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,

David