Chapter 8 – Prophets and Apostasy
Role of a Prophet:
President Gordon B. Hinckley: “Ancient prophets warned not only of things to come, but, more importantly, they became the revealers of truth to people. It was they who pointed the way men should live if they were to be happy and find peace in their lives” (Be Thou an Example , 124).
True to the Faith: Like the prophets of old, prophets today testify of Jesus Christ and teach His gospel. They make known God’s will and true character. They speak boldly and clearly, denouncing sin and warning of its consequences. At times, they may be inspired to prophesy of future events for our benefit.
Prophets have the keys of the Priesthood: “The authority and power that God gives to man to act in all things for the salvation of man” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Priesthood,” 199).
The Prophet Joseph Smith explained that the Melchizedek Priesthood “is the channel through which all knowledge, doctrine, the plan of salvation and every important matter is revealed from heaven. . . . It is the channel through which the Almighty commenced revealing His glory at the beginning of the creation of this earth, and through which He has continued to reveal Himself to the children of men to the present time, and through which He will make known His purposes to the end of time” (History of the Church, 4:207; paragraphing altered).
Elder Charles Didier of the Presidency of the Seventy explained the role of prophets in the restoration of truth during dispensations: “Because of what Adam heard and what he saw, he qualified to be called the first prophet on earth, a personal witness of revelation given to man. His major responsibility now was to preserve the truth of the gospel and to teach it as it was given to him. Satan, on the other hand, representing the opposition, was going to do and teach anything to deny, to reject, or to ignore the gospel received by revelation, thus inducing the people who had accepted it into apostasy—a state of confusion, division, abandonment, or renunciation of their previous faith! “The rest of the story of the Old Testament became, then, a religious history of continuous revelation through various prophets like Noah, Abraham, and Moses, at various times—called dispensations—to restore what had been lost because of renewed apostasy. These prophets were always called by God. They were given divine authority; they had the keys of the priesthood; they had a divine commission to speak in the name of the Lord and to teach and prophesy of the coming and the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the world (see Amos 3:7)” (in Conference Report, Oct. 2003, 77; or Ensign, Nov. 2003, 74).
The cornerstone (or foundation stone) concept is derived from the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation, important since all other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure. The foundation is the support of something (our support).
Apostasy and the Dark Ages:
Amos 8:11-12 – 11 ¶Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a afamine of bread, nor a bthirst for water, but of hearing the cwords of the Lord: 12 And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall arun to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.
Galations 1:6-12- 6 I marvel that ye are so soon aremoved from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another bgospel: 7 Which is not another; but there be some that atrouble you, and would bpervert the cgospel of Christ. 8 But though we, or an aangel from heaven, preach any bothercgospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be daccursed. 9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other agospel unto you than that ye have received, let him bebaccursed. 10 For do I now apersuade men, or God? or do I seek to bpleasemen? for if I yet cpleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. 11 But I acertify you, brethren, that the gospel which wasbpreached of me is not after man. 12 For I neither received it aof man, neither was I taught it, butbby the crevelation of Jesus Christ.
1 Timothy 1:5-7 – 5 Now the end of the acommandment is bcharity out of a cpureheart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: 6 From which some having aswerved have bturned aside unto cvain jangling [means fruitless discussion]; 7 Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they aaffirm.
Russell Ballard, Restored Truths, October 1994
“When Jesus called His twelve Apostles, He laid His hands upon them, ordained them, and conferred upon them the authority to act in His name and govern His church. Peter is commonly understood to have become the chief Apostle, or the President of the Church, after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. Early Christians endured the challenges of persecution and hardship. Peter and his brethren had a difficult time holding the Church together and keeping the doctrine pure. They traveled extensively and wrote to one another about the problems they were facing, but information moved so slowly and the Church and its teachings were so new that heading off false teachings before they became firmly entrenched was difficult.
The New Testament indicates that the early Apostles worked hard to preserve the church that Jesus Christ left to their care and keeping, but they knew their efforts would ultimately be in vain. Paul wrote to the Thessalonian Saints, who were anxiously anticipating the second coming of Christ, that “that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first” (2 Thes. 2:3). He also warned Timothy that “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; … And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Tim. 4:3–4).
And Peter presupposed the falling away, or the Apostasy, when he spoke of “the times of refreshing” that would come before God would again send Jesus Christ, who “before was preached unto you:
“Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:19–21).
Eventually, with the known exception of John the Beloved, Peter and his fellow Apostles were martyred. The Apostle John and members of the Church struggled for survival in the face of horrifying oppression. To their everlasting credit, Christianity did survive and was truly a prominent force by the end of the second century A.D. Many valiant Saints were instrumental in helping Christianity to endure.
Despite the significance of the ministries of these Saints, they did not hold the same apostolic authority Peter and the other Apostles had received through ordination under the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. When that authority was lost, men began looking to other sources for doctrinal understanding. As a result, many plain and precious truths were lost.
History tells us, for example, of a great council held in A.D. 325 in Nicaea. By this time Christianity had emerged from the dank dungeons of Rome to become the state religion of the Roman Empire, but the church still had problems—chiefly the inability of Christians to agree among themselves on basic points of doctrine. To resolve differences, Emperor Constantine called together a group of Christian bishops to establish once and for all the official doctrines of the church.
Consensus did not come easily. Opinions on such basic subjects as the nature of God were diverse and deeply felt, and debate was spirited. Decisions were not made by inspiration or revelation, but by majority vote, and some disagreeing factions split off and formed new churches. Similar doctrinal councils were held later in A.D. 451, 787, and 1545, with similarly divisive results.
The beautiful simplicity of Christ’s gospel was under attack from an enemy that was even more destructive than the scourges and the crosses of early Rome: the philosophical meanderings of uninspired men. The doctrine became based more on popular opinion than on revelation. This period of time was called the Dark Ages. They were dark largely because the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ had been lost.
Elder M. Russell Ballard: “In 1517 the Spirit moved Martin Luther, a German priest who was disturbed at how far the church had strayed from the gospel as taught by Christ. His work led to a reformation, a movement that was taken up by such other visionaries as John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli, John Wesley, and John Smith. “I believe these reformers were inspired to create a religious climate in which God could restore lost truths and priesthood authority. Similarly, God inspired the earlier explorers and colonizers of America and the framers of the Constitution of the United States to develop a land and governing principles to which the gospel could be restored” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1994, 85; or Ensign, Nov. 1994, 66).
President Thomas S. Monson taught about the crucial contributions of the reformers: “Honest men with yearning hearts, at the peril of their very lives, attempted to establish points of reference, that they might find the true way. The day of the reformation was dawning, but the path ahead was difficult. Persecutions would be severe, personal sacrifice overwhelming, and the cos beyond calculation. The reformers were like pioneers blazing wilderness trails in a desperate search for those lost points of reference which. they felt, when found would lead mankind back to the truth Jesus taught. “When John Wycliffe and others completed the first English translation of the entire Bible from the Latin Vulgate, the then church authorities did all they could to destroy it. Copies had to be written by hand and in secret. The Bible had been regarded as a closed book forbidden to be read by the common people. Many of the followers of Wycliffe were severely punished and some burned at the stake. “Martin Luther asserted the Bible’s supremacy. His study of the scriptures led him to compare the doctrines and practices of the church with the teachings of the scriptures. Luther stood for the responsibility of the individual and the rights of the individual conscience and this he did at the imminent risk of his life. Though threatened and persecuted, yet he declared boldly: ‘Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me.’ “John Huss [or Hus], speaking out fearlessly against the corruption within the church, was taken outside the city to be burned. He was chained by the neck to a stake, and straw and wood were piled around his body to the chin and sprinkled with resin; and he was asked finally if he would recant. As the flames arose, he sang, but the wind blew the fire into his face, and his voice was stilled. “Zwingli of Switzerland attempted through his writings and teachings to rethink all Christian doctrine in consistently biblical terms. His most famous statement thrills the heart: ‘What does it matter? They can kill the body but not the soul.’ “And who cannot today appreciate the words of John Knox? ‘A man with God is always in the majority.’ “John Calvin, prematurely aged by sickness and by the incessant labors he had undertaken, summed up his personal philosophy with the statement: ‘Our wisdom . . . consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves.’ “Others could indeed be mentioned, but a comment concerning William Tyndale would perhaps suffice. Tyndale felt that the people had a right to know what was promised to them in the scriptures. To those who opposed his work of translation, he declared: ‘If God spare my life, . . . I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the scripture than thou dost.’ “Such were the teachings and lives of the great reformers. Their deeds were heroic, their contributions many, their sacrifices great—but they did not restore the gospel of Jesus Christ” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1975, 20–21; or Ensign, May 1975, 15–16).
