HISTORY WARNS THAT APOSTASY MUST BE EXPECTED
Religious history testifies that, with the single exception of the inhabitants of the City of Enoch, no people to whom the gospel has been given have remained faithful to their covenants for more than a few generations. Time after time the Lord has established His Church among a group who have lived His commandments for a few years and then fallen away, thus bringing upon themselves His judgments. This cycle of human folly which so many prophets have noted, has repeated itself with such consistent regularity that any group which finds itself to be the favored recipients of the gospel would do well to assume that their apostasy is certain, and the only question about it is how long it will take.
Christ, who as the Governor of this world and has the painful duty of punishing transgression, has spoken of the infidelity of the House of Israel and the frequency with which it has rejected Him. Just before He made His appearance to those righteous Nephites and Lamanites who survived the terrible disaster inflicted upon them, He uttered these words of anguish:
O ye people of these great cities which have fallen, who are descendants of Jacob, yea, who are of the house of Israel, how oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and have nourished you.
And again, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, who have fallen;.. . how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not. (3 Nephi 10:4-5)
To the Jews, the Lord has said:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! (Matt. 23:37)
The fact that the Lord has found it necessary to restore His gospel so many times is in itself evidence of the regularity with which apostasy has occurred because the only thing which will cause the destruction of His Church is the wickedness of its members. As the angel told Alma who had been trying to destroy the Lord’s work among the Nephites:
Alma, arise and stand forth, for why persecutest thou the church of God? For the Lord hath said: This is my church, and I will establish it; and nothing shall overthrow it, save it is the transgression of my people. (Mosiah 27:13)
The prophet, Mormon, whose labors as a historian gave him an opportunity to observe the frequency of the righteousness-wickedness-punishment cycle, spoke of it as though it were a law of life which operates as a certain consequence of universal human weakness. His analysis of apostasy and its causes should interest us deeply:
And thus we can behold how false, and also the unsteadiness of the hearts of the children of men; yea, we can see that the Lord in his great infinite goodness doth bless and prosper those who put their trust in him.
Yea, and we may see at the very time when he doth prosper his people, yea, in the increase of their fields, their flocks and their herds, and in gold, and in silver, and in all manner of precious things of every kind and art; sparing their lives, and delivering them out of the hands of their enemies… yea, and in fine, doing all things for the welfare and happiness of his people; yea, then is the time that they do harden their hearts, and do forget the Lord their God,…and this because of their ease and exceedingly great prosperity.
And thus we see that except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, yea, except he doth visit them with death and with terror, and with famine and with all manner of pestilence, they will not remember him.
O how foolish, and how vain, and how evil, and devilish, and how quick to do iniquity, and how slow to do good, are the children of men. (Hela. 12:1-4)
ARE THE CONDITIONS WHICH ORDINARILY ACCOMPANY APOSTASY PRESENT TODAY?
Do the words of Mormon quoted above have application today? If “ease” and “exceedingly great prosperity” are certain to cause people to “forget the Lord their God,” then the Church is in deep trouble because seldom, if ever, has any group been as prosperous as it is today. Its beginnings were humble enough. Starting in 1830 with an initial membership of six, the Church was persecuted, its property destroyed and confiscated, its leaders slain, and the people finally driven into a forbidding wilderness before they could find a measure of peace. But all that has now changed. After 140 years of growth, membership numbers in the millions, persecution has largely vanished, and instead of ostracism, members are, for the most part, accepted and respected.
These conditions in prior dispensations have been sure signs of weakened faith. To fail to consider the possibility that the members of the Church are again “falling away” would be to ignore one of the most thoroughly documented lessons of history. Especially is this true in light of the fact that the cultural, political, and educational life of Church members has become so deeply and thoroughly involved with that of non-members that they are being overwhelmingly influenced by the “ways of the world.” Through newspapers and magazines, motion pictures and television, schools and lecture halls, and a thoroughly integrated economic system, Church members come into close and continuous contact with those not of their faith.
Some may assume that a “Gentile apostasy” in these latter days cannot occur because Christ’s Church is here to stay this time. They may assume that widespread departure from gospel principles by Church members is contrary to prophecy. While the scriptures do assure us that the Church will continue to exist and be divinely led by prophets of the Lord right up until his Second Coming, they do not state that all, or even a majority of its members will follow those prophets. On the contrary, they foretell extensive, and in some cases, almost total defection from true principles. For example in Chapter 2 herein, we noted the Lord’s prophecy that only one half of that small group he calls “virgins” will avoid being deceived and destroyed. Let us consider other scriptures which discuss this problem.
PROPHECIES REGARDING APOSTASY IN THESE LATTER DAYS
The Book of Mormon contains many predictions of a falling away among the “Gentiles” in the latter days. While the non-Jewish, non-Lamanite members of Christ’s Church may not call themselves Gentiles, the Book of Mormon prophets did. This is clearly shown by the title page of the Nephite scripture which states in the following passage that this book will come forth “by way of the Gentile:”
Wherefore, it is an abridgement of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites—Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile…to come forth in due time by way of the Gentile—… (See also D&C 20:9)
Christ also used the name “Gentile” to identify those through whom the gospel would go to the Lamanites. (3 Nephi 21:2-4) If Church members from Gentile nations will bear in mind that the term “Gentile” when used in the Book of Mormon includes them, the prophecies therein will have much greater meaning and be more disturbing.
Some of the predictions clearly refer to members of Christ’s Church. Consider, for example, the following statement which is found among Nephi’s comments regarding latter-day conditions:
They wear stiff necks and high heads; yea, and because of pride, and wickedness, and abominations, and whoredoms, they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men. (2 Nephi 28:14)
Even one who considers himself a “humble follower of Christ” is here warned that he will err “in many instances” because he is “taught by the precepts of men.”
Moroni was similarly explicit in predicting false teachings among the Saints. Reflect upon the unmistakable implications of this point-blank indictment of members of the “holy church of God:”
O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? (Mormon 8:38)
Since there is only one “holy church of God” on earth, and since it is being polluted, the blame therefore appears to rest upon teachers and hypocrites within that church. Christ levelled His own charge that iniquity would prevail among Gentile members of His Church in the last days in these words:
At that day when the Gentiles shall sin against my gospel… and shall be filled with all manner of lyings, and of deceits, and of mischiefs, and all manner of hypocrisy, and murders, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, and of secret abominations… (3 Nephi 16:10)
That He was referring to members of His Church in this passage is evident not only from the fact that He states that the Gentiles will sin against His gospel, but also in discussing the possibility of their failing to repent, He refers to them as the “Salt of the earth:”
But if they will not turn unto me, and hearken unto my voice, I will suffer them, yea, I will suffer my people, O house of Israel, that they shall go through among them, and shall tread them down, and they shall be as salt that hath lost its savor, which is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out, and to be trodden underfoot of my people, O house of Israel. (3 Nephi 16:15)
When Christ uses the term “the salt of the earth”, He means His covenant people, as the following passage explains:
When men are called unto mine everlasting gospel, and covenant with an everlasting covenant, they are accounted as the salt of the earth and the savor of men;
They are called to be the savor of men; therefore, if that salt of the earth lose its savor, behold, it is thenceforth good for nothing only to be cast out and trodden under the feet of men. (D&C 101:39-40)
There are two other instances of record wherein the Lord told the Nephites that unless the Gentiles repented, they would be trodden down and torn in pieces. (3 Nephi 20:16, 21:12-14) Mormon, who had witnessed the Lamanites exterminate his own people, used almost the same words as did Christ in the quotations referred to above, in predicting the destruction of the unrepentant Gentiles by a remnant of the house of Jacob:
And then, O ye Gentiles, how can ye stand before the power of God, except ye shall repent and turn from your evil ways?
Therefore, repent ye, and humble yourselves before him lest he shall come out in justice against you—lest a remnant of the seed of Jacob shall go forth among you as a lion, and tear you in pieces, and there is none to deliver. (Mormon 5:22, 24)
Then we have the following words of Moroni which state that the Gentiles would become so wicked that unless they repented they would be destroyed:
And this cometh unto you, O ye Gentiles, that ye may know the decrees of God—that ye may repent, and not continue in your iniquities until the fulness come, that ye may not bring down the
fulness of the wrath of God upon you as the inhabitants of the land have hitherto done. (Ether 2:11)
It should be emphasized that the above quoted statements are not merely warnings against iniquity but they are prophecies also. In the clearest of language, they predict that the Gentiles will become so wicked that unless repentance occurs we will be destroyed. Or, as the last scripture quoted states it, our iniquities will become so great that if we “continue” in them, we will be swept off as were our predecessors.
