The Great Apostasy
Seven proofs History of Christianity History part 2 A non-LDS view
'Antichrists' Matthew 24 Heresies Other theories

Seven Proofs of the Great Apostasy
The New Testament church had lost all authority by the late sixth century
(and three attempts to deny the obvious)

The Destruction of the Church

Some Christians cling to the idea that the church of Jesus Christ continued intact through the Dark Ages, despite the evidence of scripture, history, and their own eyes.

Like Saul in the book of Acts, they find it unthinkable that the church could have lost its authority. But let us look at the evidence.


First, let us define terms. "Apostate" here means mean "moved away from the New Testament church". This page will demonstrate that most modern churches are fundamentally different from the church described in the Bible, and so cannot offer the great things that the New Testament church offered.

Before continuing, let it be stressed that we are talking about the authority to run a church, not the quality of the people within that church. Daniel (chapters 7 and 8) makes clear that the problem was not that the saints became evil, but just that they were "in the hands of" the little horn.

Proof 1: no new scripture.

Throughout the time of the New Testament, the prophets and apostles produced scripture - letters and books that were binding on the church and were equal to anything that went before. Every Christian admits that these scriptures were essential to the church. Yet the modern churches (except for the Mormons) do not produce new scripture.

To defend themselves, modern churches generally pull out three excuses:

  1. "We do produce scripture - they have the Holy Spirit, and prophecy is alive and well." Then where is it? Why does nobody have the courage to publish it and say "this has equal or greater authority than the Bible"? Would the Baptists accept the Anglicans' new scripture? Would the Presbyterians accept the Methodists' scripture? Where is the scripture?
  2. "There was to be no more scripture after Christ." Plainly this is wrong, as the apostles continued to produce scripture right up to their deaths. If the apostles were in some sense extra special, this just opens the equally serious charge that the modern churches have inferior apostles, a second class kind of leadership.
  3. "Everything necessary has been said." That is the most dangerous and foolish thing you can ever say in religious matters. What if the Jews in Jesus' day had said that? (Sadly many of them did, and rejected the Messiah). What if the seven churches in Asia had said that before John gave them the book of Revelation? What right has man to say to God "shut up - I've heard enough from you"? It is also logically absurd. What about all the topics that are not addressed in the Bible - smoking, the Nuclear industry, women deacons, and so on?

Even if all those excuses had been valid, it would not change the fact that the early church produced the Bible and the modern churches do not. The modern churches are fundamentally different.

Proof 2: most Christians admit to an apostasy.

Let us deal with Protestantism first. Protestants openly state that the Catholic church fell into apostasy. The early Protestant reformers even went so far as to call the Pope "The Antichrist". They plainly state that, in the words of the Church of England book of Homilies, "Laity and clergy, learned and unlearned, all ages, sects, and degrees, have been drowned in abominable idolatry most detested by God and damnable to man for eight hundred years and more.". So how can the Protestants be a living branch off a dead tree? Simply by saying that authority is in the written word - a fallacy that will be discussed at the end of this page.

As to Catholics, educated Catholics (a very pleasant and reasonable bunch in my experience) openly admit that all was not good in the Dark Ages. The excuse however is that even in the times of darkness, the authority could still be passed from Pope to Pope, and in the reformation the more serious evils were cleansed. The simple answer to that is to draw the analogy with the Jews in New Testament times. The Jews believed that they had the authority, based on their position and not based on righteousness. The prophets and apostles soon put them right on that point (see for example Matthew 3:9-10).

Proof 3: prophecies of the apostasy.

This web site includes numerous examples of prophecies of the coming apostasy. Every time the final triumph of the saints is discussed at any length in the Bible, the apostasy is also mentioned. It should be noted of course that the apostles had a hard enough job anyway without preaching approaching doom, so they only mentioned it quietly. But the message is clearly there nonetheless.

Examples of apostasy scriptures referred to in this web site are in Daniel (the little horn), Matthew (the famous chapter 24), John (the prince of this world about to come), the epistles of John (the last days before antichrist came), and of course the book of Revelation. A few of the other prophecies are discussed in the section on 101 prophecies.

Add passages such as 2 Thessalonians 2:2-7 (discussed here), and the missionaries' emphasis on witnessing rather than converting, and the message is clear. The apostles did not expect the church to survive.

