Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the diminishing relevance of “the Great Apostasy”: part 1 - introduction

In the combox of the previous AF thread, certain reflections posted by TOm provided impetus, on my part, for the deeper exploration of two inextricably linked LDS concepts: “the Great Apostasy” and “there are save two churches only”—i.e. “the church of the Lamb of God" and “the church of the devil". Note the following:

Finally, my point is not to be an apologist for Padre Pio who I believe was a good Christian. My point is that if one approaches Padre Pio and Joseph Smith with the same degree of skepticism they can either declare both are frauds (probably because they believe in a Christian cessationism OR an Atheistic rejection of all supernatural) or they can declare both experienced the supernatural. The Catholic who believes both experienced the supernatural in my opinion MUST conclude the devil was involved in the supernatural interaction Joseph Smith experienced. The LDS in my opinion could consistently declare that the devil was involved in the supernatural interaction with Padre Pio, BUT INSTEAD could consistently declare that God interacted with Padre Pio where Padre Pio was. That God’s purposes are served by enhancing the faith of Padre Pio AND Catholics who become more faithful because of his witness. [Link]

The notion that the supernatural events which pervaded the life of Padre Pio were actuated via the Holy Ghost of God the Father, brought to mind a trend I have discerned amongst many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—i.e. “the Great Apostasy" was not as ‘great’ as earlier generations of Latter-day Saints had thought.

This ‘trend' has emerged in varying forms, which include: an emphasis on doctrines and practices held by various Christian denominations and sects that have similarities with those held by the CoJCoLDS; an acknowledgement that there are many ‘good Christians' in those non-LDS denominations and sects—even though those folk have not accepted the saving ordinances that can be performed ONLY by LDS priesthood holders; and further, while maintaining that an apostasy had occurred in the church that Jesus and His apostles had founded which required a “restoration”, there is reticence on the part of current missionaries and lay members to affirm that those ‘good Christians' of non-LDS denominations and sects are ‘apostates’ and members of “the church of the Devil”. In addition to the above examples, I have even heard some LDS folk state that Latter-day Saints and Muslims ‘worship the same God’.

In 2014 a collection of scholarly essays de-emphasizing the extent of “the Great Apostasy" were published in the book Standing Apart (Google preview here).

Though valuable historical information was provided in some of those essays, for the most part, I found much of content bordering on sophistic attempts to support the unfolding paradigm shift in the LDS understanding of “the Great Apostasy”.

[Three of the essays in the book are available online: first, Blumell’s Rereading the Council of Nicaea and its Creed (link); second, Givens’ Epilogue: “We have only the Old Thing”: Rethinking Mormon Restoration (link); and in a slightly different form, Dursteler’s Historical Periodization in the LDS Great Apostasy Narrative [Inheriting the ‘Great Apostasy’] (link).

This ‘trend’ to diminish the relevance of “the Great Apostasy” amongst many Latter-day Saints, stands in stark contrast to the importance portrayed in the unique LDS scriptures and the writings of a consensus of LDS authors who have written on the subject throughout the 19th and 20th centuries—e.g. Joseph Smith Jr., Orson Pratt, Parley Pratt, John Taylor, Joseph F. Smith, James Talmage, B.H. Roberts, and Bruce R. McConkie.

In part 2 of this series, I will delve into what Joseph Smith Jr. had to say about “the Great Apostasy”, including the scriptures brought forth by his hand.

Grace and peace,


Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Power in Unity, Diversity in Rank: Subordination and the Trinity in the Fathers of the Early Church - a valuable paper

Back on January 30, 2020 I reviewed a book by the Evangelical scholar, Michael J. Svigel (link). The book was the second contribution of his that I have read; the first being a paper that he delivered back in 2004 at the 56th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, with the title: Power in Unity Diversity in Rank - Subordination and the Trinity in the Fathers of the Early Church. [Full paper available in PDF format HERE.]

This paper is one of the better treatments concerning the doctrine of God in the Greek Church Fathers from the late 1st century through the end of the 2nd century.

