Apostasy of the Christian Church: Evaluating Mormon Claims that the Christian Church Ceased After the Apostles Part 2 of 2

For Part 1, go HERE.

Ramifications of an Apostate Church

If the Mormon claim is correct and the church was apostate after the death of the disciples, then there are many ramifications of that fact. I will concentrate on four. First, the Holy Spirit would have been withdrawn from all believers. Assuming that John was the last apostle to die, all followers of Jesus who have made a declaration of faith and were baptized into the church would have had the Holy Spirit ripped from them after the apostle’s demise. All future followers of Jesus could not partake of God in any way since the church was apostate and barren of the right doctrine.

Second, all significant writings, creeds, and even the Bible itself is suspect. Because apostolic authority ceased with John, none of these writings can be considered of God. Yet though the Scriptures were written before the end of the apostles, it was the apostate church that collected these writings into what we now call the Bible. Even the creeds and the many ecumenical counsels find themselves bereft of Holy Spirit activity:

But wickedness did prevail upon the face of the whole land, insomuch that the Lord did take away his beloved disciples, and the work of miracles and of healing did cease because of the iniquity of the people. And there were no gifts from the Lord, and the Holy Ghost did not come upon any, because of their wickedness and unbelief. (Mormon 1:13-14, The Book of Mormon)

Third, the church structure was lost. According to Rhodes, Mormons claim that “proper church organization with its respective offices (and the authority to perform ordinances) was lost, along with continual revelation through God’s appointed representatives. The true gospel had also been lost in its completeness from the Bible due to ‘designing priests’ removing the ‘plain and precious’ truths, primarily before the end of the first century.”[1]

Bringham Young

Fourth, given that all Christian writings were to be held suspect and apostate after the death of the Apostles, there can be an openness to the Book of Mormon and other LDS sacred writings as being equal to Scripture. If there is no assurance that any writing post-John is orthodox, then anything coming after John is open for acceptance.

Orthodox Christian beliefs on the church

            The question now comes back to the Christian. In light of the Mormon apologetic, how does one address the concerns and scriptural interpretation that the LDS puts forward? The place to start is back to that dictionary mentioned earlier with a definition of “church.” For the orthodox Christian, the church is not just people who believe in a set of doctrines handed down by prophets. Although the Bible talks about the church in many different ways, this essay will concentrate on two: The universal nature of the church and the everlasting life of the church.

First, there is the universal nature of the church. When the New Testament writers refer to the church, they use two different words: ἐκκλησία ekklēsia (a gathering of people) and σῶμα sōma (a physical body). By using these two terms, scriptures that refer to the church gain a universal meaning. Paul’s greetings to the different churches in his epistles are to the “gathered people” of that church. For example, 1 Corinthians 1:2: “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” (1 Corinthians 1:2 KJV emphasis mine).

 Later in that same epistle, Paul addresses the Corinthian Church with a discussion of “body.” In chapter 12:12-26, he tells the Corinthians that believers in Jesus have interdependence with each other as parts of a human body have interdependence. Jesus is, in fact, the head of the body. He finishes the discussion by using both ἐκκλησία ekklēsia and σῶμα sōma:

Now ye are the body (σῶμα) of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church (ἐκκλησία), first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. 1 Corinthians 12:27-28 KJV

 Geisler points out that the use of σῶμα refers to the Church visible and invisible; universal and local.[2] With this universal concept of the church in place, one cannot define biblically a church based upon specific doctrines. Although doctrine is essential, the essence of the church is more significant than a collection of beliefs. Jesus pointed this essence out when he stated, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20 KJV).

The everlasting nature of the church is first seen in Matthew 16: “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock (that Jesus is the messiah vs. 16) I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18 KJV). The apostles carried on the message of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit starting at Pentecost (Acts 2) and throughout the first century. This apostolic foundation is crucial to understanding the eternal nature of the church:

Peter was the first to proclaim this truth. Because of that initial testimony, Peter was the Rock, the foundational witness at Pentecost, and for some time after that event. At Pentecost, a complete apostolic witness had been manifested prior to Paul and other apostles. The apostles continued to be foundational in the Church of Jesus Christ.[3]

 Connected with the eternality of the church is the concept as the church being the Bride of Christ. All four Gospels refer to the church as the Bride with significant parables and scenes describing bridegooms and weddings. Continuing forward, Paul uses the same imagery in 2 Corinthians 11:2 and Ephesians 5:25. Finally, in Revelation 19:6-1, the Bride (Church) is wedded to the groom (Jesus) in absolute splendor. This union resides in the glorious city of the New Jerusalem (chapter 21), which has 12 walls adorned with the 12 apostles. The imagery points to the apostolic foundations starting with the Bride until the consummation of the wedding and the new Jerusalem.[4]

Eastern Orthodox icon of the 12 Apostles

Conclusion: Ramification of the orthodox Christian view of the church

Mormons claim that the Bible is the word of God, but they also state the other documents (previously mentioned) are scripture as well. How, then, does the Mormon reconcile the contradictions of the Bible and other Mormon scripture? While an in-depth look at the problem with the Book of Mormon (along with other Mormon scriptures) is beyond the scope of this essay, it is worth noting that Mormons will accept scripture as it is rightfully translated.[5] So any contradiction is chalked up to the changes that were made to the scriptures after the apostles. It is at this point that the Christian can then bring out the evidence for trust in the New Testament and then apply the same standard of proof to the Book of Mormon. The ramifications are that the LDS scriptures come up wanting.

If the church indeed continued past the apostles, then a bedrock claim of Mormonism is dispelled. The writings, the testimonies, and the apostolic leadership continue until the last days. It is acknowledged, almost universally, that the church as an institution went through periods – sometimes extended periods – of apostasy. However, one might point out to their Mormon friends that there was always a remnant of believers even in the worst of times. For every Pope Benedict IX and Poe John XII, there is Catherine of Sienna, Francis of Assisi, and others. There always have been those who were not following the political institutions, but following Jesus.

Also, one must note that the diversity of Christian denominations and traditions is not peculiar to Christianity. All religions, philosophies, and world views have their subsects and divisions. Even Mormonism has its divisions (LDS in Salt Lake City, Utah, and RLDS in Independence, MO, plus many other smaller groups and sects).[6] Division is a human condition, not just a Christian one. That the vast majority of Christians – Protestant, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Coptic – can agree with little variation on the Apostles Creed, and the Nicene Creed (the filioque notwithstanding) is testimony to a greater sense of Christian doctrinal agreement that the Mormon will allow.

Finally, the fact of the church’s continuation past the apostles validates those who have been martyred for the faith. Their testimony rings true, and their deaths have meaning. Those that have sacrificed everything – the Christians in second-century Rome, missionaries in strange new lands, those executed by the political-religious establishment (Hus, Wycliffe, and others) – have their testimonies verified by the continuation of the faith. The extension of the church and the spreading of the gospel continues because of those sacrifices.

[1] Ron Rhodes and Marian Bodine, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Mormons (Eugene, OR: 1995, Harvest House Publishers), 42.

[2] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: Volume 4 Church and last Things (Bloomington, MN: 2005 Bethany House) 48.

[3] J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theoilogy: Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective Three Volumes in One, Volume Three: The Church, the Kingdom, and the Last Things (Grand Rapids, MI: 1996 Zondervan), 61.

[4] Ibid, 74.

[5] Articles of Faith 1:8, Accessed June 14, 2020. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/pgp/a-of-f/1.8?lang=eng&clang=eng#p8

[6] Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, Ravi Zacharias ed. (Bloomington, MN: 2003 Bethany House Publishers), 193.

One Reply to “Apostasy of the Christian Church: Evaluating Mormon Claims that the Christian Church Ceased After the Apostles Part 2 of 2”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: