Reviewed by Jacob D. Rawlins
From the time of Joseph Smith’s first vision, the concepts of general apostasy
and divine restoration have been central to the Latter-day Saint movement. In
the Prophet’s account of his vision, he records that after he asked which church
he should join, “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'” (Joseph Smith—History 1:19). Later,
through visitations from the angel Moroni and through the translation of the
Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith’s role in the promised restoration became clear.
Although the idea of a falling away from the teachings of Christ in the early
days of the Christian church has been taught in Protestant congregations for
centuries, in no other church is it as absolutely vital as it is to the existence
of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Only through a general
apostasy, with all of the ramifications—the loss of priesthood authority,
the end of prophecy and revelation, and the alteration or suppression of vital
ordinances and doctrines—would a restoration through the Prophet Joseph
Smith be necessary. The origin of the church rests on the idea that the true
gospel of Jesus Christ needed to be returned to the earth, not through reform
of existing doctrines, but through a total restoration given through divine
Given its importance in the doctrine of the church, the idea of the general
apostasy (or the great apostasy) has been studied by many of the leading Latter-day
Saint scholars through the years.1 In 2005
and 2006, four books were published on the apostasy by Latter-day Saint authors:
Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary LDS Perspectives on the Christian
Apostasy, edited by Noel B. Reynolds;
Where Have All the Prophets Gone, by Scott R. Petersen; Turning from Truth:
A New Look at the Great Apostasy, by Alexander B.
Morrison; and The Inevitable Apostasy and the Promised Restoration,
by Tad R. Callister. Each of the
four books deals generally with the same events: the Old Testament and New
Testament prophecies of the apostasy; the deaths of the apostles and the formation
of the early Christian church; the loss of doctrines, authority, and ordinances;
the long “dark ages”; and the restoration through the Prophet Joseph
Smith. Each of the books, however, takes a different approach to the central
events of the apostasy and restoration. Alison Coutts will review the books
by Reynolds and Petersen, and I will review the books by Morrison and Callister.
Turning from Truth: A New Look at the Great Apostasy
Of the four recent books on the apostasy, Alexander B. Morrison’s Turning
from Truth: A New Look at the Great Apostasy is clearly the most accessible
overview of Latter-day Saint teachings on the topic. Morrison, an emeritus member
of the church’s First Quorum of the Seventy and a well-respected author of several
books, has an eloquent, yet simple, writing style that draws the reader into
his analysis of the events of the apostasy and restoration. He combines the
traditional Latter-day Saint teachings on the apostasy with the latest research
on the topic to provide a seamless picture of one of the foundational doctrines
of the church.
In his introduction, Morrison reviews the importance of the apostasy in Latter-day
Saint thought. He also reviews traditional approaches to the apostasy, which
generally used the so-called dark ages as evidence of the absence of the truth,
and compares those approaches to more modern efforts to examine the causes
and effects of the Christian apostasy. He also clarifies that in Latter-day
Saint thought, although the great apostasy is central to Joseph Smith’s restoration,
the process is part of an ongoing dispensational cycle of apostasy and restoration,
not only for the general church but also for each individual. Morrison writes,
“Although the subject of this book deals with the general apostasy of
the early church soon after Jesus’ death and resurrection, these words of
advice from wise priesthood bearers are worthy of note. Institutional apostasy
always starts with individual
apostasy” (p. 13).
Morrison then takes a chronological approach to the apostasy, beginning with
the context and social setting of the early Christians and proceeding through
the process of turning away from the true church of Christ. He examines the
most important reasons for the apostasy, including the loss of priesthood
authority, corruption of the scriptures, persecution and martyrdom, the councils
and creeds of the early church, and later corruptions and heresies. Although
his is the shortest of the four recently published books on the apostasy,
Morrison does not give a superficial treatment of these topics. His book,
however, is an overview intended for the general Latter-day Saint reader and
is not an in-depth scholarly analysis.
The book concludes with a list of nine facts that Morrison believes are the
most important ideas to take from a study of the apostasy:
1. An institutional apostasy occurred. (p. 163)
2. We do not have many of the details of what happened to the
early church and probably never will know them. (p. 164)
3. The damage was done early. (p. 165)
4. Much of the damage resulted from mutiny, from internal dissent
and contention. (p. 165)
5. Persecution played a role. (p. 165)
6. Something must have gone terribly wrong with the procedure
for transferring divine power and authority. (p. 166)
7. Though institutional apostasy will not occur again, as we
have been promised, individual apostasy remains as easy as ever. (p. 168)
8. The victors write the histories. (p. 171)
9. The heavens have again been opened. (p. 171)
Although he does not include a chapter on the restoration, Morrison provides
additional insights, context, and evidence from the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine
and Covenants, and the statements and writings of modern prophets and apostles
throughout the book. These restoration sources, combined with many references
to early Christian writings and academic studies, reinforce the central theme
of the book, that the restoration and the apostasy are inextricably linked,
both in prophecy and in history. In God’s plan, neither the apostasy nor the
restoration could exist without the other.
Morrison’s Turning from Truth is an excellent book for any person seeking an introduction to the principles
of apostasy and restoration.