As the introduction of the paper explicitly points out, Dr. Svigel’s analysis/survey is inextricably linked to the Trinitarian controversy concerning the issue of subordination that arose within Evangelicalism with the publication of John Dahms' article, “The Generation of the Son”, back in 1989 [link - see also his subsequent article].

With the above in mind, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the majority of the paper remained quite objection in its analyses—the section on Irenaeus being the most in depth survey. The quotations from the Greek Fathers concerning the doctrine of God that he surveys are exhaustive; I noticed only a few notably exclusions—e.g. citations of Proverbs 8:22 by Justin and Athenagoras with reference to the origin of the Son of God. [See this thread for the citations.]

I was also pleased that Dr. Svigel touches on the issue of the monarchy of God the Father. Note the following selections:

In Ignatius’s thinking the Father is the ultimate authority, the monarchia of the Godhead, and this relationship seems to precede and transcend the limits of the incarnation. (Page 7)

the fact that for Athenagoras (and, in fact, for all of the writers of the second century), the monarchia of the Godhead rests with the Father while the Son and Spirit operate in submission to the Father’s will. (Page 27)

There is an overwhelming tradition of what is today described as ontological equality and functional subordination within the Trinity that emphasizes the monarchia of the Father. While the Son and Spirit are not creatures, the Father is their head, meaning that all activities conform to his will. (Page 38)

In ending, though I personally do not fully agree with all of Dr. Svigel’s assessments, the paper as a whole is a valuable contribution for those folk interested in the teachings of the early Greek Fathers concerning the doctrine of God.

Grace and peace,


Saturday, February 8, 2020

The Last Mass of Padre Pio - The Secret Soul of the Stigmatic Saint: A provocative biography of Francesco Forgione

On January 30th, I received in the mail a book sent to me by my close friend, and brother in Christ, Rory—the same Rory who frequently comments here at AF—much thanks Rory!

A couple of days before the reception of the book, Rory had given me a 'heads-up' that he was sending the tome to me. Prior to my reading of the book, I knew virtually nothing about Padre Pio, apart from the claims that he was a stigmatist and miracle worker (I did not even know that he had been canonized by John Paul II).

I finished the contribution yesterday, reading portions of the book everyday since last Saturday, whilst supplementing those readings with a good deal of online research to provide greater depth to what I was learning.

The book was originally written in Italian by two Italian authors—Alessandro Gnocchi and Mario Palmaro—and translated into English by Marianna Gattozzi. It is divided into two main parts: “Part One – Toward the Lord" (4 chapters - pp. 21-104), and “Part Two – The Abuse of the Enemy and the Caress of Grace" (5 chapters - pp. 107-194).

The Prologue – In The Devil’s Territory” (pp. 1-18), sets the tone for “Part One”. Under the sub-heading, “The Mass cannot change”, the following is provided from the lips of Padre Pio: “My mission…will end when on Earth the Mass will no longer be celebrated…The World could even exist without sunlight, but not without the Holy Mass” (p. 5).

On page 7, our authors quote the following from the 19th century liturgical scholar, Dom Prosper Gueranger:

From the terminology used by the Church we understand how much the Holy Mass surpasses personal devotions. Therefore, the Mass must be kept first among all of them, and its intentions must be respected. This is how the Church makes all its members partakers of this great sacrifice; therefore, should the Sacred Sacrifice of the Mass cease, it will not be long before we will fall back into the abyss of depravity where the pagans once were, and this would be the work of the Antichrist. He will all means he can to impede the celebration of the Holy Mass, so that this great counterbalance might be abolished, and thus God will put an end to all things, having no more reason to keep them in existence.

They then write:

During the last years of his life, Padre Pio was weighed down by the realization that the words of Dom Gueranger were becoming more and more manifest in the world. (Ibid.)


If many of Padre’s spiritual sons, because of their fidelity to the Mass of all time, had been rejected by the majority of the churchmen of the 1960’s who had taken the new path, it is easy to suppose the the first stigmatic priest in history would of foreseen the crisis and would suffer the consequence. It was a dramatic event never seen before because, for the first time, the Mystical Body of Christ was lacerated through the attempt to revolutionize the sacrifice offered at the alter. (Page 13)

Immediately following the above assessment, the authors take us way back to the 2nd century—specifically, to St. Irenaeus—and relate the following:

The words of S. Irenaeus of Lyon, in his treatise Against the Heresies, are hard to forget, even by those in more remote areas, focused on the timelessness of the Mass. The importance of the words lies in their connection with the work of Padre Pio. Such a link reveals itself in all its disquieting evidence. "For this reason," explains St. Irenaeus, talking about the coming of the Antichrist,

Daniel says: "The sanctuary will be desolate: sin has been offered instead of sacrifice, and justice has been thrown to the ground. He did it and he was successful."

St. Irenaeus also writes:

The angel Gabriel [...] then, in order to indicate the length of the tyranny, during which the saints who offer to God a pure sacrifice will be put to flight, declares: "And in the middle of the week the sacrifice and the libation will be suppressed and in the temple the abomination of desolation will take place, and until the end of time the desolation will be accomplished." [...] the things [...] that Daniel prophesied regarding the end of times have been proved by The Lord, when He says: "When you will see the abomination of desolation prophesied by Daniel."

The abomination of desolation prophesied by Daniel, confirmed by Our Lord, and recalled by St. Irenaeus, is, undoubtedly, a world without the Mass. (Page 14)

The authors' provocative interpretation of Daniel's prophecy seems foundational to their understanding of Padre Pio's unique role in the unfolding of the end times. Attention is drawn to the length that Pardre Pio had the stigmata—exactly 50 years to the day—with the stigmata vanishing just prior to his final mass.

Padre Pio's intense devotion to the sacrifice of the Mass via the Traditional Roman Rite Liturgy is detailed in "Part One" of their book, as well as their belief that the Novus Ordo mass is a grave corruption.

The following selection is the authors’ detailed description of the consequences that have followed the institutionalization the Novus Ordo mass:

The results became evident in the decades that followed. We saw emptied convents and monasteries, decimated vocations, and infatuation for the world and its sweetly anti-Christ sirens, a feverish spirit of continuous reforms with inevitable loss of any sense of hierarchy and obedience, parish priests rebelling against their pastors, pastors revolting against their bishops, bishops dissenting with the pope, sacraments considered a minor bureaucracy to be avoided, deserted confessionals, the practice of prayer annihilated, liturgical creativity to the point of parody, a fading faith in the Rea Presence, empty tabernacles and tabernacles removed from the altars, the Blessed Sacrament hidden in the sacristies, altars reduced to workplace cafeteria tables, relics and sacred books sold in flea markets...All of them are bad fruits of the abandonment of the Mass of all time and of the good doctrine which, naturally and supernaturally, goes along with it. (Page 67)

"Part Two" relates of number supernatural events throughout the life of Padre Pio. Chapter 1, "The Devil Exists, I Met Him", deals with Padre Pio's lifelong battles against Satan and his demonic hosts. It also includes three important visions that he had received in 1903 (pp. 120-124). Chapter 2, deals with Padre Pio's interactions with souls in Purgatory. Chapter 3 with the confessional and the conversion of some skeptics.

Chapter 4, "The Little Flowers of San Giovannia Rototndo", is my personal favorite of the book. It is a concise history of Padre Pio's life, with additional supernatural, historical events related. The chapter begins with the following:

Bilocaton, scents and extraordinary aromas, the ability to “see" the thoughts of people, knowledge of diverse languages without having ever studied them, descents into Hell, visits to Purgatory, healings, prophecies, and conversions: Padre Pio’s case is one of a kind, the case of a man who had experienced an unusual abundance of phenomena definitely inexplicable, at least according to the categories of science and the physical world. (Page 161)

So much more could be included in this 'review' of mine; but I shall end here, hoping that what I have written will encourage many to obtain, and read, this fascinating contribution.

Grace and peace,


Thursday, January 30, 2020

Retro-Christianity – Reclaiming the Forgotten Faith: an evangelical professor encourages fellow evangelicals to examine a fuller history of Christianity

A few days ago, I finished reading Michael J. Svigel’s, Retro-Christianity – Reclaiming the Forgotten Faith (Google Books preview).

