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Apostasy from the Original Church of Christ
by Gerald A. Smith
Apostasy is defined as the abandoning of what one believed in, as a faith. It comes from the Greek words: apo -"away" and stasis - a standing. In other words, to stand away from what one once stood by. An apostate is someone who does more than just stops going to church. It is someone who once strongly believed in a cause, then vehemently opposes it and fights for its destruction. Noted apostates in the Bible include: Cain (Genesis 4:1-16); the people in Noah's day (Genesis 6-8); Tower of Babel (Genesis 11); Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18-19); Korah, Dathan and Abiram (Numbers 16:1-35); Israel (Isaiah 1, 3, etc.); Hymenaus and Alexander (1 Timothy 1:19, 20); Anti-Christs (1 John 2) and Judah (Matthew 24).
The idea behind the Great Apostasy is a "falling away" of not just a nation, but the entire earth from accepting the fulness of the gospel. They accept portions of it, but reject the vast amount of it. History is full of the terrors of the Dark Ages, "Christian" leaders who were corrupt and the idea that no growth or advancement really occurred in the world for more than a millennium. The plow being used in Christ's day was practically the same one used a thousand years later.
Not until God prepared the world for the Restoration, did the Light of God instill in the minds of men to question the current situation and seek for a higher truth. This came about in the Reformation, when knowledge, both secular and spiritual came bursting forth on a world which had loitered in shadows for centuries.
The doors were being opened for the Restoration. The printing press was invented. The Bible was being distributed in many languages to the masses. A middle class was forming, taking power from the royalty and religionists of the day to themselves. Literature and new scientific discoveries were leading people from superstition to indepth inquiry into the facts. New worlds were discovered, allowing a nation based upon religious freedom to be established for the first time in history. Such intense growth and change have only been matched in our own day, in preparation for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
The Bible is replete with predictions of a Great Apostasy. Earlier apostasies were shadows and types of the Great one to follow the murders of Christ and his apostles.
Isaiah discusses the apostasies of Israel in his day, but also of the last days. He warns of their changing the ordinances and breaking the everlasting covenant (Isaiah 24:5). In chapter 29, he predicts the falling of a people whose words would later come from the ground (Mormons contend these were the people of the Book of Mormon), but only after an obvious apostasy occurs- "this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of man." (v. 13).
And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel, even all that fight against her and her munition, and that distress her, shall be as a dream of a night vision. It shall even be as when an hungry [man] dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and, behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and, behold, [he is] faint, and his soul hath appetite: so shall the multitude of all the nations be, that fight against mount Zion. Stay yourselves, and wonder; cry ye out, and cry: they are drunken, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink. For the LORD hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered. (Is. 29:7-10).
This is followed by a prediction of the Restoration. More on that in Predictions of a Restoration of the Gospel.
The prophet Amos tells us:
And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord GOD, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day: And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; and I will bring up sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness upon every head; and I will make it as the mourning of an only [son], and the end thereof as a bitter day. Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find [it]. (Amos 8:9-12).
Christ predicts it in his parable of the wheat and tares, where the enemy sows tares among the wheat at night (Matthew 13:25). And in his great prophecy of the last times, the Savior tells us of the following things:
Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here [is] Christ, or there; believe [it] not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if [it were] possible, they shall deceive the very elect. (Matthew 24:23-24).
And the Apostle Paul was very busy predicting the Great Apostasy:
For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. (Acts 20:29-30).
NOW we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and [by] our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for [that day shall not come], except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. (2 Thes 2:1-4).
So, there will be a falling away (in other versions of the Bible, the word apostasy is used) prior to the Second Coming of Christ! Satan will set himself up as a pretender to God's throne, and won't be fully revealed until he is consumed at the Coming of the Lord (vs 8).
And Paul specifically tells us when these things will happen, and what wicked things will occur:
THIS know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all [men], as theirs also was. (2 Timothy 3:1-9)
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away [their] ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
And John the Beloved receives this counsel to give to one of the 7 remaining churches in Asia (had all the rest apostatized already?):
I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. (Revelation 3:15-17).
He predicts that the enemies of God would make "war with the saints" (Rev 13:7) just a few verses before a prediction of the gospel being restored in the last days! (Rev 14:6).
So, a Great Apostasy was predicted for the Last Days. The results of which were evidently described by Paul and others, as they warned of the false preachers, prophets and Christs which would come into the world.
