THE APOSTASY OF THE LATTER DAYS
By H. Verlan Andersen
of The First Quorum of Seventy
of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
1914 – 1992
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 own apostasy is certain and the only question about it is how long it will take.
Christ, who as governor of the world, has the painful duty of punishing transgression, has spoken of the infidelity of the House of Israel and the frequency with which they have rejected him. Just before he made his appearance to those righteous Nephites who survived the terrible disaster inflicted upon their nation, 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 said:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how oft 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 has 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 labor as a historian gave him the 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 a 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 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 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…” (Helaman. 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 long 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 the latter days cannot occur because Christ’s Church is here to stay this time. They may assume that widespread departure from the 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, we noted in the Lord’s prophecy that only one-half of the 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 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 Gentiles:”
“Wherefore, it is an abridgement of the record of the people of Nephi, and also the Lamanites–Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also unto the 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 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)
Anyone 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 implication of this point-blank indictment of members of the “holy church of God:”
“O ye pollution, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God?”
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 leveled his own charges of iniquity among 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 lying, and of deceit, 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 the 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, oh 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 under foot of my people, O house of Israel.”
(3 Nephi 16:15)
When Christ used 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 the 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.”
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 to 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 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.”
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 fullness come, that ye may not bring down the fullness of the wrath of God upon you as the inhabitants of the land have hitherto done.”
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 we 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 people become 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 willingly 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 their 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.”
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) “The humble followers of Christ” will err in many instances because of being 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; Zion prospereth, all is well–and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.”
(2 Nephi 28:21)
(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 justify 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…”
THE VERY MAINSPRING OF ALL CORRUPTION
Since the scripture states that the Gentile apostasy will be accompanied by 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 “THE UNIVERSAL PROBLEM OF DECEPTION” 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 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 words 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 prophets 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 83:31); 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)
It is also true that people who conform to the outward ordinances, ceremonies and practices of Christ’s Church tend to assume that such activities assure them a place in his kingdom. This assumption, according to the scriptures, is likewise false. For example the parable of the Ten Virgins teaches that only one half of that select group of Christians who wait expectantly for the Lord’s second coming and consider themselves acceptable to him, will be admitted to the marriage. Another scripture assures us that “many” who have prophesied in the Lord’s name, cast out devils in his name, and in his name “done many wonderful works,” will be excluded because of their “iniquity.” (Matt. 7:22-23) People of this type–the foolish virgins who have been deceived, (D&C 45:57) and the “many” who have worked iniquity right while doing many wonderful works in the name of the Lord—should be interested in how they are being deceived and what they are doing which will keep them out of the kingdom. Let us turn to modern revelation for a possible explanation.
THE GREATEST REVELATION THAT GOD HAS EVER GIVEN TO MAN!
That section of the D&C which President Mckay has called “The greatest revelation that God has ever given to man,” (B.Y.U. Speeches of the year, Alvin R. Dyer, 3/20/63) contains an explanation of why only a “few” of the “many” who are called by the Lord will enter the highest degree of glory. This scripture (D&C 121) affirms the conclusion drawn above that nearly everyone will be deceived. But it goes on to describe those weaknesses men have which makes this massive deception possible. There are certain basic flaws found in the character of “almost all men” which prevent all but a “few” of the “many” who are given the Priesthood in this life, from retaining it in the hereafter. Let us quote the verses of this section which reveals this sobering fact:
“Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—
“That the rights of the Priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon principles of righteousness.
“We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.”
“Hence many are called, but few are chosen.”
(D&C 121:34-36, 39-40)
From these verses we learn that most all men set their hearts so much on riches and honor that they are blinded to those basic rules governing the exercise of power. We also learn that almost all men will immediately abuse any power given them. Because they fail to recognize and overcome these two fatal faults here on earth, and because such faults cannot be tolerated in those who exercise power in heaven, almost all men will be disqualified in the hereafter. The following verses explain that even though men receive the Priesthood here on earth, when they undertake to abuse power and gratify their pride and vain ambitions, that priesthood will be taken from them:
“That they [the rights of the priesthood] may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambitions, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or authority of that man.”
(D&C 121:34-36, 39-40) (v.37)
Evidence that almost all men will abuse any power given them, and that they will do so for the purpose of seeking the things of this world and the honors of men, is easily found. There is one, and only one, situation where people may exercise unrighteous compulsion without fear of physical punishment or condemnation from their fellow men, and that is through the agency of government. When they use this organization for the purpose of gratifying their pride and vain ambitions, not only are they safe from retaliation by those they oppose, but the agency whose function it is to punish such acts is now being used to commit them. When a person or group have such a power at their disposal, the only thing left to restrain their abuse of it is conscience. But since the Lord has said that the restraint of conscience is insufficient for “almost all men” we must expect that when men gain control of government, they will abuse its power. Let us note that this is true.
HOW MEN ABUSE THE POWER OF GOVERNMENT TO COMMIT PLUNDER
All rational men know it is wrong to steal. Not only is it a crime forbidden by the laws of God and man, but since each person’s possessions are sacred to him, he aware of his duty to respect the property rights of others. In spite of this universal moral code, it is common practice throughout the world for men to use government to forcibly take property from its rightful owner and transfer it to one to whom it does not belong. Every welfare-state measure has this effect. While the Lord has authorized the use of force to compel each person to bear his fair share of the cost of defending freedom, never has he authorized robbery either by men acting singly or in groups. On the other hand He has forbidden it and those who believe otherwise are deceived.
“Woe unto the poor men, whose hearts are not broken, whose spirits are not contrite, and whose bellies are not satisfied, and whose hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men’s goods, whose eyes are full of greediness, and who will not labor with their own hands!”
TO COMMIT RACKETEERING!
When a group uses physical violence outside the framework of government to give themselves monopoly power in a certain field of economic activity, we call it racketeering. When the machinery of government is used to accomplish the same purpose, we call it licensing. But the effect and purpose are the same in the two cases. In each instance the buying public is prevented from patronizing whom they please and are forced to deal with those having the monopoly. Mens’ hearts are “set so much on the things of this world and the honors of men” that they do not learn this one lesson–” that the real purpose of licensing laws is to obtain “the things of this world and the honors of men.” They easily deceive themselves into believing that such laws are necessary to prevent crime. But the criminal laws already punish every conceivable type of crime and licensing laws can add nothing to them. On the other hand the enforcement of such laws is in itself a crime—the crime of racketeering. That is sanctioned by a legislative body cannot change this fact in the least degree even though men deceive themselves into believing it does.
TO COMPEL OTHERS TO HIRE US AND PAY OUR SALARIES
Government has one legitimate function—that of defending freedom. The armies and navies which defend our borders; the executive and judicial which enforce our rights and protect us against criminals; the legislature which adopts laws for these purposes—each are essential to the defense of human liberties. Everyone desires liberty for himself and wants his own protected. Therefore when one is required to help bear the cost of this protection, he is not being compelled to purchase something he does not want or use. But when government is employed for any purpose except the defense of freedom, many taxpayers will be compelled to support functions they neither want nor use. Therefore any person who favors a law which has some purpose other than “supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges,” is committing evil. (D&C 98:5-7) Any person who is employed by government to execute such laws is compelling taxpayers to pay his salary against their will and is committing extortion. This the Lord has forbidden. (D&C 59:20) Furthermore if government is used to compel a private employer to hire an employee or pay a minimum wage or other compensation against his will, this also is extortion. Man’s desire for the things of this world tend to blind him to this truth.
TO EXERCISE UNRIGHTEOUS DOMINION
Each man desires to be free to spend his own money, manage his own home, operate his own farm or business, and otherwise conduct the affairs of his life which are personal to him. Usually he doesn’t want others knowing about his personal affairs, much less does he want them using force and the threat thereof to dictate how he shall handle them. Therefore people are not inclined to intrude into one another’s concerns—at least on a private level. It would not only be in poor taste, but criminal as well. But that which is seen so clearly when done by any individual becomes hidden when done as a group. When men act in the name of government, no person’s property or business is sacred. No longer do they hesitate to deny others the privacy and freedom they desire for themselves. No longer is there any fear of retaliation or public condemnation to restrain them from exhibiting that disposition common to almost all men—the tendency to exercise unrighteous dominion.
MAN’S BLINDNESS TO IMMORAL GROUP ACTION
If the four activities of government listed above constitute an essential part of the devil’s plan, then the predictions of a Gentile apostasy accompanied by wholesale deception have been largely fulfilled because “almost all men,” whether within the Church or without have been deceived into believing in and participating in some or all of them. Over the years the power of government in every nation has been corrupted and men have become accustomed to, and have accepted, this massive system of privilege and plunder; of regulated monopoly and legalized oppression. If these activities constitute the exercise of “unrighteous dominion,” then the reason “many are called but few are chosen” is also apparent.
Satan’s overwhelming success in destroying free agency lies in his ability to seduce men into doing, as a group, that which they know to be evil when done by the individual. Men are deceived into believing that moral law which applies to individual action does not apply when men act in groups. They fail to recognize that each person is morally accountable unto God for the compulsion exercised under every law he favors. They do not study and understand those scriptures which command men to adopt no laws except God’s laws for protecting freedom, but blindly assume that when the Lord gives to a nation of people the power of self-government, He thereby authorizes them to adopt any laws they desire. They tend to ignore that great lesson of religious history which teaches that both the Lord and Satan seek to control government and that man chooses between these two contending powers by deciding what laws and leaders he supports and opposes. Thus have men in each generation been led to believe in and help execute Satan’s plan to destroy human liberty.