Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the diminishing relevance of “the Great Apostasy”: part 3 – Orson Pratt, the Great Apostasy was “total" not "partial"


Orson Pratt was one of the original twelve apostles appointed by Joseph Smith. Orson was a gifted mathematician, astronomer, surveyor, missionary and writer. More than one author has legitimately identified him as Mormonism’s "first intellectual”.

Orson went on at least eighteen missions during his lifetime. It was on his first mission to the British Isles (1839-1841)—in conjunction with the entire quorum of the twelve apostles—that he wrote and published his first apologetic work, A [sic] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, and of the Late Discovery of Ancient American Records (1840). Upon his return to the United States, this work was republished under the title, History of the Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon (1841). During his second mission to the British Isles, it was republished under the shortned title, Remarkable Visions (1848 – link to PDF copy HERE). This 1848 edition—16 pages—added the following introductory synopsis:

Visions of Joseph Smith—Discovery of Gold Plates, filled with Egyptian Characters and Hieroglyphics—Their Translation into the English Language by the aid of the Urim and Thummim—The Sacred History of Ancient America, now clearly revealed from the earliest ages after the Flood, to the beginning of the Fifth Century of the Christian Era—A Sketch of the Rise, Faith, and Doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In addition to being the first published work to contain an account of the ‘First Vision’, the pamphlet provided in creedal form—i.e. ‘we believe’—"a sketch of the faith and doctrine of the Church” (pp. 12-16). This section contains the following take on the issue of the ‘Great Apostasy’:

We believe that there has been a general and awful apostacy from the religion of the New Testament, so that all the known world have been left for centuries without the Church of Christ among them; without a priesthood authorized of God to administer ordinances; that every one of the churches has perverted the gospel; some in one way, and some in another. For instance, almost every church has done away ”immersion for remission of sins.” Those few who have practised it for remission of sins, have done away the ordinance of the “laying on of hands” upon baptized believers for the gift of the Holy Ghost. Again, the few who have practiced the last ordinance, have perverted the first, or have done away the ancient gifts, and powers, and blessings which flow from the Holy Spirit, or have said to inspired apostles and prophets, we have no need of you in the body in these days. Those few, again, who have believed in, and contended for the miraculous gifts and powers of the Holy Spirit, have perverted the ordinances, or done them away. Thus all the churches preach false doctrines, and pervert the gospel, and instead of having authority from God to administer its ordinances, they are under the curse of God for perverting it. Paul says, Gal. i. 8, “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” (Bold emphasis mine.)

During his second mission to the British Isles, Pratt published other apologetic works. In his, Divine Authority—or was Joseph Smith Sent of God? (Sept. 30, 1848 - 1891 reprint available online HERE), Orson published a letter he received on July 15, 1848, of which he wrote:

The author of the above letter has carefully examined the present state of the world, and declares himself fully convinced of the awful apostasy which now so universally prevails. He unhesitatingly admits that all authority to teachto administer ordinancesto build up the church of Christ, has entirely ceased from the earththat “ all is uncertain.” (1891 reprint, pp. 10, 11 - bold emphasis mine)

A bit later, he writes:

If Joseph Smith was not sent of God, this Church cannot be the Church of God, and the tens of thousands who have been baptized into this Church are yet in their sins, and no better off than the millions that have gone before them. The form, without the power and authority, is no better than the hundreds of human forms that have no resemblance to the ancient pattern; indeed, it is more dangerous, because better calculated to deceive. Other churches do not profess to have inspired apostles, prophets, prophetesses, evangelists, etc., hence we know, if the New Testament be true, that they cannot be the church of God. But the Latter- day Saints profess to have all these officers and gifts among them, and profess to have authority to administer in every form, ordinance and blessing of the ancient church; hence we know, that so far as the officers, doctrines, ordinances, and ceremonies are evidence, this Church can exhibit a perfect pattern. In these things, then, both ancient and modern Saints are exactly alike. By the New Testament then we cannot be condemned.

