The Apostasy and the Missionary Underground

Apartments that have been rented out to missionaries for awhile often have scans of materials that are designed to help missionaries resolve concerns that may go beyond Preach My Gospel material or its precursors. Perhaps these items were put into circulation by a well-meaning mission president or originally obtained from a parent or ward member and then scanned and distributed widely.

Unfortunately there is little quality control on some of these items and often the most sensational pieces get the widest circulation in the missionary underground. As an example, one of my mission apartments had a copy of Floyd Weston’s 17 Points that creates a fictitious back story involving Albert Einstein. I would be interested in hearing some of the materials that readers have encountered.

I bring these things up because it has been brought to my attention that an item written by Hyrum Smith (an entrepreneur whom I seem to recall speaking at a U. Institute devotional in the mid-nineties) has been circulating. I haven’t seen the actual item, but it seems to pose an unsupportable account of Roman succession in the early Church entailing two Linuses. I have read a considerable amount of literature that reconstructs the transition of authority between the apostles and bishops in the early Church from a variety of Mormon, Catholic, and Protestant scholars and none have considered Linus a deacon or postulated multiple Linuses.

Some Catholic literature I have read by Francis Sullivan, Raymond Brown, and John P. Meier theorizes that in Rome and elsewhere there was a hybrid presbyter-bishop office (elder-bishop though Catholics tend to think of presbyters as the equivalent of a priest). Peter and Paul were in Rome about the same time, though Peter longer than Paul. Both died under Nero’s persecutions.

It is likely that Linus, Anticletus, Clement were all presbyter-bishops that served simultaneously under Peter along with others. The rise of a single bishop (monepiscopate) over a city (see) took much longer to develop depending on the geographical region. Clement wrote a letter to the Ephesians in about 95-96 AD encouraging them to follow the presbyter-bishops that had been appointed by apostles and “eminent men” designated by the apostles.

It is unfortunate that material like Hyrum Smith’s gets circulated in the missionary underground. If someone has a copy, I would be interested to see if it needs any further review. It is essential for missionaries and converts to understand what is taught in the Preach My Gospel curricula before venturing into the hotly contested history of early Christian apostolic succession. If I were to write something for circulation it would look like this.

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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.

14 thoughts on “The Apostasy and the Missionary Underground

  1. I never went on a mission, but I can tell you that missionaries in Brazil (where I lived for some time) were reading and circulating articles by Cleon Skousen. Some of Cleon Skousen’s stuff is OK, but other stuff is, well, not so great. It is worth pointing out that missionaries are told to read only certain things for a reason.

  2. Keller, one other thought: having spent a lot of time in Latin America, I have talked to several priests about the details regarding Peter’s supposed ascension as the “first bishop” and therefore first Pope. The Catholic claim of papal authority of course comes from this supposed ascension. Priests I talked to are very hazy on the actual details of how Peter passed that authority on to anybody else. It seems such a claim would be central to Catholic theology but most Catholics, even the priests, don’t seem to know much about it.

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  4. Maybe I’m remembering incorrectly, but the MTC used to sell collections of this kind of garbage in the bookstore. Missionaries would stock up before they let for the mission field. I’d find the collections laying around every flat I moved in to while I was in Australia.

  5. Geoff,

    I appreciate you pointing out your experience with Catholic priests. I think it is safe to say that all Catholics would agree with Sullivan and some of the other scholars I have cited.

    Sullivan saw a need to separate theological from historical arguments for succession from Peter. I will imagine that most Catholics encounter the theological stances first and become concerned about history later (if at all).

    I think a parallel can be drawn with what Mormons typically believe about modern prophetic succession before they become aware of some of the historical complexity and ambiguity. In our culture, we have a lot of reading earlier texts through an anachronistic lens and perhaps don’t think about our underlying assumptions until sufficiently challenged.

  6. During my mission I encountered:

    Cleon Skousen’s honor-is-power, intelligences stuff, which I thought was cool for a while.

    “Day of Defense,” a story in which two missionaries are on trial for something or other. I have a copy in Portuguese. Apparently it was made into a movie?

  7. Many years ago, missionaries in Scandinavia were circulating a talk given in Oslo by Elder Alvin R. Dyer which was, even at the time, bizarre. Among the many things it included were a now absurd reason for blacks not having the priesthood. I know that at least one mission president forbade his missionaries from using it under any circumstances.

  8. It’s been over 30 years, but the hottest item in my mission underground was the once-official tract “Which Church is Right?” authored by Mark E. Petersen. We were instructed not to use it, but every missionary had a copy squirreled away for use at the right moment.

    The Dyer talk was around, but not considered a hot item. Nobody would have dreamed of sharing it with nonmembers.

  9. I hated Day of Defense. I thought it was more harmful than good, doctrinally stupid, and most of the arguments by the missionaries had huge holes or even disagreed with prior arguments. As for 17 Points I knew a missionary who said he met the daughter of the guy the story is about. I still didn’t believe the story and didn’t think it was good for lessons.

  10. My mission (Pennsylvania Harrisburg, 1988–90) had the usual lot of multi-generation photocopies and audiocassettes floating around, including:

    * Mark E. Petersen’s letter to a Jehovah’s Witness on the problems of the New World Translation.

    * A talk tape of Floyd Weston telling the story of how the “17 points of the true church” got started.

    * A talk tape on the Dead Sea Scrolls and a lot of other ancient finds that were eerily proto-Mormon. (Don’t know who the speaker was.)

    My mission president played a talk tape at a zone conference with Cleon Skousen explaining why the Atonement was necessary. I think the original talk was given in the late 1970s to a group of missionaries in California.

  11. One of Brother Skousen’s daughters lived in my ward when I was a kid; she and her husband (Glenn Kimber, if anyone’s heard of him) were good friends with my parents for a few years. A few missionaries I knew were somewhat familiar with Skousen’s works, though not as many as I might have guessed before I entered the field.

    My list overlaps with several given here, plus a couple of others.

    There were the 17 points, the letter attributed to Mark E. Peterson that takes the New World Translation to task (and a follow-up supposedly written by Peterson, but written in an entirely different style), a talk Brother Dyer gave in Paris to some French and Dutch missionaries called “The Challenging, Testifying Missionary,” and lots of the little faith-promoting stories missionaries love passing around. Of special interest at the time (1998-2000, Y2K crazy season!) was a book by R.K. Young about the devastation that would precede the Second Coming, which had a lot of sensational stuff that really grab onto the young men. I would say the Truman Madsen lectures on Joseph Smith might fall into this category, too, though he seems to command more respect than BS.

    The missionary underground material I disagreed with the most was an open letter that apparently originated from an Australian missionary, outlining how to do “covenant proselyting.” Basically, you think of a result you want within a certain time frame–a number of lessons taught, or books placed, or baptisms to your credit. Then you tell the Lord, “I want X, and I promise to do Y and won’t stop working until I’ve done my part of the deal (expecting that the You will make X happen when Y is done).” It sounded too good to be true when I read it, and then our zone leader read it and tried getting all of us to try it out. It had passed up the line to the AP’s, who were the types willing to implement such a program mission-wide, when a timely letter from the Twelve came out, explaining that the Lord sets the terms of our covenants, not us. My current home teaching companion served a mission at the same time across the pond in upstate New York, and he had the same problems in his mission with covenant proselytizing.

    Our approved reading list consisted of the scriptures, the missionary classics collection, and whatever books could be ordered through the mission office (nothing mentioned above there!). I’ve been surprised to see that the missionary collection has changed somewhat in the past ten years, adding The Miracle of Forgiveness, and dropping A Marvelous Work and a Wonder and Talmage’s Articles of Faith. Elder Richards’ book was perfect for missionaries, so I wonder why it’s not on the official approved list anymore.

  12. A Marvelous Work and a Wonder isn’t well-sourced (or, actually, sourced at all), so I’m glad to hear it’s falling out of favor.

    I suspect The Miracle of Forgiveness will never die. I’m not a fan of it, and wish it would fade away, but, like Mormon Doctrine, I think it’s got too much “traction.”

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