That such a destruction will occur, and that it will consume everyone who fails to repent is indicated in the following words of Nephi:
And now behold, my beloved brethren, I would speak unto you; for I, Nephi, would not suffer that ye should suppose that ye are more righteous than the Gentiles shall be. For behold, except ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall all likewise perish; and because of the words which have been spoken ye need not suppose that the Gentiles are utterly destroyed. For behold, I say unto you that as many of the Gentiles as will repent are the covenant people of the Lord… (2 Nephi 30:1-2)
So sweeping had been Nephi’s description of Gentile wickedness and destruction that in the above passage, he considered it necessary to warn his readers against assuming that the “Gentiles are utterly destroyed.” As many as will turn from their wicked ways may be spared and numbered with the remnant.
THE FAILURE OF PEOPLE TO RECOGNIZE THE SIGNS OF APOSTASY
In the great majority of cases where apostasy has occurred, it appears that the people became wicked while believing themselves righteous. This happened time and again to the Children of Israel and the Nephites, and was plainly evident in the case of the Jews at the time of Christ. There are recorded exceptions to this rule. For example, when the Nephites apostatized immediately prior to Christ’s visit, we are told:
Now they did not sin ignorantly, for they knew the will of God concerning them, for it had been taught unto them; therefore they did wilfully rebel against God. (3 Nephi 6:18)
But the typical situation is described thus by Mormon as he commented on the frequency and rapidity with which a people who have been blessed forsake the Lord:
they do harden their hearts, and do forget the Lord their God, and do trample under their feet the Holy One—yea, and this because of their ease, and their exceedingly great prosperity. (Hela 12:2)
Prophecies regarding the Gentile apostasy of the latter days indicate that it will be the typical one wherein Church members will be led away by false beliefs into evil practices. Nephi had much to say regarding the event. Among other things he predicted that:
1. “Because of pride, and because of false teachers, and false doctrine, their churches have become corrupted..” (2 Nephi 28:12)
2. “the humble followers of Christ” will err in many instances because they are taught by the precepts of men. (2 Nephi 28:14)
3. Some will be lulled away “into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.” (2 Nephi 28:2 1)
4. Others will be deceived into believing that there is no devil and no hell. (2 Nephi 28:22)
5. There will be many who will say:…
Eat, drink and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will just y5i in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God. Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines… (2 Nephi 28:8-9)
THE VERY MAINSPRING OF ALL CORRUPTION
Since the scriptures state that the Gentile apostasy will be accompanied by many false beliefs, as has been the case in times past, it should be of profit and interest to attempt to discover wherein we are being misled today.
It will be recalled from our discussion in Chapter 3, that one of the most difficult problems we face in this life is that of distinguishing between right and wrong. We saw there that the purpose of the fall was that men might become “as gods knowing good and evil,” (Moses 4:11, 28) and that Satan’s great purpose here is to deceive mankind. (Moses 4:4) Having done this, he can induce honorable men to do evil because they believe it to be good, and induce them to refrain from doing good because they believe it to be evil.
Because of the very pronounced tendency of people to accept as proper, beliefs and practices of those amongst whom they are reared, the difficulty of distinguishing good from evil is greatly magnified for those who live in the midst of wickedness. The scriptures confirm this by pointing out that “the very mainspring of all corruption” is “the influence of that spirit which hath so strongly riveted the creeds of the fathers, who have inherited lies, upon the hearts of the children.” (D&C 123:7; see also D&C 93:39) Only those who have the faith and independence of character to seek the word of God in its purity from the scriptures and the teachings of the Holy Ghost can expect to escape the influence of inherited lies.
People who regard themselves as members of the only true Church have the fatal tendency to
consider themselves immune from the disease of deception. Knowing that they belong to the Lord’s Church and have His scriptures and His prophet to guide them, they blindly assume that this adequately protects them against false beliefs. All history teaches the folly of such an assumption, and the scriptures specifically deny its validity. In fact, it is those who have the truth “plainly manifest unto them” who have the most to fear as the following scriptures state:
Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light. (D&C 93:31; see also 2 Nephi 32:7)
For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation. (D&C 82:3; see also 2 Nephi 9:27)
(Edited for publication from the chapter by the same name in “The Great and Abominable Church of the Devil”)