We discovered, however, that the Bible teaches that the Church was founded upon the message of prophets and priests from the past, but that Jesus Christ is the infinite, everlasting servant of the superior ministry that replaced the old one, His Holy Spirit indwelling the Christian, revealing truth. Furthermore, the Bible teaches that the Levitical (or Aaronic, as Mormons call it) priesthood has been ended, and that the only One capable of holding the Melchizedek priesthood which replaced it is Jesus Christ Himself. The LDS Church teaches contrary to the plain words of Scripture.
But these peculiar LDS doctrines share as their foundation a related one, which deserves special scrutiny.
THE GREAT APOSTASY
At their website, in an article entitled, "The Great Apostasy", the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints begins with the caption,
"Following the death of Jesus Christ and His Apostles, the authority to receive revelation—along with many of the plain and precious truths taught by the Savior—was lost and a state of apostasy ensued."
This pretty well sums it up. Why were there no prophets or priests (of Aaron and Melchizedek) for nearly 2,000 years? Because there was a "great apostasy" resulting in the loss of that authority and the truths taught by those who used to hold that authority. The article begins:
"Following the death of Jesus Christ, wicked people persecuted and killed many Church members, and other Church members drifted from the principles taught by Jesus Christ and His Apostles. The Apostles were killed and the priesthood authority—including the keys to direct and receive revelation for the Church—was taken from the earth ( 2 Thessalonians 2:1–3). Because the Church was no longer led by priesthood authority and revelation, error crept into Church teachings. Good people and much truth remained, but the gospel as established by Jesus Christ was lost, resulting in a period called the Great Apostasy."
So the "priesthood authority" was lost because the Apostles who held it were persecuted unto death. What was the result?
"This apostasy led to the formation of many churches with conflicting teachings. Without the full gospel or the priesthood authority, people relied on human wisdom to interpret the scriptures and the principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ. False ideas were taught as truth, and much of the knowledge of the true character and nature of God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost was lost. The doctrines of faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost became distorted or forgotten. Each generation inherited a state of apostasy, as people were influenced by what previous generations passed on, including changes to Christ’s gospel. Some inspired people, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, recognized that practices and doctrines had been changed or lost and tried to reform the churches to which they belonged. Without the priesthood authority, however, Christ’s gospel could not be returned to its original form."
For nearly 2,000 years, then, the true gospel of Jesus Christ was lost, and all that remained were distorted and conflicting understandings of it, only vaguely resembling what had been lost. This resulted in a splintered, fractured Christendom, fraught with disagreement and discord. Fortunately, this would soon be resolved:
"After centuries of spiritual darkness, a restoration of truth was needed. Under the direction of our Heavenly Father, the gospel of Jesus Christ was restored on the earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith. God has promised it will never be taken from His children again."
This, then, above all else is foundational to the LDS religion. Its very existence depends on this apostasy having occurred, and to the extent that it claims it occurred. Let's take a look at what Scripture says about apostasy and guidance.
THE MAN OF LAWLESSNESS
In the article quoted from above, one passage from Scripture is pointed to as evidence of the apostasy that was to occur:
"Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction..." (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3)
In this passage, Paul warns the congregants of the church at Thessalonica not to believe any claim that Jesus has come, for He will not have come until after "the apostasy." This should lead us to ask a couple of questions.
First, and most importantly, is there anything in this passage that supports what the Mormons claim it supports? Namely, that "The Apostles were killed and the priesthood authority—including the keys to direct and receive revelation for the Church—was taken from the earth?" No, there's not. All Paul tells his readers is that "the apostasy" would happen. There's no explicit statement as to the extent or nature of the apostasy.
Second, if "the apostasy" refers to a falling away sufficient to cause "the gospel as established by Jesus Christ [to be] lost," to whom, then, would the man of lawlessness be revealed? The word rendered "revealed" is the Greek word ἀποκαλύπτω (apokalyptō) which means "to make known, make manifest, disclose what before was unknown." It's not merely that the man of lawlessness would appear, it's that his identity and work would be made known. But if Christians with an understanding of the true gospel no longer existed, there would be nobody to whom the identity and work of the man of lawlessness could be made known.
Therefore, contrary to the LDS claim that this passage supports the idea of an apostasy so great as to cause the true gospel to be lost, this passage actually suggests that the apostasy would be only partial in nature. Indeed, there is another passage that foretells this apostasy, but strangely the article quoted from above doesn't mention it. Let's take a look.
SOME WILL FALL AWAY FROM THE FAITH
"But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons" (1 Timothy 4:1)
Why were we not pointed to this verse by the LDS website? After all, it points to a "[falling] away from the faith." Doesn't this support the notion of a Great Apostasy? No, not at all.
Notice that Paul, writing to Timothy, does not say that "ALL will fall away from the faith." He writes that SOME will apostatize. The word rendered "fall away from" is the Greek ἀφίστημι (aphistēmi), but it is modified using the enclitic indefinite pronoun τις (tis) meaning "a certain, a certain one; some, some time, a while." The application of this pronoun specifically precludes the possibility that the apostasy would be complete and total. Consider how other translations render the verse:
"The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith" (NIV)
"The Spirit makes it clear that as time goes on, some are going to give up on the faith" (The Message)
"BUT THE [Holy] Spirit distinctly and expressly declares that in latter times some will turn away from the faith" (Amplified)
"Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith" (NLT)
"Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith" (KJV)
"Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith" (ESV)
Why do EVERY SINGLE ONE of these translations, and likely every other one you'll find, use the word "some" to quantify those who will fall away? Because the Greek demands it, and specifically excludes the possibility that the apostasy would be complete, whatever the nature of that apostasy. If what would be lost was the "true gospel as established by Jesus Christ," then the application of τις requires that we understand that there would remain some who still taught it. If what would be lost was "the priesthood authority—including the keys to direct and receive revelation for the Church," then the inclusion of τις requires that we understand that there would remain some who still held that authority and its keys. There simply is no way around it.
DISUNITY OF THE FAITH
So if the "Great Apostasy" would not be as extensive as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints claims it was--and as we've seen, the Bible explicitly teaches it would not be--then why has history produced "many churches with conflicting teachings?" Does the fact that there are divisions within Christendom suggest that the gospel and the authority to "direct and receive revelation for the Church" was lost?
"And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ." (Ephesians 4:11-13)
In this passage, Paul says Jesus gave to the Church people serving as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. What is their purpose? To "build up" the Church. And how long will this building up take? "Until we all attain to the unity of the faith." The word rendered "unity" is the Greek ἑνότης (henotēs) which means "unanimity, agreement." Thus, it is readily apparent that the Church was already in a state of disunity, at least to a certain extent. There would come a day in the future when unity would be achieved, but this was not that day.
Note also that the office of "priest" is absent from this list. As we learned in "The Restoration of the Priesthood," there is nowhere in the New Testament where followers of Christ are said to hold the office of a priest. If "the priesthood authority" is necessary in order "to direct and receive revelation for the Church," it's strange that priests aren't mentioned in this list.
INTERPRETING THE SCRIPTURES
The LDS claim is that the disunity amongst Christendom is due in part to people interpreting the Scriptures without authoritative guidance. "Without the full gospel or the priesthood authority, people relied on human wisdom to interpret the scriptures and the principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ." As we've seen, there was already disunity within the Body of Christ, and we've also seen that whatever the "apostasy" was to be, it would only be in part. But what of this claim that Christians need prophets and priests to properly interpret Scripture for us?
"The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men." (Acts 17:10-12)
Why did Luke, the author of Acts, say that the Bereans to whom Paul and Silas preached were more noble-minded than those evangelized in Thessalonica? Because though they were eager to hear their message, they were "examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so."
If Paul and Silas had the kind of authority the Mormons claim they had, that was necessary for properly interpreting the Bible, why were the Bereans praised for testing that what they were being told lined up with Scripture? After all, they didn't have the authority necessary to properly interpret it. Furthermore, why didn't Paul and Silas urge the Bereans to pray for a "burning in their bosom" as evidence from the Spirit that what they were being told was true?
THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH
The answer to both questions is the same: because we DO have the capacity to properly interpret the Bible; we don't need any "priesthood authority" to do so. And why not?
"I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you." (John 16:12-14)
Jesus did not promise that prophets with some sort of priesthood authority would come and disclose truth to the believer. Rather, He promised that His Holy Spirit would come and "guide [us] into all the truth." In doing so, the Spirit glorifies the Son for it is what the Son says to the Spirit which in turn He reveals to us. We do not need priests with the keys "to direct and receive revelation for the Church." We have guidance from God Himself in the Holy Spirit who indwells us.
This is not to suggest that we are capable of being "Lone Ranger Christians," each of us an island to himself, interpreting the Word by ourselves. As we've aleady seen, Jesus gave gifted people to the Church to help build it up and bring it, eventually, into unity. "Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another" (Proverbs 27:17). We are dependent upon teachers and other believers to learn and to grow. However, rather than having authority to correctly interpret Scripture for the rest of us, teachers and other believers are subject to the authority of Scripture.
EXAMINING THE SCRIPTURES
Imagine one comes to us, telling us the Body of Christ requires a divinely appointed prophet to properly guide it. Upon examining Scripture we see that Jesus Christ is the final, ultimate prophet whose ministry supercedes and replaces that of the former prophets He likewise supercedes and replaces. We are called, then, to reject the false teacher who has spoken contrary to the Bible.
Imagine one comes to us, telling us the Body of Christ must be directed by individuals possessing "priesthood authority," those to whom the stations of the Levitical (Aaronic) and Melchizedek priesthoods have been conferred. Upon examining Scripture we see that the former priesthood and its purposes have ended, replaced by Jesus who, by virtue of living forever in intercession for us, is the only One capable of holding the Melchizedek priesthood. We are called, then, to reject the false teacher who has spoken contrary to the Bible.
Imagine one comes to us, telling us that, as foretold by Scripture, there was a "Great Apostasy" whose extent was such that the true gospel of Christ was lost. Upon examining the Bible we see that the apostasy it foretold was explicitly limited to being only partial, and that whatever the nature of the apostasy, whatever would be lost would only be lost by some, with some remaining faithful and true. We are called, then, to reject the false teacher who has spoken contrary to the Bible.
WOLVES IN SHEEP'S CLOTHING
This is precisely the position we're in when it comes to missionaries at our door from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Whether they are aware of it or not, they are false teachers, attempting to draw us away from the Truth of God's Word. Sadly, faithful Mormons around the world, obedient to their leaders and teachers, have neglected the authority of Scripture and, as a result, been led astray from the true gospel by wolves in sheep's clothing--whether the wolves know they're wolves or not.
It is incumbent upon us, therefore, who have not yet been deceived, to be prepared to help guide the lost back to Christ. It is possible, if not likely, that each of us, the true believers, will one day--and perhaps often--have the opportunity to speak truth into the lives of Mormons. But we must prepare in advance, knowing what it is they are taught and how Scripture clearly refutes it.
In the meantime, we must pray for them with the same fervor with which we've prayed for the families torn apart by 9/11, the lives thrown into disarray by hurricane Katrina and those suffering in Haiti--if not more so. For whereas the "here an now" of each of those has been hurled into tumult, the stray sheep of Mormonism are in danger of eternal separation from God.