A Missionary Guide to the Apostasy

I have put together a list that may help missionaries explain the apostasy to investigators and new converts. Specifically I want to address what was lost and why in early Christianity after the death of the apostles. Leadership in the early Church transitioned from apostles to local bishops, what happened to the priesthood keys?

It is hoped that this guide will not distract missionaries from teaching the essentials as outlined in the authoritative Preach My Gospel curriculum. Rather it should be regarded as a supplementary resource for further exploration and an aid to addressing advanced concerns.

A note to investigators reading this article: I hope you can forgive me for not addressing this article directly to you. It is awesome that you are engaging in serious study and I hope you will find the answers you need to make an informed decision.

There are limitations to using this guide. First it should be understood the primary evidence of the apostasy is modern revelation. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery claimed to have received visits from heavenly messengers and investigators are challenged to prayerfully seek after their own spiritual witness of claims regarding authority. An examination of ancient history can at best demonstrate plausibility and not proof of the apostasy.

Second, the text below is not sufficient to give the reader a mastery of all the issues involved. The provided links should be read to understand more context, underlying assumptions, and limitations of the observations being made. The links lead to LDS treatments on the subject that are accessible over the net.

Third, in some cases the LDS-authored literature linked to may be out of date relative to progress that has been made in the relevant scholarly fields. I welcome comments from LDS scholars to help correct errors and point out weaknesses in this literature.

Fourth, non-LDS scholars are cited sometimes in agreement with LDS thought and sometimes in contrast. In some cases the consequences of agreement have been under-explored. For example, the methodology used might have a double-edged effect with the potential work against some aspect of Mormon thought.

Fifth, the data we have about first century Christianity is very sparse beyond the New Testament. Some of the sources were written much after the fact and may suffer from distortion. Therefore conclusions about what happened exactly often have to extrapolated beyond what the meager evidence can definitively establish. Even among Latter-day Saints, historical reconstructions can vary widely. So please feel free to disregard my views if you find them unhelpful or unpersuasive.

Finally, those expecting that the evidence will show that ancient church organization was exactly the same as the latter day church may be disappointed. Let me suggest three author’s essays that provide valuable orientation for beginning such a comparative study.

Grant Underwood, “The ‘Same’ Organization the Existed in the Primitive Church”

Kevin Barney, A Tale of Two Restorations

Blair Hodges, Liken with Care

With those disclaimers, let us us proceed to 10 points exploring the loss of priesthood keys.

1. Studying the story in Acts where Matthias was chosen to replace Judas can be beneficial. Mormons often generalize from that the apostles were meant to continue as the governing body of Christ’s church, replacing apostles that died or apostatized. This practice did not continue and LDS thinkers have commonly attributed this to persecution and widespread (but not universal) rejection of the apostles.

2. There is also New Testament evidence for other apostles like Paul, James the brother of Jesus, Barnabas, etc. There is some different takes by non-Mormons about what to do with these additional apostles, which I sample on the FAIR blog .

* Some argue that apostles were no longer necessary after these as they had served their purpose in laying the foundation of the Church (for example Catholic Francis Sullivan).

* Some argue that soon no one could meet the requirement (read into Matthias’ selection) that an apostle had to have been a living witness to Christ’s mortal ministry. (no citation but I encounter this idea a lot from Catholics and Protestants).

* Some argue that the new apostles weren’t necessarily members of the Twelve (Bruce Chilton). There might be something to this idea given that some modern apostles have not been members of the Q12. There is some early Christian evidence that Seventies could also be considered apostles and other special witnesses of Christ could likewise be considered as such (see Mormon writer John Tvedtnes’ citations in this article. ).

* Refreshingly, one non-Mormon author argues that the Twelve as a governing body headquartered in Jerusalem were meant to continue, but eventually Roman persecution drove the Christians out of there (Baptist R.A. Campbell).

3. Missionaries may want to ponder Matt 16:18’s “rock” that the Church will be built and maintained upon. Both Protestants and Catholics typically use the passage as a guarantee the Church will never be taken from the earth and conclude that they must have the “rock.” Mormons tend to read it as a conditional promise, and the Apostasy is evidence that Protestants don’t have the rock. Catholics often identify the rock with Peter’s apostleship and conclude that Bishops (and more specifically the Pope) must be apostolic successors.

Protestants sometimes contend the rock is Christ and a special priesthood is not strictly necessary. Mormons occasionally look at the context of Matt. 16:18 and conclude the rock is a symbol for revelation, but deny that the Church continued on the earth. The gates of Hell are taken to be associated with the Spirit world and more specifically the ones that prevent or delay resurrection. Note that Christ ultimately triumphed over these gates. Metaphorically a spirit’s death and resurrection is symbolic for a Church’s apostasy and restoration.

Some limitations on using these ideas is missionaries will encounter articulate Protestants and Catholics who do a much better job presenting their case than I do. Scripture interpretation can occur at two levels: a consensus reading that is adapted to serve the needs of a particular group, or a reading arrived at by trying to reconstruct the original context. It can be difficult to get someone to consider the latter if they are attached to the former.

4. Missionaries are likely familiar with passages in Ephesians about how prophets and apostles are the living foundation of the Church. Jesus is the chief cornerstone. So in the sense of rocks/stones being used as a foundation, Catholics and Protestants are both right and the foundation rock refers to both Christ and apostles. Since both received revelation as spokesmen for God, the Mormon position is also insightful.

My survey of other non-Mormon scholars (Draper and Mathewson) develops these concepts even more. They use ancient Judeo-Christian texts to show the twelve apostles were associated with revelation (12 Urim and Thummim) stones, with restored temple worship (as stone temple pillars), and are princes and judges over Israel (symbolically gatekeepers). Only the LDS Church claims to have living apostles functioning in all these roles that I am aware of.

5. Another thing lost or at least greatly modified in content and presentation with the loss of apostles was a priestly gnosis or body of knowledge related to the temple and heavenly ascents.

Hugh Nibley had an interesting quip in Apostles and Bishops in Early Christianity (2005) p. 209:

“There are three periods in the history of the church,” writes Cyril, that of Christ, that of the apostles and”–we wait in eager anticipation for the successor in the leadership, but in vain–“those times which have passed since the apostles.” What a strange way to designate the third period of the church. It is as disappointing as Clement’s announcement that Christ gave the gnosis to Peter, James, and John; they passed it on “to the rest of the Twelve” and they in turn “passed it on to the Seventy.” Since the discussion is of the transmission of the key–the knowledge of the gospel–we wait for the next link in the chain, but there is none.

LDS scholars have different points of view on the evidential value of parallels between the modern temple endowment and reconstructions of the what the gnosis was.

6. Missionaries could benefit from awareness that in the New Testament, apostles are noted as the only deterrent from preventing false teachers from corrupting the Church from with in. I am thinking specifically about Acts 20:29, but the book Early Christians in Disarray has an appendix of New Testament passages on apostasy.

There is also a 4th century early Christian historian, named Eusebius, that confirms this and it is cited in a Nov. 1972 Ensign article :

Besides this, the same man, when relating the events of these times, adds that until then the Church had remained a pure and undefiled virgin, since those who attempted to corrupt the sound rule of the Saviour’s preaching, if any did exist, until then lurked somewhere in obscure darkness.
But when the sacred band of the Apostles had received an end of life in various ways, and that generation of those who were deemed worthy to hear the divine wisdom with their own ears had passed away, then the league of godless error took its beginnings because of the deceit of heretical teachers who, since none of the Apostles still remained, attempted henceforth barefacedly to proclaim in opposition to the preaching of truth the knowledge falsely so-called.’

7) The great commission to the apostles was to do missionary work Matt. 28:19-20. Yet their supposed successors, the Bishops, had been primarily stationary overseers over local congregations looking after temporal needs when an apostle was present and taking charge of meetings in limited way during an apostle’s absence. This difference between an apostle and a bishop is crucial in Hugh Nibley’s Apostles and Bishops in Early Christianity and in Catholic Francis Sullivan’s book.

I have some blogs on these items worth checking out: http://www.mormonandcatholic.org/apostles-and-bishops-in-early-christianity/
http://www.mormonandcatholic.org/ncr-on-apostolic-succession/ .

Another good resource is an Ensign article on early Christian bishops Polycarp, Clement, and Ignatius who did not regard themselves as having the authority the apostles had.

8. Apostasy is more correctly thought of as a mutiny than merely a falling away. Notice that local leaders reject John and refuse to accept his letters in 3 John 1:19. I suggest this example is indicative of a wider trend where wealthy local leaders began to resent traveling apostles and prophets supervising them. Local leaders abused tests to detect false prophets (and revelation) to reject true prophets as well. I cover this source of tension my blog primarily citing non-LDS scholar David Horrell.

Other explanations for the leadership transition between apostles and bishops also may have some merit. Variations across cultures and geography may make Horrell’s model less than fully applicable.

9) It is also clear in early Christian writings that Christians were also rebelling against the local leaders whom the apostles had appointed. John Tvedtnes has a good article covering this.

There is a risk of over-generalizing specific examples of rebellion (such as described in 1 Clement) and overstating evidence that apostles or their delegates were universally rejected.

