Mormon Answers: Questions about the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ (Apostasy, Authority, Restoration)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claims that there was an ancient loss of truth and authority from the original Church of Jesus Christ which required the "Restoration" of the Gospel through the prophet Joseph Smith in modern times. These beliefs of apostasy and restoration raise many questions, some of which I attempt to answer here from my perspective as a member of the Church. This is one of several pages in my suite of "Mormon Answers (LDS FAQ)." This work is solely the responsibility of Jeff Lindsay and has not been officially endorsed by the Church.
To understand the basics of the Mormon concept of the Restoration, please read The Prophet Joseph Smith's Testimony.
For historical evidence for the Apostasy and the Restoration, see the online book Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity by Barry Bickmore (and see the archived version of his site on early Christianity and Mormonism).
Also see the collection of articles on the Apostasy at FAIRLDS.org and the Apostasy and Restoration resources at FAIRMormon.org.
"How do LDS [people] believe that the original gospel was messed up so bad that it needed restoration? There are literally thousands of manuscripts that have been seen and translated by more than 8 people that stand the test of time...."
It might be helpful to first survey the Biblical evidence for an apostasy. See, for example, "Biblical Evidences of an Apostasy" by Michael W. Hickenbotham (FAIRLDS.org).
The LDS view on the need for a restoration is explained in "The Restoration of Major Doctrines through Joseph Smith: Priesthood, the Word of God, and the Temple" by Donald Q. Cannon, Larry E. Dahl, and John W. Welch (Ensign, Feb. 1987, available at LDS.org). In addition, I provide further information in the next section below, How could God let His church perish?.
The fullness of the restored Gospel includes baptism by immersion (Romans 6), the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands (Heb. 6:1-2), modern prophets and apostles (Ephesians 2:18-20; 4:11-14), priesthood authority from God (Heb. 5:8,9), and so forth. A discussion of how these things were lost is provided in useful on-line articles on the Apostasy in general and on the loss of truth and authority for baptism in specific.
It is not the documents that were lost, but it was the loss of priesthood power, whose keys were to be held by the 12 Apostles. Further, the obvious loss of the original Church organization, the loss of key ordinances (e.g., giving the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands), the loss of apostles and other priesthood offices, and the reign of civil authority in the remaining shell of the original Church are all signs that the prophesied falling away occurred (2 Thess. 2:1-3) and that a restitution was necessary (Acts 3:19-21).
One of many signs that an apostasy had occurred was the emergence of Mary as Mediatrix - the mediator between God and man - to whom prayers were directed. Likewise, other saints became viewed as mediators and prayers were directed to (or through) them. There is none of this in the earliest Christian writings. One can read every page of the writings of the Apostolic Fathers - the earliest writings of Church leaders outside the New Testament, leaders who were familiar with the apostolic traditions from the New Testament Church - and find Mary mentioned only a couple times by Ignatius, who simply affirms what the New Testament teaches, that she was the mother of Christ and a virgin at the birth of Christ. There is no hint of her preeminence, of her role as a mediator, or her perpetual virginity, etc. The early Christian writers affirmed that man should approach God directly through Christ as the mediator. (See The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd ed., translated by J.B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer, ed. and rev. by M.W. Holmes, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1989.)
The influence of Greek philosophy played an important role in the apostasy, leading to much doctrinal loss. Serious problems were fueled by the struggle of educated men to make Christianity seem more acceptable to the intellectual community of the day - a community steeped in the teachings of Plato and other Greek philosophers, to whom the idea of a tangible God with a material body was repugnant. With the loss of revelation, committees of men debated and redefined doctrines, resulting in the post-Biblical creeds that give us the modern Trinity concept of a God without body, parts, or passions, an incomprehensible, almost abstract, "wholly other" Being with three persons of one substance.
Shortly after the loss of the Apostles, the Christian leader Tertullian seemed to have recognized the apostate threat of Greek philosophical influences on the Church. He said, "Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition!" ("On Prescription Against Heretics," Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 3, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, 1885; reprint, Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 1994, as cited by L. Midgley, FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 11, No. 1, 1999, p. 31). Another of Tertullian's comments seems to apply well to the gulf between the Hellenized metaphysics of the creeds and the approach of early Christianity:
"What is there, then, about them that is alike, the philosopher and the Christian - the disciple of Hellas and the disciple of Heaven - the dealer in reputation and the dealer in salvation - one occupied with words and one with deeds - one creator of error and its destroyer - friend of error and its foe - the despoiler of truth and its restorer - its robber and warden?" (Tertullian, Apology, 46.18, as cited by Midgley, p. 31).
Interestingly, many of our most vocal critics condemn us for not sharing the "right" Trinitarian philosophies about God, and for teaching the importance of deeds. They seem to put an emphasis on words and metaphysics, while early and restored Christianity are rooted in deeds and behavior. If you reject this thought, take a few minutes and read the Sermon on the Mount. Compare that to the modern doctrines of the Trinity, of salvation apart from works, of irresistible grace, original guilt, and other philosophical views that are miles away from the focus of Christ's teachings but close cousins to Greek philosophy. Tertullian was right to be worried. Human philosophy contributed to the spoiling of early Christianity, and continues to be antagonistic to the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Tertullian's concerns about the influence of philosophy were justified. For example, Augustine, the father of so much of the doctrinal framework of both Protestant and Roman Catholic theology, seems to have considered himself a philosopher. He placed little emphasis on revealed truth but much on "natural philosophy," which "turns out to be what philosophers, and specifically what he, believed were Plato's views concerning divine things.... Augustine argued that Plato ... provided a necessary intellectual grounding for a mature Christian faith" (Midgley, p.37). Many of his teachings find little support in the Bible, but are the result of wresting the scriptures to comply with the demands of human philosophy. This becomes painfully apparent, for example, in considering his views on original sin and the guilt of infants, or in the relationship between faith, works, and salvation (see, for example, Faith, Grace, and Works: the Biblical LDS Position or Adam and the Fall of Man).
That Augustine is the source of much modern theology is a point that many non-LDS scholars recognize. Even some evangelical writers have stated as much, in spite of the popular evangelical assumption that their theology comes straight from the Bible. It may come largely from the Bible, but the framework for understanding and interpreting the Bible is one that has been developed over many centuries, and the father of much of that framework is Augustine. Thus, the evangelical writers Norman L. Geisler and Ralph E. MacKenzie in Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1995, p. 431, as cited by Midgley, p. 65) declare that Augustinianism "was the major soteriological framework that informed Western Christianity. Both Roman Catholics an Protestants are indebted to the Bishop of Hippo [Augustine]." Further, they state that "both Catholics and orthodox [evangelical?] Protestants have a common creedal and Augustinian doctrinal background. Both groups accept the creeds and confession and councils of the Christian church of the first five centuries. Both claim Augustine as a mentor" (Geisler and MacKenzie, p. 17, as cited by Midgley, pp. 65-66).
Eastern Orthodox writers have also made this point, though without the favorable implications that Geisler and MacKenzie ascribe to the framework of Augustine. In fact, Eastern Orthodox writers, who are less indebted to Augustine (but still not free from the influences of Greek philosophy on the post-Apostolic Church), have expressed great discomfort with Augustine's doctrines, particularly the doctrine of original sin, seeing it as misanthropic in the condemnation of infants as vile sinners (see Seth Farber, "The Reign of Augustine," The Christian Activist: A Journal of Orthodox Opinion, Vol. 13, Winter/Spring 1999, pp. 40-45,56; also see my page, Adam and the Fall of Man).
Protestants often feel that their doctrines come straight from the Bible, even when many core doctrines are set in language borrowed from philosophers, not the Bible. Doctrines such as the Trinity, original sin, salvation by grace alone, and others are not found taught in the Bible - certainly not in the language and forms used to describe these doctrines, language which, ironically, is used as a litmus test to determine who is a true Christian and who is not. Personally, I share Tertullian's prescient discomfort with Christianity mixed with philosophy, and its emphasis on words rather than deeds. The test of faith for true Christians should not be acceptance of the metaphysical formulations of a combative post-Biblical committee of philosophers - but faith in Jesus Christ, expressed in part by deeds based on His teachings.
The issue is not that Christ failed - as many think an apostasy would imply - but that God allows men to choose freely, even if they choose to fail, to reject Him, and to choose darkness over light. Christ knew and taught that the purity of the Gospel and the church He established would continue for a time, but that there was darkness ahead due to the corruption of man and the attacks of the adversary. Hugh Nibley (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol. 4, Ch.6) summarizes these New Testament teachings as the "Three Acts of the Drama:" 1) the Lord comes and begins His work, 2) villains and impostors take over and rule, 3) the Lord returns in power and fixes everything.
Consider the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. In Act One (using Nibley's term), Christ likens Himself "unto a man which sowed good seed in his field" (Matthew 13:24, 37), where the field is the world (Matt. 13:38). Now Act Two: "But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat" (Matt. 13:25), and "when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also" - weeds (Matt, 13:26). The corrupted field is the world, in which the "children of the kingdom" have not yet been gathered (Matt. 13:27-30). So it goes until Act Three, the harvest, the end of the world (Matthew 13:39), when the wheat is gathered out of the world and "into my barn" (Matthew 13:30). Nibley notes that "a gathering out" is the meaning of the Greek term "ekklesia," normally translated as "church" (CWHN, Vol. 4, Ch.6, Pg.266 - Pg.267). The triumph of the Church happens only at the end, when the Lord overcomes what Satan had done to the original work.
We see the same pattern in the parable of the vineyard (Luke 20:13; Matthew 21:37). The vineyard of the Father - His work - has fallen into the hands of wicked men, who reject messengers from the Father and kill His son. They have power over the vineyard until the Lord comes to destroy the impostors and give it to His chosen servants (Luke 20:16).
Now the Lord knew what would happen to Him and to His followers, that there would be persecution and death. He knew that men would reject Him and not listen to his testimony (John 3:11,32; John 6:36; John 7:5; John 14:17). In Luke 17:25, He said that before His second coming, He would "be rejected of this generation." In Matt. 17:12, He says He will suffer persecution just as John the Baptist did. In Matt. 11:12, He says "from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force."