Even the great Reformers of Christianity saw the destruction of the Church and the need for a restoration:
Martin Luther stated:
I have sought nothing beyond reforming the Church in conformity with the Holy Scriptures. The spiritual powers have been not only corrupted by sin, but absolutely destroyed; so that there is now nothing in them but a depraved reason and a will that is the enemy and opponent of God. I simply say that Christianity has ceased to exist among those who should have preserved it. (Luther and His Times, p. 509).
John Wesley realized that the gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer found:
It does not appear that these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were common in the Church for more than two or three centuries. We seldom hear of them after that fatal period when the Emperor Constantine called himself a Christian;...From this time they almost totally ceased;...The Christians had no more of the Spirit of Christ than the other heathens....This was the real cause why the extraordinary figts of the Holy Ghost were no longer to be found in the Christian Church; because the Christians were turned Heathens again, and had only a dead form left. (Wesley's Works, vol 7, Sermon 89, pp. 26-27).
Wesley's point is interesting to note, when one considers what the early Christian, Justin Martyr, stated to the Jewish priest, Trypho: that the only difference between the Jews and Christians was that the Christians had revelation; and if the day ever came that the Christians were to cease having revelation, they would be no better than the Jews.
In predicting the restoration of the gospel, we see both biblical and reformer statements.
Roger Williams put it this way:
There is no regularly constituted church on earth, nor any person authorized to administer any church ordinance; nor can there be until new apostles are sent by the Great Head of the Church for whose coming I am seeking. (Picturesque America, p. 502).
So, he realised that apostles had to be sent anew. Perhaps he recognized the apostle Paul's words on the importance of having apostles:
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner [stone]; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord (Ephesians 2:19-21).
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: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we [henceforth] be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, [and] cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive (Ephesians 4:11-14).
Paul stated that apostles and prophets are necessary as the foundation to build the Church of Christ, and are needed until all are unified in faith, are perfected in Christ and know Christ. And why? So we aren't tossed about in the apostasy!
Even the great Statesman and Deist, Thomas Jefferson, realised that the Christian Church was severely lacking and awaited the Restoration:
The religion builders have so distorted and deformed the doctrines of Jesus, so muffled them in mysticisms, fancies, and falsehoods, have caricatured them into forms so inconceivable, as to shock reasonable thinkers....Happy in the prospect of a restoration of primitive Christianity, I must leave to younger persons to encounter and lop off the false branches which have been engrafted into it by the mythologists of the middle and modern ages. (Jefferson's Complete Works, vol 7, pp 210, 257).
The Apostle Peter put it this way:
He shall send Jesus Christ, whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. (Acts 3:20-21).
In other words, God would send Christ for his Second Coming, but only after the gospel is restored!
The apostle John saw it this way, after having beholding the apostasy:
And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters. (Revelation 14:6-7).
It is interesting to note, that when the angel Moroni first appeared to Joseph Smith and told him of the metal plates containing the record of an ancient american people (what is now the Book of Mormon), Moroni told him that the record contained the "fulness of the gospel."
In Isaiah 29, the prophet predicts the bringing forth of a book in the last days, describing it a marvelous work and a wonder. The learned would not read the book because it was sealed, but the unlearned would not have such a problem. And in Ezekiel 37, we read of two books being combined: one is the "stick of Judah", or the Bible. The other is called the "stick of Joseph". What is this stick of Joseph? The only book known to man claimed to have been written by descendants of Joseph, Jacob's son who was sold into Egypt, is the Book of Mormon! No other book qualifies. The New Testament was written by Jews (Judah) not Joseph. So it can't be the book. The Dead Sea Scrolls were also written by Jews. Only the Book of Mormon satisfies both Isaiah's and Ezekiel's prophecies.
Given the evidence, there is strong probability that there was a Great Apostasy, which was followed by a Restoration of the Gospel. As a Catholic bishop once put it: there are only two possibilities in Christianity. Either the Catholics or the Mormons. If the Catholics are true, the Mormons aren't, and the rest of Christianity has fallen away. However, if the Catholic Church isn't Christ's chosen church, then all the other Christian churches fail also, since they are but a reformation of Catholicism. Only Mormonism, with a restoration from heaven, could qualify.
(See Which Church Is Right? for a summary history of the apostacy; Basic Beliefs home page; The Gospel of Jesus Christ home page; The Restoration of the Gospel home page)
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