Redefining the LDS (Protestant) View of the “Great Apostasy”
In this article I hope to unravel some of the confusion caused by the current LDS perspective on the “Great Apostasy“, which I believe is for the most part a popular protestant view adopted by church leaders during Joseph Smith’s time. Instead of universal apostasy, LDS scriptures seem to support a type of universalist and dispensationalist view of religious history. In this view, the assignment to be a living symbol or archetype of heaven, and transfer or renewal of the Jewish priesthood covenant to individuals and peoples such as Abraham, Moses, Nephi, Peter or Joseph Smith did not require or infer that all other earthly priesthood were rejected or had been invalidated through apostasy. Instead, the renewal of the covenant and religious priesthood keys, is part of a repeated pattern wherein the Judeo Christian God or heavenly church establishes new covenants and symbolic systems with new worthy peoples at assorted key times and seasons of human history.
The Great Apostasy doctrine was conceived by 16th century reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin, Thomas Cranmer, John Thomas, John Knox, and Cotton Mather. It is a necessary pillar in the protestant idea of the universal priesthood of all believers, and was used to justify the protestant view of salvation without need for Catholic priesthood or apostolic succession. For early Mormon’s the doctrine was seen as an effective backdrop to show a need for priesthood restoration and exclusivity claims. However, I hope to show how adopting this doctrine has caused us to misinterpret the Bible and modern scripture and actually weaken the LDS position. It causes many to lose faith in the illogical, contradictory and inconsistent ‘God’ that this doctrine requires. As an example I offer the following logical contradictions and inconsistencies that are caused by mixing the idea of Universal Apostasy with LDS theology.
- Why would divinity reject the religious priesthood of the Gentile Medieval Church for their possible small succession breaches and doctrinal corruptions, when he continued to honor the priesthood of ancient Israel despite their enormous repeated succession crises, repeated disobedience, doctrinal corruptions with neighboring false religions, idol worship (including the promotion of the asherah sex cults and the sacrifice of their children to Baal), as well as killing of the prophets and even their national destruction and Babylonian captivity?
- If God’s priesthood and ordinances are so important, why did God wait nearly 2000 years to restore them after they were supposedly lost? If God’s church plays such a huge role in salvation, why has it always had such a minimal (or non existent) role in human affairs? Why couldn’t God select a few people to go 2000 miles into middle of uninhabited Asia and reestablish his Church like he did with the early LDS Saints? If we think the devil would have destroyed any attempts, then doesn’t that make God weaker than the devil? Couldn’t He have preserved the church with his “matchless power” as He did over and over with the tiny (and usually wicked) nation of Judah? (Or as we suppose He did with early Mormonism.)
- Why would God have ancient prophets prophesy that the gospel & kingdom would be taken from the Jews and given to the Gentiles, and later command the apostles to preach his gospel to the ends of the earth — just to let that kingdom completely fail within a few hundred years? Didn’t he say to Peter “thou art Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it” (Matt 16:16–19). So why did the gates of Hell prevail within a few hundred years? Especially when history shows there were so many scattered groups of good (priesthood authorized) people doing their best to live this newly formed Christian faith throughout the history of the Gentile church.
- Suggesting that the Catholic/Orthodox Church, which is by many standards the largest and most influential, globally civilizing church that the world has ever known, was completely rejected by God because of its numerous issues and evils (or in fact is the Church of the Devil as some have suggested) — requires the logical thinker to draw the same conclusions about the ancient Israelite religion, and also modern Mormonism when presented with the repeated episodes of internal conflict, church endorsed brutality, succession crises and doctrinal corruptions that each of these organizations have experienced.
- LDS scripture suggests that God “restored” gospel knowledge and a new priesthood covenant to many different dispensations throughout the scriptural history (such as Abraham, Moses, Nephi and the Jaredites). None of these restorations were the result of universal apostasy. What evidence is there that Joseph Smith’s case was any different?
- Why does close examination of the most prominent scriptures which have been used to support a universal apostasy, show that they make little sense in such a context?
I believe these issues come from an overly fundamentalist interpretation of restorationism, history and scripture. Instead of seeing Biblical prophets as religious mystics who spiritually perceived major future social changes and cultural upheavals, and seeing the Israelite and Christian priesthood covenants as divinely created symbols or shadows of what heaven is planning for the whole of society; fundamentalist interpretations get caught up in narrow minded inconsistent arguments that end up destroying faith in god and dividing groups and distorting the heavenly system they are meant to display to the world.
As a beginning proof of divinity’s guiding hand in both the history of Israel and the European Gentile Church (which includes protestant Christianity), I offer this comparison of the unbelievable symbolism, historical typology, and repeated patterns displayed in the histories of Israel and the Gentile Church. In this article I will attempt to show those patterns as proof of heaven’s influence on human affairs, as well as taking another look at the scriptures used to uphold this misunderstood doctrine.
14 And again, I will give unto you a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived (D&C 52:14)
The Divine Pattern of Western Civilization & Global Advancement
People tend to find meaning and patterns in the strangest things. Apophenia, which is the human tendency to perceive meaningful patterns within random data, is something I’m all too aware of. But as I’ve studied religious history over the last decade or so I have been amazed by the striking patterns and types that I myself (and thousands of others) have seen between the biblical narrative of Israel’s history and the Gentile Christian Dispensation. For instance as shown in the above diagram, both dispensations were started by a “King of Righteousness” known as a “Son of God” (Melchizedek vs. Christ). Both involved an early period of 12 closely related tribalistic factions. Both tribal groups were brought into special position and growth within a major southern global empire, only to later be enslaved by the arrangement (Joseph of Egypt vs Constantine of Rome). Both were freed from that arrangement about the same time that a spirit of legal codification swept the region. (The Mosaic code, with Hammurabi’s code and others matching with Justinian’s code, Sharia law and the host of legal codes which swept through the Germanic nations almost exactly 2000 years later.)
