In Search of the “Great Apostasy”: A Catholic Response to Mormon Claims

Since its inception in 1830, the Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) has denied any continuous historical connection with Christianity.

Mormonism’s founder Joseph Smith, claimed that in 1820 God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him in the woods near his home in Palmyra, New York. Jesus said that for the proceeding 1700 years (give or take a century — Mormonism can’t say exactly) the world had been living in the darkness of a total apostasy from the gospel.

This was the answer to a question young Smith had been pondering. “My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of these sects was right, that I might know which to join. . . .I asked the personages who stood above me in the light, which of all these sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong), and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me [Jesus] said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that their professors were all corrupt”

Smith convinced his credulous followers, most of them simple rural folk, that he’d been chosen, in what Mormons have come to call the First Vision, to be the first post-apostasy prophet — God’s hand-picked agent charged with restoring the true gospel.

Over the next several years Smith purported to have received additional revelations from “heavenly personages.” He claimed that after establishing his church in Palestine, the resurrected Jesus appeared in South America to the Nephites (Jews who, Smith said, had migrated to the New World between 600 and 592 B.C.) and organized a parallel church there (3 Nephi 11-28).

The new prophet seized on Jesus’ words in John 10:16 (“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd”) as proof of the Lord’s impending South American travel plans. The exegesis might impress one unfamiliar with the New Testament, but the usual understanding is that the “other sheep” Jesus referred to were the Gentiles, to whom the gospel also was extended.

Smith claimed the Nephite church had the same hierarchy and ordinances as its sister church in Palestine — living prophets, twelve apostles, seventy disciples — but things didn’t go well for either church. Both collapsed under the weight of pagan influences, dissolving into complete apostasy.

The late Bruce McConkie, a Mormon apostle and, during his life, perhaps Mormonism’s leading theologian, explained things this way: “This universal apostasy began in the days of the ancient apostles themselves; and it was known to and foretold by them. . . .With the loss of the Gospel, the nations of the earth went into moral eclipse called the Dark Ages. Apostasy was universal. . . [T]his darkness still prevails except among those who have come to a knowledge of the restored Gospel.”[1]

Mormons believe the church Jesus established in Palestine, before its disintegration, was identical to the Mormon Church of today, with ceremonies such as baptism for the dead, a polytheistic concept of God (including eternal progression, the notion that God was a man who evolved into a god and that worthy Mormon males can evolve into gods), and other peculiar Mormon beliefs. The fact that no historical evidence exists to corroborate this position doesn’t put much of a dent in the average Mormon’s mental armor. . . . (continue reading)


  1. Jed M. Merrill

    Have only read this first page so far, and most everything is correct. I will say this about the apostasy, however:The Apostle Paul spent most of his travels correcting Apostate beliefs in the various regions of the Church. (1 Corinthians 1:11, for example.)Here are literally dozens of scriptures from the King James Version of the Bible supporting the facts of the coming apostasy: was the Apostasy complete? The Apostasy might be considered to be complete when the Apostles had been rejected and killed, as no new Apostles were called to take their place at the head of the Church as initially was the case with Matthias (Acts chapter 1, verses 23-26), etc.Besides a loss of Apostolic authority, the early Church suffered a loss of clarity in doctrine. The very occurence of the Council of Nicaea and other Church councils that were at first contentious bear witness to this fact. People could no longer decide about such important and central matters as the method of baptism (sprinkling or immersion?), the nature of God (three separate beings or three in one?), is God knowable or unknowable? Mormons consider the conclusions of these councils to be manmade at best, noble attempts to preserve what remained of the teachings of Peter, Paul, John, and so forth, but also an attempt to avoid total fracturing along doctrinal lines. There was never total agreement, and even centuries later, men like Martin Luther continued to question various conclusions of the Catholic church, splintering eventually into the thousands of differing options we have today.Jesus said there was one shepherd and one flock. How are we divided if there was no Apostasy? An Apostasy IS a scattering due to a loss of truth and/or authority.If all that I say is true, then it appears absolutely necessary that a restoration take place, through someone, in order to begin again a gathering prior to the second coming of Jesus Christ? Why NOT a farm boy?Joseph Smith's account:

  2. RB

    Nice story, but filling in the spaces between facts is not history.

  3. Seth R.

    McConkie and Talmage's works are a bit outdated and rely in large part, on the Protestant scholarship of their day.For more up-to-date Mormon scholarship on the issue, I'd suggest the book "Early Christians in Disarray." It addresses many of the arguments you raise.

  4. pfinley

    If the churches before them were in Apostacy, the Gospels, and scripture werent formerly canonized till the 4th century. thus the Gospel that the mormons claim to be re introducing, is infact apostacy.Of Course, I suppose the "Book of Mormon" allows a nice loophole there

  5. Seth R.

    "Nice story, but filling in the spaces between facts is not history."Which, considering how little is known about what went on in the 1st and 2nd century of Christianity, is exactly what the Catholic Church has done with it's claims to "chain of authority."

  6. l

    I know some Mormons and can testify that they are the nicest people that I know. In our area, RC's hold musical events with their fellow Mormons (and these events are nothing less than expert and very beautiful art.) On occasion, I am inquired as to this or that about the RC church and they, in turn, tell me about themselves. I can testify that God is moving in their hearts just as much as in the RCer's.

  7. Peregrinus

    Reaching a conclusion about this very issue was, not surprisingly, at the heart of my conversion from the Community of Christ (formerly RLDS Church, the rival church to the LDS Church in the Mormon tradition) to the Roman Catholic Church. The decisive evidence that brought me to the right conclusion was the fact that the sacraments, the Lord's Supper or Eucharist in particular, were, for the very early church (first several generations after the Apostles)the same sacraments as celebrated in the Catholic Church to this day. Joseph Smith, Jr., I reasoned, could not have restored the true Church of Christ, if he had failed to restore the sacraments of that Church. An historical response (i.e., reponse based on post-New Testament letters and sermons) is, I believe, the only effective response to the Mormon claim. One can give an explanation of the Bible verses quoted in this article that does not rule out a complete apostasy with a little ingenuity, hard work, and twisting, besides the fact that the Mormon tradition believes that the Bible is corrupt, as it has come down to us. The problem is that Mormons are, in general, very ignorant of church history and may be unable or unwilling to follow an historical argument. If they were not ignorant of church history, then they would almost certainly not be Mormons. To become knowledgeable of church history is to become Catholic.

  8. Anonymous

    @l,I would recommend you brush up on your CCC. Your views are hard to hold with a well-formed conscience.There is such a thing as Absolute Truth.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: