Come Follow Me: Joseph Smith History 1:1-26
The Great Apostasy and the Reformation
What is the Great Apostasy? Apostasy is defined as the abandoning of what one believed in. It comes from the Greek words: apo -"away" and stasis - "a standing." In other words, to stand away from what one once stood by. An apostate is someone who does more than just stops going to church. It is someone who once strongly believed in a cause, then vehemently opposes it and fights for its destruction. Noted apostates in the Bible include: Cain (Genesis 4:1-16); the people in Noah's day (Genesis 6-8); Tower of Babel (Genesis 11); Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18-19); Korah, Dathan and Abiram (Numbers 16:1-35); fallen Israel (Isaiah 1, 3, etc.); Hymenaus and Alexander (1 Timothy 1:19, 20); Anti-Christs (1 John 2) and wicked Judah (Matthew 24).
The idea behind the Great Apostasy is a "falling away" of not just a nation, but the entire earth from accepting the fulness of the gospel. They accept portions of it, but reject key points of Celestial law and covenant. In the Book of Mormon, the Nephite covenant with God was constantly at the forefront. If they obeyed and followed God, they would prosper in the land. However, if the Nephite nation forsake the covenant, they would be cast out of God's presence.
full of the terrors of the Dark Ages, a period when faith in the covenant was at its lowest. "Christian" leaders were
corrupt, often enriching themselves, engaged in the politics of the day, while most floundered in extreme poverty. The idea that no growth or advancement really occurred in
the Christian world for more than a millennium is exemplified by the plow being used in Christ's
day was the same one used a thousand years later.
Not until God prepared the world for the Restoration, did the Light of God instill in the minds of men to question the current situation and seek for a higher truth. This came about in the Reformation, when knowledge, both secular and spiritual came bursting forth on a world which had loitered in shadows for centuries.
The doors were being opened for the Restoration. The printing press was invented. Tyndale translated the New Testament into English at the cost of his own life. The Bible was being distributed in many languages to the masses. A middle class was forming, taking power from the royalty and religionists of the day to themselves. Literature and new scientific discoveries were leading people from superstition to in depth inquiry into the facts. New worlds were discovered, allowing a nation based upon religious freedom to be established for the first time in history. Such intense growth and change have only been matched in our own day, in preparation for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
Biblical Foretelling of the Great Apostasy
The Bible contains many predictions of a Great Apostasy. Earlier apostasies foreshadowed and typified the Great One to follow the murders of Christ and his apostles.
Isaiah discusses the apostasies of Israel in his day, but also of the last days. He warns of their changing the ordinances and breaking the everlasting covenant (Isaiah 24:5). In chapter 29, he predicts the falling of a people whose words would later come from the ground (Mormons contend these were the people of the Book of Mormon), but only after an obvious apostasy occurs-
"this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of man....And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel, even all that fight against her and her munition, and that distress her, shall be as a dream of a night vision. It shall even be as when an hungry [man] dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and, behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and, behold, [he is] faint, and his soul hath appetite: so shall the multitude of all the nations be, that fight against mount Zion. Stay yourselves, and wonder; cry ye out, and cry: they are drunken, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink. For the LORD hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered." (Is. 29:7-10).
This is followed by a prediction of the Restoration. More on that in Predictions of a Restoration of the Gospel.
The prophet Amos tells us:
And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord GOD, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day: And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; and I will bring up sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness upon every head; and I will make it as the mourning of an only [son], and the end thereof as a bitter day. Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find [it]. (Amos 8:9-12).
Christ predicts it in his parable of the wheat and tares, where the enemy sows tares among the wheat at night (Matthew 13:25). And in his great prophecy of the last times, the Savior tells us of the following things:
Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here [is] Christ, or there; believe [it] not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if [it were] possible, they shall deceive the very elect. (Matthew 24:23-24).
And the Apostle Paul was very busy predicting the Great Apostasy:
For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. (Acts 20:29-30).
NOW we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and [by] our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for [that day shall not come], except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. (2 Thes 2:1-4).
So, there will be a falling away (in other versions of the Bible, the word apostasy is used) prior to the Second Coming of Christ! Satan will set himself up as a pretender to God's throne, and won't be fully revealed until he is consumed at the Coming of the Lord (2 Thes 2:8).
Paul specifically tells us when these things will happen, and what wicked things will occur:
THIS know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all [men], as theirs also was. (2 Timothy 3:1-9)
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away [their] ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
John the Beloved receives this counsel to give to one of the 7 remaining churches in Asia (had all the rest apostatized already?):
I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. (Revelation 3:15-17).
He predicts that the enemies of God would make "war with the saints" (Rev 13:7) just a few verses before a prediction of the gospel being restored in the last days! (Rev 14:6).
So, a Great Apostasy was predicted for the Last Days. This does not mean that all things were lost, but many plain and precious parts of the everlasting covenant and gospel were removed or replaced. The results of which were evidently described by Paul and others, as they warned of the false preachers, prophets and Christs which would come into the world.
Statements by the the Early Church Fathers and Great Christian Reformers on the Apostasy
The great Reformers of Christianity also saw the destruction of the Church and the need for a restoration:
John Wesley realized that the gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer found:
It does not appear that these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were common in the Church for more than two or three centuries. We seldom hear of them after that fatal period when the Emperor Constantine called himself a Christian;...From this time they almost totally ceased;...The Christians had no more of the Spirit of Christ than the other heathens....This was the real cause why the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer to be found in the Christian Church; because the Christians were turned Heathens again, and had only a dead form left. (Wesley's Works, vol 7, Sermon 89, pp. 26-27).
Wesley's point is interesting to note, when one considers what the early Christian, Justin Martyr, stated to the Jewish priest, Trypho: that the only difference between the Jews and Christians was that the Christians had revelation; and if the day ever came that the Christians were to cease having revelation, they would be no better than the Jews.
The early Church Father Eusebius of Caesarea also spoke on the apostasy that occurred not long before him:
The Church up to that time [the death of the apostles] had remained a pure and uncorrupted virgin, since, if there were any that attempted to corrupt the sound norm of the preaching of salvation, they lay until then concealed in obscure darkness. But when the sacred college of apostles had suffered death in various forms, and the generation of those that had been deemed worthy to hear the inspired wisdom with their own ears had passed away, then the league of godless error took its rise as a result of the folly of heretical teachers, who, because none of the apostles was still living, attempted henceforth, with a bold face, to proclaim, in opposition to the preaching of the truth, the ‘knowledge which is falsely so-called’ (Eusebius [270-340] quoting Hegesippus [110-180] in Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Series 2, 1:164).
For him, he noted the actual attacks which occurred from within the change the early Church by Christian teachers. It was this reason that Paul insisted that prophets and apostles continue until the 2nd Coming of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-14).
Predictions of a Restoration of the Gospel
In predicting the restoration of the gospel, we see both biblical and reformer statements.
Christian Reformer Roger Williams put it this way:
There is no regularly constituted church on earth, nor any person authorized to administer any church ordinance; nor can there be until new apostles are sent by the Great Head of the Church for whose coming I am seeking. (Picturesque America, p. 502).
So, he realised that apostles had to be sent anew. Perhaps he recognized the apostle Paul's words on the importance of having apostles:
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner [stone]; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord (Ephesians 2:19-21).
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we [henceforth] be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, [and] cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive (Ephesians 4:11-14).
Paul stated that apostles and prophets are necessary as the foundation to build the Church of Christ, and are needed until all are unified in faith, are perfected in Christ and know Christ. And why? So we aren't tossed about in the apostasy!
Even the great President, Statesman and Deist, Thomas Jefferson, realized that the Christian Church was severely lacking and awaited the Restoration:
The religion builders have so distorted and deformed the doctrines of Jesus, so muffled them in mysticisms, fancies, and falsehoods, have caricatured them into forms so inconceivable, as to shock reasonable thinkers....Happy in the prospect of a restoration of primitive Christianity, I must leave to younger persons to encounter and lop off the false branches which have been engrafted into it by the mythologists of the middle and modern ages. (Jefferson's Complete Works, vol 7, pp 210, 257).