President Monson concluded that the work of the reformers was not in vain. It prepared an environment where the Bible was available to honest truth seekers, including young Joseph Smith Jr.: “Of the reformers, one could ask: ‘Was their sacrifice in vain? Was their struggle futile?’ I answer with a reasoned ‘no.’ The Holy Bible was now within the grasp of the people. Each person could better find his or her way. Oh, if only all could read and all could understand! But some could read, and others could hear, and all had access to God through prayer” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1997, 74; or Ensign, May 1997, 51).
President Gordon B. Hinckley – “Before His death, [the Savior] had ordained His Apostles. They carried on for a period. His Church was set in place. “The centuries rolled on. A cloud of darkness settled over the earth. . . .“It was a season of plunder and suffering, marked by long and bloody conflict. . . .“The first thousand years passed, and the second millennium dawned. Its earlier centuries were a continuation of the former. It was a time fraught with fear and suffering. . . . “. . . As the years continued their relentless march, the sunlight of a new day began to break over the earth. It was the Renaissance, a magnificent flowering of art, architecture, and literature. . . . “Reformers worked to change the church. . . . These were men of great courage, some of whom suffered cruel deaths because of their beliefs. . . .Their one desire was to find a niche in which they might worship God as they felt He should be worshiped. “While this great ferment was stirring across the Christian world, political forces were also at work. Then came the American Revolutionary War, resulting in the birth of a nation whose constitution declared that government should not reach its grasping hand into matters of religion. A new day had dawned, a glorious day. Here there was no longer a state church. No one faith was favored above another. “After centuries of darkness and pain and struggle, the time was ripe for the restoration of the gospel. Ancient prophets had spoken of this long-awaited day. . . .“That glorious day dawned in the year 1820, when a boy, earnest and with faith, walked into a grove of trees and lifted his voice in prayer, seeking that wisdom which he felt he so much needed” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1999, 92–94; or Ensign, Nov. 1999, 73–74).
Russell Ballard Oct 1999 – Beware of False Prophets and False Teachers
The Apostle Paul warned of these days: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
“And they shall turn away their ears from the truth” (2 Tim. 4:3–4).
Paul also taught that the Lord “gave some, apostles; and some, prophets …
“For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
“Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, …
“That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Eph. 4:11–14).
2 Nephi 26:29 – 29 He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts; for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion.
Matthew 7:15-20 (See 3 Nephi 14:15-20) –
15 ¶Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
In plainness and power President Hinckley teaches the eternal plan of salvation, rebukes sin, calls all people to repent and accept Christ and His gospel. The doctrines of eternal salvation are not unclear or uncertain, but rather they are consistent with revealed truths, both ancient and modern.
President Spencer W. Kimball reminded us that the prophets “constantly cry out against that which is intolerable in the sight of the Lord; against pollution of mind, body, and our surroundings; against vulgarity, stealing, lying, pride, and blasphemy; against fornication, adultery, homosexuality, and all other abuses of the sacred power to create; against murder and all that is like unto it; against all manner of desecration.” He continued: “That such things should be found even among the Saints to some degree is scarcely believable. … Sadly, however, we find that to be shown the way is not necessarily to walk in it” (“The False Gods We Worship,” Ensign, June 1976, 4).
False prophets and false teachers are those who arrogantly attempt to fashion new interpretations of the scriptures to demonstrate that these sacred texts should not be read as God’s words to His children but merely as the utterances of uninspired men, limited by their own prejudices and cultural biases. They argue, therefore, that the scriptures require new interpretation and that they are uniquely qualified to offer that interpretation.
Perhaps most damningly, they deny Christ’s Resurrection and Atonement, arguing that no God can save us. They reject the need for a Savior. In short, these detractors attempt to reinterpret the doctrines of the Church to fit their own preconceived views, and in the process deny Christ and His messianic role.
Regardless of which particular false doctrines they teach, false prophets and false teachers are an inevitable part of the last days. “False prophets,” according to the Prophet Joseph Smith, “always arise to oppose the true prophets” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 365).