Daniel likewise saw in a future time that the forces of Satan "made war with the saints, and prevailed against them" (Dan. 7:21). (Note that "saints" is the New Testament term for members of the Church of Christ - see Romans 1:7) This was Act Two, but Daniel also saw that there would be an Act Three, a restoration, brought about by miraculous means: "Until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the most High, and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom" (Dan. 7:22). The saints of the restored church would again suffer persecution (Dan. 7:25), but the saints in the new dispensation would triumph in the end (Dan. 7:26; see also Dan. 2:44). Following the prophecy of Daniel chapter 2, in which Daniel saw a great statue representing kingdoms of the world, the restored Church of Christ is the stone cut without hands (Dan. 2:35) that would come into the earth at a time subsequent to kingdoms of Babylon (head of gold), the Medes and the Persians (the silver arms and chest), the Greeks (belly of brass), the Roman Empire (legs of iron), and the multiple powers of Europe (the latter being the feet of mixed iron and clay in the great statue that Daniel saw, divided kingdoms from the remnants of the "iron" Roman Empire).
In the discussion above, we read of war against the saints prevailing (Dan. 7:21), of the kingdom of heaven being taken by force (Matt. 11:12), and of Christ being rejected. Does this mean that God is weak and has failed? No - it is mankind who has failed, and God will not force us to change and believe. It is His intent that we be given the freedom to accept Him or to reject Him and His Son. If we refuse Him, He will not force us to do otherwise. Listen to Christ's prophetic words to Jerusalem (Matt. 23:37-39):
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
"Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.
For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord."
He allows us to freely follow or reject Him, but there will be subsequent judgment (John 9:39; John 5:22; John 12:47-48) - judgment at the last day. Christ's purpose was not to convince men no matter what, or to ensure that His Church persisted unchanged and untarnished no matter what. Among the many missions He fulfilled as Son of God, He came as a witness, to give us a chance to accept or reject, so that there might be grounds for a fair judgment. Only judgment, not conversion, is guaranteed for mankind.
Christ came, as part of Act One, bearing witness and teaching the truth. He did not say that the Church would continue and prosper (I discuss the one apparent exception, Matt. 16:16-18, below). Indeed, His warnings are dire. For example, he warned that there would be many coming, claiming to be of Christ, but they would be impostors.
Echoing the prophecy in Daniel 7:21, John saw that Satan and his servants would have power to "make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations" (Rev. 13:7). Now many would teach and preach of Christ during the following centuries, but teaching the doctrines of men and committees, making their worship, in a sense, "in vain" (Matt. 15:9). Many would seem to do many great works for Christ, but would be rejected at the day of judgment because Christ did not "know" them - had not covenanted with and authorized them (Matt. 7:20-21). There would be many proclaiming Christ, but those truly seeking Christ during the future days of trouble and darkness (Act 2 of the drama) are told not to follow them (Matt. 24:23-24; see also Luke 21:8).
"It is true, the real church is going to be there for a time, but the story is one of constantly deepening gloom until, to use Polycarp's famous phrase, after the apostles 'the light went out.'"
From Nibley (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol.4, Mormonism and Early Christianity, Ch.6, Pg.272
Of the coming time of darkness, Christ said:
I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.
As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world (John 9:4-5; see also John 12:35-36).
The work of the Church would end until the time of restoration, though many churches would remain claiming to be from Christ. The apostles he had authorized would continue a while - trying to maintain their group of 12 intact, ordaining others such as Matthias (Acts 1:15-26) and later others such as Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:14; Gal. 1:1; 1 Tim. 2:7), for the apostles were to be critical for the organization and preservation of the Church (Eph. 2:18-20; Eph. 4:11-14). Alas, Christ and the apostles knew what was to happen: they would be rejected, hated of all men (Luke 21:17), persecuted, and killed (John 15:18-20; Luke 11:49; 1 Cor. 4:9; Luke 21:16,17; Matt. 24:9,13).
Yet in spite of the gloom facing them, they could rejoice and speak of victory. This was not the victory of a Church that would continue triumphantly - already Paul was seeing large portions of the Church fall away from the truth (Gal. 1:6; Gal. 3:1; Titus 1:16) and turn away from him (2 Tim. 1:15; 2 Tim. 4:16). He saw that things were going to get worse after his departure (Acts 20:29). Then where is the victory? The victory comes with Act Three - the final triumph of Christ over all his enemies and impostors and evildoers, and the salvation and exaltation of those who suffered for Christ (Romans 8:14-19). At the last day, there would be a crown for Paul and others whose names were written in heaven (2 Tim. 4:8; Luke 10:20).
There were no expectations among the early saints that the church would be victorious. They all knew that they faced great distress and persecution (2 Cor. 6:4-5; Acts 14:22) in what was to be a last stand - enduring to the end of their lives - against the forces of evil.
While the true disciples would be killed, the masses would be lead by false prophets and false teachers that would corrupt the truth and bring the remnants of the church into apostasy. For example, 2 Tim. 4:3-4 refers to the turning of men away from the truth and toward fables and false doctrines. Paul is concerned about his followers, who will be devoured by "grievous wolves" that will not spare the flock (Acts. 20:29-31) - these wolves are false teachers who pervert ("speaking perverse things") - not necessarily deny - the Gospel of Christ. The attack would be successful! See also Gal 4:11, Gal. 4:20; 2 Cor. 1:11-14.
If the true church was lost, then it must be restored again as part of Act Three. Indeed, Acts 3:19-21 prophesies of the "times of refreshing" that shall come - not from human reformers - but "from the presence of the Lord." These are the "times of the restitution of all things." Paul, looking forward to the return of the Lord (the Third Act), noted in 2 Thess. 2:1-3,11, that this would not occur until after the great apostasy (the "falling away"). The threat of perversion of the doctrines is mentioned over and over in the New Testament (1 Cor. 11:18; Gal. 1:6; Gal. 3:11; 1 Tim. 1:6; 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 2:18; 2 Tim. 3:1-7; 2 Tim. 4:3-4; 2 Pet. 2:1; 2 Pet. 3:17). One problem in particular was false teachers and prophets (1 John 4:1; Rev. 2:2; Acts. 20:29-30). The eventual result of spiritual apostasy and the killing of the authorized apostles would be as Isaiah prophesied (Isaiah 24:5): "The earth is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant."
What was lost? Among the many casualties was the organization of the Church, led by apostles and prophets through prophecy and revelation (Mark 3:14; Luke 9:1-2; John 15:16; Matt. 16:16-18; Eph. 4:11-14), with other divinely authorized priesthood offices in the church (Eph. 2:20; Eph. 4:11-14) which require proper ordination by those holding authority from God (Heb. 5:4-6; 2 Cor. 10:7-8; Luke 9:1-2; Exo. 40:15; Numbers 27:18-23). Also corrupted were ordinances such as baptism by immersion of those who had repented and chosen to follow Christ - not the heresy of infant baptism (Matt. 3:16; Acts 2:47,48; John 3:5; Acts 8:38); also the bestowing of the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands (Acts 8:17; Acts 19:2-6) and the healing of the sick by the laying on of hands (Acts 14:23; James 5:14,15). The role and meaning of the Temple was lost, which was important to Christ and to the early saints long after Christ had ascended to heaven (Matt. 21:12-13; Matt. 23:21; Acts. 2:46; Luke 24:53; Acts. 5:42; Acts. 21:20-26) and which was prophesied to be important in the last days, during the time of gathering (Isaiah 2:2-4) and in the Millennium (Rev. 7:15; see also Malachi 3:1). Many doctrines would be lost or corrupted, such as the opportunity for redemption of those who never had the opportunity to hear of Christ (1 Peter 3:18,19; 1 Peter 4:6) and the associated work of baptism for the dead (1 Cor. 15:29) - all of which have been restored in these last days.
There are two somewhat different ways to answer this question. The first way is quick and easy, while the second delves into the meaning of the cited scripture.
Short answer: Did death (the word "hell" referred to here is really the Greek word Hades) prevail over Jesus Christ? Of course not. He triumphed over death. But He DID die - yet returned to life, an immortal, glorious, resurrected Being. If Christ, against whom the gates of death did not prevail, could die, then is it not possible that His Church could also die - and later be brought back to life (restored)?
Longer answer:My answer presupposes that you have read the discussion above, which shows the LDS view that Christ and the New Testament writers knew of the coming decay of the church and the need for its eventual restoration. With that background, let's take a look at the passage in question from Matthew 16, verses 15-18:
15. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
16. And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
17. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my father which is in heaven.
18. And I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
19. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
What is meant by the phrase, "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it"? It is also important to note that the word used for "hell" in Matt. 16 is Hades, which refers to the habitation of the dead. The victory of the Church over Hades need not refer to victory in this life and on this earth, but victory after death: those who follow Christ and accept his Gospel will escape the bands of spiritual death, being freed from any claim Hades might have on them thanks to the atoning blood of Christ.
It is also important to consider what the rock is that Christ mentions. The rock (Greek "petra" = bedrock) is probably not Peter himself ("petros" = small rock)- but the rock of revelation from God (or, similarly, the rock of Christ himself), for in verse 17 Christ just referred to the principle of revelation from the Father to Peter, which had enabled Peter to know that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. In my view, the foundation - the key principle - of Christ's church on earth was not to be a man or the wisdom of men, but was to be revelation through his selected apostles and prophets (who, of course, received their authority and the keys of the kingdom from Christ). In fact, the church's "foundation of the apostles and prophets," with Christ the chief cornerstone, is mentioned in Ephesians 2:18-20, and the role of apostles and prophets in guiding the Church via revelation from Christ is emphasized in Ephesians 4: 11-14.
The eminent Bible scholar, Alfred Edersheim, after showing how terms related to "Petros" and "Petra" were used in Rabbinic literature, made this comment on Christ's statement to Peter:
Believing that Jesus spoke to Peter in Aramaic, we can now understand how the words Petros and Petra would be purposely used by Christ to mark the difference, which their choice would suggest. Perhaps it might be expressed in this somewhat clumsy paraphrase: "Thou art Peter (Petros) - a Stone or Rock - and upon this Petra - the Rock, the Petrine - will I found my Church." If, therefore, we would not entirely limit the reference to the words of Peter's confession, we would certainly apply them to that which was the Petrine in Peter: the heaven-given faith which manifested itself in his confession.
(Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Hendrickson Publ., Peabody, Mass., 1993, p. 531 - a book which I highly recommend!)
