Who Holds the Keys? (Pope or Prophet)

Opening Statement
by Barry Bickmore - Representing the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints'
Position on the "Restored Gospel"

Introduction - Common Ground

Pope or Prophet? In his introduction to this debate, Steve Clifford referred to a remark by a Roman Catholic scholar to Latter-day Saint Apostle Orson F. Whitney. The Catholic man said that either the Catholic (which I interpret to include Orthodox, Anglican, and Monophysite) position or the LDS position must be correct, because either the Church of Christ has continued or it needed restoring. That is, either the Catholic succession of episcopal authority [Greek episkopos = "bishop" or "overseer"] has remained valid through the centuries, or a restoration of priesthood authority via heavenly messengers, as is claimed by the Latter-day Saints, must have been necessary. This conclusion presupposes a belief common to both the LDS and Catholic traditions, namely, Christ's true Church must maintain a valid chain of priesthood ordinations stretching back to Jesus Christ Himself.

In light of both scripture and ecclesiastical history, I concur that this is the only tenable position. For the benefit of any who might read this debate, especially those of Protestant background, I will introduce this opening statement by quoting Scripture and some of the earliest post-Apostolic bishops and saints to make this point.

Jesus ordained His Apostles. "He ordained twelve, that they should be with him to preach, to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils." (Mark 3:14) These men didn't volunteer for the job. Rather, they were called and ordained by Jesus Christ Himself. "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you." (John 15:16) According to Clement of Rome (ca. 96 A.D.), the Apostles would go about preaching and organizing congregations, appointing and ordaining leaders in every locale:

    "The apostles have preached the Gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ [has done so] from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders... they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first-fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe ."1

Paul told Timothy to "neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of hands of the presbytery." (1 Timothy 4:14) Notice also that these appointments were always made with the assurance of the Holy Ghost, not for any political motive, and by ordination. Thus the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews could say (in the present tense) of the priesthood that "no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron." (Hebrews 5:4)2 Likewise, Hippolytus (ca. 200 A.D.) gave the accepted procedure for ordaining men to the offices of bishop, elder, and deacon by the laying on of hands in his Apostolic Tradition.3

Ignatius of Antioch (ca. 110 A.D.) summed up the natural conclusion drawn from this information. Namely, without the ordained priesthood, there is no Church. "In like manner, let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the sanhedrin of God, and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church."4

There is no sign in the early Church of any claim to ecclesiastical authority by virtue of a "priesthood of all believers", except among those even Protestants would label as heretics, such as the Montanists and Gnostics.5 And important early figures such as Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 180 A.D.) considered that any schism from the established Church order would cause more damage than reform. "He shall also judge those who give rise to schisms, who are destitute of the love of God.... For no reformation of so great importance can be effected by them, as will compensate for the mischief arising from their schism."6 How can our Protestant brothers and sisters excuse their schism from the established priesthood authority? Either that authority has continued or it needed restoration. Or, alternatively, if there has been a long chain of adherents to the "priesthood of all believers", the Protestants need to show who they were. If they can't, they ought to admit they have no historical basis for their faith and find the true priesthood authority.

On this point we can stand together with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. There can be no true Church without a valid chain of priesthood authority going back to Christ, and thus either the Catholic (including Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Monophysite) position or the Latter-day Saint position must be correct. But did that chain of authority continue through the Catholic Church or did an apostasy occur, necessitating a restoration of authority in the LDS Church? In this opening statement I will make the following points to show that the Latter-day Saint position is the only viable option:

  • A massive apostasy was predicted and in fact did occur in the late first and early second centuries. Much of the evidence indicates this apostasy was to be a complete removal of Christ's Church from the earth.
  • "Apostolic succession" implies an actual succession of apostles, not just episcopal authority.
  • Even if a valid episcopal succession is granted beyond the second century, the Catholic bishops cut themselves off from Christ's Church during the Middle Ages.

The Apostasy

Predictions of Apostasy

The apostles made many predictions of an impending apostasy. But what exactly was this "apostasy", and when was it supposed to happen? According to LDS scholar Kent Jackson, the word apostasy is derived from the Greek word "apostasia", which means "'rebellion,' 'mutiny,' 'revolt,' or 'revolution,' and is used in ancient contexts with reference to uprisings against established authority."7 Thus, the apostasy was to be a rebellion against God's established authority on earth.

At this point I should note that Latter-day Saints, in general, do not consider Catholicism to be "anti-Christ", without truth, or anything of the sort. The rest of the Christian world are the inheritors, rather than the perpetrators, of apostasy, and the Lord has not left them destitute of the divine light through the centuries. Thus, when Latter-day Saints speak of the "apostasy", we primarily mean that Priesthood authority was taken from the earth in response to rebellion. When no Priesthood keys were left on earth, the apostasy was "complete" or "total". Certainly this rebellion and loss of authority was accompanied by some rejection of various revealed truths, and without the prophetic gifts which always accompany God's Church, Christianity naturally drifted even farther from the revealed Word through the centuries. But as the Book of Mormon teaches, "the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have...." (Alma 29:8) That said, let us examine the evidence for the rebellion.

Paul spoke of this apostasy when he told the elders at Ephesus that "after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them." (Acts 20:29-30) Indeed, Paul had no illusions about the survival of the Church when he wrote to Timothy that the saints would turn away from sound doctrine:

    "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry." (2 Timothy 4:3-5)

Notice how Paul entreated Timothy to do his duty as an evangelist, but indicated that those in his charge would forsake the faith. In the same letter Paul intimated that "all they which are in Asia be turned away from me" (2 Timothy 1:15) - and Asia Minor was exactly where many, if not most, of the Christian converts lived.8

Peter also warned the saints that "there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of." (2 Peter 2:1-2)

Timing of the Apostasy

Latter-day Saints believe that the apostasy was underway even while the apostles were alive, and that it inevitably completed its course after the last apostles were taken away. While the New Testament does not give many specifics about the timetable of the rebellion in its predictions, it contains quite a few clues pointing to the fact that a massive rebellion was taking place in the Church, and there was not much time left.

The apostasy was to happen before the second coming of Christ. Paul told the Thessalonians not to worry about Christ coming back anytime soon saying, "Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away {Gr. apostasia} first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition." (2 Thessalonians 2:3) As we saw above, Paul specifically said that the apostasy would overrun the Church, and a few verses later he intimated that it was already underway. "For already the secret power of wickedness is at work, secret only for the present until the Restrainer disappears from the scene." (2 Thessalonians 2:7 NEB) Who was the "Restrainer" Paul spoke of? When we remember that Paul told the elders at Ephesus that wolves would arise from the flock after he departed (Acts 20:29-30), it becomes clear that this was a reference to the apostles themselves.

Such references to an apostasy already underway are to be found throughout the New Testament. For instance, Paul rebuked the Galatians for turning to a perverted form of the Gospel:

    "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another, but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed". (Galatians 1:6-8)

Paul also warned the Corinthians against "false apostles" (2 Corinthians 11:13) who preached "another Jesus, whom we have not preached." (2 Corinthians 11:4) Remember also that Paul told the elders at Ephesus that as soon as he was gone, false teachers would arise out of their ranks and deceive many.

Paul and Peter wrote in the 50's and 60's, and evidently they were witness to serious troubles within the Church. However, when we turn to later writings, such as Jude (ca. 80 A. D.) and John (late 90's), clearly the situation had become critical.

Jude, the brother of Jesus, wrote a general epistle to combat the many false teachers who had crept into the Church:

    "... it was needful for me to... exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ." (Jude 1:3-4)

One Catholic translation9 is more specific about the identity of these false teachers. "Certain people have infiltrated among you, and they are the ones you had a warning about, in writing, long ago." Who warned the saints "in writing" about the infiltration of false teachers? Jude goes on to explain that this warning came from the apostles, so it stands to reason that this was the apostasy foretold in the earlier New Testament writings. "But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts." (Jude 1:17-18)

In the last few years before John, the last apostle, was taken from the Church, he recorded more indications of the rebellion that was about to find its fulfillment. John complained that a certain local leader in the Church, Diotrephes, would not receive John's letters and turned out "the brethren" from the Church as well as those who would receive them:

    "I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth {them} out of the church." (3 John 9-10)

Finally, John recorded "letters" from the Lord to seven churches in Asia in Revelation 2-3. These churches were obviously meant to represent the Church as a whole.10 The messages in the letters ranged from praise to rebuke, but it is instructive to look at the consequences the Lord promised for the actions of the Church members. In the cases where praise was given, the Lord said, "be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." (Revelation 2:10) Where rebuke was given the Lord commanded them to "repent... or else I will... remove thy candlestick out of his place...." (Revelation 2:5) Earlier the Lord had stipulated that "the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches." (Revelation 1:20) Therefore, the faithful were promised a crown of life after their martyrdom, and the unfaithful were threatened with the expulsion of their entire churches. Certainly this was a time of crisis for the Church.