Proof 4: the need for the apostles

A simple reading of the epistles in the New Testament will show that the apostles were always having to put down apostate ideas and correct wayward churches. If the idea was true, that "everything necessary is in the Bible", we would expect that towards the end of New Testament times there would be fewer and fewer new problems to solve. In fact, the opposite happened. The later epistles had even more apostasy to deal with than the early epistles.

But when they were most needed, the apostles were killed..

So what was going to happen after the apostles died? According to the prophecies, the forces of this world were just going to get worse. How could the church survive without leadership? Of course, they did have the Holy Spirit. But they had the Holy Spirit before the apostles died as well, and the church definitely needed human leadership then (or else why did Peter and Paul and John write their letters?)

Some modern churches still claim to have apostles, but most are nothing like the apostles were in Bible times. See the page on apostolic and Biblical authority for details.

Proof 5: the history of the second century

The church was lost without apostles

"And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive." (Ephesians 4:11-14.)

As will be shown, in the second century the church had not achieved "the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man," so apostles were very much needed. But they were dead. They had all been killed. Yet the church needed guidance.

The Hodder Bible handbook - a book written by and for the orthodox traditional churches - admits that (a) doctrinal confusion existed, (b) leadership was sorely needed, and (c) this is what produced the Catholic church. Under the title "Church development" for the period 150-313, it says:

"[The] idea of the primacy of the bishop of Rome was born out of the need for leadership in time of persecution and in combating heresy."

Even if we got the right bishop to lead the church, where in the New Testament does it say that a bishop had authority over the whole church? Apostles appointed bishops in each town, and apostles told them what to do. Having a bishop tell the church what to do goes against the plan that God put in place. It is, by definition, apostate.

So many different voices

The folly of one bishop taking over is clear when we see that different bishops had different ideas. Among the battling theories were the school of Alexandria (allegorical interpretations and divinity of Christ), the school of Antioch (literal interpretations and humanity of Christ), Gnostics of different flavors (who claimed to have Christ's secret teachings) and others. Add Neoplatonism, Montanism, Monarchianism, and who know how many other isms, and the church was in confusion. And the big controversies like Arianism had not yet even begun! No wonder the Britannica describes the second century as "an era of doctrinal flux".

The early church historians could see exactly what was going on. Quoting a contemporary, Hegesippus, Eusebius wrote: "When the sacred choir of apostles became extinct, and the generation of those that had been privileged to hear their inspired wisdom had passed away, then also the combinations of impious error arose by the fraud and delusions of false teachers. These also, as there were none of the apostles left, henceforth attempted, without shame to preach their false doctrine against the gospel of truth. Such is the statement of Hegesippus."

(See Nibley's "The World and the Prophets", and chapter 5 of his "Mormonism and Early Christianity", both available through FARMS .)

How do we know that the winning team was the right team?

Of course, the modern churches look back at these opposing ideas as just false ideas that were rightly defeated. But that is because history is written by the winners. Who is to say that the version of Christianity that won was any more accurate than the ones that lost? Who is to say? That is exactly the big question. Nobody can say because nobody has the authority. Without the apostles, the church had no leaders. It was tossed between the various doctrines until one came out on top. This was exactly the fate that apostles were designed to prevent, according to the verses quoted earlier.

In summary, it is clear that the church was in "an era of doctrinal flux". It is also clear that eventually church doctrine settled down. But the point is this: there is no evidence that the winning church was the true church. Indeed, as the gifts of the spirit gradually died away, there is every evidence that the winning team was the wrong team.

apostasy and restoration

Proof 6: the man-made councils

Modern traditional churches - even the evangelical Protestants - trace their central doctrines, such as the nature of God, to the councils of the fourth century and later. If these are not evidence of apostasy, then what is? Hundreds of years after the apostles died, the church still did not know what it believed! So councils were called to settle disputes. And were those councils guided by apostles? No. Is there even evidence that the Holy Spirit was in charge? Not a bit of it! As St Hilary wrote at the time of the council of Nicea, where the Nicene Creed (the traditional definition of God) was decided:

"It is a thing equally deplorable and dangerous, that there are as many creeds as opinions among men, as many doctrines as inclinations, and as many sources of blasphemy as there are faults among us; because we make creeds arbitrarily, and explain them arbitrarily. . . . The homoousion is rejected, and received, and explained away by successive synods. . . . Every year, nay every month, we make new creeds to describe invisible mysteries. We repent of what we have done, we defend those who change their minds, we anathematize those whom we defended. We condemn either the doctrine of others in ourselves, or our own in that of others; and, reciprocally tearing one another to pieces, we have been the cause of each other's ruin."