In my view, the critical "Petrine" element upon which Christ would build His Church was the principle of revelation, which was the source of Peter's confession. Indeed, for anyone to truly know and confess that Jesus is the Christ requires revelation through the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 12:3), and "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (Revelation 19:10).
With this background, I cite some LDS commentary from Bruce R. McConkie, in A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, Pg.489:
Thus revelation -- personal revelation -- is the rock foundation upon which the church and kingdom of God is built. After Peter had borne witness that our blessed Lord was "the son of the living God," Jesus commended and blessed the Chief Apostle and said: "Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven," by the power of the Holy Ghost. Peter at that very moment had received personal revelation. "And upon this rock" -- the rock of revelation -- "I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it," Jesus said. (Matthew 16:16-18.) Every member of the Church must stand where Peter stood and receive the same personal revelation that came to him; and as long as such is the case in the church and kingdom on earth, the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Lord's people. It is only when they lose their testimonies and no longer are in tune with the promptings of the Holy Spirit that Satan takes over and apostasy and evil prevail.
Here is another passage from Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Vol.1, Pg.388 - Pg.389:
...as long as the saints are living in righteousness so as to receive revelation from heaven, they will avoid the gates of hell and the Church itself will remain pure, undefiled, and secure against every evil. But when, because of iniquity, revelation ceases, then the gates of hell prevail against the people and also against the organization of which they are members.
Other commentators also note that the principle of divine revelation is a sure foundation that cannot be thwarted by Satan - he cannot falsify what God reveals - but men, through their wickedness, can put a stop to revelation, as happened several times in Biblical history. God will not force us to listen or to respect his messengers.
After Christ, the time did come when, by the choice of those who rejected the truth and killed the apostles and corrupted the true doctrine, that revelation ceased. This required an eventual restitution of all things, including the rock of continuous revelation from Christ to His chosen apostles and prophets. This restoration commenced with Joseph Smith, who was directed and given divine authority to restore the Church and its original organization, built on the cornerstone of Christ with a foundation of apostles and prophets - the rock of revelation, against which Satan cannot prevail.
Right after Matt 16:16-18, Christ begins speaking of the persecution to come, referring to His own death (v. 17) and of the need for his followers to be ready to lose their lives (v. 25). A glorious triumph of the early church is not promised, but the glory comes in Act Three when Christ returns gloriously (the Second Coming) "to reward every man according to his works" (v. 27).
In my view, the prophecies of apostasy and restoration, coupled with the historic loss of much that the early church had (apostles, revelation, many teachings and ordinances) demonstrates that Christ was not saying that the church per se would continue and remain unsullied.
A final comment from Hugh Nibley may further clarify this issue ("Baptism for the Dead in Ancient Times," in Mormonism and Early Christianity, ed. by Todd M. Compton and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1987), pp. 107-108):
Those who fondly suppose that "the gates of hell shall not prevail" is a guarantee of the security of the church on this earth are inventing a doctrine diametrically opposed to the belief of the early church. If there was one point on which the primitive Saints and their Jewish contemporaries saw eye to eye, it was the belief that Satan is "the prince of this world," nay, "the god of this world." [2 Cor. 4:4] It is here that men are under his power, and here that he overcomes the kingdom of God by violence. "The days are evil," says the Epistle of "Barnabas," "and Satan possesses the power of this world." Beyond this earth his power does not extend: Jehovah alone rules in the spirit world, according to the Jewish doctrine, and his angels stand guard over the wicked ones. It is on this earth that the devil is to be conquered and his power finally broken -- he has no other stronghold to which to flee. ... When he goes to hell, it will not be in triumph, but to be bound and imprisoned there. His bonds are the "snares and deceptions" that "bind the flesh of men with lust," and which will be meaningless after the judgment, when none may enjoy the prerogative of being deceived. When the devil rules hereafter it will be only over those "sons of perdition" who willingly follow his example.
The medieval idea that the devil is the proper ruler of the dead is a borrowing from obvious pagan source, popular and literary. In the earliest versions of what eventually became the medieval Easter drama, the Harrowing of Hell, Satan and Death appear as rulers of different spheres: in the dialogue between them Death begs Satan to retain Christ in his realm, which is the earth, so that he might not descend and cause havoc in the underworld. This idea appears in the very old pseudo-gospel of Nicodemus, wherein Satan, boasting that he has overcome Christ on earth, asks Death to make sure that the Lord's mission is likewise frustrated in his kingdom below. No less a scholar than Harnack after prolonged searching declares that he knows of no passage in which "the Gates of Hell" signifies the realm of Satan, or is used to refer to the devil himself or to his hosts [Harnack, "Der Spruch uber Petrus als den Felsen der Kirche," 638-39.].
"The gates of hell," then, does not refer to the devil at all; though his snares and wiles might lead men sooner or later to their death, delivering them "to the destruction of the flesh" (1 Cor. 5:5, Luke 13:16); his power ends there. The gates of hell are the gates of hell -- the "holding back" of those who are in the spirit world from attaining the object of their desire.
In Matthew 28:20, the Greek has Jesus saying that he will be with the church until the end of the "aion" -- which means "eon," "epoch," "age," or "period." We believe that Jesus was with His Church until the end of that dispensation. Then came the apostasy. But for those who follow Him in any age, He is always there. However, there are times when the truth is not found on earth - or when authorized prophets and apostles are absent. Such a time was predicted in Amos 8:11,12, referring to a coming age in which there will be a famine of truth. Fits the dark age of the Apostasy very well! That's why there had to be a time of refreshing (Acts 3:19), to bring again that which was lost.
Remember, Christ is always with His followers, but that does not mean that they are always with Him. It was the rejection of Christ and His gospel in favor of worldly doctrines and practices that resulted in the Apostasy - this was not caused by Christ withdrawing from us, but the other way around. The scriptures also prophesy of the Apostasy and the Restoration - and he continues to be with His followers.
Latter-day Saints believe that the original Church of Jesus Christ had to be restored by Christ - not just reformed by men. In our view, the reason why a restoration was needed (Acts 3:19) is that a falling away, or apostasy, had occurred (2 Thess. 2:1-3) in which priesthood authority, prophets and apostles, and many important truths had been lost from the original Church. This view is not a good way to win popularity contests, of course, since it implies that something is wrong with the various other churches in the world. This does not mean that other Christians and Christian churches are evil, but they may be said to be incomplete without the fullness of the Gospel which has been restored. We reject parts of the popular creeds that were hammered out by men long after the time of the apostles, but we respect our fellow Christians and recognize that many of them have accepted Christ and strive to follow the teachings of Christ. We are not "better" than them, but we have something precious to share. We hope that our fellow Christians - and all people - might welcome the sacred record of Christ's dealings with "other sheep" (John 10:16) in the Americas, as recorded in the Book of Mormon; we hope that they might accept an authorized baptism into the organization that Christ has personally restored; and we hope that they might hear Christ's voice today through his appointed, authorized, living prophets and apostles, whose messages offer much needed guidance to help us strengthen our families and live according to God's will. If they reject what we have to share, we still accept our fellow Christians - and people of good will everywhere - as our brothers and sisters, hoping to work together to strengthen our communities and our families. Our message is about coming unto Christ - not condemning others who don't share our beliefs.
Many fine Christians throughout history have realized that an apostasy from the original church had occurred. Martin Luther's goal was not to make a new church, but to help bring back the original Church of Christ, which he felt had not been preserved under Roman Catholicism. He said:
I do not say that I am a prophet. I simply say that they will have to be afraid ofthis as long as they scorn me and heed themselves.... If I am not a prophet I am at least sure of this, that the word of God is with me, and not with them, for I have the Scriptures on my side while they have only their own teachings. ... But do I not preach a new doctrine? No. I simply say that Christianity has ceased to exist among those who should have preserved it--the bishops and scholars.
--John M. Todd, Martin Luther: A Biographical Study (Newman Press, 1964), p. 188 (ellipses are original), as cited by Kevin Barney, "Did Luther Think He Lived Duriing a Time of Apostasy?," FAIRLDS.org (archived from 2005) and as cited by Gary P. Gillum in "'Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee': Understanding the Christ of the Restoration and the Reformation," in Revelation, Reason, and Faith: Essays in Honor of Truman G. Madsen edited by Daniel C. Peterson, Donald W. Parry, and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo, Utah: FARNS, 2002). See the article by Barney to debunk a distorted quotation from Luther that many LDS people had quoted, bsaed on a 1930 brochure. I also previously and errantly misquoted Luther here. Mea culpa.
Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island, was an Anglican who later founded the Baptist church in America. Williams believed that divinely-given authority to men to act in the name of God (which we call the priesthood) had been lost from the earth. He looked forward to a time when Christ would send "new apostles to recover and restore all the ordinances and churches of Christ out of the ruins of antichristian apostasy." (See John Catton, A Reply to Mr. Williams ..., ed. J. Lewis Diman, in Complete Writings, 2:14, 50, cited by Donald Skaggs, Roger Williams' Dream for America, Peter Lang Publ., NY, 1993, p. 43; as cited by R. I. Winwood, Take Heed That Ye Be Not Deceived, R.I. Winwood, SLC, UT, 1995, p. 12)
John Wesley also bemoaned the loss of the spiritual gifts (manifestations of the Holy Ghost) in the early church after two or three centuries. He noted that reports of such gifts became especially rare after the Constantine became a Christian. He wrote that the Christians "had only a dead form left" without the original and extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost that were found in the original Church (Sermon 89 in The Works of John Wesley, Sermons 71-114, ed. A.C. Outler, Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1986, 3:263-264, as cited by Winwood, pp. 12-13).
Numerous other reformers felt that much had been lost or corrupted over the centuries, so they struggled to bring the Church back on course through reform. Their work (and the many churches that resulted from their work) is evidence that they felt some degree of apostasy had occurred. These valiant efforts are commendable and many may have been truly inspired, but the loss of priesthood authority and divine keys cannot be repaired through reform. (Remember what Christ said about putting new wine in old bottles.) If divine authority and power has been lost through corruption and apostasy, human intervention won't bring it back. Restoration was required, and divine messengers with authority from God were needed to bring back those keys. The keys of priesthood authority (including the power to baptize and perform other ordinances) were restored and conferred upon Joseph Smith and others when God sent John the Baptist, and later Peter, James, and John, as angelic beings commissioned to give Joseph Smith those keys according to the ancient Biblical pattern, by the laying on of hands. The details of these monumental events are given in the Prophet Joseph Smith's Testimony.
