It’s like the game of telephone. You start on one end with the exact phrase, and by the time it gets to the other end of the telephone line, the last person says something incredibly different. How is that possible? It seems that one simple sentence, one simple phrase, should be easy enough to pass down a line of even a few people without it getting altered or changed. So, what happens?
Each person in a telephone game line hears a string of words or a phrase. Often, the phrase is spoken clearly. But, they change the wording just a bit because they think they understand what’s being said and they want to put it in their own words. Sometimes, the phrase is spoken poorly. The person listening must then piece together what they’ve heard. If what they’ve heard doesn’t make sense, their brain does whatever it has to in order to come up with something understandable to pass on (though it doesn’t often end up being understandable at all).
The truth of the phrase/statement becomes subject to personal interpretation, what a person thinks sounds right (or good), what they believe they heard, or what their limited mortal experience feels about what they believe they heard. Some people even change a phrase/statement so that it reflects their understanding and opinion of something because they think their version is better. Because they don’t understand the feelings of the person who originated the phrase (or perhaps they don’t agree with the originator’s feelings) they make minor changes to adapt it to their feelings.
Thus, over the course of time and tiny alterations, what began as a very clear, concise statement soon becomes something ridiculous and difficult to understand.
This is also the process that causes apostasy.
Apostasy is first and foremost a loss of truth
Apostasy, if you google it, is defined as:
The abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief.
Such abandonment and renunciation naturally takes place when truth becomes untruth. Without the big picture, without the original truth, and without an understanding of that truth apostasy logically follows. Because, without knowledge, origin (from which truth derives its power), and understanding there is no power. It’s the game of telephone on a spiritual scale.
Power lies in truth. There’s a cliché that “the truth will set you free.” But it can only do so if it is actually truth. Anything other than the truth creates bondage and limits our power.
Truth has power ONLY if it remains un-diluted (Doctrine & Covenants 93:24). Dilute the truth, twist it, alter it, hide it, abandon it and POOF, power gone. Freedom one.
No power equals no ability to create lasting faith within individuals. Faith, especially misplaced, is easily destroyed or crushed. Agnosticism and atheism are the direct result of faith that has been crushed or destroyed by trust in false truths. If any person places their faith in something untrue it will ultimately fail them. Then, consequentially, more apostasy.
Apostasy is secondly a loss of priesthood power and authority
When there is an individual and/or group abandonment of the source of God’s truth: God’s prophets, then apostasy is certain. While a few mistruths or alterations can be updated, set straight, or amended through seeking the source of truth (God, Holy Spirit, prophets), a rejection of God, the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and/or God’s prophets leads to certain apostasy. God’s prophets are the sole dispensers and carriers of ALL priesthood authority and power (Amos 3:7). Thus, when people (individual or groups) reject prophets apostasy is imminent.
Without prophets there is no true church. This is because without prophets there is no true priesthood authority which means there are no true saving ordinances and covenants. The authority to baptize, dispense ordinances and sacraments—gone. Anything people construct or piece together, no matter how close it is to the original, if there is any alteration in the ordinance and if there is no true authority, the ordinances and covenants are invalid.
A perfectly performed ordinance without true priesthood power and authority is nothing more than “going through the motions” (Doctrine & Covenants 22:2). Our intent will still be valid as concerns the state of our soul—to some extent (Doctrine & Covenants 137:9), but such intent can only get us so far. At some point the ordinance must be performed by true power and authority to be eternally acceptable (Doctrine & Covenants 138:33).
Judges 17-18 teaches us the pattern for, or process of, apostasy
In Judges 17:6 we read:
In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
In Judges 18:1 we read:
In those days there was no king in Israel: and in those days the Danites sought them an inheritance to dwell in; for unto that day all their inheritance had not fallen unto them among Israel.
In Judges 21:25 we read:
In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
These three verses in Judges teach an important principle. Without an authorized king (or spiritual leader or head) religious action becomes subject to personal opinion.
In Israel, kings were originally anointed and called because Israel rejected God as their king (1 Samuel 8:7). They wanted to be like everybody else and have a visible king who would go before them in battles and “look the part.” Such kings were commanded to try to emulate God in their governance and teach the people God’s laws and uphold His righteousness (Deuteronomy 17:14-20 ). But, most of them did not because they were subject to human frailty, weakness, fear of men, and pride. Israel’s eventual apostasy came about because from almost the very beginning of the restoration of the gospel through Moses, they rejected God’s kingship outright.
Jesus Christ is the King of Kings. Prophets, such as Moses, etc., speak for God as our King. When we reject prophets, we reject God’s government, His highest covenants and thus His highest blessings, powers, and ordinances (Doctrine & Covenants 84:16-27). What are we then relegated to? Monarchies, systems of judges, and other forms of man-made government (Doctrine & Covenants 58:19-22). Such forms of government are a lesser government and as such are corruptible. But once we have rejected God, these are the governments we get. Such governments, we are warned, will oppress us and bring ultimate conflict (Mosiah 19:17-18, Proverbs 29:2) until God delivers us.