Both of these periods of codification (legal codes which strongly shaped the future of civilization) were accompanied by a type of imperial Holy War to help bring those legal codes to a larger populous. Joshua and Hammurabi’s conquest of the Holy Land and Mesopotamia corresponding to Belisarius’ and Muhammad’s conquest of the Mediterranean & Middle East (where Belisarius expanded the rising Christian Byzantine Empire to double its size). Just as Joshua’s conquest occured nearly the same time as Babylon’s first major burst of expansionism, Belisuarius’ campaigns match very closely with the rapid growth of early Islam. The rise of Islam from Judaic & Christian roots in the 6th and 7th centuries AD, matching the raise of proto-Indo-Aryan religion out of Babylonian and Egyptian traditions 2000 years earlier. This indo-Aryan religion would go on to spread into Rome, Greece, Persia and India and was the base for the pantheons of Vedic/Hindu, Zoroastrian, Akkadian and Greek religions.
Each of these dispensations went through a centrally defining period of religious imperialism, where the religious leader began to anoint the emperor (Samuel anointing Saul in the case of Israel and Pope Leo II anointing Charlemagne in the case of the Gentile Church/Holy Roman Empire). Both of these religious empires shortly thereafter experienced a major schism. The division of the kingdom of Judah & Israel in the dispensation of Israel, and the Great East-West Schism which split the Roman & Eastern Orthodox Church. And not too long after that, both dispensations faced a radical destruction of their power and authority. Israel’s ‘Babylonian Captivity’ matching with the 70 year Avignon Papacy, called the ‘Babylonian Captivity of the popes’ by many. In both cases this destruction of power created a dissatisfaction with authoritarian/priesthood abuse and gave rise to a spirit of protestant or sectarianism. Ezra’s reforms matching those of Luther, where scripture was rewritten, translated and recanonized–accompanying fundamental shift in the way authority was viewed. In both cases this pluralistic religious sectarianism (called ‘Second Temple Sectarianism’ in Israel, or ‘schools’ by Josephus) seemed to accompany a similar spirit in the regional political arena where democracy and republics began to replace monarchies.
Also during this period, each dispensation went through a matching colonial phase where people from the region began to colonize the entire world. Although 15th-20th century European expansionism and colonialism is well known, fewer are aware of the massive Phoenician, Greek, Roman and Jewish colonial efforts which took place 2000 years earlier. Apart from the well known colonies of the Mediterranean, Britain, Scandinavia, Crimea, India and central asian (Scythian) colonies, Mormon theology proposes that at least three distinct and influential colonies to non-eurasian continents or “isles of the sea” (2 Ne 10:21, Jacob 5) existed — suggesting that the Israel/Gentile Church pattern or analog may be even stronger than modern archaeology is willing to currently accept.
In my article Parallels between the Times of Israel and the Times of the Gentiles, I detail many additional types, patterns and parallels many of which are inevitably a product of confirmation bias, but given as a whole the correspondence is not easily dismissed. Indeed LDS and other restorationism scriptures are replete with allusions to the parallelism between dispensational ages. (see Ether 13:2–12, JS-Matt 1:32–33, 3 Ne 8, 2 Ne 21:1, D&C 113:3, Deut 8:15, Acts 3:22, 3 Ne 21:8–11, D&C 103:16, etc) I think these strong parallels and the doctrinal contradictions which they help clear up are a solid reason to take another look at the scriptures which we use to support the old protestant Great Apostasy doctrine.
Scholarship on Priesthood Succession
When it comes to arguments of priesthood succession, modern scholarship continues to prove the strength of the Catholic and early Christian Orthodox position. Articles like this one (“Early Church Fathers on Ordination to the Priesthood“) show hundreds of records which specifically mention priesthood ordinations and proper succession by the apostles dating from less than a few decades after the death of Peter and other apostles. Online Libraries like “Early Christian Writings” show the abundance of Christian letters, defenses, apologists and apocryphal scripture beginning in times contemporary to the Pauline epistles and spanning with little interruption to the early pre and post Christian ecumenical councils. Christ’s “seventy disciples” — which LDS scripture place along with Stake High Council’s, “equal in authority” to the 12 apostles (D&C 107:25–26) — are historically documented as transitioning into Catholic cardinal presbyters less than 4 centuries after the death of the apostles (and likely earlier). Likewise, 2nd to 4th century texts such as The Recognitions of Clement, document Peter’s ordination of regional bishops (the ancient equivalent of LDS Stake Presidents) and “twelve presbyters” (uncannily similar to the LDS concept of a Stake High Council). It was from these traditionally accepted and ordained priesthood holders that the historically established synods from 325 AD to the present era began to codify Christian leadership, tradition and doctrine.
Simple common sense makes it pretty ridiculous to laud apostolic divine revelation and prophecy, and then in the next breath suggest that divinity did not prepare for administrative succession before the martyrdom of the apostles. The Gospel of John has Christ himself prophesying the martyrdom of Peter (John 21:17–19). And Paul states that he was continually warned by revelation concerning the hardships that would face him (NIV Acts 20:23). In fact, LDS theology which suggests the immortality of John the Beloved (D&C 7; John 21:20–23) creates a serious contradiction when we suggest that the priesthood was somehow completely lost with the apostle’s death, when unlike with the Nephite narrative, history shows that there were scores of faithful isolated Christian groups who continued to grow in numbers, influence and willing obedience to the faith right into the time Christianity began to take over the Roman empire in the 4rth and 5th centuries. So why wouldn’t the apostles appoint successors before they knowingly marched to their deaths?! The logical conclusion (and the historically supported one) is that they did! (Even if they didn’t LDS doctrine (see D&C 107) suggest that the 70 have the authority to re-establish the quorum of the twelve).
An argument can certainly be made for a gradual doctrinal corruption (or significant changes in doctrinal perspectives), but to suggest that this merited the complete withdrawal of priesthood and divine favor is illogical and unscriptural and requires belief in a partial and contradictory Lord. Both scriptural evidence and recent scholarship shows at least an equal change in doctrinal perspectives occured among the ancient Israelites, and LDS theologians certainly don’t try to create a 1600 year “Great Apostasy” of priesthood and truth during the dispensation of Israel — although maybe they should!
Joseph Smith’s revelations to the rescue
The revelations to Joseph Smith in the Doctrine and Covenants concerning a higher priesthood versus a lower priesthood help to reconcile the contradictions and inconsistencies we’ve been discussing found in LDS and protestant cultural understanding of the Great Apostasy. As mentioned in the previous article on The Priesthood of God and its Relationship to the Only True Church doctrine, by understanding the LDS scriptural distinction between the Higher and Lower priesthoods, a case can be made that only the higher priesthood was taken from the national church and general populous during both the dispensation of Israel and that of the Gentiles (and all premillennial mortal history for that matter). D&C 84 explains this partial withdrawal of priesthood keys from Israel, which we can assume from our patterns was repeated during the Gentile dispensation of medieval times as well.
23 Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God;
24 But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory.
25 Therefore, he took Moses out of their midst, and the Holy Priesthood also;
26 And the lesser priesthood continued, which priesthood holdeth the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel;
27 Which gospel is… the law of carnal commandments, which the Lord in his wrath caused to continue with the house of Aaron among the children of Israel until John… (D&C 84:23–27)
This is why the Doctrine and Covenants repeatedly refers to the “restoration” of the church as its “coming forth out of the wilderness” (D&C 5:14, 33:5, 86:3, 109:73, 124:32–39). This is an allusion to both Moses tabernacle with its lower preparatory priesthood as well as to the Gentile dispensation symbolized by John the Baptist and his lower preparatory voice in the wilderness (Matt 3:1–3; 4:1; Mark 1:2–13; John 3:13; 11:54; Acts 7:30–45; Heb 3:8,17), as well as by the “woman and man child” (or Christ’s church) of Revelation 12:1 who were nourished in the wilderness “a thousand two hundred and threescore days” or “for a time, and times, and half a time” (see also Dan 7:25, 12:7).
None of this scriptural imagery point to universal apostasy, but to the character of the somewhat idolatrous preparatory gospel mankind has been given on earth which serves as “a shadow (or symbol) of better things to come” (Col 2:17, Heb 10:1). These scriptures support the idea that both the nation of Israel from Moses to John and the Gentile (Catholic) Church from the apostolic age to Joseph Smith maintained a “lesser priesthood” and “preparatory gospel” which held the key to the ministering of angels and the keys to govern a system of carnal commandments (a moral code largely of their own invention). However because of their wickedness, neither were usually a perfect reflection or direct mouthpiece of the Church in Heaven. Both were essentially a dark reflection of heaven composed of what the majority of the people were ready to know, practice and accept (see Alma 12:9–11, Jacob 4:14, Acts 7:42, Rom 1:24). Much like the Doctrine and Covenants says of early and modern Mormonism, neither dispensation’s populace maintained the level of economic, social, gender, racial, and spiritual equality required for the true fullness of the Gospel program (D&C 105:2–13; 38:30, 49:20, Moses 7:18).
These concepts help to reconcile the differing perspectives of Orthodox Christianity versus Protestant Christianity concerning priesthood and apostasy. Instead of apostasy or priesthood authority being an all or nothing concept, it is a system of degrees. The dominate cultural church may in fact hold a legitimate lower priesthood or authority from heaven to be in charge of the church or symbolic system (despite any wickedness or idolatry). Common sense would suggest that this unifying authority should be respected and largely obeyed by all sects and schisms in the name of religious cohesion. But equally self evident is the protestant concept that the heavenly church blesses the mother church as well as sectarian schisms with gospel truth and priesthood authority directly proportional to their righteousness and fitness to rule (Alma 12:9–11). Therefor, even illegitimate protestant sects which are denounced by the somewhat apostate national or culturally dominate church have direct personal access to the heavenly church and higher priesthood — being blessed impartially according to their righteousness. Regardless of whether a sect or schism contains more or less truth than the dominant temporal church, if they are founded upon Christ’s gospel or true system of morality and humbly move toward Christ by obeying the truth (D&C 10:67), they will eventually be be authorized and reconciled at Christ’s coming. [[ footnote- Ideally, the mother church’s job is to continually court and work to reconcile all schisms or divisions. Not to continually create them with excommunication! add references to the above paragraph]]
Elijah the tishbite, Alma I in the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith/Mormonism are all great examples of the above principles. Elijah’s School of the Prophets is a great example of a protestant sect during the time of Israel who had more truth and priesthood than the predominate national church. We don’t know what kind of heavenly encounter gave him his authority, but we know from modern revelation that he became the head of a dispensation or renewed priesthood covenant with the heavenly church. Many of the prophets of the Old Testament and Israelite breakaway groups mentioned in the Book of Mormon (like Nephi) are also good examples of how protestant groups can actually have greater priesthoods and greater access to revelation and the power of God than the Mother Church. Alma the Elder in the Book of Mormon perhaps provides one of the best examples of mainstream apostasy, protestant restorationism, and later dispensational renewal and reestablishment of ecumenical communion. (see footnote  for a breakdown). Likewise Joseph Smith is said to have been priesthood authorized to usher in the final dispensation and restoration of the Northern kingdom of Israel. But none of this means that the formal Gentile dispensation was without heaven’s approval or guidance!