10) It is also important to note that there were factions within the early church that didn’t like each other. Even the apostles sometimes didn’t get along very well. See John Welch’s chapter in Early Christians in Disarray.

In a blog I noted that Raymond Brown in Antioch and Rome and John Painter in Just James have created a categories of different factions regarding missionary policies. Brown speculates that the death of Peter and Paul in Rome under Nero was a conspiracy by envious Christians who disagreed with their policies.”


Bruce Chilton, Types of Authority in Formative Christianity and Judaism. London, UK: Routledge, (1999).

J. A. Draper, “The Apostles as Foundation Stones of the Heavenly Jerusalem and the Foundation of the Qumran Community” Neotestamentica 22 (1988).

David Mathewson, “A Note on the Foundation Stones in Revelation 21.14, 19-20″ JSNT 25.4 (2003) 487-498]

R. A. Campbell, “The Elders of the Jerusalem Church” Journal of Theological Studies 44 (1993). p. 517-518 also The Elders (1994) p. 162-3

Francis A. Sullivan, From Apostles to Bishops (2001)

David Horrell, “Leadership Patterns and the Development of Ideology in Early Christianity” Sociology of Religion v58 p. 323-41 Winter ‘97

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About Keller

I was a BYU baby while my parents finished up their advanced degrees in psychology. I have lived in some interesting places growing up: near the Lagoon at Layton; in an old polygamist house in Manti with an upper-story door that opened to the middle of a roof; in Rigby,Idaho, the self-proclaimed birthplace of television; then over to Sweet, a small town north of Boise near some fun river rapids; then for my high school years in Lund (named after a counselor in the First Presidency), Nevada; and full circle back to Utah County for college. Currently I work as an electrical engineering in the defense and space industry in Salt Lake City. I have served in a single's ward elder's quorum presidency and as a hymn book coordinator. I also served a mission in the Bible Belt (Oklahoma City) and to prepare I became an avid reader of FARMS publications. This has lead me to become a volunteer for FAIR as way of furthering my apologetic interests and helping those struggling with tough issues to find useful information. I have also started an interfaith blog to dialog with Catholics and practice "holy envy." I like blogging on historical topics and doing genealogical research.

29 thoughts on “A Missionary Guide to the Apostasy

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  2. You are welcome. I am glad that M* lets me post some of my ridiculously long entries even if they are not ideal to attracting a lot of discussion.

    If nothing else I hope this will help get reliable information into the hands of missionaries, investigators, and converts; so they don’t turn to some of the more sensationalistic stuff that gets passed around.

  3. Personally I would catergorize much of what is written here as sensationalistic stuff that gets passed around, and recommend that it not be distributed. In my opinion it relies on highly selective citations of scholarship and is aimed less at an understanding of early Christianity than in an apologetic move. While I agree with the basic premise about the diversity of early Christianity against naive claims to unbroken traditions, I am not convinced that we are quite grasping the significance of that fact.

  4. TT: “Personally I would catergorize much of what is written here as sensationalistic stuff that gets passed around,”

    I probably deserved this, since I was fishing for someone to turn the same criticism around on me that I used on some of the less than reliable missionary underground.

    I would love to discuss any specific examples of where I have been sensationalistic or overly selective. I recognize the great writing that goes on at FPR, and I would appreciate getting some feedback that addresses substance instead of just style. I concede that my apologetic style of writing isn’t appealing to everyone.

  5. I have been re-reading what I have wrote to see what could be regarded as sensationalistic. As near as I can tell, TT has objected in particular to my point about factions in the Church. I suppose my summary of Meier’s argument that Christians likely turned fellow Christians in to the secular government under duress might qualify as sensationalist.

    I do want to note that I cut out material from what I sent to the mission leader that gives further justification and context for that point. I quoted Welch making precisely the same point TT makes that calls for further study of factions their ramifications in the early church. I also quoted Meier at length.

    Since I have already introduced M* readers to this material in a couple of previous blogs here, I felt justified in allowing the links I posted to make these points.

    Although the above sounds like I am being defensive I am willing to cut out any material that is unduly sensationalistic. I am interested in creating the best missionary guide possible and I welcome constructive criticism.