If the Latter-day Saints are not what they profess to be, one thing is certain, that no one ever will be able to confute their doctrine by the scriptures; however, imperfect the people may be, their doctrine is infallible. Can this be said of any other people who have existed on the eastern hemisphere during the last 1700 years? No. Their doctrines have been a heterogenous mixture of truth and error, that would not stand the test one moment when measured by a pattern of inspiration; some disparity could be seen and pointed out—some deviation either in the organization or in the ordinances of the gospel could be shown to exist. And now after so many centuries have elapsed, and when human wisdom has been exerted to its utmost strength, and the most exalted and gigantic talents displayed to lay a stable foundation whereon to build, we awake and behold all an empty bubble—a vain show—a phantom of man’s creation, with scarcely a vestige of the ancient form to say nothing of the power. In the midst of all this thick darkness, a young, illiterate, obscure and inexperienced man announces a message from heaven, before which darkness flees away; human dogmas are overturned; the traditions of ages are uprooted , all forms of church government tremble like an aspen leaf at its approach, and the mighty fabric of popular sectarianism is convulsed and shaken to its very foundation. How happens all this? If Joseph Smith were an impostor, whence his superior wisdom? What power inspired his mind in laying the foundation of a church according to the ancient order? How could an impostor so far surpass the combined wisdom of seventeen centuries as to originate a system diverse from every other system under heaven, and yet harmonize with the system of Jesus and His apostles in every particular? What! an impostor discover the gross darkness of ages, and publish a doctrine perfect in every respect, against which not one scriptural argument can be adduced! (1891 reprint, pp. 11, 12 - bold emphasis mine)

We then read:

John, nearly one hundred years after the birth of our Savior, saw the wonderful events arid sceneries of unborn generations displayed in majestic and awful grandeur before him. He saw the churches of Asia, then under his own personal watch-care, lukewarm, corrupted, and about ready to be moved out of their place. He saw the universal apostasy that was soon to succeed arid hold dominion for ages over all kindred and tongues, under the name of the Mother of Harlots—the great Babylon that should make all nations drunk with her wickedness. He saw that after the nations had been thus overwhelmed in thick darkness for ages, without the church of God, without apostles, without prophets, without the ministering of angels, without one cheering message from heaven, that there would be one more proclamation of mercy made to all people—one more dispensation of glad tidings from the heavens, to be ushered in by an angel restoring the everlasting gospel, which was to receive a universal proclamation to all the inhabitants of the earth, followed with a loud cry, that the hour of Gods jugdment is come. (1891 reprint, p. 17 - bold emphasis mine)

A little over two years later, Orson published his Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon (Oct. 15, 1850 - 1891 reprint available online HERE). Once again, the topic of a universal apostasy is presented to the reader. Note the following selections:

if investigation should prove the Book of Mormon true and of divine origin, then the importance of the message is so great* and the consequences of receiving or rejecting it so overwhelming, that the various nations—to whom it is now sent, and in. whose lan¬ guages it is now published, should speedily repent of all their sins, and renounce all the wicked traditions of their fathers, as they are imperatively commanded to do in the message: they should utterly reject both the Popish and Protestant ministry, together with all the churches which have been built up by them or that have sprung from them, as being entirely destitute of authority, they should turn away from all the priestcrafts and abominations practiced by these apostate churches (falsely called Christian), and bring forth fruits meet for repentance in all things: they should be immersed in water by one having authority, and receive a remission of their sins, and be filled with the Holy Spirit. (1891 reprint, pp, 125, 126 - bold emphasis mine)

Without new revelation every office in the Church would necessarily become vacant. It is true, that those who held office at the time revelation ceased, would still, during their natural life, continue to retain it, unless through transgression they should be legally deprived of it. If revelation ceased at the close of the first century, it is not at all likely that any of the officers, then holding the authority, would be alive a century afterwards; and as they would have no authority to ordain others without new revelation, when they died, the authority upon the earth would necessarily become extinct. How overwhelming the thought! Yet there is no conclusion more certain. If all offices became vacant there could be no additions to the church by baptism; for it would be a great sin for private members to assume the authority to baptize ; hence, as soon as those who had been baptized by authority were dead, the world would be entirely destitute of both the officers and private members of the Church of Christ. But when officers and members both cease, what is left? nothing at all. Hence, without continued revelation, the Church could no more continue in its existence on the earth, than a body could live with¬ out the spirit. (1891 reprint, pp, 159, 160 - bold emphasis mine)

Whilst on yet another mission to the British Isles, Orson published a series of eight tracts/pamphlets, with the seventh being entirely dedicated to the issue of the “Great Apostasy’ under the title, Universal Apostacy, or the Seventeen Centuries of Darkness (1856 – online PDF copy HERE). The entire contribution is a must read (IMO); but for now, I would like to focus on paragraph 3ff., which delineates a distinction between a partial apostasy from one which is universal. Pratt maintains that the history of the “Jewish Church” was characterized by a number of partial apostasies, whilst the “great Apostacy of the Christian Church”, was universal. As such, the only remedy for this universal apostasy was a restoration, rather than a mere reformation.

