Teaching the Apostasy and Restoration to 14 & 15 Year Olds: A Lesson in Keeping it Simple Stupid
I am not the regular teacher of the 15 and 16 year old youth in my ward. I was called earlier in the week and asked if I would help teach about the Great Apostasy and the Restoration. My concern is that the historical data does not necessarily point to the simple narrative with which I grew up and what is presently being taught in the correlated Church curriculum. I needed a way to present the material that would be responsible historically, build faith, and not be too complicated. My other concern is that with our exclusive claims, this can easily breed contempt for those of other faiths and a sense of arrogance within our tradition. I was given only thirty minutes. I contacted two friends that I mention in my notes and they were extremely helpful.
There are two quotes that guide me as I approach teaching within the walls of an LDS Church building:
“…And to bifurcate those, to sunder the mind and the spirit is to be apostate from major thrusts of Joseph’s theology. The point is to look to our own [Mormon]culture, our own tradition, our own scriptures, and find where we are taking the name of the Lord God in vane by trivializing it and sitting in our classes as though they were little scripts waiting to be enacted instead of asking authentic questions that would magnify our callings and ours souls and our minds…We need to learn the difference between a fruitless, esoteric question that leads you into weird thickets and a good question that can enlarge our soul and our humanity…I respect the institution’s desire to remain one Church as the Church goes so international. That is a tricky problem to remain an identifiable, coherent entity and be loving and tolerant and welcoming of diversity, celebrating diversity. And we also have the difficulty of one major asset of the Church being a lay Church. So that means lay teachers and lay leaders and so that is tricky to change everything. I think we can work, if we don’t get arrogant in the process, to enrich and broaden the culture and make it less defensive and more open” (Phillip Barlow, professor and holder of the Leonard J. Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University, Mormon Matters podcast; episode 73, “And the survey Says…!” 1:15).
“Doctrine without the Holy Spirit leads to legalism. The Holy Spirit without doctrine leads to fanaticism. But doctrine with the Holy Spirit leads to true power in the Christian life. And this should be our goal – to have both the correct doctrine, the correct understanding of Christian truth, conjoined with a Spirit-filled Christian life. So we have both Word and the Spirit.” (Dr. William Lane Craig, Defenders podcast; Defenders 2: Foundations of Christian Doctrine (Part 1); 15:00)
1) Build faith
2) What in the narrative is helpful?
3) Stay true to the historical data.
4) Don’t complicate – only 1/2 hour to give lesson
5) Use “big strokes” when teaching so as not to confuse the 14 & 15 year olds.
6) Speak of the Apostasy without denigrating other religions and acknowledging the good and the contributions they have given us.
7) Still hold to the particularism of Mormonism and that there was a need for a restoration.
Who here has friends that are non-Mormon? Are they dumb? Are they bad people? Why?
Come back to that question later.
What does apostasy mean?
Greek: Apos = away/apart from
stasy = stand (ie stasis)
So, Apostasy etymologically means “to stand away from”
It does not mean that everyone was dumb and or evil.
This would/could mean that there was an historical shift where things were lost.
What was lost?
1. Correct teaching
2. Authority (Priesthood)
Read and give the historical context of 2 Thessalonians 2:3
Most Bible scholars agree that the first books of the New Testament to be written down were First and Second Thessalonians. By reading these letters of Paul, we get a peek into what was concerning to some of the first members of the Christian Church. Those of Thessalonica were concerned that Jesus had not returned and some of the people they knew were dying. The expectation was that Jesus would return before death would come. Paul corrects them:
3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
The King James translators rendered the Greek word apostasia (apostasy) as “falling away”.
APOSTASY DOES NOT MEAN WE AS LDS ARE SUPERIOR TO OTHERS AND THAT NON-MORMONS ARE IDIOTS
Joseph Smith History 1:18-20
18 My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join.
19 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…
20 He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time.
Doctrine and Covenants 2:1
An extract from Joseph Smith’s history relating the words of the angel Moroni to Joseph Smith the Prophet, while in the house of the Prophet’s father at Manchester, New York, on the evening of September 21, 1823.
1 Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
What was the abomination?
Was it the people?
What is a creed? It is a statement(s) of belief that is shared by a religious community.