  6. Here is how my point #10 originally read:

    10) It is also important to note that there were factions within the early church that didn’t like each other. Even the apostles sometimes didn’t get along very well. See John Welch’s chapter in Early Christians in Disarray ( http://mi.byu.edu/publications/books/?bookid=42&chapid=204 ). Couple this with Roman persecutions that killed off many of the apostles. In a blog ( http://www.millennialstar.org/the-apostolic-decree-and-missionary-work/ ) I wrote: “Raymond Brown in Antioch and Rome and John Painter in Just James have created a categories of different factions regarding missionary policies. Brown’s co-author, John Meier, goes as far as attributing the death of Peter and Paul in Rome under Nero as a conspiracy by envious Christians who disagreed with their policies.” Note that Brown and Meier are Catholic scholars. They write:

    Nevertheless, the implications in I Clement about the death of Peter and Paul indicate that all did not go smoothly at Rome for the two apostles, both of whom seem to have been in the capital in the early 60s. What they suffered is presented as an example of death because of “jealous zeal and envy.” If Peter and Paul died in the persecution instituted by Nero, then deduction from Tacitus, Annals 15:44, suggests that “jealous zeal and envy” refers to betrayal by their fellow Christians: “The first [Christians] seized who made a confession were convicted, and then upon their evidence a great multitude.” Matthew 24:10 shows that Christians did deliver up one another to authorities; and that “envy was sometimes the cause is clear from Phillip. 1:15-17 where Paul writes as a prisoner that “some preach Christ out of envy … thinking to bring affliction on me in my imprisonment.” (p. 124)

    Thus, there is impressive evidence that ultraconservative Christians criticized, propagandized against, and endangered Peter and Paul in the 40s and 50s, especially in Jerusalem. . . May not the Jewish Christians and their circumsized Gentile converts have considered themselves Christian Jews, and may not the “evidence” given to Roman authorities (Tacitus) have consisted in distinguishing between themselves and Gentile Christians who had converted to Jesus without circumcision? If such evidence, prompted by dislike (“jealous envy”) of the missionary policies of Peter and Paul, led to the death of the two apostles, one can understand why later Roman tradition would have glossed over the differences between the thought of the two men and have joined them together as “pillars” and even foundations of the Roman church. (p. 126)

    Compare that to what Mormon Jack Welch writes in the above Chapter:

    Thorough examination of the New Testament and other early Christian records remains to be conducted to identify instances in which early leaders sought occasion against each other, but even a casual acquaintance with these texts produces promising prospects. For example, the early brethren scattered, one going one way, another going a different way. The inclination has been to see these missionaries going out on assignment in good faith to spread the word to their own corners of the world, but perhaps something more is going on here. Perhaps they split up because they were not getting along. Evidence of such tension is close to the surface in 1 Corinthians 1:12, “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.” Concrete examples of disharmony can be sensed in the strong combative language used to describe the “no small dissension [staseos] and disputation [zeteseos]” that arose over the Gentile convert question (Acts 15:2), as well as in the disagreement between Barnabas and Paul over John Mark, where “the contention was so sharp [paroxusmos] between them, that they departed asunder one from the other” (Acts 15:39). The Greek words in these texts are strong words, strong enough to indicate not only verbal strife, discord, and controversy, but also provocation, irritation to the point of wrath, physical confrontation, and outright anger. While these contentions may have arisen over doctrinal debates and differences of theological opinion, the issue may have been or may have become more personal than intellectual. Polarization in a small, early religious movement can more easily occur at the personal level than at the institutional or theological level, because institutional group structures are still forming and the religion’s theological discourse has not yet matured to the point of clearly articulated theoretical positions.

  7. Keller, you’re a good sport. Sometimes critics criticize just to be snarky, and sometimes they have constructive things to add. I hope you can get some constructive comments.

  8. Keller,
    Thanks for your engagement on this issue, and I appreciate that you like FPR! I don’t think there is any value in going point-by-point, but I’d like to offer a few suggestions.
    1) Always be sure to include full citations. I know that this is potentially going out to missionaries, who don’t have access to check your sources, but I think you have a responsibility to provide them.
    2) There are many over-generalizations about early Christians. What is happening in one community, in one period of time, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the rule for all of early Christianity. Similarly, to look at periods of rupture in Mormonism doesn’t necessarily discredit the whole.
    3) We cannot argue that change is bad in itself. We change, we believe in change, and we consider change to be a sign of the truthfulness of the church. We can’t point to “changes” in the past as evidence of falsehood.
    4) There is just no historical evidence for some of these claims, including the idea of the loss of the temple endowment or the idea that Christians turned other Christians in to the Romans in the second and third centuries.
    5) The chain of apostles argument is used by all kinds of Christians who disagree with one another. It is not historical evidence that the author actually is in possession of this tradition.
    6) I think that we can justifiable point to the diversity of early Christianity in order to disrupt claims to a historic, orthodox, Christianity. Unfortunately, this narrative disrupts our own claims to an authoritative interpretation of early Christianity.
    Anyways, that’s all for now. I think that if you soften some of these claims, and caveat others for what they are actually evidence of (which does not include the truthfulness of Mormonism), I think that you can avoid some of the pitfalls of this document as it currently stands.