Once God and His prophets have been rejected eventually kings (or other government forms) become wicked. This is because truth has been diluted, altered, and without continuing revelation and purification from God and His prophets, truth becomes untruth and people are left to make religion after their own ideas, opinions, beliefs, comforts, and their desire for public acceptance.
If we look at scripture, from the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, and the Doctrine and Covenants, we see the clear pattern of Apostasy and Restoration.
The pattern for, or process of, apostasy
In Judges, we see that though God restored His gospel and continuous guidance and heavenly kingship through Moses, the Israelites ultimately rejected all of it are in a state of complete apostasy.
Doctrine and Covenants 1:14-23 tells us why God has throughout history (and why in 1830) restored His correct church again upon the earth after apostasies. Such restorations are often referred to as dispensations (times when God “dispenses” His gospel anew).
And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people [(meaning cut off from among God’s people)].
For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant; They seek not the Lord to establish His righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol [(see Judges 17:6, 18:1, 21:25)], which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall.
Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun, and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments; And also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world; and all this that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets—
The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh—
But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world; That faith also might increase in the earth; That mine everlasting covenant might be established; That the fullness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers.
When people realize they are missing truth, it is then they seek God. When they do so, God begins a restoration of truth in their personal lives. Many times throughout history, this restoration takes place world-wide. Adam was the first dispensation (dispensation). He was the first prophet and he dispensed the gospel, truths, laws, ordinances, and covenants to his family. There would never have been another dispensation if there hadn’t been eventual apostasy among the inhabitants of the earth.
note: The line of the birthright (as I’ve stated many times before) was primarily about passing on the priesthood line of prophet-ship, or the keys and authority of the priesthood. Firstborn sons (if they were righteous) were given not only most of the father’s land and riches so that they might be in charge of family/church welfare, but so that they could take care of the church/family. Firstborn sons (if they were righteous) received the keys and authority of the priesthood. Think of male family heads as prophets, area authorities, stake presidents, and bishops. Each righteous male firstborn (who symbolized Christ, of course) received the truths and priesthood authority to ensure the family/church remained true and had God’s truths.
With Moses (another dispensation/restoration head) we see the beginning of a world-wide restoration. Unfortunately, the Israelites rejected God almost from the beginning and could never rise to the opportunity to spread the gospel to the rest of the world. They received only a lesser priesthood and eventually that melted away with their wickedness. They fell into apostasy and were not prepared when Christ came (another dispensation head) to restore the gospel yet again. Most of them rejected Christ.
Christ was rejected as well as His prophets, and yet another apostasy took place not long after Christ’s death and resurrection (2 Thessalonians 2:1-5). Truth was altered or lost and priesthood authority had again been rejected and quenched. The apostles were eventually rejected and killed and again people organized God’s church after their own ideas and beliefs. We see in the Reformation many people reaching out to God yet again, seeking for truth. During this time, God begins to work among many seekers to bring about the printing of the Bible and many protestant faiths in preparation, laying the groundwork to make possible the complete restoration which began in 1830 with Joseph Smith and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ.
[To learn about the beginning of the restoration, please read SAINTS: The Standard of Truth.]
The process of, or pattern for, restoration
In reading Judges this time through, these verses in chapter 17, 18, and 21 stuck out to me as never before. And I suspect people who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wonder why we run around calling ourselves the “true church” of God. Such a label, I assume, appears offensive. Especially those who worship God and keep His commandments and covenants the best they can. By calling ourselves true they must feel offense because such a label defines them as false.
However, we call ourselves the “true church”, not to condemn others or devalue the truths they have and hold to. We believe that other religions have much truth. But we believe that they do not have all the truth. Thus, we do so because we are God’s true church and He has commanded us to call ourselves the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and to teach that we are His church so that the:
…many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations, who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men…and who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it—
may know where to find it!
God would have us have Him as our King always, continuously. God would have us want His guidance always. God would have us return to His presence and become as He is. His gospel is, at its core, a path to godliness. It is not His will that we should all run around doing that which is right “in our own eyes.” But, He would have us know, access, and receive His truths, laws, covenants, ordinances, and powers in their correct state and in their fullness without doubt.
We don’t have to be like Micah and the Danites, coming up with our own versions of how to get the promises and blessings God gives. We don’t have to make idols or go running around the land looking for our spiritual inheritance. God has the correct version available to us of how to receive His promises and blessings. He has not only a spiritual inheritance already awaiting us, but an eternal one!
Judges teaches us how apostasy takes place and what it looks like. But, it teaches us these things not so we can remain in apostasy, without a fullness of truth. It teaches us these things that we might recognize it and seek for a restoration in our own lives.