Mormon Beliefs About Apostasy and Restoration
When Jesus Christ died and was resurrected, He left His apostles to run the church. They began a struggle to keep the young church under control. Many groups of Christians began introducing false doctrine into their worship services. The apostles wrote letters and visited, trying to correct these false teachings, some even doubting that Jesus had been resurrected and that they themselves could be resurrected. Timothy sorrowed because they lost all of Asia to apostasy.
The apostles had the authority from God to make official declarations of correct theology when there were disagreements. They also had the authority, being prophets, to introduce new doctrine or changes to practices when God instructed them to do so, such as when it was announced that the gospel was to be preached to everyone, not just the Jews. The Bible explains that the apostles were prophets.
32 And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them. Acts 15:32
In time, however, the apostles also died and eventually, they were not replaced as this happened. Once again, the rebellious world had entered into a period of apostasy. A small group of Christians worked valiantly and successfully to keep the Christian faith alive, despite extraordinary persecution. However, they had no prophets and therefore no one with the authority to decide agreements or to introduce further doctrine or new practices as needed. As a result, when disagreements arose, the doctrines had to be put to a human vote, as they were in the various church counsels. When people disagreed, they were excommunicated or they left to form their own churches.
Today, we see the results of the apostasy and the dangers of life without a prophet. There are thousands of churches all teaching conflicting doctrine. They have no voice of authority other than the Bible, and they disagree on what the Bible means. There is no prophet in most churches who has the authority to speak for God, and in fact, many churches have insisted they don’t need a prophet—they can handle things without direct input from God. They skip past the verses in the Bible that outline the importance of a prophet in God’s own church:
7 Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets ( Amos 3:7).
19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone (Ephesians 2:19-20).
However, the world makes it abundantly clear that for God’s church to function properly, there must be a prophet—one person authorized to reveal God’s word and to correct mistakes that inevitably creep in to doctrine. There can be only one true church because God is not a God of confusion. Authority has always been an essential part of God’s plan, as evidenced by the Bible, which teaches doctrine through prophets, not ordinary people trying to guess what is true.
In the 1800s, a teenager named Joseph Smith wanted to choose a religion for himself, but he wanted to get it right. He visited many churches and talked to their religious leaders. However, they all disagreed with one another, despite all being Protestants, on essential doctrine. He wondered how a person could know for certain what the truth was. Joseph began reading the Bible from cover to cover looking for an answer and eventually came to James 1:5:
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him (James 1:5).
Suddenly he understood how to find his answer. He went into the woods and began to pray. After a time, a light appeared in the sky above Him and two personages were in the light. These were God and Jesus Christ. Jesus told Joseph he must not join any of the churches because none had the fullness of the gospel. The apostasy had been very long, but it was finally nearing its end. In a few years, when Joseph was grown, an angel named Moroni would come to Joseph to tell him about a book written long ago when Moroni was a mortal. With the translation of that ancient testimony of Jesus Christ, a book that would prove the divinity of Christ and the truthfulness of the Bible, the restoration of the New Testament gospel, freed from the complicated additions of mankind over the centuries would be restored.