The Inevitable Apostasy and the Promised Restoration
Not all questions are of equal import. Some are
amusing; some lead to the discovery of trivial insights; others open doors
to significant discoveries in fields such as science, history, and music;
and yet others are of such a deep and soul-searching nature that, if explored,
they not only inform us, but they change us. One such question has been asked
with recurring frequency in modern Christianity: ‘What happened to Christ’s
Church?’ The purpose of this book is to assist those who earnestly seek an
answer to that inquiry.2
So Tad R. Callister begins the introduction to his volume on the apostasy
and the restoration, The Inevitable Apostasy and the Promised Restoration.
The question of what happened to Christ’s church is central to any discussion
of the apostasy, as has been mentioned in this essay and in the other three
books on the apostasy being reviewed. In his book, Callister approaches the
apostasy in much the same way as Alexander Morrison: that the falling away
of the early church of Christ was an inevitable step toward the restoration
and the final dispensation.
Callister’s book, the longest of the four books, goes into great detail on
each of the arguments for the apostasy and restoration. He has obviously worked
through a great amount of literature to bring together some of the best Latter-day
Saint, early Christian, and Protestant writings on the events of the apostasy.
His strength lies in compiling the information and presenting it in a form
that is accessible to the lay reader. That strength, however, also leads to
the book’s greatest weakness. With several other works on the apostasy available,
including the other three reviewed in this number of the FARMS Review,
as well as older treatments by Hugh Nibley, Bruce R. McConkie, Joseph
Fielding Smith, B. H. Roberts, and James E. Talmage, Callister’s
book pales in comparison, both in the scope and depth of the research and
in the accessibility of the book as a whole.
That is not to say, however, that Callister’s book is not an important addition
to the library of works on the apostasy. A person who approaches this book
to learn for the first time about the early church, its falling away, and
the restoration will find all the essential details and will come away enlightened
and informed. For those who have read some of the other books on the topic,
however, the information, quotations, and arguments in the book will sound
familiar, albeit presented in Callister’s engaging style.
Callister begins his book with a brief discussion of the early Christian
church, with its organization, practices, and divinely inspired leadership.
This is followed by an equally brief overview of the two most commonly cited
causes of the apostasy: external persecution and internal dissension and unrighteousness.
Although these first chapters are short, they provide the basis for the bulk
of the book, and their themes are repeated throughout.
With the foundation in place, Callister turns to his main argument: that
the history of Christianity is rife with evidences of the apostasy (see pp. 56-57).
Although he breaks each point into several subpoints, Callister defines thirteen
evidences of the apostasy:
1. The loss of the apostles and revelation
2. The testimony of the scriptures
3. The Bible ends
4. The loss of miracles and gifts of the spirit
5. The Dark Ages
6. Many teachings were perverted, others lost, and new ones invented
7. Many ordinances were perverted, others lost, and new ones
8. The mode of prayer was changed
9. The scriptures were removed from the lay members
10. Wickedness within the church hierarchy
11. The decline of moral standards and loss of church discipline
12. The ongoing church no longer bore Christ’s name
13. The priesthood was lost
Each piece evidence is then given its own chapter (chapters
9-21 respectively), wherein Callister examines the differences among
the scriptures, the early Christian church, medieval and modern Christianity,
and modern revelation in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
His discussion is especially helpful in the chapters on the sixth and seventh
evidences (how teachings and ordinances were perverted, lost, and invented),
where he goes into great detail on the origin and scriptural foundation of
many of the unique doctrines and practices of the modern Church of Jesus Christ.
After Callister discusses the evidences of the apostasy and gives a brief summation,
he turns his attention to the restoration of the church. In this area, he provides
much greater detail than most other books on the apostasy (with the recent publication
by Scott Petersen being a notable exception). Other books include the restoration
as almost an afterthought, or as a concluding chapter. Some do not address the
restoration separately at all. Callister, on the other hand, devotes several
chapters to God’s preparation of the earth, beginning with the Renaissance and
the Reformation and continuing through the American Revolution and the founding
of the United States, and the final restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ
through the Prophet Joseph Smith. By including these chapters, Callister shows
the overall arc of the story: the church fell, but it was restored; the true
teachings of Christ were lost or changed, but they were revealed again by heavenly
messengers to the boy prophet; the ordinances were changed and the priesthood
taken from the earth, but they, too, have been restored in their fulness. In
essence, the closing chapters of Callister’s book finish answering the question
he posed in the introduction, “What happened to Christ’s Church?”:
It is here on earth, it has been restored, and it operates in the same way as
the original church that Jesus Christ established when he walked on the earth.
Understanding the apostasy of the early Christian church is vital to comprehending
the need for the restoration of the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith.
The books by Alexander Morrison and Tad Callister convincingly lead readers
toward that understanding.
1. For detailed treatments of Latter-day
Saint studies of the apostasy, see Eric R. Dursteler, “Inheriting the
‘Great Apostasy': The Evolution of Latter-day Saint Views on the Middle Ages
and the Renaissance,” in Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary
LDS Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo,
UT: FARMS and BYU Press, 2005), 29-65, and Ryan G. Christensen’s appendix,
“Bibliographical Note on Latter-day Saint Writings on the Apostasy,”
in the same volume, 371-85.
2. Tad R. Callister,
The Inevitable Apostasy and the Promised Restoration (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2006), xi.