This pattern of rebellion continued into the second century, which has been dubbed "the age of heresy". Clement of Rome (ca. 96 A.D.) chastised the Corinthians for ejecting a righteous bishop who had been appointed by the apostles.11 Ignatius of Antioch (ca. 110 A.D.) rebuked some of the Magnesian Christians for rebelling against their bishop in the first decade of the second century: "It is fitting, then, not only to be called Christians, but to be so in reality: as some indeed give one the title of bishop, but do all things without him...."12 And there seems to have been some general problem in this area at the time, since Ignatius included exhortations to submit to the authority of the bishops in all but one of his six epistles to various churches.13 Apparently there had been some serious schism even in Ignatius' own church at Antioch, for he requested that the Smyrnaeans send a delegate to Antioch to "congratulate them that they are [now] at peace, and are restored to their proper greatness, and that their proper constitution has been re-established among them."14 Indeed, W.H. Wagner notes that Ignatius willingly gave himself up to be martyred as a sacrifice for problems within the whole church. "He prayed not for pagans to stop hounding Christians, but for Christians to stop fighting one another and for them to recover unity and harmony."15 In another passage Ignatius gave the familiar warning, "The last times are come upon us."16

The angel in Hermas' (early second century) vision invited the Church to heal its schisms, but gave a stern warning if they would not:

    "Lay aside, therefore, the recollection of your offences and bitternesses, and you will be formed in one spirit. And heal and take away from you those wicked schisms, that if the Lord of the flocks come, He may rejoice concerning you. And He will rejoice, if He find all things sound, and none of you shall perish. But if He find any one of these sheep strayed, woe to the shepherds! And if the shepherds themselves have strayed, what answer will they give Him for their flocks?"17

Around the turn of the third century Hippolytus of Rome wrote his Apostolic Tradition "because of that apostasy or error which was recently invented out of ignorance."18 Who were these apostates? Hippolytus asserted that the "many heresies increased because those who were at the head would not learn the purpose of the Apostles but according to their own pleasure do what they choose and not what is fitting."19 Whether one accepts Hippolytus' version of the "apostolic tradition" or not, it is clear that heresy and schism reached even the highest levels of the Church during this early period.

The Totality of the Apostasy

Many mainstream Christians will readily admit that an apostasy occurred during the time period indicated above, but they deny that the Church was completely removed from the earth. Was it a total apostasy or not?

Several Bible passages indicate that it was. For instance, Amos prophesied that there would be a famine of hearing the word of God:

    "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: 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)

If one wanders from sea to sea searching for the word of the Lord and cannot find it, it's a good bet it is not to be had anywhere. It might be countered that Amos referred to the time of apostasy in Israel between the Old and New Testaments, when we have no further record of any prophets adding their witness to the Bible. However, the New Testament clearly demonstrates that Israel had not undergone a total apostasy, which is clearly what was predicted in this passage. For example, the case of Zacharias shows that the Aaronic priesthood was still operative (see Luke 1), as does Jesus' statement to the Samaritan woman that "salvation is of the Jews". (John 4:22) Indeed, Luke referred to Anna as a "prophetess" (Luke 2:36), so clearly the word of the Lord could be found during the intertestamental period, even though it was not generally accepted.

Similarly, John saw in vision that a beast, representing an agent of Satan, was allowed to "make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations." (Revelation 13:7)

The most specific reference to the totality of the apostasy, however, is in 2 Thessalonians. Here Paul noted not only that an apostasy was inevitable, but that the "son of perdition" would sit "as God... in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God." (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4)

In addition, two statements by Jude and Ignatius quoted above bring up an important related question. That is, why did Jude and Ignatius refer to their own day as "the last time?" John wrote, "Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time." (1 John 2:18) Did Jude, Ignatius, and John believe it was "the last time" because Christ was about to come back, or because the Church was filled with antichrists, and would not long survive?

The apostles were apparently indifferent to the specific time of Christ's return, as we saw with Paul's comment to the Thessalonians. Peter even told the Church not to worry about the Lord fulfilling his promise to return because, "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." (2 Peter 3:8) Therefore, it was not the "last time" because the Lord was about to return (a fact that should be obvious by this time), but because the Church was about to be taken from the earth. Let me reiterate. The apostles and "apostolic men" of this period repeatedly called their time "the last time" because the Church was full of antichrists. At no time did they indicate that it was "the last time" because the Second Advent of our Lord was at hand. In fact, they specifically told the saints not to expect our Lord's return any time soon.20

