Many gospel truths were changed or lost during the Great Apostasy, and they were restored in our day through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Even though the events of the Apostasy and the Restoration occurred many years ago, we can learn from them and improve our own lives. When we study the word of God and are willing to listen to and obey the promptings from God, the Holy Ghost can help us recognize the difference between truths of the restored gospel and falsehoods taught by the world.
“Apostasy” has been defined as a turning away from the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This condition can take place individually or as groups. The Great Apostasy, which occurred after the Savior established His Church, is one example of apostasy. The Great Apostasy took place after the deaths of the Savior and His Apostles when men corrupted the principles of the gospel and made unauthorized changes in the organization of the Church and the ordinances of the priesthood. This apostasy was so widespread that the Lord withdrew the authority of the priesthood from the earth; it lasted until Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith in 1820 and began the restoration of the fullness of the gospel.
The Apostle Paul foretold that there would be an apostasy or “falling away” from the gospel of Jesus Christ in his second letter to the Thessalonians: “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him.
“That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.
“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” (2 Thessalonians 2:3).
Jesus Christ called and ordained twelve Apostles to help Him in his ministry. When Judas Iscariot betrayed the Lord and his calling, a new Apostle named Matthias was called and ordained to take his place. This pattern could have continued from the time of Jesus Christ until our day except the Apostles were killed faster than new Apostles could be called and ordained. Eventually, all the Apostles were killed except John the Beloved who was exiled to the Isle of Patmos and later translated. Since the gospel of Jesus Christ could not remain on the earth without Apostles to administer the principles and ordinances of it, the true gospel of Jesus Christ was taken from the earth within a few hundred years after His death.
The people were left without divine direction from living Prophets and Apostles. People established many churches, but they were without proper priesthood authority and power. There was no one with the authority to perform priesthood ordinances or to confer the gift of the Holy Ghost. Without proper priesthood authority, they corrupted or lost parts of the Holy Scriptures.
We are fortunate to live in a time when the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored to the earth once again. We are also fortunate to know that the gospel will never be taken from earth again. We know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will not be overcome by general apostasy or be destroyed.
The prophet Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream wherein he saw a great image and then saw a stone cut out of the mountain without hands that destroyed the image. In his interpretation, Daniel told the king, “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.
“Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass thereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure” (Daniel 2:44-45).
In our day another prophet, even President Joseph F. Smith, saw Daniel in a vision and wrote: “Daniel, who foresaw and foretold the establishment of the kingdom of God in the latter days, never again to be destroyed nor given to other people” (Doctrine and Covenants 138:44).
People and nations pass through cycles of righteousness and wickedness; these cycles are often called pride cycles. The Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ is full of examples of these cycles. The cycles began with blessings and prosperity (Helaman 3:25-26, 32; 11:20-21; 3 Nephi 6:1-9) and then move through other stages - pride and wickedness (Helaman 3:33-36; 4:11-12; 6:16-17; 3 Nephi 6:13-18), destruction and suffering (Helaman 4:1-2, 11, 13; 11:1-6; 3 Nephi 9:1-12), and finally to humility and repentance (Helaman 4:14-15, 20-26; 11:7-11, 15; 3 Nephi 5:1-6). We can avoid the bad parts of the cycle by learning from past history and “checking” ourselves when we first recognize that we are becoming prideful or sinning. Unfortunately, our nation is currently in the “pride and wickedness” part of the cycle and quickly heading to “destruction and suffering.” We can still “check” our progress and move back to “blessings and prosperity” by turning our hearts to God, but we are quickly running out of time. It is very possible that the United States of America will follow the same path that destroyed ancient Greece and the Roman Empire because our leaders and citizens have forgotten history.
Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “I guess one of the greatest mysteries of mortality is why mankind fails to learn from history” (Ensign, Nov. 1992, 16).
George Santayana stated the same principle using different words: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (The Life of Reason; or the Phases of Human Progress, 5 vols. , 1:284).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie, then a member of the Seventy and later a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, explained: “In all ages the Lord pours out his judgments upon the children of disobedience. Famines, captivity, plagues, floods, lightnings, hailstorms, pestilences, tempests, earthquakes, wars, fire and brimstone raining from heaven – all these and infinitely more are sent of God upon men who forsake him and his laws. (Lev. 26; Deut. 28; 29; 30; 3 Ne. 8; 9; 10; D&C 43:25; 63:3233; 88:88-91.) Obviously these judgments come upon peoples and nations to punish them for their rebellion and to humble them that peradventure they will turn to righteousness. And obviously also a righteous minority group may be called upon to suffer with those who are receiving a just reward for their unholy deeds (Teachings [of the Prophet Joseph Smith], pp. 162-163; Dan. 11:35.)” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 404-5).
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles explained that we can avoid personal apostasy when we are “willing to listen and learn” to those who have gone before us. “They have walked where you are walking and have experienced many of the things you are experiencing. If you listen and respond to their counsel, they can help guide you toward choices that will be for your benefit and blessing and steer you away from decisions that can destroy you….
“Learning the lessons of the past allows you to walk boldly in the light without running the risk of stumbling in the darkness. This is the way it’s supposed to work. This is God’s plan: father and mother, grandfather and grandmother teaching their children; children learning from them and then becoming a more righteous generation through their own personal experiences and opportunities. Learning the lessons of the past allows you to build personal testimony on a solid bedrock of obedience, faith, and the witness of the Spirit….
“… Nourished by testimony and watered with faith, the lessons of the past can take root in your hearts and become a vibrant part of who you are.
“And so it returns, as it always does, to your own personal faith and testimony. That is the difference-maker…. That is how you know. That is how you avoid the mistakes of the past and take your spirituality to the next level. If you are open and receptive to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit in your lives, you will understand the lessons of the past, and they will be burned into your souls by the power of your testimonies….
“And how do you get such a testimony? … You gain a vibrant, life-changing testimony today the same way it has always been done. The process hasn’t been changed. It comes through desire, study, prayer, obedience, and service. That is why the teachings of prophets and apostles, past and present, are as relevant to your life today as they ever have been” (“Learning the Lessons of the Past,” Ensign, May 2009, 31-34).
Even though we know that there will never be another general apostasy, we know that individuals can and will fall away from the truth. In order to stay true to the gospel of Christ, we must daily guard against personal apostasy by obeying the commandments of God, keeping the covenants we make, following the counsel of living prophets and apostles, partaking of the sacrament, and strengthening our testimonies by daily scripture study, personal prayer, and service to others.