The priesthood is never entirely lost during apostasy
Contrary to many prevalent teachings, LDS scripture suggests that priesthood is actually never entirely lost during apostacy. Despite the rather obvious idea that personal priesthood is invalidated by wickedness (D&C 121:45), LDS scriptures teach that social & patriarchal priesthood is “an everlasting covenant” (D&C 78:11), pertaining to one’s seed or descendants (Abr 2:9–11) that is never fully taken away. Regardless of individual loss of knowledge or keys, the responsibility/honor remains in one’s seed “throughout all their generations”.
17 Which priesthood continueth in the church of God in all generations, and is without beginning of days or end of years.
18 And the Lord confirmed a priesthood also upon Aaron and his seed, throughout all their generations, which priesthood also continueth and abideth forever with the priesthood which is after the holiest order of God. (D&C 84:17–18, see also Abr 1:4, 2:11)
The point is reiterated multiple times in scripture. In fact, just as D&C 10:53–54 has the Lord telling Joseph that his church already existed before Joseph even restored the LDS church (hidden in the wilderness because of wickedness — D&C 5:14; 33:5; 86:3; 88:66, 109:73), D&C 86 explains that Joseph already had the priesthood through his fathers BEFORE it was renewed (and keys were restored) by John the baptist or Peter, James and John. In a revelation to Joseph Smith in 1832, Joseph is told he received the priesthood, not simply through heavenly beings, but through his father’s lineage.
8 Therefore, thus saith the Lord unto you [my servants], with whom the priesthood hath continued through the lineage of your fathers —
9 For ye are lawful heirs, according to the flesh, and have been hid from the world with Christ in God —
10 Therefore your life and the priesthood have remained, and must needs remain through you and your lineage until the restoration of all things spoken by the mouths of all the holy prophets since the world began. (D&C 86:8–10)
The heavenly visions which Joseph had concerning priesthood restoration, relate to the conferring of priesthood keys and renewal of the Israelite priesthood covenant (D&C 84:48). But because the power of the patriarchal order of the priesthood remains upon us and our posterity throughout all generations of time and throughout all eternity — “apostasy” does not necessarily take it away from a family line. This is an important principle that I think our church has lost sight of and is necessary if we are to more fully align ourselves with the church in heaven which has the job of gathering the rightful heirs of the lower priesthood and giving them keys so they can be unified. The High Priesthood’s responsibility is to follow the example of the Spiritual Church and early apostolic fathers who through diligent work of persuasion and extremely humble service (D&C 121:41–42), reconcile and gather together existing Jewish/Christian congregations into ONE body of Christ.
Understanding this concept helps to clear up the LDS scriptural mandates to allow rightful heirs to the Aaronic priesthood to be permanent bishops over their congregations without counselors (D&C 68:14–20; D&C 107:15–17, 71–76). Both Christ’s early apostles and our latter-day apostles have been instructed by revelation to follow the example of the Spiritual Church in seeking out the literal descendants of Aaron who lead congregations and properly authorizing them to their service.
14 There remain hereafter, in the due time of the Lord, other bishops to be set apart unto the church, to minister even according to the first;
15 Wherefore they shall be high priests who are worthy, and they shall be appointed by the First Presidency of the Melchizedek Priesthood, except they be literal descendants of Aaron.
16 And if they be literal descendants of Aaron they have a legal right to the bishopric, if they are the firstborn among the sons of Aaron;
17 For the firstborn holds the right of the presidency over this priesthood, and the keys or authority of the same…
20 And a literal descendant of Aaron, also, must be designated by this Presidency, and found worthy, and anointed, and ordained under the hands of this Presidency, otherwise they are not legally authorized to officiate in their priesthood. (D&C 68:14–20)
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….
69 Nevertheless a bishop must be chosen from the High Priesthood, unless he is a literal descendant of Aaron…
76 But a literal descendant of Aaron has a legal right to the presidency of this priesthood, to the keys of this ministry, to act in the office of bishop independently, without counselors… (D&C 107:16,69,76)
In the early apostolic church, these were obviously Rabbi’s of assorted existing Jewish synagogues; in our day these could be both Christian Pastors or Parish leaders in addition to Jewish or Islamic leaders. As the coming gathering and restoration of Israel and “all things” unfolds; the church of heaven will increasingly unify with the churches of earth. And if the LDS church proves worthy, we can play a major role in that work of gathering all the assorted religions and schism of Abraham into one fold in Christ. (add scriptures. see the coming battle of Gog and Magog. and article on Times of the Gentiles)
Relooking at the Scriptural Basis for the Great Apostasy
A careful look at nearly all the scriptures generally used to support the LDS view of Universal apostasy, such as Isaiah 24:5–6; Amos 8:11–12, Acts 20:29–30; 2 Timothy 4:3–4; 2 Peter 2:1–3, Galatians 1:6–8; 2 Peter 2:1–3; 1 Corinthians 1:10–12; 11:18–19; 2 Timothy 1:15; Revelation 3:14–16 shows that all of these problems also existed within Israel throughout much of its dispensation — and yet none of it caused God to withdraw the kingdom or all of his priesthood or favor from them, until the appointed end of their 2000 year cycle. And even then it was not taken form the earth, just simply given to another more worthy people.