  9. Geoff B.,

    I am not sure whether your comment was directed toward TT, but if it was I think that it was unfair. It did not appear to me that TT was trying to be snarky at all. It seemed to me that she/he was pointing out a few problematic issues with the post. I don’t know Keller or what his/her qualifications are to produce and distribute material concerning early Christianity, its sources, and its treatment in modern scholarship, but I do know that TT is a legit voice in this area and not just some hack who has read a little Nibley on her/his mission. Just to be clear, I am not implying that Keller is such a hack! Rather, I am suggesting that Geoff’s counter-snark is off-base.

    As for the post and its intent, I am not convinced that missionaries’ general ignorance about the complexities of early Christianity can be remedied to the point where they can make cogent and persuasive arguments for the church’s version of the “Apostasy.” In fact I doubt that anyone, regardless of training or education, can honestly do this. I sometimes wonder what is more disingenuous, to appeal directly to the church’s constructed narrative of “Apostasy” or to cobble together what amounts to a patchwork of proof-texts from a few ancient and modern sources. These days I think that I prefer the former–it has a certain innocence to it for which I sometimes pine.

  10. Oudenos, my comment was not aimed specifically at TT. We get a fair number of drive-by snarkers at M* who love to leave critical comments and then move on without offering anything constructive. I was glad to see that TT did offer some interesting perspectives, and I hope Keller found them useful.

  11. Thank you Keller. I have never been able to come up with a good explanation for “the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it” You have removed one burden from my soul.

  12. TT, I can see where you are coming from now. I appreciate much of what you are pointing out. If this was a standalone piece than it would make sense to lengthen it and make sure whoever reads it encounters them upfront.
    With that said, I noted that the particular group of missionaries I was indirectly working with does have internet access. The article is mainly designed to point out where the best LDS-authored articles on priesthood aspects of the apostasy can be found on the net.
    On to your specific points.
    1. I could cut and paste the full citations into this article. However, such info is only a click away. For example, all authors I refer to in points 2 and 4 are quoted at length and full bibliographic info is given in the “FAIR Blog” link I gave in point 2.
    There is a trade-off to consider here. Readers are going to be less inclined to click on my links if I provide full annotation here. I want them to see some of the commentary made by myself or other LDS writers have made before cutting novice readers loose on non-Mormon scholarship.
    It is not my intent to carefully control non-Mormon scholarship by selective quotations or permanently shielding novices from viewpoints that pose significant challenges to Mormonisms. I recognize that my audience has a profound distrust of non-Mormon scholarship unless it has been praised or commented on by a fellow saint or even a GA. I am trying to ease the transition to where they might feel competent to evaluate non-Mormons like Sullivan, Brown, Draper, for themselves. If I was writing for a peer or academic audience I would not be as concerned about this.
    If you still think the article would be improved with proper footnotes, I will go ahead and put them in.
    2. Over generalizations about early Christianity. You might have to help identify these. I can see where my points 8 and 9 might be considered over-generalizations based on rather limited evidence I present in my summary. However both the Horrell article (which is on the net and is 2 clicks away and the Tvedtnes article (1 click)) provide evidence that these problems are not confined to, say, Ephesus. Horrell’s arguments are valid wherever the house church model of organization holds sway (which I suggest would have been widespread.) I would be thrilled if other LDS scholars took up the task of researching and explaining why there was a leadership transition between missionary (traveling) apostles and stationary, administratively oriented (stationary) bishops.
    With that said your point about geographical variations is well taken. Besides Antioch and Rome I have read a bunch of other regional studies (Jerusalem, Alexandria, Ephesus, Corinth, etc.). I am not aware of an LDS-authored summary of this literature, which was the main criteria for what I felt was appropriate to send missionaries and other novices to. An article or blog series that explores regional differences in leadership structure in the early church would be worth doing at some point, but not necessarily a high priority for me.
    3. I agree with you and I explore that point in some of my other blogs (especially in my mormonandcatholic introduction to Nibley’s Apostles and Bishops) I link to and made it a particular focus in a rough draft of my review of the same that I am doing for the Maxwell Institute. I will see about squeezing in some comments to this effect.

    4. Raymond Brown calls the evidence “impressive” for Christians turning others to Romans while you say there is “no” evidence. It would be helpful if you would engage Brown’s arguments and demonstrate why they are lacking. I am capable of being persuaded. If you need to see more of Brown’s case than what I have cited, I would be happy to email some scans I have somewhere of Antioch and Rome.

