A drive through almost any town will reveal that Christianity is no longer the unified faith it was while Jesus Christ lived on the Earth. There are thousands of versions of Christianity, all differing from one another even within similar traditions, such as Protestantism. Each believes they have found the truth, but, although they all say they use the Bible as the foundation of their beliefs, their beliefs differ on very important things. How can the same Bible lead to so many conflicting ideas?
This process of disagreeing about the teachings of Jesus began even before the apostles died. The apostles were in a constant battle to keep the people from misunderstanding or changing doctrine and at one point, even noted they had lost all of Asia to apostasy.
15 This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes. (2 Timothy 1:15)
While the apostles were alive, however, there was an authorized voice for truth. When people didn’t understand what was the correct way to interpret the scriptures, they could turn to the apostles—presuming they wanted to know what was true and weren’t instead happy to settle for what they wanted to be true. The apostles, as prophets of God, were authorized to speak for God:
32 And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them. Acts 15:32
Paul introduced new concepts to the church that had not been previously taught, such as taking the gospel to the gentiles. Revelation continued to flow through God’s chosen prophets and apostles. But then the apostles died and God chose not to replace them, sending the world into another apostasy. There had been apostasies in the past, but this one was longer than usual.
11 Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord:
12 And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it. (Amos 8:11-12)
This apostasy had been foretold by the apostles. The people were warned it must come and that there must also be a restitution of all things before Jesus could return:
Some of the early Apostles knew that an apostasy would occur before the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. To the Thessalonians, Paul wrote concerning this event, “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first.”
With this falling away, priesthood keys were lost, and some precious doctrines of the Church organized by the Savior were changed. Among these were baptism by immersion; receiving the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands; the nature of the Godhead—that They are three distinct personages; all mankind will be resurrected through the Atonement of Christ, “both … the just and the unjust”; continuous revelation—that the heavens are not closed; and temple work for the living and the dead.
The period that followed came to be known as the Dark Ages. This falling away was foreseen by the Apostle Peter, who declared that “heaven must receive [Jesus Christ] until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” Restitution would only be necessary if these precious things had been lost.
James E. Faust, “The Restoration of All Things,” Ensign, May 2006, 61–62, 67–68 (James E. Faust was an apostle until his death.)
Today, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the church of the restoration. The brave and valiant Protestant reformers knew they were not prophets and said so. They were wise men who saw that essential truths had been altered and did the best they could with what they knew. However, only a prophet could speak officially for God and ensure the fullness of the gospel could come forth. The reformers played an essential role in this process and Mormons are taught to honor them.
Today’s prophet is Thomas S. Monson. He fills the same role as the ancient prophets—the only man authorized to speak officially for God.