Joining a small, but growing number of evangelical writers, Svigel in this 2012 book, challenges his fellow evangelicals to explore the history of Christianity in a much fuller sense. He begins the book with a look back at the 1990’s when he, "was a student at a conservative evangelical Bible College" [p. 17], and relates that, “one of my fellow students shocked many in the student body (and alarmed many professors) when he announced he was becoming Greek Orthodox“ [p. 17]. He then. “heard about a free church evangelical who becames Anglican [p.17], and “about a Baptist who converted to Roman Catholicism” [p.17]. He also , “learned that many Low Church or free church Protestants hand left what they regarded as evangelical ‘wilderness wanderings’ to follow the 'Roman Road,’ the ‘Way to Constantinople,' or the ‘Canterbury Trail.’" "Over and over again”, Svigel “kept running into more examples like these: men and women leaving the open fields of of free roaming evangelicalism for the gated gardens of a clearly defined denomination" [pp. 17. 18].

Svigel goes on to identify three categories that these converts from  evangelicalism fell into: aversion-driven converts, attraction-driven converts, and preference-driven converts [p.18].

The aversion-driven converts are those who simply have had enough of of Low Church, free-church, or no-church evangelicalism" [p.18].

The attraction-driven converts...claim they were compelled to forsake their evangelical tradition because of their study of church history” [p.19].

Finally, the preference-driven converts are motivated not by the ills evangelicalism  or the merits of classic Christian denominations, but by personal preferences regarding worship” [p.19].

After stating that evangelicalism appears “to be spinning out of control, losing appeal to younger generations, dwindling in numbers, or selling out to pop culture to muster a crowd”, Svigel then asks two questions: “Where is evangelicalism headed? What can we do about it?" [Page 20]

The above questions are immediately followed with a detailed description of the intent/focus of the book—note the following:

This book will introduce to evangelicals the historical theological branches of the Christian faith that have grown through the Patristic, medieval, Reformation, and modern eras. RetroChristianity seeks to challenge us to begin thinking both critically and constructively about history and how it informs our current beliefs, values, and practices as evangelicals. However, unlike many attempts to change the present by looking to the past, this book also begins exploring practical ways for both individuals and churches to apply its principals today. Arguing that the way forward is to draw on the wisdom of the whole Christian past, RetroChristianity not only points out the trailhead of the biblical, historical, and theological path, but it supplies provisions for the journey without forsaking the healthy developments that have benefited Christianity along the way.

Svigel’s book is a multifaceted treatment. Though ultimately an apologetic work for independent/free church evangelicalism, it is also an introduction to the important topic of doctrinal development, and offers a working theory as to how one can identify true developments from false ones, using Vincent of Lérins famous ‘rule’—correct doctrine is “that faith which has which has been believed everywhere, always, by all”—as a starting point. Svigel interprets Vincent’s 'rule' as, "the core teachings of the Christian faith [that] must never change" [p. 55].

On pages 83-143 (Part Two: RetroOrtohoxy: Preserving the Faith for the Future), Svigel builds upon Vincent’s 'rule' with what he terms the three “Canons of RetroChristianity”. The first canon is: "Some Things Never Change and Never Should". The second is: "Some Things Have Never Been the Same and Never Will Be". And the third: "Some Things Grow Clear through Trial and Error".

I am sure most folk will agree with the stated principles of Svigel’s three canons. However, I am just as sure that most non-Evangelicals will disagree with much of the content that he places in each of those three canons.

On page 143, Svigel introduces the reader to “Part Three: RetroClesiology: Beyond the Preference Driven Church” [pages 145-218]—“With these three principles [i.e. the three canons] as our guide, we now can tackle two of the most vital areas affecting evangelicalism today: the church and the Christian life.

In "Part Three" Svigel identifies four "myths” concerning the Church: first, “The Church is Merely a Human Organization"; second, "The Church Is a Supermarket of Spiritual Groceries"; third, "The Church Is Just a Gathering of a Few Believers"; and fourth, “The Church Is Optional" [pages 146-162]. The four myths are then followed by the, “Four Classic Marks of the Historical Body of Christ”: "one, holy, catholic and apostolic” [pages 162-172].