The Apostle Peter put it this way:
He shall send Jesus Christ, whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. (Acts 3:20-21).
In other words, God would send Christ for his Second Coming, but only after the gospel is restored!
The apostle John saw it this way, after having beholding the apostasy:
And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters. (Revelation 14:6-7).
It is interesting to note, that when the angel Moroni first appeared to Joseph Smith and told him of the metal plates containing the record of an ancient american people (what is now the Book of Mormon), Moroni told him that the record contained the "fulness of the gospel."
Ezra Stiles, seventh President of Yale University, 1778-1795, predicted the following:
There are three coetaneous events to take place whose fruition is certain from prophecy, the annihilation of the Pontificate, the reassembling of the Jews, and the fulness of the Gentiles. That liberal and candid disquisition of Christianity, which will most assuredly take place in America, will prepare Europe for the first event, with which the other will be connected, when especially on the return of the twelve tribes to the Holy Land, there will burst forth a degree of evidence hitherto unperceived and of efficacy to convert a world. More than three quarters of mankind yet remain heathen. Heaven put a stop to the propagation of Christianity when the church became corrupted with the adoration of numerous deities and images, because this would have been only exchanging an old for a new idolatry. Nor is Christendom now larger than it was nine centuries ago. The promising prospects of the Propaganda fide at Rome are coming to nothing: and it may be of the divine destiny that all other attempts for gospelizing the nations of the earth shall be fruitless, until the present Christendom itself be recovered to the primitive purity and simplicity. At which time, instead of the Babel confusion of contradicting missionaries, all will harmoniously concur in speaking one language, one holy faith, one apostolick religion to an unconverted world. At this period, and in effecting this great event, we have reason to think that the United States may be of no small influence and consideration.
It was of the Lord to send Joseph into Egypt, to save much people, and to shew forth his praise. It is of the Lord that "a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet," and upon "her head a crown of twelve stars," (not to say thirteen) should "flee into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God" (Rev 12:1,6), and where she might be the repository of Wisdom, and "keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus." It may have been of the Lord that Christianity is to be found in such great purity in this church exiled into the wilderness of America; and that its purest body should be evidently advancing forward, by an augmented natural increase and spiritual edification, into a singular superiority--with the ultimate subserviency to the glory of God, in converting the world. ("The United States Elevated to Glory and Honour", Ezra Stiles, 1783.)
In Isaiah 29, the prophet predicts the bringing forth of a book in the last days, describing it a marvelous work and a wonder. The learned would not read the book because it was sealed, but the unlearned would not have such a problem. And in Ezekiel 37, we read of two books being combined: one is the "stick of Judah", or the Bible. The other is called the "stick of Joseph". What is this stick of Joseph? The only book known to man claimed to have been written by descendants of Joseph, Jacob's son who was sold into Egypt, is the Book of Mormon! No other book qualifies. The New Testament was written by Jews (Judah) not Joseph. So it can't be the book. The Dead Sea Scrolls were also written by Jews. Only the Book of Mormon satisfies both Isaiah's and Ezekiel's prophecies. The Book of Mormon will be discussed further in next week's lesson.
The First Vision
For the early Church, the First Vision did not become an important sign of the Restoration until Joseph Smith wrote the official version in 1838. The earliest version was in 1832, written by Joseph Smith himself. It focused upon Joseph's receiving forgiveness and mentions Joseph seeing Christ, but does not mention the Father. This is likely due to Joseph's focus at the time on his personal need for redemption and that the Father only introduced the Son, then let Jesus respond directly to Joseph. Sadly, many disbelievers use these other versions to attempt to discredit the Church. The reality is, Joseph described the vision differently at times, because of his purpose in telling it at the time. Also, many of the other retellings were by other people, who may have gotten some events incorrect. His 1832 example (the earliest) still includes a divine visit by the Lord. Joseph had seen a vision!
That later revelations were shared experiences by Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, the Three Witnesses and hundreds at the Kirtland Temple dedication, show that the visions of Joseph Smith were not a fraud, nor a hallucination. He in fact saw a vision, and went to his death witnessing of the Restoration of the gospel.