For further examples of non-LDS people who have recognized the reality of an apostasy, see the FAIRLDS.org article, "Apostasy Recognized By Reformationists." For excellent information on the nature of the apostasy, see the multiple articles prepared by Barry Bickmore on his site about Early Christianity and Mormonism (archived).
Greek philosophy was not the cause of the apostasy. However, without the rock of revelation in the Church after prophets and apostles had been rejected and killed, some men in the Church felt great pressure to make Christianity seem more logical and acceptable to the intellectuals of the day, who were steeped in Greek philosophy, and specifically in the system known as Neoplatonism. It is a matter of record that Neoplatonism strongly influenced the development of "mainstream" Christian doctrine, beginning at least with the fourth century. (But Greek thought began influencing Christianity as soon as revelation from the apostles and prophets was lost.) Consider the following excerpts from the article "Neoplatonism" by P. Hadot in the New Catholic Encyclopedia (McGraw-Hill, NY, 1967), Vol. X, pp. 334-336 (excerpts from page 335):
From Plotinus to Damascius [leading figures in Neoplatonic thought], Neoplatonism was always anti-Christian. Attacking the Christian Gnostics, Plotinus simultaneously combatted specifically Christian notions, as for example, that of creation....
From the middle of the 4th century onward, however, Christian thought was strongly influenced by Neoplatonic philosophy and mysticism. In the East, Basil of Cesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, Synesius of Cyrene, and Nemesius of Emesa, and, in the West, Marius Victorinus, Ambrose, and Augustine, made abundant use of Plotinus or Porphyry, frequently without citing them. In the 5th century, Pseudo-Dionysius borrowed his hierarchical universe from Proclus. In the East, this direct influence of Neoplatonism continued throughout the Byzantine period, notably up to Psellus (11th century), Michael Italicos (12th century), Nicephoros Gregoras (14th century), and Gemistos Plethon (15th century). Plethon played a role in restoring Neoplatonism to the West in the course of the Italian Renaissance, at the court of the Medici. In the West, from the high period of the Middle Ages onward, Neoplatonism was accepted through the works of Ambrose, Augustine, Boethius, Calcidius, and Macrobius. In the 9th century, John Scotus Erigena translated the writings of pseudo-Dionysius and Maximus the Confessor, and, in his De divisione naturae, combined the Proclean Neoplatonism of pseudo-Dionysius with the Porphyrian Neoplatonism of Augustine.
P. Hadot then notes that Neoplatonism further entered the West via Arabic literature. Arabic philosophy had become "a Neoplatonic interpretation of the works of Aristotle. . . ." He continues:
Once it came into Spain during the 12th century, this Arabian philosophy placed Christian thought into renewed contact with Neoplatonism.
From the 12th century onward, Latin translations from Arabic or Greek gave Christian theologians a direct knowledge of Neoplatonic works. . . . Having received a strongly Platonized thought from the Christian tradition [i.e., the post-apostolic tradition - Platonized thought is not found in the Bible!], certain theologians of this era, reading these Neoplatonic texts, regarded Platonism as naturally Christian. (emphasis mine)
Note that a dominant pagan philosophy that strongly influenced Christianity would, centuries later, seem "naturally Christian" to those steeped in Hellenized thought.
Neoplatonism was closely related to Platonism - a philosophical system based on the teachings of Plato. Regarding Platonism, J.O. Riedl in the article "Platonism" in the New Catholic Encyclopedia (McGraw-Hill, NY, 1967), Vol. XI, pp. 433-438, writes:
[Platonism] is also used by some for Neoplatonism, although this is more commonly considered a separate philosophical movement closely related to Platonism. Among patristic, medieval, and modern scholars, the term is generally used to designate currents of thought of Platonic origin that flourished among the Greek and Latin Fathers, among medieval schoolmen, . . . [etc.]. Not infrequently, Platonism has also influenced the elaboration of religious doctrines, and on this account is variously called Jewish, Islamic, or Christian. . . .(p. 434, emphasis mine)
CHRISTIAN PLATONISMNeoplatonism, in the view of one historian, "was the last breath, the last flower, of ancient pagan philosophy; but in the thought of Augustine it became the first page of Christian philosophy" (Copleston 1:506). Apart from influences that are now recognized as Neoplatonist, however, Christian writers found much in the older Platonism that helped them in their understanding of Christian theology and much that helped them answer philosophical questions without compromising their theology [Riedl is overly optimistic here!]. They found evidence for the unity of God, preexistence of the forms of things in the mind of God, creation of the world, . . . [etc.].
The Greek apologists during the reign of Antonines were educated in the pagan schools of philosophy. They used their knowledge to point out to the emperors, themselves philosophers, that Christian doctrine was reconcilable with philosophy, and therefore not to be condemned. . . .
At Alexandria Christian scholars adapted Platonic thought to religious instruction and scriptural exegesis. (emphasis mine)
The story of the influence of pagan philosophy on "mainstream" Christian doctrine after the loss of prophets and apostles is long and complex, but the effort to make Christianity seem compatible with pagan philosophy - perhaps viewed as essential for the survival of the Church - rapidly accelerated the process of apostasy. The Church - or its remnants - thrived and became the political tool of emperors and conquerors, with many doctrines that truly were adapted to be compatible with pagan intellectual thought. Thus, an immaterial God without body, parts, or passions was defined, which now appeared to be more "the God of the philosophers," as Origen put it, than the God in whose physical image we were created, as early Christians and Jews believed. Creation became the philosophically appealing creation ex nihilo, which was not known among Christians in New Testament times. The perfect unity of the three distinct Beings of the Godhead became a unity of substance in the philosophical sense. Many plain and pure teachings were corrupted, though much that is good and wholesome remained. Nevertheless, there was loss of priesthood authority, of revelation, of sacred ordinances and basic teachings, and there was great need for the miracle of the Restoration that began with the Prophet Joseph Smith.
"How do you explain the passage in Galatians chapter one where Paul warns not to believe an apparition, or an angel?! It seems that this would condemn Joseph Smith!"
I believe you have two passages in mind:
"But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed."
2 Cor. 11:14
"And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light."
Paul warns against anyone accepting any other Gospel than what Christ and the Apostles preach, regardless of its apparent source, and I agree. Now consider this: what was early Christianity? What did Christ teach? What was His Church? Christ taught faith and repentance, followed by baptism by immersion for those who believe (Acts 2:37-38; John 3:3-5; Matt. 3:13-17; Matt. 4:17; Mark 16:16; etc.). Anything else - infant baptism, baptism by sprinkling, etc., is not the same Gospel. Christ instituted an unpaid ministry (Matt. 10:8; 1 Cor. 9:18; John 10:11-13; Acts 20:33-35; 2 Thess. 3:7-8) comprising apostles and prophets and other offices (Bishops, Seventies, etc.) which was lead by revelation from Him (Eph. 4:11-14). Any other form of organization must be questioned. Where do we find the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands as in the early Church? (Acts 8:17) Where do we find priesthood authority given by the laying on of hands, by revelation and by the laying on of hands, by those who have received it from God? (Heb. 5:4; 1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6) For centuries these things were not to be found on the earth, but they have been restored now through the promised "restitution of all things" (Acts 3:19,20) which came after the prophesied time of apostasy (2 Thess. 2:1-3; Acts 20:29,30).
Does Paul say that we should not accept angels or their ministry? Not at all. He warns against being deceived. He warns that Satan can appear as an angel of light, which is a deception only because it sort of looks like the real - and holy - thing. Counterfeits don't work unless they imitate something real. Angels are real, and they look human and are bright, as we gather from several Biblical descriptions. Cornelius, for example, describes the angel who ministered to him as a man in bright clothing (Acts 10:30-32; see also Heb. 1:7). Two angels are described as men in white clothing in Acts 1:10-11). They announced the birth of Christ, they ministered to Christ (Luke 22:43), they rolled away the stone in front of his tomb and announced His Resurrection (Matt. 28); they were present after He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:11),and they will yet come with Christ (Matt. 16:27). Angels have been sent by God to visit men long before Paul wrote anything, angels ministered to and delivered Paul himself (acts 27:23;), and angels ministered to others such as John (see the Book of Revelation) after Paul wrote Galatians and Corinthians. John even prophesied of angels ministering to men in the future (e.g., Rev. 14:6,7), proclaiming the Gospel. Angels can be spirits (Ps. 104:4), including those of righteous men of God who lived before, such as Moses and Elias who appeared to Christ and some apostles in Matt. 17 - these angels were clearly not Satanic demons! Since the time of Christ, they may also be resurrected spirits, as may be the case for the former prophet who appeared as a glorious angel to John the Beloved (Rev. 22: 8,9), and was the case for the angel Moroni who appeared to Joseph Smith to help bring forth the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Christ, a record which confirms and verifies the Bible and convinces millions that Jesus is the Christ. We should not be surprised that God has not changed and that He still uses angels today as part of the prophesied restoration of the fullness of the Gospel.
How can we tell a message from a false angel versus that from a real angel? The same as we can tell a false prophet from a real prophet: by their fruits ye shall know them. The definitive fruit of Joseph Smith is the Book of Mormon, translated by the power of God from an ancient manuscript. That book begs to be examined and pondered carefully. It's power and Christ-centered message of truth have changed my life. I know by the power of the Holy Ghost that it is true and I have an intellectual knowledge as well that it could not have been fabricated and that it is clearly an ancient document, translated into a modern language (King James style English - and now many other languages as well).
Some modern Christians reject the idea that God would send an angel to testify of anything, forgetting the words of Christ ("I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things. . . ." in Rev. 22:16). Real angels from God have been sent in these days to testify, to instruct, and to return sacred authority and power and ordinances from God, bringing back the fullness of the Gospel of Christ, not some other Gospel of men. I hope you'll take some time to look into the Restored Gospel and hear its simple but beautiful message from authorized servants of God, the LDS missionaries. They have received Priesthood authority for their ministry in the true Biblical manner, by prophecy and by the laying on of hands from other authorized servants who in turn can trace their authority back to Christ, thanks to the ministry of angels - even Peter, James, and John - who Christ sent to Joseph Smith to restore the Priesthood power of God. It's really true - and the Book of Mormon is one of many evidences of that truth. Read it and discover for yourself.
Heb. 7:24 in the KJV describes the Melchizedek Priesthood of Christ, the great High Priest, as being "unchangeable," which is often said to mean that it cannot be passed on to others. The modern Good News Bible states that Christ's "work as priest does not pass on to someone else." Our critics use Heb. 7:24 to challenge the LDS practice of ordaining men to the Melchizedek Priesthood or to the office of high priest, claiming that Christ is the only One.
An insightful answer to this question was provided to me by D. Charles Pyle in e-mail of March 29, 1998, from which I draw the following.
Modern Evangelical Protestants have based this argument on the traditional translation rendered for the Greek word aparabatos. In the Bible, it is used only in Hebrews 7:24 and for many years was thought to be a special word coined by Paul to convey a meaning not available in other Greek words of the day. Older concordances, such as those of Strong and Thayer, indicated that this word refers to something that cannot be passed from one person to another. Indeed, the word literally means "not passing to another." Strong includes "untransferable" as a meaning. Thayer says it can mean "unviolated, or not to be violated, inviolable: hierosune unchangeable and therefore not liable to pass to a successor, Heb. vii. 24" (Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, (1901), reprint 1987, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, p. 54a). Thayer and Strong thus support the Evangelical claim that the Priesthood cannot be passed from one to another.
The problem is that improved scholarship since the century-old work of Strong and Sayer has changed the picture substantially. D. Charles Pyle explains:
Happily, W.E. Vine lived to see the discovery of many papyri which contained virtually all of the same words which were regarded as hapax legomena (words found only once in the New Testament, thought by many to be special words invented by the N.T. authors, under divine inspiration, to express concepts not found elsewhere in the language). After seeing a number of examples of the use of aparabatos in the papyri, Vine wrote:aparabatos ... is used of the priesthood of Christ, in Heb. 7:24, "unchangeable," "unalterable, inviolable," RV, marg[in]. (a meaning found in the papyri); the more literal meaning in KJV and RV margins, "that doth not pass from one to another," is not to be preferred. This active meaning is not only untenable, and contrary to the constant usage of the word, but does not adequately fit with either the preceding or the succeeding context.
Since the papyri were contemporary with the N.T. documents and the N.T. was written in the Koine or common dialect of the day, tremendous insight was afforded to us by careful examination of the word usage by contemporary writers. The old gave way to the new, as it were. Bauer followed suit in declaring that:aparabatos ... in Heb[rews]. 7:24 is usu[ally] interpr[eted] without a successor. But this m[ea]n[in]g is found nowhere else. a[parabatos] rather has the sense permanent, unchangeable.
(Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich and Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, (1979) Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 80b (brackets are D.C. Pyle's))
Thus, Hebrews 7:24, according to the best Biblical scholarship, does not mean that the Melchizedek Priesthood cannot be passed from one to another, but that this divine power is permanent and unchangeable, which makes sense since it is one aspect of the power and authority of God - granted in a narrow sense to selected mortals to act in His name. This Priesthood authority is what Christ gave His apostles and prophets to enable them to carry out His work in His name. It can be transferred to mortals, but the power and its source do not change.
As one example of the influence of modern discoveries about the ancient language of the Bible, the New English Bible, which incorporates a good deal of modern research, uses the word "perpetual" instead of "unchangeable."
Some additional insight was provided to me by e-mail from Michael T. Putnam, in e-mail from 2003. He points out that Heb. 6:20 teaches that Christ was "made an high priest after the order of Melchisedec." The term "order" implies that there were others previously ordained to this office, and as Putnam argues from Hebrews 7, that others were to continue to hold this higher priesthood. According to Putnam:
Hebrews 7:11 provides us with the importance/mission of this higher priesthood: namely, that the Levitical (Aaronic) Priesthood could not bring mortals back into the presence of God the Father. Hebrews 7:12-14 further explains the superiority of the Melchizedek Priesthood to the Levitical (Aaronic). We also see that the Priesthood is now open to ALL the Tribes of Israel. . . . Hebrews 7:21 illustrates that the Melchizedek Priesthood can only be attained through an oath (D&C 88:33-44) unlike the Levitical Priesthood which was strictly attained by birthright.
Brother Pyle's interpretation of Hebrews 7:24 is paramount to understanding the purpose of the Priesthood in any dispensation. Why is it important for the Priesthood to continue? Well, it's quite simple, actually. With the Priesthood of God your ordinances are valid, and with valid ordinances the covenants made therewith are recognized beyond the veil of death. Not the carnal ordinances that are spoken of later in Hebrews (chapters 9 & 10) but the ones mentioned by Paul earlier in this same book (Hebrews 6:1-4).
Hebrews speaks of Jesus as the High Priest, and explains that Jesus is called "the Apostle and High Priest of our profession" (Hebrews 3:1). He is certainly THE Apostle and THE High Priest, but that does not mean that He is the only one. There were other Apostles, and there could also be other high priests. In fact, the New Testament indicates that Christians held the priesthood (1 Peter 2:5,9; Rev 1:6; 5:10; 20:6). If there was a priesthood organization that included apostles and other positions (Eph. 4:11-14, for example), why could there not be leaders in the priesthood who were prophets, apostles and/or high priests?
Here's one piece of evidence for the early existence of high priests among Christians that I just encountered in my reading of early Christian writings. In "The Didache," one of the earliest Christian writings, a document that was treated by some early Christians as scripture (e.g., Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Didymus the Blind), there is a reference to living prophets being high priests:
"Take, therefore, all the firstfruits of the produce of the wine press and threshing floor, and of the cattle and sheep, and give these firstfruits to the prophets, for they are your high priests."
("The Didache," 13:1-3, in The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd ed., translated by J.B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer, ed. and rev. by M.W. Holmes, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1989, p. 157; see also the Roberts-Donaldson translation, Chapter 13.)
This suggests that prophets in the early Church were high priests. One might argue that "high priests" may have been meant figuratively rather than referring to an office. We don't have much information on how the priesthood offices worked in the early days, and they apparently went through a variety of changes in the first few centuries of the church, making it hard to define exactly how things were set up initially. But in the restored Church of Jesus Christ, prophets and apostles are high priests in the Melchizedek Priesthood, as The Didache may suggest. I don't think that was an innovation of Joseph Smith.
In fact, the early Christian leaders Ignatius and Hippolytus called bishops "high priests." Ignatius wrote this helpful reminder to those who think they don't need the leaders God has appointed in His Church:
And say I, Honour thou God indeed, as the Author and Lord of all things, but the bishop as high-priest, who bears the image of God - of God, inasmuch as he is a ruler, and of Christ, in his capacity of a priest."
(Ignatius, Smyrnaeans, vol. 9, in ANF 1:90, as cited by Bickmore, p. 268)
Likewise, Hippolytus wrote:
"Grant unto this Thy servant whom Thou has chosen for the episcopate to feed Thy holy flock and serve as Thine high priest...."
(Hippolytus, The Apostolic Tradition, 3:4, p. 5, as cited by Bickmore, p. 268)
The issue is complicated by Origen, though, who wrote than men can be high priests after the order of Aaron, but not after the order of Melchizedek (On Prayer, 28:9, as cited by Bickmore, p. 269). Titles and positions did vary over time in those days, so its difficult to pin things down precisely. But we do have evidence for the position of high priest.
I have also received helpful e-mail from John Tvedtnes giving several more citations from early Christian writers showing that high priests were known in the early Church. Here are several examples:
Further, I have received e-mail from Ted Jones (Edward T. Jones) offering some additional information, which I quote with permission:
"But none will refute these, save the Holy Spirit bequeathed unto the Church, which the Apostles, having in the first instance received, have transmitted to those who have rightly believed. But we, as being their successors, and as participators in this grace, high-priesthood and office of teaching, as well as being reputed guardians of the Church, must not be found deficient in vigilance, or disposed to suppress correct doctrine. (Refutation of all Heresies 1.1)
Ignatius (Bishop of Antioch, early 2nd century) wrote:
"And say I, Honor thou God indeed, as the Author and Lord of all things, but the bishop as the high-priest who bears the image of God, inasmuch as he is a ruler, and of Christ, in his capacity of a priest. (Letter to the Smyrnaeans, ch. 9)
Justin Martyr, Dialogue 116:
". . .we are the true high priestly race of God, as even God Himself bears witness, saying that in every place among the Gentiles sacrifices are presented to Him well-pleasing and pure. Now God receives sacrifices from no one, except through His priests."
Ignatius to Philadelphians 5:
"Let governors be obedient to Caesar; soldiers to those that command them; deacons to the presbyters, as to high-priests; the presbyters, and deacons, and the rest of the clergy, together with all the people, and the soldiers, and the governors, and Caesar [himself], to the bishop; the bishop to Christ, even as Christ to the Father."
The Genuine Acts of Peter, late 3rd century bishop of Alexandria (ANF 6):
"Nor will I omit to mention you, ye most holy fathers and high priests of the divine law. . . ."
Apostolic Constitutions 2:4
"You, therefore, O bishops, are to your people priests and Levites, ministering to the holy tabernacle, the holy Catholic Church; who stand at the altar of the Lord your God, and offer to Him reasonable and unbloody sacrifices through Jesus the great High Priest. For those who attend upon the Church ought to be maintained by the Church, as being priests, Levites, presidents, and ministers of God. Those which were then first-fruits, and tithes, and offerings, and gifts, now are oblations, which are presented by holy bishops to the Lord God, through Jesus Christ, who has died for them. For these are your high priests, as the presbyters are your priests, and your present deacons instead of your Levites." [Note the mention of high priests, priests, and deacons apparently as offices in the new Church. - J.L.]
Revelation of St. John the Theologian (ANF 8)
"And again I said: Lord, and do all the Christians go into one punishment? - kings, high priests, priests, patriarchs, rich and poor, bond and free?"
Sozomen, in his Ecclesiastical History, described (in heading to chap. 21) the council of Nicea: "WHAT THE COUNCIL DETERMINED ABOUT ARIUS; THE CONDEMNATION OF HIS FOLLOWERS; HIS WRITINGS ARE TO BE BURNT; CERTAIN OF THE HIGH PRIESTS DIFFER FROM THE COUNCIL; THE SETTLEMENT OF THE PASSOVER." (NPNF series 2, vol. 2)
At the end of chap. 25 of book 1, he wrote, "for this could be nothing else than the judgment of God, since it was established by the Holy Spirit from the concurrence of so many and such illustrious high priests, and approved after accurate inquiry and test of all the doubtful points." In 2:17, he wrote, "For my part, I am convinced that it was by Divine appointment that Athanasius succeeded to the high-priesthood"
Heading to 3:7 speaks of "HIGH PRIESTS OF ROME AND OF CONSTANTINOPLE" in reference to bishops. . . .