Now, with the above in mind, I would like to reproduce a question, that Rory and I began to delve into, from the combox of the previous thread: “what atrocities did Jesus’ followers commit in the first through the early fourth century that approached the depravity of OT covenant people?” [Link]

Framed another way, why only a partial response by God in the Mosaic dispensation to apostasy, whilst His response is universal in nature concerning the Church founded by His Son?


Grace and peace,

David

Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the diminishing relevance of “the Great Apostasy”: part 2 – the 'First Vision’ and the teachings of Joseph Smith


The second post of this series concerning the issue of “the Great Apostasy” as understood within the LDS paradigm, will focus on the ‘First Vision' and what Joseph Smith taught.

In the first post of this series, I provided a number of examples indicative of an ongoing paradigm shift concerning the interpretation/understanding of “the Great Apostasy” as expressed by many contemporary Latter-day Saints. Towards the end of that post, I wrote:

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.

The Latter-day Saints mentioned above all believed and taught that if “the Great Apostasy” was not in a very real sense ‘total'—i.e. a complete loss of essential teachings and ordinances necessary for salvation—there would be no need for a ‘restoration'.

With this in mind, I would like to add another key aspect of the Great Apostasy/Restoration/”two churches only" triadic paradigm: the First Vision. Folk who have an interest in Mormonism/CoJCoLDS are likely cognizant that the year 2020 marks the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s First Vision. As such, it has been anticipated by many that the 190th Annual General Conference held this last weekend (April 4, 5) would be placing a strong emphasis on the FV. Personally speaking, I was wondering if the speakers of this conference when addressing the FV would retain the more traditional LDS understanding of the Great Apostasy/Restoration/”two churches only" concepts, or incorporate aspects of the emerging paradigm shift which diminishes the extent and/or relevance of those three inextricably linked motifs.

Having taking in most of talks delivered at the 190th Conference, it sure seems to me that the speakers leaned heavily towards “the more traditional LDS understanding of the Great Apostasy/Restoration/”two churches only" concepts”. The following are a few selections which support this assessment:

Joseph added, “No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right.”

He recalled: “They told me that all religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines, and that none of them was acknowledged of God as his church and kingdom. And … at the same time [I] receive[d] a promise that the fulness of the gospel should at some future time be made known unto me.” [Link]

Sisters and brothers, what a wonderful time we live in. As we celebrate the beginning of the Restoration, it is also appropriate to celebrate the ongoing Restoration that we are witnessing. I rejoice with you to live in this day.The Lord continues to put in place, through His prophets, all that is needed to help us prepare to receive Him...

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the greatest cause in the world. President Ezra Taft Benson said: “We are commanded by God to take this gospel to all the world. That is the cause that must unite us today. Only the gospel will save the world from the calamity of its own self-destruction. Only the gospel will unite men [and women] of all races and nationalities in peace. Only the gospel will bring joy, happiness, and salvation to the human family.” [Link]

Today we celebrate restoration and resurrection. With you, I rejoice in the ongoing Restoration of the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As began 200 years ago this spring, light and revelation continue to come forth through the Lord’s living prophet and His Church called in His name—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—and through personal revelation and inspiration by the supernal gift of the Holy Ghost. [Link]

My dear brothers and sisters, I am honored to speak at this historic general conference commemorating Joseph Smith’s First Vision of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, in what is, without question, a Sacred Grove. That vision was a magnificent beginning to the Restoration of the gospel and all that unfolded, from the Book of Mormon to the return of priesthood authority and keys, the organization of the Lord’s true Church, temples of God, and prophets and apostles who lead the work in these latter days. [Link]

Last October, President Russell M. Nelson invited us to look ahead to this April 2020 conference by each of us in our own way looking back to see the majesty of God’s hand in restoring the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sister Holland and I took that prophetic invitation seriously. We imagined ourselves living in the early 1800s, looking at the religious beliefs of that day. In that imagined setting, we asked ourselves, “What’s missing here? What do we wish we had? What do we hope God will provide in response to our spiritual longing?” [Elder Holland provides numerous examples that pointed to the need of a restoration, which by implication demands a total apostasy - Link]

Though more examples can be provided, I shall end this section of the post with a link to President Nelson’s Sunday morning discourse which included, “The Restoration of the Fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: A Bicentennial Proclamation to the World” [Link]

Moving on, the next section of this post examines what Joseph Smith had to say concerning the triadic paradigm of intertwined concepts. Joseph related the following from his 1820 "First Vision':