"Since the whole argument is about words, and since the whole controversy has to do with the subject of innovation [i.e., the introduction of philosophical terms not found in the scripture], and since the occasion of the discussion is the presence of certain ambiguities, and since the dispute is about authority, and since we are quarreling about technical questions, and since our problem is to reach a consensus, and since each side is beginning to be anathema to the other, it would seem that hardly anybody belongs to Christ (or is on Christ's side) any more. We are blown about by winds of doctrine, and as we teach we only become more upset, and the more we are taught, the more we go astray."

"We avoid believing that of Christ which He told us to believe, so that we might establish a treacherous unity in the false name of peace, and we rebel with new definitions of God against what we falsely call innovations, and in the name of the Scriptures we deceitfully cite things that are not in the Scriptures: changeful, prodigal, impious, changing established things, abolishing accepted doctrine, presuming irreligious things."

St Hilary was there. He says it all. If you do want further quotations, commentary, sources, see Nibley's "The World and the Prophets", and chapter 5 of his "Mormonism and Early Christianity", both available through FARMS .

Proof 7: the changes in doctrine and practice

Finally, the traditional churches today are simply not like the church that is described in the New Testament. The organization, the doctrines, the practices, everything has changed. This had been discussed at length in the 101 prophecies section, so there is no more to add at this point.

Three Attempts to Deny the Apostasy


Attempt 1: The myth of a righteous remnant

What about the idea that a few righteous people would have been alive at any point? I do not know what the Catholic definition of a line of authority is (e.g. if a Pope is bad, can his authority be preserved by a small band of righteous cardinals?), but as neither Popes nor Cardinals are offices that existed in the early church, I think the answer is irrelevant. The authority could not be passed on.

Protestants have sometimes used a similar argument. They point to groups such as the Waldenses who allegedly kept the truth alight during the Dark Ages. The Waldenses were a group who hid in the mountains, trying to follow the Bible. But they simply illustrate the point - they did not have prophets, apostles, or new scripture. They were simply a group that tried its best under impossible circumstances - fore-runners of the Protestant reformers. They are too late for any claims of continuity with the early church (they cannot be traced back before the eleventh century) and too early for the "last days" stone prophecy of Daniel 2, even if they had claimed new apostles. It would be many centuries before the prophecies signaling the end of the wilderness period would be fulfilled.

It is true that Revelation 12 speaks of the church being preserved in the wilderness. But the church is the people. The authority, the man child, had been taken back to heaven.

Attempt 2: The "gates of hell" scripture

When people try to believe that the authority has somehow continued intact since Bible times, they usually quote Matthew 16:18, which says that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church. But this argument only works with people who don't read their Bibles. Those who read the Bible know that the verse says nothing about the duration of the church on this earth. It refers to Hades, the place of the dead.

"Opening the gates of hell" refers to Jesus having the keys of Hades. Those who accept Jesus (his church) have nothing to fear from death. This is discussed in more detail on the page about the New Testament.

Attempt 3: Claiming that authority is in the written word

The idea that you can recreate the authentic Christian church from the scriptures is absurd. If we copy what we see in the Bible, all we have is a copy. Not the original.

This is discussed in detail on the page on Apostolic and Biblical authority.

Catholics and Protestants are like the ancient Jews

The Bible denies all their claims to authority.

"We have the weight of tradition!"

So did the Jews when Christ came. But they had lost the authority.

"We have the scriptures!"

So did the Jews when Christ came. But they had lost the authority.

"We think the scriptures support our position!"

So did the Jews when Christ came. It took a miracle, not scripture, to convert Saul.

"We always had righteous men on the earth!"

So did some of the Jews when Christ came.

Luke 2:25-26: "And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ."

But this did not give him any authority - he was awaiting further light from God.

"We have the Holy Ghost!"

So did some of the Jews when Christ came (see above). But they had lost the authority.

"God would not allow the church to fall into apostasy!"

Then your God is not the God of the Bible. The church (i.e. the community of believers) had fallen into apostasy when Jesus came. There had been no prophet for 400 years. It was just the same during the Dark Ages. It makes God sad when we reject him, but he gives us the freedom to do so.

The bottom line

For more details of how the apostasy happened, see the history of Catholic and Protestant churches.


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