The Bible Forewarned of a Great Apostasy from Christ’s Church
Following the death of Jesus and His twelve apostles, the church of Christ was lost from the earth through apostasy. This was foretold and identified in the Bible. (See: Isa. 24:1, 3, 5 -6; Amos 8:11-12; Matt 24:4-5, 10-13, 23-24; Matt 7:15; Acts 20:29-30; 2 Thess. 2:1-3; 2 Tim. 3:1, 5; 2 Tim 4:3-4; Gal 1: 6-8; 1 Tim 4: 1-3; 2 Peter 2: 1-3)
Jesus himself warned: “Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many…. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many…. for there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” (Matt 24:4-5, 10-13, 23-24)
The gospel and the church of Jesus Christ were so altered as to be unrecognizable as His. Consequently, Jesus withdrew His priesthood authority from the earth, leaving only the churches and institutions of men. The fullness of the everlasting Gospel is not to be found among all the divided and bickering sects of Christianity today.
Reformation Leaders Affirmed the Great Apostasy
The reformation affirmed the devastating effects of the great apostasy. The reformation was a revolution against error. The reformation pointed out the need for, and set the stage for, the restoration. The various movements and sects were attempts to repair the damage caused by the great apostasy.
Many theologians taught that Christ’s church and gospel were lost because of the great apostasy. These include:
- Augustine (352-430);
- Martin Luther (1483-1546) Father of the Reformation;
- Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560);
- Thomas Helwys (1550-1616) joint founder of Baptist denomination;
- Simon Episcopius (1583-1643);
- John Goodwin (1594-1665) Puritan leader;
- John Bunyan (1628-1688) puritan leader and author of “Pilgrim’s Progress;”
- Thomas Grantham (1634-1692) Baptist leader;
- John and Charles Wesley (1703-1791) founders of the Methodist denomination.
John Wesley proclaimed, “It does not appear that these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were common in the church for more than two or three centuries. We seldom hear of them after that fatal period when the emperor Constantine called himself a Christian…From this time they almost totally ceased… The Christians had no more of the spirit of Christ than the other heathens… This was the real cause why the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer to be found in the Christian Church, because the Christians were turned heathen again, and had only a dead form left.” (Wesley’s Works, Vol 7 Sermon 89, pp 26-27)
Christ’s Church Was Built on a Foundation of Twelve Apostles
Christ’s church was built on a foundation of twelve apostles, whom Jesus personally called and ordained by the laying on of hands. (See: Eph. 2:19-20; Eph. 4: 11-14; John 15: 16; Heb. 5:4; Acts 1: 1-3.)
When there was a vacancy in the quorum of the twelve apostles, the remaining apostles gathered together to deliberate and pray. When they reached a consensus, these apostles called and ordained the replacements by the laying on of hands. For example, Matthias replaced Judas. (Acts 1:23-26) Paul and Barnabas were called and ordained as replacements. (Acts 12:1-2; Acts 13:1-3)
However, before the end of the first century, all the apostles were martyred. There were no replacements. (See: Acts 1-5; Acts 1: 13-26; Acts 6: 1-6; Acts 10: 9-19; Acts 12: 1-11; Acts 13: 1-3; Acts 16: 9-10; Acts 18: 8-11. Acts 22: 14-17; Gal.1: 1-2; 1 Cor 15: 3-9)
Local Bishops Replace the 12 Apostles
With the deaths of all the apostles, there were no more worldwide church leaders. There were no more “general authorities.” The apostles, and their priesthood authority, were gone. The foundation of the church was destroyed and the building collapsed. The worldwide church splintered.
This created a leadership vacuum. Local bishops filled the void.
However, a bishop is a local leader. “The consensus among scholars has been that, at the turn of the 1st and 2nd centuries, local congregations were led by bishops.” (See: “Pope,” Wikipedia) Bishops lacked the jurisdiction or priesthood authority to make decisions for and preside over the worldwide church.
New Notion: Bishops Ordained directly by an Apostle has Apostolic Authority
Around 150 A.D., the notion circulated that a local bishop, who had been ordained directly by an apostle, could claim to be equal in authority with the apostles. This idea considered that bishops with apostolic ordination had “apostolic,” “pre-eminent” authority over other local bishops.
New Notion: All Bishops Are Equal and Have Apostolic Authority
About 250 A.D., the concept caught on that all bishops were successors to apostolic authority. Therefore, a “council of Bishops” could speak for, and govern, the world church. Hence, the “Council of Bishops” replaced the “Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.”
Approximately 310 A.D., there were hundreds of local bishops.
Christians in North Africa decided to “elect” their own bishops and establish a separate “Coptic” church.
Council of Bishops, Presided by the Emperor, Decided Doctrine
In 316 A.D., Emperor Constantine, an unbaptized pagan, convened a “Council of Bishops,” to resolve this schism in the church. This council established the precedent of a political leader, not a church leader, taking charge of presiding over church councils. In essence, the political leader determined the policy and doctrinal decisions of the church.
In 325 A.D., Emperor Constantine convened another “Council of Bishops” to resolve several doctrinal disputes, including the nature of the godhead and the trinity. Again, Constantine presided over and conducted this Council of Nicaea, at which basic doctrines, like the trinity, were established, and enforced through book burning, imprisonment, torture, and execution.
Which Bishop Should Lead the Worldwide Church?
Since Jesus and his apostles were gone, who should be the head of the Christian church?
Several local bishops claimed leadership. Foremost among these were the bishops in Jerusalem, Alexandria, Rome. These were major cities with strong church branches.
New Notion: Bishop of Rome Becomes Pope and Presiding Bishop Over the Church
Ultimately, since Rome was the capital of the empire and had a large Christian congregation, the Bishop of Rome assumed control over the world church. In addition to “Bishop of Rome,” he adopted the titles of “Pope” and “Vicar of Christ.” The bishop of Rome was considered the “Presiding Bishop” of the church, “first among equals.”
This did not sit well with other bishops. Eventually, the eastern churches refused to recognize the Bishop of Rome, and they broke away and established the Orthodox churches.
In a failed attempt to settle the battles over the head of the church, around 850 A.D. authentic looking documents were “discovered” “proving” the Bishop of Rome’s “priesthood line of authority.” The Bishop of Rome was a direct successor to Peter in an unbroken chain of priesthood ordinations. Centuries later, these documents were proven to be forgeries. Today, the Pope is still called the “Bishop of Rome.”
These documents did not heal the division over the supremacy of the bishop of Rome. The Eastern Orthodox churches permanently broke away in the great schism. They remain separate today.
In short, local bishops replaced the apostles. The local bishop of Rome “ordained himself” as the presiding bishop, the Pope, and the head of the world Christian church – until the reformation.
(Sources: James E. Talmage, The Great Apostasy (1909); LeGrand Richards, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder (1950); S. Kent Brown, “Whither the Early Church?,” The Ensign, Oct 1988; Kent P. Jackson, “Early Signs of the Apostasy,” The Ensign, Dec. 1984; Robert Starling, “What Happened to the Faith Once Delivered to the Saints? – A Brief Outline of Apostasy and Restoration,” Meridian Magazine, 1 Nov. 2011; Jeffrey R. Holland, “My Words Never Cease: Continuing Revelation and Living Prophets,” Gen. Conf. Apr. 2008; Dallin H. Oaks, “Apostasy and Restoration,” Gen. Conf. Apr. 1995) “Apostasy in Christianity,” “Pope,” “Bishop Leo I,” “Apostolic Succession,” “Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals,” Wikipedia.)