit, including the vibrant, active practice of the gift of tongues, interpretation, prophecy, etc. By this standard, modern Mormonism has gone into apostasy again.

    Gospel Principles 2009 points to the Trinity and the eeeeevil men at the Council of Nicea as evidence of the apostasy.

    I think another line of thinking within modern Mormonism would focus entirely on the loss of ordained priesthood authority, giving a true Church a free pass to teach whatever theology they like, since the religion is supposedly all orthopraxy and not necessarily orthodox, and no amount of heresy can disqualify a true prophet from being true.

  17. I should also add that in one period of Mormon history, one sure sign of apostasy would be the cessation of the practice of polygamy.

    “Continuing revelation” has given us contradictory definitions of what constitutes “continuing revelation”, as well as different definitions of what constitutes “apostasy”.

    As was discussed in the recent Mormon Stories podcast, the Mormons in the late 1800’s were more concerned with following the living prophet’s orders than they were with the legitimacy of John Taylor’s revelation on polygamy. Circles in 1886 can become squares in 1890.

  18. If anyone is waiting for me to offer a defense of the modern LDS hierarchy against charges of apostasy, they’re going to have a long wait. This is a possibility I’ve always held open myself, and something I don’t feel much particular calling to defend.

    I will say that I am as yet unconvinced that the modern LDS Church is in any state of apostasy. But it’s not a point I intend to argue. I’ll defer to other Mormon commenters to do that.

  19. If anyone is waiting for me to offer a defense of the modern LDS hierarchy against charges of apostasy, they’re going to have a long wait.

    I don’t think anyone is waiting for that. What Tim wants is some way of knowing if/when the LDS church is apostate. Even if you were to run down the street yelling, “The church is apostate, The church is apostate!” it still wouldn’t answer Tim’s question. Yes, he would know that the church is apostate, but he still wouldn’t know why.

  20. I hereby declare the following to be signs of apostasy:

    (1) Refusal to ordain women

    (2) Ordaining gays

    Everyone who falls in between there is g2g.

    (Incidentally, the LDS church fails on both counts.)

  21. Yikes, Jack. REALLY???

    Oops; I’m missing the humor again, right? (Please tell me I am!)

  22. Yes. You are. It was meant to be humorously sarcastic.

    But then again, a joke’s never funny if you have to explain it, so maybe I’m the one who lacks humor.

  23. According to Mormon teaching the apostasy was:

    1. Loss of the true priesthood/temple ordinances
    2. Loss of religious truth about God
    3. Loss of prophets that could reveal and restore the lost truths
    4. Corruption of the priesthood through greed and lust for power.

    So, I suppose that if the LDS church abandoned the doctrine of the priesthood, rejected most of the prophecy of Joseph Smith, or it became like TBN then it would be in apostasy.

  24. 1. Loss of the true priesthood/temple ordinances And how many times have the initiatory and endowment been changed? Oh, I’m sure those don’t count, for some reason.

    2. Loss of religious truth about God. Also has happened in the LDS church. Though again I am sure it doesn’t count in your book.

    3. Loss of prophets that could reveal and restore the lost truths You mean like ETB being completely senile for most of his presidency? Or like the fact that there was no clear successor to Joseph Smith? Or like Wilford Woodruff going completely against the express intentions of John Taylor during his presidency? Again, I’m sure these don’t count.

    4. Corruption of the priesthood through greed and lust for power. Here you have made a point which cannot be verified since all financial records for the church are kept under lock and key. Even if it was true, you couldn’t know it. But, I’d say Brigham Young’s financial escapades in Utah and the investment mentality of the current church corporation (see Mormon stories episode on correlation) both qualify. But, again, I’m sure those don’t count.

    The bottom line is that for an active and believing Mormons there is no possible way the current church could be apostate. Jared can make theoretical lists all he wants but he knows that there will never arise a set of circumstances where he will conclude that the requirements have been met and it’s time to jump ship.

  25. What Tim wants is some way of knowing if/when the LDS church is apostate.

    Actually what I wanted to know was how we could know historic Christianity was apostate other than “God said so”.