Even a close look at the namesake and ‘most used’ scripture for supporting the gentile apostasy doctrine shows that it simply does not makes sense to apply it in a universal apostasy context. Because of this, the very protestant religions that first used it to support their rejection of the Catholic Church have all but abandoned its defense in lieu of dispensationalism — and as we go through it you can see why. Concerning the Second Advent, or “day of Christ” Paul said in Thessalonians,
3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first [gr. apostasia or rebellion/revolt/departing], and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition… (2 Thes. 2:3)
The purpose of this verse was for Paul to introduce the reader to “the man of sin” or “son of perdition” which he speaks about at length in the following verses. This revolt or departing from the truth is said to reveal this ‘son of perdition’. Verses 4–12 explain this prophesied individual or archetype in detail, and make it pretty clear that it was not to be some 2nd or 3rd century despot.
4 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. 5 Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? 6 And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. 8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: 9 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, 10 And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: 12 That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thes. 2:4–33)
This archetype and his spiritual kingdom is also alluded to in Rev 13, 17 19:20, 1 John 4:4, 2:18, 2 John 1:7 (see also Dan 7:8 & Dan 9:27). Any attempts to call the early apostolic church or some 1st to 3rd century Pope or priest the “Son of Perdition” or Antichrist who fulfills these prophecies get frustrated by Moroni 7:16–18 and a careful look at the Thessalonians verse itself. An emperor like Nero or Antiochus also fails when we note that Thessalonians and the Doctrine and Covenants 76 show clearly that the “Son of Perdition” or Antichrist is a title for an archetype like Lucifer (v.23) who is a fallen Saint sitting in the temple or church. The title is further defined as those who have “been made partakers of [my Power], and suffered themselves through the power of the devil to be overcome… having denied the Holy Spirit after having received it, and having… crucified him unto themselves and put him to an open shame (v. 31,35). In fact used together D&C 76:23 and 1 John 2:18, make it fairly clear that the terms “antichrist” or “Son of Perdition” are titles that can be applied to a group of people and not simply a singular person per se (although a singular person may act as the archetype for that group of like-minded individuals).
18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us… 22 Who is the liar? it is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist — denying the Father and the Son. (1 John 2:18–22 NIV)
The ‘Son of God’ (Christ or Messiah) and Son of Perdition (antiChrist or one against Messiah) are revealed. In other words, the wheat and tares are separated as the true followers of God are separated from the hypocritical counterfeits of the religion.
The scriptural parallelism explained in the first half of this article actually helps to make all these prophecies and titles quite clear. If we understand how the dispensation of Israel ended with the corruption of the Israeli priesthood into an “anti-christ” organization bringing about the desolation of God’s temple or people, then we can see how Paul prophesied that this would be repeated at the close of the Gentile dispensation. Peter and Christ himself alluded to Judas and his Jewish leader accomplices as the end-age “Son(s) of Perdition” for the dispensation of Israel in John 17:12 & John 13:18–21 (see also Acts 1:16–18, Luke 22:3, GOHT). Christ’s reference to the ‘Son of Perdition’ is clearly a dualistic reference to Satan (see 3 Ne 27:32) as well as Judas and their followers — individuals or archetype who would “eat Christ’s bread with him” (John 13:18), hold God’s religious priesthood/partake of his power, have the Holy Spirit (D&C 76:31–32) and then actively corrupt their own religious law by killing God’s end-age innocent miracle working messengers (see John 6:70; 13:17–30; 16;2; Matt 26:21). The end-time Son(s) of Perdition stand in, and defile the temple (a symbol of the religion itself) and consequently bring about its total destruction or desolation (Dan 11:31; 12:11, JS-M 1:12,32; D&C 29:21; 50:4; 84:117; 88:94). This coming of the son of God and son of Perdition archetypes at the end of an age or dispensation fully separates the wheat from the tares (the true humble followers of God with the self-righteous hypocrites).
Confusing the Apostasy of Israel with Universal Apostasy
Perhaps one of the sources of confusion concerning traditional LDS views of Universal Apostasy stems from LDS and biblical scriptures regarding the Universal Apostasy and restoration of Israel. Readers have confused scriptures which speak of the imminent apostasy and restoration of Israel — wrongly supposing these references to Israel include the whole earth. Ancient Israel, Gentile Christianity and Mormonism are meant to be symbols of the manner God interacts with the earth, so its easy to see how the language could sometimes be confusing. Scriptures like Romans 11:25 show clearly that the early Apostles (or at least Paul) clearly understood that the Gospel and priesthood were to be taken from the Jews and given to the Gentiles for an entire dispensation (nearly 2000 years in this case). And that after the fulness (or end-times) of that Gentile dispensation it would then be returned to Israel. [note? see also, Hosea 6:2, Ezek 37, Mark 11:12–25)
For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. (Romans 11:25)
This statement by Paul comes directly after his explanation of the Olive tree allegory of Romans 11. Here Paul appears to be using a popular Jewish meme in which the Israeli covenant is compared to an Olive tree. Paul explains to his Gentile converts that Israel was rejected and was thus like natural branches which were cut off. The Gentiles, were like wild branches, which were grafted in place of the cut natural branches. And Israel will, if they repent, be grafted back in again at some future point.