Gregory of Nazianzen's "Last Farewell" (Oration 42, delivered "in the presence of the one hundred and fifth bishops" according to heading):
"Farewell, my throne, envied and perilous height; farewell assembly of high priests, honored by the dignity and age of its priests, and all ye others ministers of God round the holy table, drawing nigh to the God Who draws nigh to you."
From the Acts of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, 1st session: "Wherefore I, Basil, bishop of the city of Ancyra, proposing to be united to the Catholic Church, and to Hadrian the most holy Pope of Old Rome, and to Tarasius the most blessed Patriarch, and to the most holy apostolic sees, to wit, Alexandria, Antioch, and the Holy City, as well as to all orthodox high-priests and priests, make this written confession of my faith, and I offer it to you as to those who have received power by apostolic authority." Near the end of the 1st session: "John, the most reverend bishop and legate of the Eastern high priests said: This heresy is the worst of all heresies." From session 4: "John the most reverend monk and presbyter and representative of the Eastern high priests, said: . . ."
Here are a couple more references to the Bishop as High Priest. They are taken from James F. White, Documents of Christian Worship. Descriptive and Interpretive Sources (Louisville, Kentucky, Westminster/John Knox Press 1992). White is Professor of Liturgy, University of Notre Dame.
Tertullian (ca. 200 AD), On Baptism, translated Ernest Evans, Tertullian's Homily on Baptism (London: SPCK 1964): 39. Verse 17 reads: "It remains for me to advise you of the rules to be observed in giving and receiving baptism. The supreme right of giving it belongs to the highest priest, which is the bishop: after him, to the presbyters and deacons, yet not without commission from the bishop, on account of the Church's dignity; for when this is safe, peace is safe. Except for that, even laymen have the right; for that which is received on equal terms can be given on equal terms....'" (White, page 149).
Peter Lombard, The Four Books of Sentences, Book IV (ca. 1152 AD), Distinction XXIV, 12-16 (translated by Owen R. Ott, Library of Christian Classics, X: 350-1): "The bishop is the chief of priests, as it were the path of those who follow. He is also called the highest priest; for he makes priests and deacons, and distributes all ecclesiastical orders' /quoting Isidore of Seville, ca. 615 AD/" (White, page 125).
The above quotations resonate remarkably well with LDS teachings, where the Bishop is the president of the priest quorum - "the chief or priests" - and also the presiding high priest of the ward.
So yes, Joseph Smith appears to have better described (and restored) early Christianity than all his modern critics who have long denied that high priests were ever in the early Church of Jesus Christ. As an unschooled farmboy, he could not have known this - but the evidence is there for the existence of such a calling. Not only were there high priests, but there were prophets, apostles, elders, priests, deacons, and so forth, offices and callings which have been restored by the same authority that powered such offices and callings in the early Church, the Holy Priesthood of Jesus Christ.
Sure. The Greek word translated as bishop means "overseer," and that's what modern and ancient bishops were. The New Testament provides very little information, but other early Christian writings describe bishops in ways that greatly resemble bishops in the restored Church of Jesus Christ. For example, in the letter of Ignatius to Polycarp, Ignatius speaks of Polycarp's duties as bishop of the Smyrnaeans. He indicates that Polycarp should speak to the people individually, seeking out everybody in his stewardship by name, to take care of the widows, to hold meetings frequently, to preach sermons against sin and immorality, and to urge others to pay attention to the bishop and respect him (The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd ed., translated by J.B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer, ed. and rev. by M.W. Holmes, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1989, pp. 115-117). Likewise, the Eucharist could only be considered valid when done under the authority of the bishop or someone designated by him, as is the case in the restored Church of Jesus Christ; approval of the bishop was also needed for baptismal ceremonies (Letter of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, The Apostolic Fathers, op. cit., pp. 112-113). Certainly several things in the organization of the Church today differ from the early Church - Cubs Scouts and Boy Scouts, for one, or the modern Relief Society, or details of Aaronic Priesthood offices. The Lord is free to alter details to meet the needs of his people in every age. But the major things, like apostles, prophets, and bishops, are much the same in the restored and original Churches.
A student of early Christianity (and a Mormon convert in Kansas) kindly sent me additional information related to the role of the bishop in early Christianity. He found the following interesting quote in Gerard Vallee, The Shaping of Christianity: The History and Literature of its Formative Centuries [100-800] , New York: Paulist Press, 1999, p. 131:
By the beginning of the second century, the main ecclesiastical ministers existed, although the terminology remained fluid: elders, bishops (episcopoi or supervisors, sometimes synonymous with elders), deacons or servants. Bishops and deacons first had a liturgical function: to preside and help at the Lord's Supper. Soon deacons received larger functions in the service of the community. Gradually the bishop became the chief officer of the local congregation and was called "priest," while the elders were seen to share in the bishop's ministry and to conduct the liturgy with a teaching/preaching function; later they were also to be called priests. The bishop appointed or ordained deacons and elders by the laying on of hands, signifying the bestowing of a spiritual power in a hierarchical society.
This description agrees well with the description of the bishop and his relationship to the Aaronic Priesthood in the restored Church of Jesus Christ, where the "Mormon" bishop oversees the Aaronic priesthood and is the presiding priesthood authority, yet shares the duties of ministry with Melchizedek priesthood leaders in the ward (e.g., the elders quorum). See, for example Doctrine and Covenants 107:13-17:
13 The second priesthood is called the Priesthood of Aaron, because it was conferred upon Aaron and his seed, throughout all their generations.
14 Why it is called the lesser priesthood is because it is an appendage to the greater, or the Melchizedek Priesthood, and has power in administering outward ordinances.
15 The bishopric is the presidency of this priesthood, and holds the keys or authority of the same.
16 No man has a legal right to this office, to hold the keys of this priesthood, except he be a literal descendant of Aaron.
17 But as a high priest of the Melchizedek Priesthood has authority to officiate in all the lesser offices, he may officiate in the office of bishop when no literal descendant of Aaron can be found, provided he is called and set apart and ordained unto this power by the hands of the Presidency of the Melchizedek Priesthood.
John Tvedtnes of BYU has answered this question well. With his permission, I quote an e-mail post of his from Sept. 1998:
While some Bible translations render the passage "once for all," the King James Version simply speaks of "the faith which was once delivered unto the saints." The Greek work rendered "once" (or "once for all") is hapax, which means "once." It does not, however, denote finality. This is clear from the following New Testament passages, where the same Greek word is used in a context where no one would understand it to mean "once for all":
- "ye sent once and again [literally, "once and twice"] unto my necessity" (Philippians 4:16).
- "Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again [literally, "once and twice"]" (1 Thessalonians 2:18).
- "Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more [literally "once"] I shake not the earth only, but also heaven" (Hebrews 12:26).
Indeed, the same Greek word is found two verses later in Jude 1:5, where the author wrote, "I will therefore put you in remembrance, that ye once knew this." If he has to remind his readers that they "once" knew it, then they know it again, and therefore a translation of "once for all" makes no sense at all.
If the gospel (more correctly, faith) was to be delivered but once to men on the earth, then Paul would be wrong in writing that the gospel had been revealed earlier to Abraham (Galatians 3:8f). And if the gospel was revealed in the days of Jesus, never to disappear from the earth, there would be no necessity for the angel John saw coming in later times to reveal the gospel to the inhabitants of the earth (Revelation 14:6-7). We can either conclude that Jude 1:3 does not give the whole story, or we must conclude that the Bible contradicts itself. That is, the same argument used against Joseph Smith can be used against the writers of the biblical books, if one misinterprets this passage.
D. Charles Pyle has noted that there was another Greek word, "ephapax", which literally means "once for all." It was used in New Testament times and Jude certainly could have used it instead of the less final "hapax" if he intended finality.
Good question. You refer to Doctrine and Covenants 84:25, which says that the Lord took Moses and the Holy Priesthood (the higher or Melchizedek Priesthood) out of the midst of the Israelites because they hardened their hearts and would not accept the higher things of the Gospel (apparently temple-related blessings). Taking the higher priesthood out of the midst of the Israelite people is not the same as taking it entirely from the earth. I understand that the higher priesthood was still present in very limited channels for there were prophets of God among the Israelites - but the blessings of that priesthood were not available in general to the Israelites, including the higher ordinances that go with it. The context of Section 84 is the Temple, which is the crowning aspect of the higher priesthood.
I would say that the fullness of the Temple and the associated Melchizedek Priesthood was taken from the people in general, though individuals still retained and passed on that priesthood for some period of time. Jeremiah undoubtedly had it, and he may have even been the one that ordained Lehi, for all we know (the were contemporary).
There are many passages in the Bible that speak of the gathering of Israel in the last days. In addition to that, there are prophecies of apostasy and of restoration, as given above on this page. Acts 3:19-21, discussing the restitution of all things, is one of my favorites. But Isaiah has some of the best prophecies of our day. One passage in particular makes a lot of sense in light of prophecies from Joseph Smith.
In 1831, Joseph prophesied that "Zion shall flourish upon the hills and rejoice upon the mountains, and shall be assembled together unto the place which I have appointed" (Doctrine and Covenants 49:25). A related and more specific prophecy was given in 1842, as described in the following excerpt from B. H. Roberts,Comprehensive History of the Church , Vol. 2, Ch. 51, pp.181-182, regarding an event on Aug. 6, 1842, a time when the Saints were living rather securely, it seemed, in Nauvoo, Illinois, then the largest city in Illinois:
Joseph, as he was tasting the cold water, warned the brethren not to be too free with it. With the tumbler still in his hand he prophesied that the saints would yet go to the Rocky Mountains; and, said he, this water tastes much like that of the crystal streams that are running from the snow-capped mountains. We will let Mr. Call describe this prophetic scene: 'I had before seen him in a vision, and now saw while he was talking his countenance change to white; not the deadly white of a bloodless face, but a living, brilliant white. He seemed absorbed in gazing at something at a great distance, and said: 'I am gazing upon the valleys of those mountains.' This was followed by a vivid description of the scenery of these mountains, as I have since become acquainted with it. Pointing to Shadrach Roundy and others, he said: 'There are some men here who shall do a great work in that land.' Pointing to me, he said: 'There is Anson, he shall go and shall assist in building up cities from one end of the country to the other; and you, rather extending the idea to all those he had spoken of, shall perform as great a work as has been done by man, so that the nations of the earth shall be astonished, and many of them will be gathered in that land and assist in building cities and temples, and Israel shall be made to rejoice.