  26. David, I would hardly call the changes that have occurred in the temple ceremony crucial or central enough to count as “losing the temple ordinances.”

  27. Seth, like I said, to the faithful none of this will ever count. Thanks for your input.

    But notice here another convenience, I can’t discuss any of the changes that have taken place here, and they are many and they are substantial. Because if I were to do that it would instantly become an issue not of the substance of the changes, but of my utter disrespect for the Mormon people and what they hold sacred. In other words the actual changes themselves would be ignored and I would become the issue.

    So again, even if apostasy is happening, the rules of the game have been set up so that it can’t be talked about or discussed. And that was part of my original point. No matter what requirements for apostasy are set up: 1) They will never obtain for faithful Mormons, 2) Even if they were to obtain, they cannot be discussed or pointed out, since the act of doing so is apostasy, and 3) Even if they are pointed out or discussed nothing can be done about them since doing something about them entails automatic loss of priesthood authority.

  28. Just to clarify, I do not disrespect Mormons. That was a hypothetical accusation of disrespect leveled against me I was referring to.

  29. I wonder if apostasy isn’t best viewed as a comparative state. History is a continuum and, from an organizational perspective, I suspect most changes and evolutions are pretty rational. In religions, at some point though, a new prophet emerges and does something that gets people to say – hey wait a second. From a mormom perspective this act requires the right authorization as it supplants an institution that usually has had no necessarily clear loss of authority. Lists like the one Jared C and Aaron gives may be ex post facto judgements, but are likely not well suited for forward prediction.

    So, from my perspective at least, the only way to know historic Christianity may have been in a state of apostasy would be to compare it to a new state. I suspect the interesting thing in such a mormon evangelical conversation would be whether the transition is best served via a gradiated process, a punctuated process or a revolutionary process. The whole mormon idea of dispensations seems to favor a revolutionary or punctuated process. I would hazard a guess that some revolutionaries on the blog tend favor a change from the inside dynamic which probably fits well with a constantly gradiated process.

    Of course the interesting thing here is Protestantism itself was a punctuated process whose amplitude of change has generally decreased to such an extent that it is more gradiated. Of course the same thing seems to be happening in Mormonism as well. So what’s the next big shake up, and does history give any clues as to how radical an event it should be?

  30. OK… stepping back a bit here and attempting to respond seriously to the question…

    David, the thing is, these changes you’re talking about are quite frankly trivial. They really are.

    Have we stopped invoking the promises of Abraham? Have we ceased attempting to place the creation in a ritual context? Did the Atonement suddenly vanish? Did the focus on consecration and holiness go away? Do you really consider these stylistic changes (and yes, they were all stylistic) to rise to the level of apostasy?

    Color me utterly skeptical.

  31. I just said that we can’t expect a cast-iron “God approves this message” guarantee on our attempts.

    Amen. About pretty much everything. Welcome to the uncomfortable reality of being a grown-up.

  32. Have we stopped invoking the promises of Abraham? Have we ceased attempting to place the creation in a ritual context? Did the Atonement suddenly vanish? Did the focus on consecration and holiness go away? Do you really consider these stylistic changes (and yes, they were all stylistic) to rise to the level of apostasy?

    Every last thing you just said I can make a case for with historic Christianity. Every last thing you can possibly point to as evidence of apostasy I can simply dismiss as stylistic changes. Every last change you think of as apostasy I can argue was utterly trivial.

    And you still haven’t answered Tim’s question.

  33. David, let me be clear here – I never said I was going to answer Tim’s question, I had no intention of answering it, and I’m probably not going to answer it. There are lots of other people here, go bug them.

    Haven’t I already made it clear that I’m not interested in presenting a solid case against the charge of apostasy in the modern LDS Church? This isn’t something that’s a big part of my faith life, it’s not something I’ve received any particular spiritual confirmation on. I’m sure other Mormons out there have a good case to make, and I’m sure Evangelicals can make some good points here too.

    Not my specialty, not my focus. Go bark up a different tree.