    As for the temple endowment, I was not making a big deal about that, letting my links to LDS scholars do the heavy lifting on that. To be clear, I do not think that the endowment existed in the same systematic form anciently as it does now. One can find parallels to various aspects of modern temple worship scattered throughout early Christian liturgy and in more modern sources as well. The significance of such parallels is somewhat in the eye of the beholder, although adopting a methodology to evaluate them can help.

    More significantly is what was said about the “gnosis” or secret knowledge that traditions have post-mortal Christ transmitting to the apostles, and they to the seventy and their sons. (Clement of Alexandria would later claim to have inherited it from Mark). The battle with gnostics in the late 2nd century was very much about whether Bishops like, say, Irenaeaus were in a better position to teach the true gnosis. I am especially channeling Nibley on these points, but I have found that many non-Mormon writers use the battle with gnostics and proto-gnostics as a central part of the story in how leadership structure developed in early Christianity. Robert Williams in his dissertation on Bishops’ Lists finds this conflict to be a major reason why succession lists of Bishops in major cities were drawn up in the first place.

    It would be negligent on my part to not introduce this set of issues to novices beginning their study of Mormon scholarly contributions on the apostasy as it relates to the priesthood. Your objection seems to me to be primarily to me to be a quibble about my anachronistic use of the word “endowment.” I am considering how I should revise my text on that point. I would be curious if you really have more substantial objections.

    5) I am not using the chain-of-apostles evidence to establish that the groups claiming to be the true heirs actually were. I tend to think the answer is none of the above after, say, the turn of the 1st century. I hope my point (4) in this comment clarifies my position on how to use this evidence. That there were multiple groups claiming a link to the apostles, reinforces my central argument, rather than detracting from it. Borrowed from Nibley’s Apostles and Bishops, that argument centers on the importance of apostolic prerogatives continuing and the failure of the successive leaders to measure up.
    I will concede that I did not do a great job explaining this in the blog post.
    7) I agree with your points whole heartedly on this account. My other blogs contain material to help my readers grasp that there are profound differences in the way the early Church (even in the apostolic era) was organized. Essays by Kevin Barney, Grant Underwood, and Blair Hodges on that aspect are two clicks away.
    I am interested in bringing more of these things into the foreground and adding more caveats and cautions that you have suggested (that we substantially agree on). I hope you will chime in more about points we have not yet reached a consensus on.

  13. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, was teaching mature Christians aspects of the temple ceremony as we know it virtually until he became co-opted to support the Fourth Century Creeds, which did away with esoteric ceremonies. In particular, his Lecture XXI has some interesting parallels:

    Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 21, in NPNF Series 2, 7:148-151 (see http://sacred-texts.com/chr/ecf/207/2070037.htm )

  14. R Biddulph’s comment and his linked blog pretty much demonstrate the methodological problems pointed out by TT.

    A plea: To all of you would-be apologists, please, please stop trying to prove 1) the church’s version of the “Apostasy” 2) ancient temple rituals mirroring the modern LDS endowment/rites for the dead 3) that our modern conception of priesthood existed and was transmitted as gnosis, secret traditions, or whatever else seems esoteric and 4) please stop relying on the outdated work of Nibley. Furthermore please cease assembling the same ancient texts as evidence, texts for which you are unequipped to handle in their historical context, in their rhetorical and generic setting, and in their original languages. Finally, please refrain from bringing these potentially personally edifying but ultimately amateurish apologetic efforts into the public sphere of the internet–share them with your spouse or keep them to yourself.

  15. No one,

    I appreciate your point that it takes special skills in languages and a broad understanding of historical and literary context, mastery of critical text reading methodologies, etc. to make a lasting contribution in the study of early Christianity. In those respects, I am indeed an amateur and as such there are some obvious limitations to what I write.

    I think you can sooner stop the Mississippi from flowing than to stop amateurs from studying up on various gospel related topics and posting them on blogs or discussing them beyond their family circles.

    My opinion is that it is better in the long run to help amateurs improve their writing and understanding rather than discourage them.

    For example, are they relying on out-dated Nibley? I suggest that it would be appropriate to refer them to literature that demonstrates which points Nibley is out-dated on, or refer them to a more recent treatment of the same subject that you consider more reliable.

    The best thing that LDS scholars can do is to produce better work than Nibley on the same texts and subjects. That will make literature survey/study guides like I have created much more useful (better literature to point to).

    There will always be a knowledge gap between those capable of producing cutting edge scholarship and the popular level understanding of Church members. I see myself as somewhat of a middle man. I am trying to help raise the bar on the popular understanding. It won’t do any good to burn all the copies of, say, the 17 Points, without trying to replace it with something more substantial.