Of this prophecy, Joseph wrote:
I prophesied that the Saints would continue to suffer much affliction and would be driven to the Rocky Mountains, many would apostatize, others would be put to death by our persecutors or lose their lives in consequence of exposure or disease, and some of you will live to go and assist in making settlements and build cities and see the Saints become a mighty people in the midst of the Rocky Mountains. (History of the Church , Vol.5, Ch.4, p.85)
The Saints did suffer much more affliction and were driven from Nauvoo after the assassination of Joseph in 1844. They migrated to the Rocky Mountains in 1847 under the prophetic leadership of Brigham Young, an American Moses in many ways. There they built settlements and cities along stretches of many hundreds of miles in the West, from Canada to Mexico. In the midst of the Rockies, the Latter-day Saints have arguably become a mighty or at least a noteworthy people, where they "flourish upon the hills and rejoice upon the mountains, . . . assembled together unto the place . . . appointed" (D&C 49:25).
The gathering of the Saints, and the establishment of holy temples and a great international religious center in Utah, in the tops of the Rocky Mountains, appears to be a fulfillment not only of Joseph's prophecies, but of Biblical prophecy in Isaiah 2:2-5:
2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
3 And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4 And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
5 O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the LORD.
On a related note, I have heard many times that the name "Utah," given to the State by non-LDS politicians, means "top of the mountains" in the Ute or Paiute language. I've long assumed this was just a "faith-promoting rumor," but an acquaintance of mine contacted the Ute Indian Tribal council and was told that Ute means "high place/mountain tops", and was used to name themselves after the terrain in which they lived (Utah territory). Information on the Utah State page of quick facts at http://www.utah.gov/about/quickfacts.html or the page at http://www.50states.com/utah.htm indicates that the name "Utah" comes from the Native American "Ute" tribe and means "people of the mountains." Further, a University of Utah guidebook in 2005 for sports fans, according to the Deseret News, indicates that the meaning of the word Ute (the nickname used by the University) ranges from "high place" and "top of the mountain" to "people of the mountains" and "land of the sun."
Well, if the Utes call themselves people of the mountains, then maybe the name Utah, imposed on would-be Deseret-dwellers by non-Mormons, might just fit Isaiah 2 ironically well.
The apostasy of the early Church in the 200 A.D.- plus era is rather easy to see. Apostles and prophets were rejected, persecuted, and killed, and the Roman state took over the administration of the Church, rather than divinely chosen priesthood leaders. Constantine, not even a Christian himself, melded the power of the state with the affairs of God and drove rapid transformation of the Church. Biblical doctrines rapidly gave way to Greek philosophy and the teachings of men. Ordinances like baptism were lost, the teachings of the temple were lost and corrupted, and even the most basic understanding of the nature of God was replaced with man-made doctrines (the Trinity concept). And all this was according to prophecies about the coming apostasy and the future need for restoration.
LDS scripture and the Bible (e.g., Daniel 2 and other passages) point to a restoration of the kingdom of God that would not be lost again, but persist right up to the Second Coming of Christ. In our day, we find the kingdom restored and centered in the tops of the mountains, as Isaiah 2 prophesied, and having been led constantly by the same organization of prophets and apostles in a continuous chain of priesthood leadership since 1830. Practices may differ, but core doctrines remain unchanged and traceable to the Restoration under the hands of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
We don't believe that. The Catholic church, in spite of some dark blemishes, has been a primary force in bringing Christianity to much of the world and in preserving the scriptures. We respect that and praise the Catholics for their contributions to spreading the Gospel message to millions. The Book of Mormon speaks of Satan's efforts to destroy the truth and the church of Christ as the whore of all the earth which led to the Apostasy, the loss of authority in the early church and the corruption of its doctrines. The Catholic church has many remnants of the original Gospel after all that loss occurred. That doesn't make them the whore of all the earth, anymore than someone living in a damaged building that has been bombed by an enemy is the one to blame for the bombing. Using that analogy, we'd like the Catholics to know that the original building has been rebuilt and they are welcome to move out of the good but damaged structure they are in and move into the restored building in order to receive that which has been lost, adding more truth and true authority to what they now have. We have plenty of room in this divinely restored building of ours!
The whore of all the earth, the forces of Satan, can include anyone who fights against Christ, corrupts the truth, enslaves and tortures other humans, and so forth. At various times in history, that could have included evil people who rose to power in religion and politics, but it does not do to blame an entire religion or church for the evil actions of scattered individuals.
You are right, there have been many questionable claims made by many people about seeing angels or Mary or God. But Joseph did more than just make the claim. I could point to the Book of Mormon as hard evidence for the reality of the angel Moroni, but there is something even more basic that our critics so often overlook. LDS writer Joseph Fielding McConkie pinpointed a primary difference between Joseph Smith's encounters with angels and those of any other professed prophet when he said:
Many a pretender to the prophetic office has claimed to entertain angels or to have spoken with God, but who other than Joseph Smith introduced his angels to others? Joseph Smith introduced Moroni to Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris. He was never alone when priesthood or keys were restored.... He and Sydney Rigdon received the revelation on the degrees of glory together. Together they saw legions of angels, along with the Father and the Son (see D&C 76:21-23). Oliver Cowdery was with Joseph Smith when John the Baptist came to restore the Aaronic Priesthood, and when Peter, James, and John came to restore the Melchizedek Priesthood. Oliver was also with Joseph Smith when Christ came to accept the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, and Moses, Elias, and Elijah restored their keys, powers, and authorities. (Sons and Daughters of God, pp. 194-195)
Yes, there were witnesses of Joseph's angels - witnesses who remained true to their testimony to their dying day.
Many non-LDS people have been troubled by the facts of history, which show that original Gospel of Christ was corrupted by humans after the era of the apostles. One recent example comes from the Evangelical Christian, David W. Bercot, Will The Real Heretics Please Stand Up: A New Look at Today's Evangelical Church in the Light of Early Christianity (3rd edition, Peabody, Mass.: Scroll Publishing, 1989). He gives a list on page 138 of issues that were invented by men after the apostolic era (thanks to Mark Schindler for calling Bercot's writings to my attention). These human inventions include:
These largely Catholic doctrines show that a departure from original Christianity occurred. The Protestants normally argue that such problems were corrected by the Reformation, but even that was carried much of the baggage that came from the human creeds of the fourth and fifth teachings, and the troubling doctrines of Augustine. Bercot discusses these teachings of Augustine, many of which were also innovations not found in the original Gospel of Jesus Christ. According to Bercot (pp.141-142):
Augustine . . . developed the following set of doctrines:
1. As a result of Adam's fall, man is totally depraved. He is absolutely unable to do anything good or to save himself. In fact, he's even unable to believe or have faith in God.
2. Therefore, humans can believe in God or have faith in Him only if by grace he first gives them this faith or belief. Man has no free will to choose either to believe or not to believe.
3. God's decision to save one person and condemn another, to give faith to one person and withhold it from another, is totally arbitrary. There is nothing we can do to influence God's choice.
4. Before the creation of the world, God arbitrarily predestined (not simply foreknew) who would be saved and who would be damned. There's nothing we can do either in this life or the next to change these matters.
5. The elect, those who were predestined for salvation, cannot possibly lose their salvation. Those predestined for damnation cannot possibly be saved.
6. No one can know whether or not he or she is of the elect. God gives many people the gift of faith so that they believe, are baptized, and walk in Jesus' commandments. However, some of them haven't been predestined for salvation and ultimately won't persevere. The gift of perseverance is a separate gift from that of faith. We have no way of knowing who in the church has been given the gift of perseverance.
7. Salvation is totally a matter of grace. Faith is a gift from God. Obedience is a gift from God. Perseverance is a gift from God.
Augustine managed to persuade most of the bishops of North Africa, and his views ended up prevailing. However, by overreacting to the errors of Pelagianism, Augustine obliterated the original early Christian teachings of free will and man's involvement in salvation. In their place was the cold, grim doctrine of absolute predestination.
Thus, the major branches of modern Christianity sadly have inherited doctrines quite foreign to the saints and apostles of early Christianity. The Reformation had its merits, but it took the work of God, not of men, to bring the Church of Jesus Christ back to the earth. There was an apostasy and there was a Restoration.
There is abundant evidence. I could talk at length about ordinances such as baptism, the laying on of hands, temple rituals, and so forth. But to provide a detailed example, let's consider the law of the fast.
Now we know that early Christians fasted, but the Bible offers few details about how they fasted. It is understandable that in the absence of such revelation, there are many diverse forms of fasting among modern Christians, including practices such as doing without red meat on certain days, or giving up a favorite food for period of time, or just ignoring the issue altogether. But what did the earliest Christians do, and how does that related to LDS religion, which claims to be a restoration of the full Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Insight into early Christian practices comes from a book that was accepted as scripture by many early Christians in the second and third centuries, but which was dropped from the canon by later Christian leaders. The book is the Shepherd of Hermas, apparently written in Italy written shortly after the apostolic era. In this book, Hermas receives revelation in the form of visions and parables about Christian religion and practices, including baptism for the dead (see my LDSFAQ page, Baptism for the Dead) and the principle of fasting. John W. Welch in "Fasting in Earliest Christianity" (Insights, Vol. 21, No. 9, 2001, a publication of the Maxwell Institute) summarizes the teachings from the Shepherd of Hermas, Parable 5, about how to fast. Hermas is told:
1. You are first to "guard against every evil word and every evil desire, and cleanse your heart of all the vanities of this world."
2. Then you must "estimate the cost of the food you would have eaten on that day on which you intend to fast, and give it to a widow or an orphan or someone in need."
3. Moreover, "you must observe these things with your children and your whole household and in observing them you will be blessed [makarioi]."
4. Furthermore, those who receive fast offerings are to pray "on behalf of [hyper]" those who have extended their generosity in this way.
