The word apostasy isn’t one widely used in Christendom. Within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often inadvertently called the Mormon Church), however, the term apostasy is familiar and key to our theology. In the simplest of terms, an apostasy is a falling away from faith. Both individuals and groups of people can experience an apostasy, and thankfully, apostasy is a condition from which we can all return.
The Great Apostasy
The entire world experienced an apostasy for hundreds of years. After Christ was resurrected, He left His apostles to safeguard and direct the church He had established. As the twelve apostles died, the Church Jesus had established during His mortality gradually became corrupted. The organization of the Church of Christ was distorted, and priesthood ordinances were administered without authority.
As the world’s inhabitants grew more and more wicked, the Lord withdrew His power from the earth. (Mormons call this power the priesthood, and it’s a piece of doctrine crucial to our belief system.) For centuries, the world lived without the true Church of Christ. Men and women created their own theologies, some based very loosely on the original doctrine. Various churches and denominations abounded, with none of them possessing the full truth. This Great Apostasy made for a dark and confused world.
(Just because God withdrew His authority and power from the earth doesn’t mean that individuals themselves were not inspired by Him. Mormons believe that many men and women during this time were inspired of God to help prepare the world for the full restoration of Christ’s Church.)
Why the priesthood matters
Why does it matter if God withdrew the priesthood from the world? The priesthood is so important, because it is God’s power given to men to act in His name. In James 2:20 (in the New Testament) we read that “faith without works is dead.” Many Christian denominations today profess that to get to heaven, all one needs is faith. This scripture tells us otherwise. This passage can be interpreted to mean that you have to act on your faith and follow the commandments, which is true, but it has another meaning.
We can have faith in the doctrine of Christ, but if we don’t complete specific ordinances with the proper authority, our faith will not be enough to save us. The Church of Christ believes in saving ordinances, like baptism. Jesus Christ Himself was baptized, and we must do likewise. This baptism, however, must take place under the correct authority—the priesthood.
Mormons believe in other saving ordinances performed under the direction of the priesthood. (Many of these ordinances take place in LDS temples. For more on LDS temples, go here.) The ordinances involve promises made by both the individual taking out the ordinance and God Himself. These works would mean nothing without the power of the priesthood. The fact that the priesthood was gone from the earth is very significant.
Is the world still in an apostasy?
No! The good news is that the Church of Christ in its fullness was restored to the earth by Joseph Smith in 1830. God prepared the world for this historic event and has promised that the world will never know such a period of apostasy again.
When Joseph Smith restored the Church of Christ He saw Jesus Christ and the Father in their glory and received divine direction as to the establishment of the Church in this day. Ever since this restoration, we have been blessed with prophets and apostles, just as the world was in Christ’s day. The prophet today is President Thomas S. Monson, and he speaks to us regularly. He is the prophet for not just Mormons, but for the world.
Coming back from apostasy
The world has rebounded from the Great Apostasy to some degree. Certainly not everyone in the world knows or accepts the truth found in the Church of Jesus Christ, but the truth and authority are available and present.
If you are experiencing a personal apostasy, you can recover and find faith again. The beauty of the truths restored to the world is that they all point to Jesus Christ and His redeeming power. No one is too far gone to be beyond the help and healing power of Christ, our Savior. You too can experience the joy and fullness available through repentance and priesthood ordinances. Apostasy may happen, but it is never forever.
Charlotte graduated from Brigham Young University with a bachelor's degree in English, with an emphasis in editing. During her education she interned with the Neal A.Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, BYU Publications, and the New Era magazine. Charlotte currently lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and son. She's a stay-at-home-mom and has been able to keep up her writing through maintaining a personal blog (smallandtrivial.blogspot.com).