Svigel’s definitions of "one, holy, catholic and apostolic” are all violations of Vincent’s ‘rule’ in that they have their origin in the 16th century via the Reformation and cannot be found in the extant Christian writings prior to that revolt.

On pages 173-198, Svigel delineates what he believes are the “essential marks” of a valid “local church: “orthodoxy, order, and ordinaces.” His understanding of what the mark of “order” means is one of the more interesting parts of the book for me, in that he seems to part with most evangelicals view. Svigel maintains, “that the leadership offices in the church established by the apostles must continue in our day” (page 178), and “that the New Testament apostles and prophets intended that local Christian churches reflect a threefold office later identified with the terms episkopos (overseer), presbyteroi (elders), diakonoi (ministers).” (Ibid.)

The final section of the book, “Part Four: RetroSpirituality: Living the Forgotten Faith Today” [pages 219-279] deals primarily with the local church’s role in the sanctification of Christians. For me, this is the most disappointing part of the book in that his evangelical understanding of soteriology has caused him to misread and/or redefine what Christian theologians/writers taught prior to the Reformation period. One example concerns baptism—note the following:

Let me make one final note regarding baptism in order to clarify a common misunderstanding. Although the idea of “baptismal regeneration" is universal among the early church fathers, it should not be confused with the notion of “baptismal salvation" common in later church history. In the early church, the term “regeneration" or being "born again" originally referred to a practical change in lifestyle. [Page 237]

Though Svigel is correct in affirming that, “the idea of ‘baptismal regeneration’ is universal among the early church fathers”, he is certainly in error in his belief that “[i]n the early church, the term ‘regeneration’ or being ‘born again’ originally referred to a practical change in lifestyle.

In ending my review, I would like to recommend Svigel's book to those interested in the subject of doctrinal development. Though the book has some serious weaknesses, its strengths outweigh them.

Grace and peace,


Saturday, December 21, 2019

Accommodation for “the Gospel's sake”—the risk of paganizing Christianity

Last night, I read a recent post [link] by the Baptist pastor Kent Brandenburg wherein he provides a quote from an Evangelical pastor, Paul Washer, which piqued my interest:

If you use carnal means to attract men, you're going to attract carnal men.  And you're going to have to keep using greater carnal means to keep them in the church.

Later in the post, pastor Brandenburg brings up two important Biblical concepts, that in my experience, are rarely discussed, and/or practiced in our day: church discipline and separation.

While reflecting on the above issues of carnality, discipline and separation, some of the quotations from the writings of John Henry Newman that I have recently provided here at AF—see this post—came to mind, and seem germane to our topic at hand. Here again are the quotes I am thinking of:

There is in truth a certain virtue or grace in the Gospel which changes the quality of doctrines, opinions, usages, actions, and personal characters when incorporated with it, and makes them right and acceptable to its Divine Author, whereas before they were either infected with evil, or at best but shadows of the truth. This is the principle, above spoken of, which I have called the Sacramental.  (An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 1878/1989. p. 368 - bold emphasis mine.)

Confiding then in the power of Christianity to resist the infection of evil, and to transmute the very instruments and appendages of demon-worship to an evangelical use, and feeling also that these usages had originally come from primitive revelations and from the instinct of nature, though they had been corrupted ; and that they must invent what they needed, if they did not use what they found ; and that they were moreover possessed of the very archetypes, of which paganism attempted the shadows; the rulers of the Church from early times were prepared, should the occasion arise, to adopt, or imitate, or sanction the existing rites and customs of the populace, as well as the philosophy of the educated class. (Ibid. pp. 371, 372 - bold emphasis mine.)

In the course of the fourth century two movements or developments spread over the face of Christendom, with a rapidity characteristic of the Church ; the one ascetic, the other ritual or ceremonial. We are told in various ways by Eusebius, that Constantine, in order to recommend the new religion to the heathen, transferred into it the outward ornaments to which they had been accustomed in their own. It is not necessary to go into a subject which the diligence of Protestant writers has made familiar to most of us. The use of temples, and these dedicated to particular saints, and ornamented on occasions with branches of trees; incense, lamps, and candles; votive offerings on recovery from illness ; holy water ; asylums ; holydays and seasons, use of calendars, processions, blessings on the fields ; sacerdotal vestments, the tonsure, the ring in marriage, turning to the East, images at a later date, perhaps the ecclesiastical chant, and the Kyrie Eleison, are all of pagan origin, and sanctified by their adoption into the Church. (Ibid. p. 373, - bold emphasis mine.)

I suspect that pastor Brandenburg would equate the adoption of “instruments and appendages of demon-worship”—i.e certain pagan ceremonies, festivals, rituals and eventually the use of images—with ‘carnal means’. I am not so certain that I can provide a solid apologia to discourage this.

But, with that said, of late I have been reflecting on a concept which some have termed, ‘accommodation’. The apostle Paul alludes to a form of accommodation in his first epistle to the Corinthians:

For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you. (1 Cor. 9:19-23)

The question that needs to be addressed is: when does adoption and accommodation become ‘carnal means?

Grace and peace,


Thursday, November 28, 2019

Intelligent Design Theory

In the combox of the previous thread here at AF, the issue of ID (Intelligent Design) was raised. This has inspired me to provide for interested folk a few of my favorite websites that support the ID theory:

Hope that others with interest in Intelligent Design will supplement the above list…

Grace and peace,


Saturday, November 9, 2019

David Cloud’s disturbing heads-up concerning the decline of Christianity in the United States

In yesterdays, “Friday Church News Notes” (link), David Cloud brought to the attention of his readers some alarming news:

The following research is confirmed by the many Southern Baptist and fundamental Baptist churches that are populated predominately by elderly people. The young people are gone. This is excerpted from ‘Young People Who Leave Church,’ Christian Post, Oct. 23, 2019: “While pastors have long banked on social science showing that young people who leave church generally return when they're older, a recent analysis of that trend suggests it might be over. In his analysis of data from the General Social Survey of five-year windows in which individuals were born spanning from 1965 to 1984 and published by the Barna Group, Ryan Burge, an assistant professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University and pastor of First Baptist Church of Mt. Vernon, Illinois, shows that younger generations raised in the church aren’t typically returning to church when compared with members of the ‘Baby boomer’ generation born between 1945 and 1964. In Burge’s analysis of the boomer generation, four different five-year cohorts reflected the ‘trademark hump’ supported by traditional social science ‘when each birth cohort moves into the 36–45 age range. That’s exactly what the life cycle effect would predict: People settle down, they have kids, and they return to church.’ When he examined data for the younger cohorts 1965-1969, 1975-1979 and 1980-1984, the data show a fading of the life cycle effect. While the hump is still there in the cohort measured from 1965-1969, a shift in the life cycle effect begins to emerge by around 1970. ‘That trend line is completely flat—those people didn’t return to church when they moved into their 30s. You can see the beginnings of a hump among those born between 1975 and 1979, but in the next birth cohort the hump is actually inverted. That trademark return to church—which pastors and church leaders have relied on for decades—might be fading,’ Burge said. For anyone concerned with church growth, Burge says ‘this should sound an alarm.’”

Some subsequent online research lead me to the Pew Research Center website, and their article “In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace” (link), wherein the following is revealed:

In Pew Research Center telephone surveys conducted in 2018 and 2019, 65% of American adults describe themselves as Christians when asked about their religion, down 12 percentage points over the past decade. Meanwhile, the religiously unaffiliated share of the population, consisting of people who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” now stands at 26%, up from 17% in 2009.

Both Protestantism and Catholicism are experiencing losses of population share. Currently, 43% of U.S. adults identify with Protestantism, down from 51% in 2009. And one-in-five adults (20%) are Catholic, down from 23% in 2009.

Disturbing statistics for sure, statistics which brought back to mind a quote from the Puritan theologian Thomas Manton that I published a little over a year ago:

Divisions in the church breed atheism in the world. [LINK]

I cannot help but wonder if the continuing multiplication of divisions—and lack of tangible unity—amongst those professing to be Christian is a major factor in the decline of Christianity in America…

Grace and peace,