Examples would be the Nicene Creed written during the 4th Century AD (there are different versions of this, this one is the 325 version with a later addendum attached at the end:
“We believe in one God, the Father, Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible; and in the one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, only-begotten, that is, from the substance of the Father; God from God, Light from Light, Very God from Very God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, through whom all things were made, both in heaven and in earth; who for us men and for our salvation came down and was incarnate, was made man, suffered, and rose again on the third day, ascended into heaven, and is coming to judge the living and the dead; And in the Holy Spirit. And those who say: “There was a time when he was not”, and: “Before he was begotten he was not”, and: “He came into being from nothing”, or those who pretend that the Son of God is “of another substance” [than the Father] or “created” or “alterable” or “mutable”, the Catholic and Apostolic Church places under a curse (sometimes the word ‘anathema” is used instead of curse).”
Most likely it was not the Nicene Creed to which was being referred, but was either the Westminster Confession of Faith (AD 1646) of which Joseph Smith would have been familiar:
There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for His own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him; and withal most just and terrible in His judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.
The term immutable means unchangeable. The theological term for without passions is impassible. So, according to this creed God is immutable (doesn’t change) and thus is impassible, because if you do change your mood (passions) you are actually changing and thus not immutable.
Compare the Westminster Confession to the vision of Enoch in Moses 7:28-29
28 And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?
29 And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst aweep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity?
A couple of things to point out:
- God in these verses is not impassible. He weeps. He has emotion.
- God, as taught in this scripture is passible.
- Notice the question that Enoch asks God: “How is it that thou canst weep…?” He does not ask why, but how.
IS MORMONISM A CREEDAL RELIGION?
Joseph Smith said:
“I cannot believe in any of the creeds of the different denominations, because they all have some things in them I cannot subscribe to, though all of them have some truth. I want to come up into the presence of God, and learn all things; but the creeds set up stakes, and say, ‘Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further’ [Job 38:11]; which I cannot subscribe to.” (Smith, J., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, ed. by Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1938, p. 327. History of the Church, 6:57; punctuation modernized; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Oct. 15, 1843, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Willard Richards.)
Joseph Smith also said:
“‘Wherein do you differ from other sects?’ In that we believe the Bible, and all other sects profess to believe their interpretations of the Bible, and their creeds.”(Smith, J., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, ed. by Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1938, p. 119.)
Do Mormons have creeds? No and Yes
Some might say that the Articles of Faith contain creedal statements and that the Young Women Virtues are recited in a creedal-like manner. Regarding the Articles of Faith, our vicarious temple ordinances are conspicuously absent from them; hard to argue that the thirteen Articles of Faith are creedal.
When I say Mormonism is “non-creedal” what I mean is that we strive to only believe that which is actually in the revelations from God and refuse to take a permanent definitive stance on anything else (Bruce Nielson, click here to read his essay on the Mormon Matters blog).
“[Unlike the Latter-day Saints] Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine. – Joseph Smith (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 288)
Latter-day Saints believe in continuing revelation and an ever expanding body of knowledge. Meaning, the Church has, does, and will continue to change:
Article of Faith 9:
“We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”
Joseph saw creeds as limiting, as too binding and not allowing for ongoing revelation that might lead to different beliefs and practices that the LDS Church once held or now does hold.
WHEN THE LIGHTS DIMMED BUT DIDN’T GO OUT: THE DARK AGES
The Dark Ages
Who here has heard of the Dark Ages?
What was dark?
Did it mean people had no brains?
Did it mean there were no good people?
Things got dark, but the lights didn’t go completely out!!!
Ask yourself what is the women in Revelation 12:6 representing?
6 And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days
Doctrine and Covenants 86:3
3 And after they have fallen asleep the great persecutor of the church, the apostate, the whore, even Babylon, that maketh all nations to drink of her cup, in whose hearts the enemy, even Satan, sitteth to reign—behold he soweth the tares; wherefore, the tares choke the wheat and drive the church into the wilderness.
Doctrine and Covenants 33:5
5 And verily, verily, I say unto you, that this church have I established and called forth out of the wilderness.
What is the woman in Revelation 12:6 representing? The Church (totally ripped this interpretation off from Fiona Givens).
The lights did not go completely out. The church was being nourished.
Church President John Taylor said:
“There were men in those dark ages who could commune with God, and who, by the power of faith, could draw aside the curtain of eternity and gaze upon the invisible world . . . There were men who could gaze upon the face of God, have the ministering of angels, and unfold the future destinies of the world. If those were dark ages I pray God to give me a little darkness.”(John Taylor, in Brigham Young et al., Journal of Discourses, 26 vols., reported by G. D. Watt et al. (Liverpool: F. D. and S. W. Richards, et al., 1851–86; repr., Salt Lake City: n.p., 1974), 16:197–98. )
It was dark within the context of classic learning. When Rome fell, classic learning went into disuse. Muslims later discovered and reintroduced classic learning to Christianity.