18 My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join.
19 I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight ; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof." (Pearl of Great Price – Joseph Smith—History, p. 49)

From the book, Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, we read:

Some may pretend to say that the world in this age is fast increasing in righteousness; that the dark ages of superstition and blindness have passed, when the faith of Christ was known and held only by a few, when ecclesiastical power had an almost universal control over Christendom, and the consciences of men were bound by the strong chains of priestly power: but now, the gloomy cloud is burst, and the Gospel is shining with all the resplendent glory of an apostolic day; and that the kingdom of the Messiah is greatly spreading, that the Gospel of our Lord is carried to divers nations of the earth, the Scriptures translating into different tongues; the ministers of truth crossing the vast deep to proclaim to men in darkness a risen Savior, and to erect the standard of Emmanuel where light has never shone; and that the idol is destroyed, the temple of images forsaken; and those who but a short time previous followed the traditions of their fathers and sacrificed their own flesh to appease the wrath of some imaginary god, are now raising their voices in the worship of the Most High, and are lifting their thoughts up to Him with the full expectation that one day they will meet with a joyful reception in His everlasting kingdom! (pp, 48, 49)

What is the reason that the Priests of the day do not get revelation? They ask only to consume it upon their lusts. Their hearts are corrupt, and they cloak their iniquity by saying there are no more revelations. But if any revelations are given of God, they are universally opposed by the priests and Christendom at large; for they reveal their wickedness and abominations.25 (April 10, 1842.) DHC 4:588. (p. 217)

Because faith is wanting, the fruits are. No man since the world was had faith without having something along with it. The ancients quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, women received their dead, etc. By faith the worlds were made. A man who has none of the gifts has no faith; and he deceives himself, if he supposes he has. Faith has been wanting, not only among the heathen, but in professed Christendom also, so that tongues, healings, prophecy, and prophets and apostles, and all the gifts and blessings have been wanting. (p. 270)

Now for the secret and grand key. Though they might hear the voice of Go and know that Jesus was the Son of God, this would be no evidence that their election and calling was made sure, that they had part with Christ, and were joint heirs with Him. They then would want that more sure word of prophecy, that they were sealed in the heavens and had the promise of eternal life in the kingdom of God. Then, having this promise sealed unto them, it was an anchor to the soul, sure and steadfast. Though the thunders might roll and lightnings flash, and earthquakes bellow, and war gather thick around, yet this hope and knowledge would support the soul in every hour of trial, trouble and tribulation. Then knowledge through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the grand key that unlocks the glories and mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.

Compare this principle once with Christendom at the present day, and where are they, with all their boasted religion, piety and sacredness while at the same time they are crying out against prophets, apostles, angels, revelations, prophesying and visions, etc. Why, they are just ripening for the damnation of hell. They will be damned, for they reject the most glorious principle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and treat with disdain and trample under foot the key that unlocks the heavens and puts in our possession the glories of the celestial world. Yes, I say, such will be damned, with all their professed godliness.” (pp. 298, 299)

What is the secret—the starting point? “According as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness.” How did he obtain all things? Through the knowledge of Him who hath called him. There could not anything be given, pertaining to life and godliness, without knowledge. Woe! woe! woe to Christendom!—especially the divines and priests if this be true. (p. 305)

The old Catholic church traditions are worth more than all you have said. Here is a principle of logic that most men have no more sense than to adopt. I will illustrate it by an old apple tree. Here jumps off a branch and says, I am the true tree, and you are corrupt. If the whole tree is corrupt, are not its branches corrupt? If the Catholic religion is a false religion, how can any true religion come out of it? If the Catholic church is bad, how can any good thing come out of it? The character of the old churches have always been slandered by all apostates since the world began.

I testify again, as the Lord lives, God never will acknowledge any traitors or apostates. Any man who will betray the Catholics will betray you; and if he will betray me, he will betray you. All men are liars who say they are of the true Church without the revelations of Jesus Christ and the Priesthood of Melchizedek, which is after the order of the Son of God.

It is in the order of heavenly things that God should always send a new dispensation into the world when men have apostatized from the truth and lost the priesthood, but when men come out and build upon other men’s foundations, they do it on their own responsibility, without authority from God; and when the floods come and the winds blow, their foundations will be found to be sand, and their whole fabric will crumble to dust. (pp. 375, 376) [A PDF copy of this book available online HERE]

Hope to have Part 3 up soon…


Grace and peace,

David