    But I do think the nitpicking on temple changes is merely that – nitpicking. And none of it even comes close to rising to the level of importance of the themes being hashed out at Nicea, or the stuff being debated by the likes of Luther and Calvin.

  34. Seth,

    I attended an Episcopal church on Sunday and since it was Pentecost they were having baptisms. One of those being baptized was a teenage boy, he looked like he was 16 or 17.

    Anyway, the prayer offered was was nearly identical to the Mormon prayer offered at baptism. Instead of immersion, water was poured on his head three times. If asked, Epsicopalians can produce documents which document their ordination line right back to Peter.

    So my question to you is this, why was this baptism apostate? What was essentially wrong with it? Why are the differences between this baptism and a Mormon baptism not just stylistic and trivial?

  35. Ultimately the best evidence for the apostasy is the restoration, and the introduction of the “new” covenants and revelations through Joseph Smith. Otherwise a simple reformation would have done the trick.

    If you are going to believe the bible you have to expect some sort of arbitrary or unknowable standard. In the bible believing context, asking what level of corruption constitutes apostasy is like asking how wicked we have to be to deserve mass genocide like the flood or Sodom and Gomorrah . . obviously God has some line that is crossed where he decides he needs to intervene but there is no real way of knowing where the line has been crossed.

    Perhaps its also similar to trying to decide when an Evangelical minister has crossed the line into the dark side of being worthy of denunciation by being to venal and corrupt.

    Peter Popoff, Joel Osteen, Jimmy Swaggart, Oral Roberts, Benny Hinn. . . Do evangelicals have a method of determining which of these is doing more harm than good when spreading the saving message while raking in the cash?

    David,

    I think you assume a lot about what I would “count” as apostasy. I think you appear to be far more closed minded in your judgment of the church than I am. We do know that corruption always happens, and we should expect it and I do, so some of the changes/corruptions you mention may count, but it may not require a “restoration”. We won’t really know until we get one, perhaps the revelation on blacks and the priesthood could be considered evidence of an active process of revelatory correction of corruption, Who knows. . . . the point being that you have to expect changes and they cannot be sufficient evidence of apostasy even if they can be considered corruptions.

    Also, ultimately, as per Jack’s cogent analysis, the answer to your last question David, is that the Episcopalian baptism is apostate because Episcopalians ordain gays.

  36. Jared,

    We won’t really know until we get one, perhaps the revelation on blacks and the priesthood could be considered evidence of an active process of revelatory correction of corruption, Who knows. . . . the point being that you have to expect changes and they cannot be sufficient evidence of apostasy even if they can be considered corruptions.

    Thanks for agreeing with every single word I said.

    And as for Jack’s analysis, there are more gay Mormon priests than the Episcopalians could ever hope to ordain. Ergo, on your analysis, the Mormon baptism is apostate.

  37. Not so fast, Mormons may be ordaining them, but they force them to cower in the closet, which counts for something. . . .Episcopalians are also apostate because they were essentially founded by King Henry VIII . . . and they wear those gay looking robes.

  38. Jared, I think you just hit upon a great new tag line for a cheesy church commercial:

    “We force people to cower in the closet, which counts for something”

    And it’s not just gays forced to cower in the Mormon closet.

    Kudos on your honesty Jared!

  39. Also, ultimately, as per Jack’s cogent analysis, the answer to your last question David, is that the Episcopalian baptism is apostate because Episcopalians ordain gays.

    I’m glad we’re getting some mileage out of my hard work in that area.

  40. I recommend a book by Eddie L. Hyatt called “2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity.”
    Eddie documents that although there have been dark ages during the past 2000 years, the church of Jesus Christ has never ceased to exist. Since the day of Pentecost, there have always been some Christians on the earth (by “Christians,” I mean people who had the Holy Spirit living in them through faith in Jesus).
    Eddie Hyatt is a scholar who did lots of research, but he writes simply for the ordinary reader. I also found it to be an uplifting book because I could feel my faith in God rising as I read it, especially faith for miracles, since miracles and gifts of the Spirit were his focus!