17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by [your current] faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either…continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. 23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!
The olive tree in this allegory represents Yahweh’s covenant people (and priesthood). The roots are generally understood to represent the gospel heritage or faith (or as I would suggest the spiritual church in heaven or underworld aspect of the covenant). The branches represent the mortal cultures or peoples of the Abrahamic covenant. LDS scripture adds an incredible amount of detail to this allegorical comparison of Israel to an olive tree in 2 Nephi 10, 15 and Jacob 5, which help to clearly show how only the original branches of Israel [in Palestine] were “cut off” from the covenant or suffered universal apostasy. The Gentiles or grafted wild branches in the allegory persist, and although wicked and devoid of fruit at the end of the second age they do not perish or get rejected and cast into the fire during the second dispensation. Instead they are spared with the original transplanted (Jewish) branches as long as they produce fruit.
29 And it came to pass that a long time had passed away, and the Lord of the vineyard said unto his servant: Come, let us go down into the vineyard, that we may labor again in the vineyard. For behold, the time [end dispensation] draweth near, and the end soon cometh; wherefore, I must lay up fruit against the season, unto mine own self. 30 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard and the servant went down into the vineyard; and they came to the tree whose natural branches had been broken off, and the wild branches had been grafted in [Gentile/European Christianity]; and behold all sorts of fruit did cumber the tree. 31 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard did taste of the fruit, every sort according to its number [see Rom 11:25]. And the Lord of the vineyard said: Behold, this long time have we nourished this tree, and I have laid up unto myself against the season much fruit. 32 But behold, this time it hath brought forth much fruit, and there is none of it which is good [all Gentile churches have recently become wicked]… 36 Nevertheless, I know that the roots are good, and for mine own purpose I have preserved them; and because of their much strength they have hitherto brought forth, from the wild branches, good fruit. 37 But behold, the wild branches have grown and have overrun the roots thereof; and because that the wild branches have overcome the roots thereof it hath brought forth much evil fruit; and because that it hath brought forth so much evil fruit thou beholdest that it beginneth to perish; and it will soon become ripened, that it may be cast into the fire, except we should do something for it to preserve it. (Jacob 5:29–37)
This discussion occurs at the last time or dispensation “near the end” or present latter-days, and the lord tells his servant that although the ‘mother tree’ with grafted wild branches [European Christianity], had become wicked and fruitless — it “had hitherto brought forth, from the wild branches, good fruit”. Hitherto is defined as “until now or until the point in time under discussion”. In other words, until sometime near the beginning of the final dispensation, the Gentile church had produced GOOD FRUIT. Catholicism, Islam and Reformational Christianity had served as effective moral systems to guide Western culture and keep it civilized, ruled by moral law and free from complete social collapse and anarchy. But the lord of the vineyard saw the trouble that was brooding from the imperialism and nationalism that preceded wwi, wwii and the coming wwiii. He saw the potential collapse of the western civilization he had worked to build–and had planned to civilize the world with. He saw the building secret combinations in government, and the self destructive technology capable of destroying the entire planet. He saw the collapse that accompanies unrestrained power, selfishness, division, imperialism and most of all– a disrespect for moral principle and the rule of law. These aspects of moral decay associated with “the fulness of the Gentiles” elaborated on by Nephi in 2 Nephi 28–31, cause the lord of the vineyard to begin an aggressive end-dispensation program of pruning and grafting. A program that restores both diasporic Israel and the Gentiles from apostasy by mixing all the people and philosophies of the world together into one divinely directed global brotherhood.
LDS Restorationism, Jewish Zionism and the End of the Age
This rebellion or departing accompanying the separation of the wheat and the tares and the END of the age or dispensation is what Paul’s “Apostasy” of 2 Thes. 2:3 is clearly referring to. The end-age gathering separates the sons of God from the sons of perdition or antiChrists — allowing the righteous to be adopted into the new dispensation. In fact, the fulness of this event of “gathering” is described in books like John’s Revelation and Oahspe, as being far more prominent in the afterworld than on earth (Rev 4, 13–19).  LDS scripture suggest that like Jesus was two millennia ago, Joseph Smith and other 17th century religious reformers were meant to be living archetypes or harbingers of a reformational gathering process that has accompanied the modern/industrial age. In fact both Islam and Hindu scripture also point to these end-cycle reforming archetypes as well (referred to as Mahdi, Maitreya, Kalki). The Book of Mormon gives the most detailed description of the end of the Gentile dispensation and a warning that the latter-day work accompanying the restoration of the Israeli dispensation was a sign to modern nations and religions that they must correct their practices, and follow the advice of modern reformers or they would be desolated or “cut off” from the covenant in the same way the Jews and Middle Eastern cultures were “cut off” and slowly fell to ruin at the end of the last age — as the seat of regional power moved to Europe.