"This fast," the Christian is told, "is very good in keeping the Lord's commandments," and if you will do these things, "this fast of yours will be perfect [teleia]" and "your sacrifice will be acceptable in God's sight, and this fast will be recorded, and service performed in this way is beautiful and joyous" (compare perfect and rejoicing in D&C 59:13-14).
These principles are in remarkable accord with Latter-day Saint practices, as revealed to modern prophets. Welch offers further analysis:
If these directives may be described as the true order of fasting, it is evident that few Christian churches today follow this essential instruction. Is it possible that this was one of the "plain and precious things" taken away from the original gospel as it went forth from the mouth of the Son of God as foreseen by Nephi of old (1 Nephi 13:28)? But Nephi also beheld that some of those truths would be restored by "other books" that would come forth "from the Gentiles" (1 Nephi 13:39).
Interestingly, the Old Latin version of the Shepherd of Hermas was first published in 1873 in Germany, and with the study of the crucial Greek text in Codex Siniaticus in the late nineteenth century, people soon realized the great antiquity of this important document. Yet only the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as far as we know, teaches and actually operates a regular program of fasting along these earliest Christian lines.
The concept of fasting in the Shepherd of Hermas is so similar to that revealed to Joseph Smith, even to the point of using nearly identical phrases to Doctrine and Covenants 59 ("that they fasting may be perfect" in verse 13, in the context of keeping away from worldly influences and keeping the commandments of the Lord), that anti-Mormons might be able to craft a seemingly persuasive case for accusing Joseph Smith of plagiarism from an early Christian document, if only that document had been available to Joseph Smith. It wasn't published until nearly three decades after his death. The case for plagiarism fails, leaving divine revelation as a plausible explanation for the accurate restoration of the early Christian practice of fasting.
Many miracles still occur (not just among Latter-day Saints, of course), and probably at a rate much greater than recorded in the scriptures - but remember, the few miracles in the scriptures represent a vanishingly small rate of miracles per man-year. The sacred nature of many miracles makes it difficult or unwise to publicize them. I have witnessed or experienced many things that I consider miracles, including healing, though I have not see one raised from the dead or anything that I would expect to cause doctors to convert to the Church. But raising people from the dead has hardly ever happened in the history of the world - it is a most rare miracle at the moment - so be patient. Even dramatic prophecying and visions given to the prophets is a relatively rare event. Many decades in the scriptural record leave no evidence of the impressive prophetic stuff - just the daily grind of leading and ministering.
1978 with the revelation on the Priesthood was an exciting event involving powerful revelation to the leaders of the Church, and there have been others.
Remember, faith and patience enable the miracles, not the other way aorund.
I'm sure that's not the most satisfying answer, but those are my thoughts at the moment.
That's a common misconception, perhaps one that is taught out of necessity among churches that have obviously lost the presence of apostles and prophets that were in the New Testament church. Rather than admit that something has been lost (or that there was an Apostasy), it's much safer to say that the lost elements were intended to be lost. But the Bible doesn't justify such teachings. Look at Acts 1:23-26:
23 And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.After Judas Iscariot apostatized and died, the remaining eleven apostles came together and sought revelation about the next apostle they should appoint to take the place of Judas. Clearly, they understood that the body of twelve was meant to be maintained.
24 And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen,
25 That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.
26 And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
I'm happy to announce that in these latter days, the Twelve Apostles have been restored under divine direction from Jesus Christ. The Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Church has taken place!
There is a good basis for your question. Exodus 33:20 quotes the Lord saying that "no man shall see me, and live." John 1:18 states, "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." John 6:46 is similar: "Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father." But do these verses really mean that man cannot see God under any circumstances? It seems to suggest that those who are "of God" can see Him, and there are many cases in the Bible that support this concept. For example, in Old Testament times, Moses and others saw God. Consider Exodus 24:9-11:
9 Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel:
10 And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness.
11 And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink.
By the way, this was clearly the same anthropomorphic God who created man in His physical image according to Genesis 1:26,27, since in seeing God, Moses and his peers also saw feet.
Now consider Exodus 33:11, where we read that "the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend." This personal, face-to-face conversation implies that Moses say something.
While there are other Old Testament passages to consider, let's turn to the New Testament and first face the obvious fact that people saw Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is also God (a member of the Godhead). They saw Him as a mortal and then after His Resurrection when He was fully glorified. But not only was Jesus seen, but also God the Father. Look at Acts 7:55-56:
55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,
56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.
The word "invisible" is used three times in the KJV to describe God, but does not mean that He lacks form or inherently cannot be seen, but rather points to the obvious fact that we do not get to see Him at this time. For example, Colossians 1:15 calls Christ "the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature," which points to the fact that Christ looks like God (created in His image), a concept that Paul also taught in Hebrews 1:3 when he calls Christ "the express image of his person."
Turning back to Exodus 33, let's consider the context of the teaching that no man can see God and live:
17 And the LORD said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name. 18 And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory.
19 And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.
20 And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.
21 And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock:
22 And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by:
23 And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.
Here it is clear that God has a body and theoretically can be seen, but here He hides His face from Moses, though lets Moses see His back, it appears. But the ban on seeing the face of God is not absolute, obviously, since verse 11 of the same chapter saw that the Lord spoke face to face with Moses.
Our understanding from the First Vision is that God is so glorious and so radiant in light that no mortal man can look upon Him without perishing, but man can see God through the power of the Spirit. This is clarified in Moses 1:11 (from the LDS Pearl of Great Price), where Moses comments on his experience of having seen God:
But now mine own eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him.
This LDS view agrees with Genesis 32:30, where Jacob said "I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved," apparently referring to the idea that no man could see the face of God and live.
Though the LDS view departs from common teachings in our era and in the day of Joseph Smith, it agrees with the views of at least some early Christians. From the early Christian document, Clementine Homilies, we read:
For I maintain that the eyes of mortals cannot see the incorporeal form of the Father or Son, because it is illumined by exceeding great light. For he who sees God cannot live. For the excess of light dissolves the flesh of him who sees; unless by the secret power of God the flesh be changed into the nature of light, so that it can see light. (Clementine Homilies 17:16, in ANF 8:322323.)
(Thanks to Barry Bickmore for this passage.)
To sum up, the natural man of the world cannot see God, but a man can be transformed by the power of God to be given power to see God and live. Several prophets have seen God, according to the Bible, and many saw Christ, both before and after His Resurrection. And in modern times, the prophet Joseph Smith also saw God, and Christ standing on the right hand of God, much as Stephen did in Acts 7.
That is an entirely reasonable question and nicely expressed, too. First let me say that we believe, according to prophecy, that a great falling away or apostasy was foretold, and a "restitution of all things" after that was prophecies. That restoration, which Mormons often call "the Restoration," would occur in the last days and would be the final refreshing, the final dispensation, before the Second Coming of Christ.
What's to stop such trouble from recurring? Are we following the same model that failed in the past, as you asked? Part of what makes things different this time is that we believe the institution of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles will be preserved without the leaders all being killed off as happened in the persecutions the early Church faced. So far, they have survived and been able to continually replace those who pass away. They, with the First Presidency, are sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators, and have the keys to keep those blessings and the corresponding divine authority alive in the Church. So far, so good!
The problem in the early Church was not that the Apostles drifted, but that many in the Church drifted away from them, coupled with the problem of the world violently opposing them. The early days of the Apostasy are seen in the pages of the New Testament with some Christians already rejecting leadership of the Apostles and forcing vigorous measures to try to get them back on track.
I would say there is nothing short of God's power and timing that can prevent the world from eventually doing what it has always done: oppose, attack, corrupt, or subvert the establishment of religion. Fallible mortals are a continual threat, and I would say there is no inherent reason why the modern Church can't have the same threat of drift and decay over the centuries (though we may not have centuries left before that Second Coming occurs, fortunately). That tendency for decay and loss is why there have been multiple "dispensations" throughout history when God came down and fixed the apostasy and decay of the past. What was given to Adam and the early Patriarchs faced massive corruption in the day of Noah, and things were refreshed then. Then God Moses sent God to bring the Hebrews out of physical and spiritual bondage. Later Isaiah challenged the religious and political establishment, as did Jeremiah, etc. But many of the prophets had been slain and rejected over the centuries, and Christ came and reminded the people of this and brought in the new order of the fullness of the Gospel, and was rejected and killed, but his Apostles kept things going valiantly for a period of time. The body of Apostles was meant to continue, so Matthias and others were added over time, but the rejection by the people was so great and the internal schisms so great that they were soon scattered, rejected, killed, and replaced by others claiming authority that they didn't really have. Yet the Church continued bravely, with schisms and loss, until the death blow (in terms of authority) was delivered by Constantine: turning the Church into a political tool and letting coarse political power course through its veins instead of the spiritual blood of Christ.
This process made the Church much more susceptible to influences from the world of philosophy, especially the Neoplatonism that was the reigning paradigm for intellectuals in that day, and so the core doctrines of the Church were gradually conformed to its strictures. We see this in areas such as the definitions of the Trinity arising from the creeds, for example. That kind of adjustment and response to intellectual pressures can still happen today, even with a prophet at the head as popular notions and mindsets influence how we think and approach many issues, but there is the safety net of scripture and modern revelation to help us stay on course.
You can learn some of these historical and biblical details in an online book by Barry Bickmore, Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity. Barry also had a great site on early Christian documents and the Restoration and Apostasy. The service hosting his website has gone offline, but you can access his work through this link to Barry's Early Christianity and Mormonism Page (archived).
Apostasy Recognized By Reformationists - an article at FAIRLDS.org.
Biblical Evidences of an Apostasy by Michael W. Hickenbotham (FAIRLDS.org).
Answers to Questions about the Oneness of God (an LDS FAQ page)
"Who Holds the Keys? (Pope or Prophet)" - a debate between Barry Bickmore and Steve Clifford.
Moses and Elijah - an article by John A. Tvedtnes discussing the relationship between these two ancient prophets who both played a role in the modern Restoration of the Gospel.
For one of many testimonies about the divine calling of prophets, see the autobiography of one of my ancestors, Talitha Cumi Garlick Avery Cheney, a tough pioneer woman who was baptized by Joseph Smith and was an eye-witness to an interesting and puzzling miracle involving Brigham Young.
"The Restoration of All Things" by Elder James E. Faust (May 2006).