  41. I read this blog occasionally. It seems kind of silly that this would be the discussion that would lead to my first comment.

    Every person is ultimately responsible to God for their actions taken in response to the truth that they have received.

    However, I consider general apostasy and the loss of the church to be the loss of priesthood authority. Thus I would consider structual evidence of an apostasy to be the loss of the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Presidency of the Seventy.

  42. I know that it seems like a pat answer, and perhaps unsatisfying to other commenters here, but part of my testimony is that the united action of the First Presidency, or Quorum of the Twelve would not be allowed to lead the church into apostasy.

    This isn’t to say that any individual, even the prophet, might not make mistakes or even suffer an individual apostasy. The possibility is anticipated by provisions that allow discipline of any member despite their calling or station.

    We know by sad example that no church leader is infallible, and any direction that we receive is properly subject to personal confirmation. But I believe that an appropriate default position is to accept that church leaders act either according to revelation or within the bounds of their calling.

    This does not well address the possibility of modern general apostasy. I think the concepts of delegated priesthood authority, priesthood keys, and continued revelation mean that as long as the governing structure of the priesthood is place, general apostasy is precluded. That is why in my previous post, I tried to answer the original question by looking for structural or organizational deficiencies.

    I suppose gross inquity, sufficiently widespread that the governing councils of the church could not be seperated from it without destroying a quorum would also raise significant question. But for the reasons I listed earlier, I do not believe that this can happen. If it did, I would have to revisit other aspects of my testimony as well.

    All of this taken from my own LDS perspective. To answer the question from the broader Christian perspective, the best answer I have is that there are certain clear indictators of apostasy such any teaching that would deny the divinity of Christ or the universality of his atonement. More subtly, a lack of spiritual gifts as promised in 1 Corinthians 12 is an indication of apostasy.

  43. Interesting that you point to heresy for Christianity but organizational structure for the LDS church.

  44. Yeah, it is kind of funny. I guess it is a consequence of accepting that there are prophets and apostles on the earth with delegated priesthood authority and the calling to receive and promulgate revelation for the whole human family. Something blatantly obvious such as denying the divinity of Christ would throw up some major flags, however it is proper that living prophets should be given greater weight than dead prophets who are not around to explain themselves and dispel misconceptions. Thus accusations of heresy against the modern prophets would be a little difficult to justify from my LDS perspective.

  45. Ken said:

    More subtly, a lack of spiritual gifts as promised in 1 Corinthians 12 is an indication of apostasy.

    I’m asking this merely out of curiosity: Do you think there is a lack of spiritual gifts outside the LDS church?

  46. I think anyone can receive gifts of the spirit. Indeed they are required to gain an understanding of God. I believe that it would be appropriate to say that everyone has unique spiritual gifts, although they may be atrophied through lack of faith or disobedience. That is why I said that it was a subtle indication of apostasy, as it may be a fine difference between an individual’s spiritual experiences which come from the mercy of God and their own faith, and that which comes from communion with the church of Christ, his priesthood, and the gift of the Holy Ghost.

  47. As far as I can tell, Ken’s last three comments are reasonable enough . . . except . . .
    when he said, “part of my testimony is that the united action of the First Presidency, or Quorum of the Twelve would not be allowed to lead the church into apostasy.”
    Are you saying God has taken away their free agency to some extent to insure that they will not lead the church astray, or are you saying that God has promised to remove from office anyone who goes astray?

  48. I will dismiss the idea that God removes the agency of the leaders of the church without further elaboration. It simply does not accord with my understanding of God or his will for us.

    You quoted the statement, “part of my testimony is that the united action of the First Presidency, or Quorum of the Twelve would not be allowed to lead the church into apostasy.”

    The use of the word “testimony” was deliberate. I am confident in its truthfulness not only because it is congruent with my understanding of God’s purposes in the current era, but because I have felt the Holy Ghost confirm the truthfulness of it.

    You have suggested that perhaps God has promised to remove from office anyone who goes astray. An alternative might be that he chooses these leaders according to his own foreknowledge of their fidelity.

    It is hard sometimes to reconcile this with proven history of individuals who have made mistakes and some who have gone astray. All I can say is that everyone retains their agency.

    I do not expect any modern prophet fall. I really do not believe any of the current or future apostles to fall, and I expect it to be a rare ocassion where a Seventy did. However, I suppose that in theory it is possible, and for this reason I look for the united action of the leadership.

  49. Hi Ken,
    You said, “An alternative might be that he chooses these leaders according to his own foreknowledge of their fidelity.”
    I had not thought of that option. 🙂

    You anticipated my next comment when you said, “It is hard sometimes to reconcile this with proven history of individuals who have made mistakes and some who have gone astray.”

    Where I was hoping to go with this was to the point that we can detect apostasy by the fruit of those falling away. Matthew 7:18, 20, New International Version: “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. . . . Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

    That is one of the ways that the Lord was able to show me that true Mormons are true Christians. Now, my prayer is that Mormons will use the same criteria to discover that evangelical Christians are true Christians and that the priesthood authority is also in operation outside the structure of the LDS through simple faith in Jesus.

  50. Cal,

    That is a very good verse, and one very apropos to this discussion. I feel a little inadequate that I did not include it in my previous posts. It applies directly to recognising who might be a prophet, but more generally helps us recognise those who are truly, humble followers of Christ from those who might just be saying the words for their own benefit.

    From one angle, it touches on the very important principle that actions speak louder than words.

    Good fruit comes from a good tree. This is a necessary condition to recognize an agent of God, but you also bring up the matter of Priesthood authority. From my perspective then good fruit is a necessary condition but not sufficient. I suscribe to the statement “that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of chands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.”

    Maybe we just have different understandings of priesthood authority. What I mean is that authority and power delegated by God to man to act in his name. The ordinances of the priesthood including saving ordiances, such as baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost, are only effective when performed under the authority of this delegated authority.

    I do not mean this as a perjorative, and I do believe that God will bless anyone who seeks to obey his commandments and know his will to be his agents to cause much good in the world even to the salvation of many of our brothers and sisters.

  51. Hi Ken,

    Thanks for your response.
    I appreciate your knowledge of the gospel.
    You are right that our understanding of priesthood authority is somewhat different. Our views on how to receive it are also somewhat different.

    I just checked what “Gospel Principles” has to say about the priesthood because I haven’t felt that I’ve had a complete understanding of the LDS viewpoint. (I’m getting closer, though!)

    My view is that priesthood authority is needed for everything every Christian does, male or female. Two verses came to mind as I sat in church this morning, thinking about this.

    One verse I thought of is Colossians 3:17: “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” I believe “name” can mean “authority,” or it may mean the Spirit of Jesus, or the love of Jesus—that sort of thing. No matter how you take it, I think it amounts to the same thing as far as this discussion is concerned.

    The other verse I thought of is John 15:5: “Apart from me [Jesus] you can do nothing.”

    So according to my understanding of those verses, we have to be joined to Jesus to do anything worthwhile, and we have to do everything in his name (in his authority, or we might say “in him,” or we might say “according to his will”). “Everything” would include everything from mowing your neighbor’s lawn (when Jesus tells you to do it, you then have the authority to do it), administering the sacrament in church, or raising someone from the dead in India.

    So then, according to my view, which I believe is also the evangelical view, how do we receive the priesthood authority? How can we be joined to Jesus so that we can walk in his authority day by day? John 1:12 answers: “To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right [authority] to become children of God.” So if we believe in him (which involves following him, repenting) God gives us the authority to become his children.

    Please tell me if I’m wrong, but the LDS view is that the priesthood is not needed for EVERYTHING we do for the Lord. It’s only needed for administering baptism, governing God’s kingdom on earth, and certain other things.

    Also, the LDS says it can only be received through the laying on of hands.

    The wonderful thing about my view is that it allows me to see that a true Mormon like yourself is a true Christian—you have received him, you have believed in his name! That excites me!

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