1 And verily I say unto you, I give unto you a sign, that ye may know the time when these things shall be about to take place — that I shall gather in, from their long dispersion, my people, O house of Israel, and shall establish again among them my Zion;
2 And behold, this is the thing which I will give unto you for a sign — for verily I say unto you that when these things which I declare unto you, and which I shall declare unto you hereafter of myself, and by the power of the Holy Ghost which shall be given unto you of the Father, shall be made known unto the Gentiles …
7…it shall be a sign unto them, that they may know that the work of the Father hath already commenced unto the fulfilling of the covenant which he hath made unto the people who are of the house of Israel…
11 Therefore it shall come to pass that whosoever will not believe in my words, who am Jesus Christ, which the Father shall cause him [the latter-day servant or archetype] to bring forth unto the Gentiles, and shall give unto him power that he shall bring them forth unto the Gentiles, (it shall be done even as Moses said) they shall be cut off from among my people who are of the covenant.
12 And my people who are a remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles, yea, in the midst of them as a lion among the beasts of the forest, as a young lion among the flocks of sheep, who, if he go through both treadeth down and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver.
13 Their hand shall be lifted up upon their adversaries, and all their enemies shall be cut off.
14 Yea, wo be unto the Gentiles except they repent; for it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Father, that I will cut [thee] off…
22 But if they will repent and hearken unto my words, and harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them, and they shall come in unto the covenant and be numbered among this the remnant of Jacob…
23 And they shall assist my people, the remnant of Jacob, and also as many of the house of Israel as shall come…
24 And then shall they assist my people that they may be gathered in… (3 Nephi 21:1–24)
These verses and associated chapters of 2 Nephi 11–30 weave together a slew of biblical allusions to make the argument that the end of the Gentile dispensation or fulness of the Gentiles (refs) would be the apogee of global war and wickedness, where secret combinations (hidden special interest groups), priestcrafts (divisive religious ideologies), murders and strifes (war and the industrial military complex) would bring about some type of apocalyptic world war. And that this world war would divide the Nations of the Gentiles into two groups — a Christ and antichrist group. The multidimensional metaphors in the Book of Revelation, and their allusions to the Book of Daniel point our minds not only to the parallelism of these prophecies in applying to both the end of the Times of Israel and the times of the Gentiles, but also to a dual temporal and spiritual aspect, where all major earthly events are made analogs of things going on in heaven as well.
These verses and the chapters they come out of, suggest that just as the Christian Goths, Germanic nations and Northern Asians completely destroyed Rome, Greece, Persia and the relics of the Middle Eastern empires during the dispensation of the Gentiles — with this new change in dispensations the reverse will happen. The Middle Eastern cultures will again rise to power and destroy any of the Northern Gentile cultures which don’t repent of their detrimental social practices and join the coming Global religious movements started by these 19th century reformers. D&C 10 makes this same point, but clarifying that God’s “church” mentioned in verse 22 is a spiritual church with loose pluralistic meaning. And that same dispensational change that is to occur in Eurasia is also to occur in the Americas, with social power switching back to the Native peoples. (see more clarification of these verses in this in the article Re-examining the Only True Church Doctrine)
52 And now, behold, according to [the prayers of ancient Native Americans] will I bring this part of my gospel to the knowledge of my people. Behold, I do not bring it to destroy that which they have received, but to build it up…
53 And for this cause have I said: If this generation harden not their hearts, I will establish my [spiritual] church among them.
54 Now I do not say this to destroy my [spiritual] church, but I say this to build up my church;
55 Therefore, whosoever belongeth to my [spiritual] church need not fear, for such shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.
56 But it is they who do not fear me, neither keep my commandments but build up churches unto themselves to get gain, yea, and all those that do wickedly and build up the kingdom of the devil — yea, verily, verily, I say unto you, that it is they that I will disturb, and cause to tremble and shake to the center…
60 And I will show unto this people that I had other sheep, and that they were a branch of the house of Jacob…
62 Yea, and I will also bring to light my gospel which was ministered unto them, and, behold, they shall not deny that which you have received, but they shall build it up, and shall bring to light the true points of my doctrine, yea, and the only doctrine which is in me.
63 And this I do that I may establish my gospel, that there may not be so much contention; yea, Satan doth stir up the hearts of the people to contention concerning the points of my doctrine…
65 For, behold, I will gather them as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if they will not harden their hearts; (D&C 10:52–63. Read also v. 64–69!)
The Book of Mormon weaves together hundreds of Biblical verses to forward this idea of global Israeli dispensationalism, and a restoration of the Abrahamic Covenant to its original cultures. The LDS Doctrine and Covenents suggest that just as the USA and Mormonism were to serve as symbols and epogees of the restoration of the Northern Kingdom of Ephraim — Jewish Zionism and a parallel modern day restoration of Israel were to serve as the epogees for the restoration of the Southern Kingdom of Judah (D&C 98:17; 18:26; D&C 45:18–44; 77:9–15; 109:62–66; D&C 133:12–14,34–35; Ether 13:3–12, 1 Nephi 13:42 JS Matthew 24). The eventual reconciliation of the doctrines and political realities that arose from these two movements would then eventually bring peace and harmony to the world (Isa 11) .
Talk about Ether and how the first would be last and last would be first each in their dispensation (jews, tribes, gentiles > gentiles, tribes, jews?)
The LDS “restoration” was certainly not a restoration of all truth, or the full Gospel, or the full priesthood; it was a religious archetype of the very beginning of the restoration of Israel with renewal of accompanied priesthood keys and gospel truths. It serves as the harbinger for the eventual restoration of the fullness of truth, which includes both religious and political and scientific knowledge. The LDS church is not the epogee of restoration, but a shadow, symbol or harbinger of the great social, political, technological and spiritual restoration God has brought and is bring to the world at large. It has little to do with “restoring a knowledge of the nature of God“. Early Jewish and Catholic fathers hashed that one out much better than we have yet, and LDS theology ultimately adds very little to the debate concerning first cause, demiGods and the nature of the uncreated Most High God. It has little to do with restoring lost priesthood. Each dispensation is given the priesthood keys they need, for the space of time they’ll be needed and Catholic keys sufficed for the work they were given. Instead it has to do with helping to usher in a new age — the end of the age of U.S. and European Christian Imperialism and the beginning of the age of universal brotherhood and global equality.
The LDS church has been created to play a key role as the symbol or Ensign to the restored Ephraimitic or Northern Kingdom which in turn was created to be a symbol or archetype of Western/Christian thought and democratic culture (as opposed to the coming Jewish restoration–Judah being a symbol of Eastern/Islamic thought and autocratic culture). It has to do with a renewal of symbolic priesthood keys concerning the dispensation of the fulness of times. A time when the histories, technologies, philosophies and issues of every past dispensation will be restored to earth and reconciled. Issues and philosophies such as autocratic rule versus democratic rule. Of polytheism versus monotheism; resurrection versus reincarnation; legalism versus antinomianism, priesthood versus protestantism, of socialism versus capitalism, republic versus empire, Islam versus Christianity. A global restoration like that mentioned in D&C 121
26 God shall give unto [his Saints] knowledge by his Holy Spirit, yea, by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost, that has not been revealed since the world was until now.
27 Which our forefathers have awaited with anxious expectation to be revealed in the last times…
28 A time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one God or many gods, they shall be manifest.
29 All thrones and dominions, principalities and powers, shall be revealed and set forth upon all who have endured valiantly for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
30 And also, if there be bounds set to the heavens or to the seas, or to the dry land, or to the sun, moon, or stars —
31 All the times of their revolutions, all the appointed days, months, and years, and all the days of their days, months, and years, and all their glories, laws, and set times, shall be revealed in the days of the dispensation of the fulness of times —
32 According to that which was ordained in the midst of the Council of the Eternal God of all other gods before this world was, that should be reserved unto the finishing and the end thereof, when every man shall enter into his eternal presence and into his immortal rest. (D&C 121:27–32)
Other Articles In This Series
Article 1. Re-examining what LDS scriptures say about the ‘Only True Church’ doctrine.
Article 2. A Doctrinal Look at The Universal Priesthood of God & Its Relationship to LDS exclusive truth claims.
Article 3. Clearing up Misunderstandings in the LDS View of the Afterlife (The 3 Degrees of Glory and their support for religious pluralism)
Article 4. Re-examining the LDS adoption of the protestant fundamentalist view of the “Great Apostasy”.
The promised “Fullness of the Gospel” mentioned in scripture (1 Ne 10:14; 13:24; 15:3; D&C 20:9; 42:12, 90:11). Scriptures explaining and defining the restoration of the Gospel, never suggest or necessitate universal apostasy of truth, priesthood or the gospel program. In fact they preclude it by talking about the existence of Christ’s Church before the LDS restoration (D&C 10:54–56), God’s priesthood before it’s restoration to Joseph (D&C 86:8–10), the Gentile church’s efficacy before its eventual end-time apostasy (Jacob 5:32), and more often than not use words like “renew” and ” ” to explain its renewal…
this should come as no surprise since LDS scripture also makes it clear that certain aspects of priesthood are a fundamental right to those who receive them “through all their generations” (D&C 107:15–16,76; D&C 78:11; D&C 84:17–18; Abr 1:4, 2:11). However, God does renew the priesthood and restore certain keys to the priesthood at the beginning of every dispensation (D&C 84:48; D&C 27:13; 112:31). We certainly need not use any of this information to suppose that the keys Joseph Smith claimed angel’s renewed and restored to him were unneeded or unimportant, but simply that the restoration of new priesthood keys does not mean that the keys given to previous dispensations, were taken from the earth before that dispensation even really had a chance to take off. [Note:D&C 121:? makes it clear that priesthood authority is invalidated with wickedness… however, there is no evidence to support that priesthood holders such as John the Baptist or Elijah or Lehi or Alma had to be regiven the priesthood just because one of their ancestors was unworthy]
Note that although D&C 10 clearly speaks of God’s “church” existing on earth before the restoration of Mormonism, Joseph Smith’s early Book of Commandments (ch 4) makes it clear that “if the people of this generation harden not their hearts”, God would “work a reformation among them” putting “down all lyings and deceivings and priestcrafts, and envying and strifes and idolatries and sorceries… and [would] establish [his] church like unto the church which was taught by [Christ’s] disciples in the days of old”. Later this revelation is reworded to become D&C 5, where instead of “reformation and restoration”, the idea is given that the true church has been chased “in the wilderness”. (wilderness because you cannot see him- D&C 88:66).
14 And to none else will I grant this power, to receive this same testimony among this generation, in this the beginning of the rising up and the coming forth of my church out of the wilderness — clear as the moon, and fair as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners.
Some could use that to promote the idea that the church/kingdom (like the manchild of Revelation 12) was chased into the spirit world — and that the prevailing LDS view of apostasy and restoration was valid. But that would contradict D&C 10. More likely, as I say in my true church article, the true spiritual church was chased into hiding within the world’s existing nations and religions.
Originally published at mormonuniversalism.com on April 27, 2016.