    I am not trying to create a lasting, timeless proof of the apostasy or find a perfect solution to how to reconcile devotional narratives with historical data. Whether the apostasy occurred or not depends more on whether Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery are trustworthy witnesses in relaying the message given to them through divine means.

    I learn things line-upon-line. My previously held beliefs are like wheat and tares. New information helps me discern between the two, but I am not going to panic and burn the whole field at the first sign of trouble. I nurture my faith while seeking understanding, but that doesn’t mean that the outcome of any research I do will always conform to my preconceptions going in.

  16. Pingback: » The Apostasy and the Missionary Underground The Millennial Star

  17. That is good news!

    I added a new introduction before finding that out. I had to go back and put that quote back in so as not to confuse readers coming in from MT.

  18. keller:

    i am confident that you are not intentionally sensationalizing and i do not doubt that you have devoted significant time to study. also, your willingness to consider opposing points of view and to modify your own is heartening.

    still, like others, i get uncomfortable whenever the subject of the apostasy is broached, especially on the internet, and above all when the personal opinion of the author is liable to be taken as what ‘we’ believe or even as generally representative of lds doctrine. church membership is too extensive and diverse for anyone to able to describe accurately mormon belief about x,y, or z. and the prescription of church doctrine is a terrible responsibity.

    it’s best, i think, if we all just speak for ourselves. now, in your post you are making qualifications and recognizing disagreement, and that is good to see. but you also seem to me to be assuming a position of authority, for instance, when you say that missionaries should be aware of this, that, and the other. again, I get uncomfortable, because i belong to the same church you do and i wouldn’t want the missionaries teaching the apostasy to my friends and associates in this way, if at all.

    you want to help, genuinely so, and it is quite possible that you will help some people with this guide, but i would bet that they will mostly be people who already belong to the church, not investigators. i know of two families that the local missionaries were teaching within the last few months, in fact, who were quite off put by the exclusivity of the apostasy doctrine and concomitant claims to priesthood keys. is it really necessary to tell people that the belief systems and religious rites they are familiar with lack divine sanction? you might do that in an argument with a priest or pastor for purposes of self validation, i guess, but in terms of preselytizing i don’t see the benefit.

  19. Dear brother Keller, I read the comments and criticisms made about your article about the apostasy. My view is that the critics would be much more useful to the world if instead of criticizing, they presented new materials of equal quality or better than the theme which they wish to criticize.
    I am a convert in the Church. I consented to be baptized only after the missionaries explained to me that my previous baptism, although it was performed by immersion and at the age of responsibility, would not be valid because it was done without proper authority of the Priesthood.
    I am a returned missionary for 28 years. I taught people who were happy to know that the church in which they congregated was not true. They decided to be baptized in the true Church only after I teach them about the apostasy.
    I have known missionaries who taught pastors and clergymen of various denominations. I think every missionary can have that kind of opportunity. Therefore, I believe that all missionaries must have a thorough understanding of this and other importat subjects in order to be effective in proselytizing.
    I live in Brazil. I know at least three of the main leaders of this country were evangelical pastors. What would have happened to these people if the missionaries who taught them had refrained from teaching them clearly about apostasy?
    Finally, we believe that is the Holy Spirit who converts. We believe that through the Holy Spirit our missionaries teach. We know that through that same Spirit that proselyt persons are taught. Therefore, if the Holy Spirit constrain the missionary to teach about this or that subject, he should do so with feelings of love and without concern offending anyone.
    Christ said that their electeds will hear his voice and will follow Him. The Lord’s voice is the voice of His servants, including the voice of the missionaries. When they talk inspired by the Holy Spirit and with love, who have ears to hear, let him hear, and obey. If not, this is not one of the Lord.

  20. g. wesley,

    I think you are right that I come off as more authoritative than I “should.” Some of my terminology is an artifact of my original composition. I anticipated that the missionary leader I sent it to would endorse my statements with the phrase, primarily because they have scripture and Preach My Gospel backing. I don’t want to make it appear that I am demanding the same level of deference for my commentary, so I will do some editing.

    I occasionally have email correspondence with missionaries. I try to point them to literature that can help with their problem or write an original essay and then I leave it up to them what to use.

    You bring up a good point about the priesthood exclusivity concern. My list above would only be marginally helpful with that.

    In that respect the title of my post is too ambitious. Investigators will more frequently (and intensely) have concerns about a need for continuing revelation, about a merciful God withdrawing the priesthood despite many good Christians over the centuries, about a need for a special authority to perform ordinances, and why they might be required to be baptized again.