It was dark in the fact that there was a lack of continual invention, literature, and learning.
WE MUST RESPECT AND HONOR THOSE OF OTHER FAITHS FOR THEY HAVE GIVEN US TRUTH
Articles of Faith:
Mormons don’t have exclusive claims to truth:
13 We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.
From where do we get truth?
Is “truth” exclusive to Mormonism? No
The Book of Mormon also makes this clear:
The Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have.
2 Nephi 29: 11-14
11 For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written.
12 For behold, I shall speak unto the Jews and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the Nephites and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the other tribes of the house of Israel, which I have led away, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it.
13 And it shall come to pass that the Jews shall have the words of the Nephites, and the Nephites shall have the words of the Jews; and the Nephites and the Jews shall have the words of the lost tribes of Israel; and the lost tribes of Israel shall have the words of the Nephites and the Jews.
14 And it shall come to pass that my people, which are of the house of Israel, shall be gathered home unto the lands of their possessions; and my word also shall be gathered in one. And I will show unto them that fight against my word and against my people, who are of the house of Israel, that I am God, and that I covenanted with Abraham that I would remember his seed forever.
President Gordon B. Hinkley:
“Let me say that we appreciate the truth in all churches and the good which they do. We say to the people, in effect, you bring with you all the good that you have, and then let us see if we can add to it. That is the spirit of this work. That is the essence of our missionary service” – President Gordon HInkley (meeting, Nairobi, Kenya, 17 Feb. 1998).
I would add to his statement that we have received much good from other religions and should be open to any truth that they may have to offer us. To disrespect other religious traditions is in fact to be apostate to what the scriptures teach us, as we have read.
“God’s Love For All Mankind”: First Presidency Statement2
STATEMENT OF THE FIRST PRESIDENCY OF
THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS
GOD’S LOVE FOR ALL MANKIND
Based upon ancient and modern revelation. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gladly teaches and declares the Christian doctrine that all men and women are brothers and sisters, not only by blood relationship from common mortal progenitors but as literal spirit children of an Eternal Father.
The great religious leaders of the world such as Muhammad, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.
The Hebrew prophets prepared the way for the coming of Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, who should provide salvation for all mankind who believe in the gospel.
Consistent with these truths, we believe that God has given and will give to all peoples sufficient knowledge to help them on their way to eternal salvation, either in this life or in the life to come.
We also declare that the gospel of Jesus Christ, restored to His Church in our day, provides the only way to a mortal life of happiness and a fullness of joy forever. For those who have not received this gospel, the opportunity will come to them in the life hereafter if not in this life.
Our message therefore is one of special love and concern for the eternal welfare of all men and women, regardless of religious belief, race, or nationality, knowing that we are truly brothers and sisters because we are sons and daughters of the same Eternal Father.
Was Muhammad just smart? No. He was inspired.
Were the Protestant reformers just smart? No. They were inspired.
President James E. Faust quoted this same 1978 statement in the 1980 April General Conference (click here to read Elder Faust’s talk).
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, quoted this portion of the statement in an address entitled “Truth Restored” given at the BYU Campus Education Week on August 22, 2006 ( click here to read Elder Uchtdorf’s talk).
Doctrine and Covenants 49:8
8 Wherefore, I will that all men shall repent, for all are under sin, except those which I have reserved unto myself, holy men that ye know not of.
Read Article of Faith 9 again
“We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”
The Church is a “living” Church (Doctrine and Covenants 1:30). It will change. We are not bound by creeds.
As Mormons, we are told explicitly to seek after truth, from whatever source it comes:
Article of Faith 13
“…If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”
“Mormonism is truth; and every man who embraces it feels himself at liberty to embrace every truth: consequently the shackles of superstition, bigotry, ignorance, and priestcraft, fall at once from his neck; and his eyes are opened to see the truth, and truth greatly prevails over priestcraft. …
“… Mormonism is truth, in other words the doctrine of the Latter-day Saints, is truth. … The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or without being circumscribed or prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men, or by the dominations of one another, when that truth is clearly demonstrated to our minds, and we have the highest degree of evidence of the same.”
(Letter from Joseph Smith to Isaac Galland, Mar. 22, 1839, Liberty Jail, Liberty, Missouri, published in Times and Seasons, Feb. 1840, pp. 53–54; spelling and grammar modernized.)
