A New Look at the Great Apostasy"
by Elder Alexander B. Morrison
a book review by Catherine K. Arveseth
Mormonism falls or stands on what has been termed “the Great Apostasy.” We think of “the dark ages” as void of light or communication from heaven. We envision scripture being deviously corrupted in shadowed monasteries, bishops adorning themselves with excessive power, clergy unbridled by commandment or law. While this is not necessarily erroneous, Elder Alexander B. Morrison wants to help LDS readers improve and elevate their knowledge of the Apostasy.
Turning from Truth is a fresh look at the cause of the Apostasy. The book gives points of clarification that are extremely useful.
Elder Morrison quickly asserts that “the dark ages,” the period of time between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance, is a misnomer. They were not “a millennium of darkness — a thousand years without a bath,” rather, they were a time of “great demographic growth, religious reform, increasing political stability, and enormous economic development.”
“Though bereft of Apostolic direction, there were many good men and good women … who strove with all their hearts to follow Christ and His teachings to the best of their abilities.” Mormon thought usually dictates little or no place for goodness and progress among people of that time. Wanting to change this faulty sentiment, Elder Morrison continues, “In writing this book, I want to emphasize that the world owes a great debt to Christian churches which kept the lamps of civilization lit for so many years. In recounting the sad truths of the Apostasy, we must take care not to be judgmental or self-righteous.
The word apostasy, means literally “to stand away” or “to stand against.” This indicates a deliberate act of mutiny or rebellion took place. The authority for individuals to act in the name of God was lost and sacred covenants were broken. Or, you could say, the authority to act in God’s name was lost because sacred covenants were broken. Elder Morrison teaches that individual apostasy always precedes institutional apostasy.
Consider Doctrine and Covenants section 121 — “Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man” when he undertakes to cover sins, gratify pride, or exercise control upon the souls of the children of men in unrighteousness. “The heavens withdraw themselves!” (DC 121:37)
Internal dissent and contention — “self-inflicted” problems caused the authority to be lost. The damage was done early, Elder Morrison claims. The infamous (to LDS) Council of Nicea was a result — not a cause — of the Apostasy. Greek philosophy was also not the cause of the Apostasy; it did influence Christian theology but by that time, the Church was already apostate. Personal apostasy led to a general apostasy. “The church retained a form of godliness, some truth, and many devoted members, but strayed from its apostolic roots.”
Considering those who now belong to these other churches, Elder Morrison says he has many Christian friends whose love for Jesus and personal goodness “put him to shame.” These individuals believe their “orthodox” Christianity must be divine because it has survived scandalous representatives. While this perspective is clever, Elder Morrison thinks it flawed. “Survival, even worldly power and acclaim, is not the same as divine approval.” He writes, “The changes that occurred in the church were too deep-seated, too irreversible, too profound, too opposed to Christ’s gospel of love, to be excused as the innocent thrashing around of a growing baby.” This is a strong and compelling statement.
Unfortunately, as Elder Morrison points out, we do not have many of the details of what happened to the early church and probably never will. “The records simply are not available, and we cannot, therefore, say exactly when and under what circumstances the damaging changes were made.”
The glorious reality of this topic is that the period of the Great Apostasy has closed. The heavens are at this very time open! A new dispensation opened with our beloved prophet, Joseph Smith. Apostasy is something Joseph understood far too well. During the Kirtland Era, many seemingly faithful Saints, left the Church. After the Kirtland Temple was dedicated, Joseph warned the Saints of this possibility. He cautioned the Brethren, “For some time Satan has not had power to tempt you. Some have thought that there would be no more temptation. But the opposite will come; and unless you draw near to the Lord you will be overcome and apostatize.”
We would be wise to heed Joseph’s counsel today. Unless we draw near to the Lord, personal apostasy can happen to us as well. Elder Morrison cautions, “Though institutional apostasy will not occur again, as we have been promised, individual apostasy remains as easy as ever.”
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