    Missionaries have to tailor their responses to the needs of their investigators. This post had its origins with a specific investigator (though I only had limited details) in mind. There is no one-size fits-all response. You are right that investigators (and members) need some wiggle room to come up with their own solutions, and know-it-all responses might rub the wrong way.

    Of course, I think internet posts about how to convert Mormons to some other denomination or how to stump missionaries are a little awkward. It might be better to write posts like this directly to an investigative audience.

    I agree that the apostasy is a particularly sensitive subject. It is the one area where criticisms are raised against other Churches. Let’s try to keep it constructive.

  21. i’m glad that the apostasy doctrine continues to work for you, elson. i think that it’s all too easy though to say that the reason people might not be receptive to it is because they are not the elect.

    you call on critics (whom i understand you to percieve entirely negatively) to produce something equal to or better than their object of scrutiny. and keller, you have issued more or less the same challenge (with a bit more diplomacy). right?

    part of the impasse, i think, is that the critic might not be of the opinion that it is at all possible to write a ‘better’ treatment of the apostasy than this particular one or the many others that have gone before it because the entire project is highly problematic.

    if it were possible, a first step towards such an ideal treatment would be a thorough self-reflective (if not critical) analysis of what lds leaders and authors have said about the apostasy from 1820 to the present. that’s where i would start anyway. it would be a massive undertaking that as far as i know has never been done.

    i am willing to speculate, however, that among other things the results of such an analysis would disconfirm the existence of any single apostasy doctrine even among lds leaders and authors (to say nothing of church membership as a whole), around which doctrine apologists might endeavor to construct a measure of historical plausibility.

    for instance, compare and contrast what preach my gospel has to say with one of joseph smith’s last recorded sermons. in preach my gospel, the reformers are presented rather possitively as “truth-seeking men and women” who “protested against current religious practices” and “recognized that many of the doctrines and ordinances of the gospel had been changed or lost.” catholics are never mentioned as such, but it is easy to see who was responsible for “the doctrines [that] were corrupted, and unauthorized changes [that] were made in church organization and priesthood ordinances” (p.35)

    a week and a half before his death, joseph smith seems to have taught something quite different, referring to protestants as “traitors” and “apostates,” explicitly associating/identifying his own detractors with them. “the character of the old churches have always been slandered by all apostates since the world began … any man who will betray the catholics will betray you; and if he will betray me, he will betray you” (i am quoting from teachings of the prophet joseph smith p.375).

    as i said before, the prescription of church doctrine is a terrible responsibility, and my point is not that the missionaries should be teaching the latter instead of the former nor is it to beat up on the compilers of preach my gospel (i don’t want their job). rather, it is to provide one example of how troublesome this project is even at the most basic level.

  22. g. wesley,

    I agree with you that a study of changing LDS views of the apostasy is worth additional study. Good quotes on Joseph Smith’s views on the apostasy.

    While I don’t know of a single article that covers his and subsequent views, it seems to me that there is already a good body of literature on the subject. The Underwood essay I link to explores the ramifications of Joseph’s sixth Article of Faith. Early Christians in Disarray has at least a couple of essays, one covering James Talmage’s reliance of the Protestant scholarship and another discussing how the message of the missionaries in the early 1830s did not emphasize the restoration of the priesthood keys. The Barney essay I link to explores the relationship of Campbell and Joseph’s restoration. Rigdon and the Pratts had a lot of input in constructing the apostasy narrative.

    We could throw in a bunch more scholars and authorities on the apostasy over time and we would continue to see what you saw with Joseph Smith, that is freedom to explore historical data and revise our positions and how we explain the apostasy. I do not see any value in having a static, detailed, coherent, authoritative (correlated) apostasy narrative.

  23. Members of the LDS church have been given a command by Jesus Christ [not a suggestion].

    1. Warn thy neighbor – “the gospel has been restored”
    2. Love thy neighbor as thy self
    3. This life is the time to prepare to meet God
    4. What I say to one I say to all
    5. When thou art converted strengthen thy brother
    6. Let the Holy Spirit convert – The Holy Spirit will bear witness to the truth of all things

    We definitely know that there were disagreements within the early-church before and after the death of Christ and there was a “falling away or an apostasy”.

    The same thing happened in the restored church [LDS] in this “The dispensation of the fullness of times” Even while Joseph was alive and after his death, there were fractures and there still are fractures today.

    Years ago there was a saying in the church, which went something like this
    “It is darn good that the church is true, if not so – the missionaries would have long ago destroyed it”

    The members & missionaries definitely need to be careful as to what they teach.

    We must teach the apostasy but as with all parts of the gospel – ask the person to pray about it with real intent and their prayers will be answered.

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