In January 1843:
“I stated that the most prominent difference in sentiment between the Latter-day Saints and sectarians was, that the latter were all circumscribed by some peculiar creed, which deprived its members the privilege of believing anything not contained therein, whereas the Latter-day Saints … are ready to believe all true principles that exist, as they are made manifest from time to time.” (History of the Church, 5:215; from “History of the Church” (manuscript), book D-1, p. 1433, Church Archives)
Doctrine & Covenants 37:3
4 Behold, here is wisdom, and let every man choose for himself until I come. Even so. Amen.
Important balance to the “preach the gospel” message—it should not be coercive.3
Doctrine and Covenants 38:41
41 And let your preaching be the warning voice, every man to his neighbor, in mildness and in meekness.
Mildness and meekness. Great advice.4
THE PARTICULARISMS OF MORMONISM: IF EVERYTHING WAS SO GREAT, WHY WAS THERE A NEED FOR A RESTORATION?
Because of the Great Apostasy, there was a loss of truth and priesthood. We have spoken about some of the truth lost (creeds), and how we need to approach others without arrogance. Let’s speak of priesthood.
What is Priesthood within the context of Mormonism?
With these losses of Authority and Doctrine, came a need for a new commission. With that new commission, was given authority to fulfill that commission. That authority is Priesthood.5
(Make sure the young women in the class understand that even though women don’t now have ecclesiastical priesthood, that does not mean they are released from the responsibility to preach the Gospel and do other important works. Woman do have authority to preach the Gospel, especially within the context of being set-apart as full-time missionaries.)
Priesthood does not mean we have all truth.
Through the restoration we received more scripture because we have an open cannon and believe in ongoing revelation. Joseph Smith Gave us:
- The Book of Mormon
- The majority of the Doctrine and Covenants
- The Book of Abraham
- His redactions to the Bible, some of which are canonized, i.e. The Book of Moses
- Temple Ordinances
- The resolution of the particularism of Christianity and God’s Universalistic love for all his children: Vicarious Temple work
- Personal revelation
- Institutional Revelation
- Open canon of scripture
I did not share the following with the 14 & 15 year-olds, but wanted to state it here:
Speaking of priesthood, perhaps Dr. Givens is correct when he stated that maybe our Church is as the Sadducees were – the guardians of the temple. It is through priesthood, as it is used in the temple, that we are all joined back to our Heavenly Parents. It is a priesthood that is not used exclusively by men, but is also used by women.
“We ought to not let ourselves be guilty of a narrowness that the Lord neither requires of us or apparently tries to foster.”6
“Seek and bask in the pursuit of the good and the true and the beautiful. “7
I, in no way shared the following with the kids. Too much for this lesson I thought, but still important. I wanted to hunt these statements down and this lesson gave me reason to do so:
In a letter from M.L. Davis to his wife Mary we read:
“…He [Joseph Smith] closed by referring to the Mormon Bible, which he said, contained nothing inconsistent or conflicting with the Christian Bible, and he again repeated that all who would follow the precepts of the Bible, whether Mormon or not, would assuredly be saved…” (Date: 5 February 1840 (Wednesday Evening) Location: Washington D.C., USA Source: History of the Church 4:78-80 (Words of Joseph Smith, 32–34) click here to read rest of letter)8
Everyone will be damned that is not Mormon?
Yes, but in a tongue-in-cheek way.
Here’s a transcript of Joseph Smith’s “FAQ” (from History of the Church, Vol.3, Ch.3, p.28-30)
I [Joseph] answered the questions which were frequently asked me, while on my last journey but one from Kirtland to Missouri, as printed in the Elders’ Journal, Vol. 1, Number 2, pages 28 and 29, as follows:
…Third–”Will everybody be damned, but Mormons?
Yes, and a great portion of them, unless they repent, and work righteousness.” (click here to read rest of transcript)9
1Thanks to Dr. Phillip Barlow for this insight and for helping me organize my approach.
2Thanks to Jared Anderson for pointing me to this statement.
3Stole this from Jared Andrson’s reading notes from his Engaging Gospel Doctrine podcast
4Stole this from Jared Anderson’s reading notes from his Engaging Gospel Doctrine podcast
5Thanks to Dr. Phillip Barlow for that insight.
6Dr. Phillip Barlow, Professor and Holder of the Leonard J. Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University, Mormon Matters podcast; episode 73, “And the survey Says…!” 1:14
7Dr. Phillip Barlow; Mormon Matters podcast; episode 73, “And the survey Says…!” 1:10
8Thanks to Trevor Price for pointing me to this letter.
9Thanks to Ryan Freeman for pointing me to this fun Q & A