At this point let me anticipate an objection. In his opening statement Steve Clifford will undoubtedly appeal to Matthew 16:18 to prove that there could not have been a complete apostasy. "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church; and the gates of hell [Greek hades = the world of the dead] shall not prevail against it." What did Jesus mean when he said the gates of hades (not hell) would not prevail against the Church? I'll examine this question fully after Steve makes the inevitable assertion, but for now it should be sufficient to quote Michael M. Winter, former lecturer in Fundamental Theology at St. John's Seminary (Roman Catholic), in his excellent scholarly defense of the papacy. After analyzing the language of this verse in its Jewish context, Winter writes that "although some writers have applied the idea of immortality to the survival of the church, it seems preferable to see it as a promise of triumph over evil."21

Hermas and the Final Curtain Call

The final call to repentance was given in the early second century by one of the "Apostolic Fathers". The Pastor of Hermas records a series of revelations, probably given over a period of a few decades in the first half of the second century, to Hermas, brother of Pius, bishop of Rome.22 For centuries it was considered inspired scipture by many Christians, although it did not end up being canonized.23 One aspect of the Pastor that has excited a great deal of heated controversy is the repeated insistence that there would be but one opportunity for repentance of post-baptismal sins.24 Why would Hermas have preached such a harsh doctrine?

The key to interpreting Hermas' purpose is contained in the first section of his work, the Visions. Here the Church was represented as a tower being built of stone, the stones representing individual Christians. Hermas related:

    "And I began to ask her about the times, if the end were yet. But she cried out with a loud voice saying, "Foolish man, do you not see the tower still being built? Whenever therefore the building of the tower has been finished, the end comes. But it will quickly be built up; ask me nothing more."25

The impending completion of the tower was given as the reason for the urgent call to one more chance for repentance. When asked what was represented by some stones which had been cast away by the builders but left on the ground near the tower, the angel explained that these were Christians who had sinned, but could still become part of the tower if they repented immediately. "For if the building be finished, there will not be more room for any one, but he will be rejected. This privilege, however, will belong only to him who has now been placed near the tower."26

Here we must ask the same question we asked in relation to the New Testament references to "the last time". Did Hermas mistakenly believe that Christ was about to return, or that the Church was about to be taken from the earth? Just as with Jude, John, and Ignatius, Hermas gave no indication that the completion of the tower (or Church) coincided with the end of the world. Quite the opposite! "Filled up are the days of repentance to all the saints; but to the heathen, repentance will be possible even to the last day."27 "Ye, therefore, who are high in position, seek out the hungry as long as the tower is not yet finished; for after the tower is finished, you will wish to do good, but will find no opportunity."28

Obviously the wicked world was to continue, but not the Church. What was to take the place of the Church? Of those who delayed their repentance, the angel said:

    "Repentance... is yet possible, but in this tower they cannot find a suitable place. But in another and much inferior place they will be laid, and that, too, only when they have been tortured and completed the days of their sins. And on this account will they be transferred, because they have partaken of the righteous Word."29

The tower was built and the Church of that age completed. Another "and much inferior" institution took its place. This was the final curtain call. (Note: Whether one accepts Hermas' visions as true revelation or not, it must be admitted that the belief was current in the early second century that the building of the Church was near completion, after which an inferior institution would take its place in the wicked world for a time. The Second Advent and the destruction of the wicked world were to come after an undisclosed period of time. I'll examine the ancient expectation that the prophets would return to prepare the way before the Second Coming of the Savior in the next phase of the debate.)

Apostolic Succession

As a consequence of the apostasy, the apostolic authority was taken from the Church. That is, the Church was in rebellion so God took away the Apostles from the earth, and with them, the apostolic authority. In 1829 Peter, James, and John appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to ordain them to the lost Priesthood and restore the lost keys of the apostleship. Although Catholics since the second century have been fond of calling their church "apostolic," by virtue of having descended from the churches established by the Apostles, we shall see that living apostles are meant to be part of the true Church of Christ. Otherwise, a church cannot have apostolic authority.

Some have espoused the idea that the apostles were just twelve men whom Christ ordained for a specific mission - and were thus no longer needed after the Church was established in the world. However, it is admitted by some prominent Christian scholars that the apostles "did not live to see the Church fully organized and at work,"30 and the New Testament record is quite clear that when vacancies occurred in the Twelve they were promptly filled. Matthias was chosen to take the place of Judas, who betrayed Jesus (Acts 1:23-26), and Paul also said he had later been "called to be an apostle." (1 Corinthians 1:1) Barnabas was called an apostle along with Paul by the writer of the Acts (probably Luke), (Acts 14:14) and apparently Jesus' brother James had become an apostle, for Paul reported to the Galatians that on a trip to Jerusalem, "other apostles {besides Peter} saw I none, save James the Lord's brother." (Galatians 1:19)31 Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus near the end of the second century, reported the tradition that Philip had become "one of the twelve apostles."32 Indeed, there may have even been others. Paul told the Romans to "Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me." (Romans 16:7) Many noted Christian scholars "... are inclined to think... that Andronicus and Junia... are of the number of the apostles, rather than 'considered in the eyes of the apostles.'"33

Furthermore, Paul insisted that the organization set up by Christ, headed by apostles and prophets, should continue in the Church:

    "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 fulness 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)

Has there ever been a time when Christianity or the world in general has been "in the unity of the faith?" Certainly it should be clear from the foregoing discussion that the end of the first century was not such a time. Has the Church been perfected? Are not the sects of Christendom "tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine"? Latter-day Saints answer that none of Paul's conditions have ever been satisfied, and so we still need apostles and prophets. For "surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets." (Amos 3:7) Paul also revealed that the Church is "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone." (Ephesians 2:20) So what happened to the Church when it lost its foundation?

On the other hand, the authors of a recent popular defense of the papacy, Jesus, Peter & the Keys, are so bold as to speak of "the office of Apostle, later called bishop."34 They base this assertion primarily on the text of Acts 1:20, where the text of Psalm 109:8 ("and his bishoprick let another take") is quoted with reference to the fallen Apostle Judas. Now, I don't object to calling Apostles "bishops" or "overseers" any more than I object to John calling himself an "elder" (Greek presbyteros, see 2 John 1), or Peter calling Jesus the "Bishop of {our} souls." (1 Peter 2:25) Clearly the office of Apostle comprehends all lesser offices and titles. (In fact, even elders were sometimes loosely called "bishops" or "overseers" - see Acts 20:28.) But if all Apostles are "bishops", does that mean all bishops are Apostles? I think not. Furthermore, the New Testament clearly mentions "bishops" who were local pastors contemporary with the Apostles, who are never connected or placed on the same level with the Apostles. (See 1 Timothy 3:1; Titus 1:7) Finally, Bishop Ignatius of Antioch (ca. 110 A.D.) could not have been more clear about the issue when he said, "I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles; I am but a condemned man: they were free, while I am, even until now, a servant."35

The historical records of the time indicate there was a power vacuum in the Church after the Apostles left the scene, with no one in particular asserting more than local authority. I will explore this issue more fully in the next installment, but for now I mention this fact to emphasize that the office and prerogatives of the Apostles were not passed on to the bishops, either before or after the death of the Apostles. And if so, the Catholic churches have no "apostolic" authority.

The Papacy Cuts Itself Off

Certainly the Church was not totally erased when the last apostle was taken, even if apostolic authority was essential for the continuance of the Church. John's last recorded communications included pleas for the faithful to remain strong, and certainly some did endure to the end. It is my position, therefore, that there were some faithful bearers of Christ's priesthood well into the second century, after which the Church faded out to the other side of the veil. (This position is also in harmony with Hermas' testimony, discussed above.)

Even if it could be argued that legitimate episcopal authority was passed on from bishop to bishop till the fourth century, after this date it can be demonstrated without question that by the standards of the early Church, the Catholic bishops, and especially the Popes, cut themselves off from the true priesthood. The key to my demonstration lies in the massive intrusion of secular authority into the government of the Church from the fourth century onward. Indeed, J.N.D. Kelly of Oxford University notes that after the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., the "success or failure of a doctrine might hinge upon the favour of the reigning emperor...."36

Once the Church had become so inextricably tied to the government of Rome, politics was the driving force in the administration of the Church. Former Anglican Bishop of London, J.W.C. Wand, admits that by the fifth century there was "a much closer association between the Church and the State than is sometimes recognized." He illustrates his point by showing that a large number of public officials were given the office of bishop, and if a conquerer wanted to remove his rival from contention, he would compel him to become a priest.37 He goes on to state that "the new Christian church was frankly national. The people were converted en bloc; the temples were turned into churches and the pagan priests were ordained into the Christian ministry."38

Bishops and priests were appointed through political machinations! What about the Popes, in particular? In fact, a number of Popes were appointed in this manner, and I'll provide the reader with examples.

From 867 to 962 A.D. the papacy was virtually controlled by some powerful Italian families. Roman Catholic historian Lortz-Kaiser comments, "The papacy, which had many immoral incumbents a this time, sank to its lowest depth."39 Another Roman Catholic historian, Poulet-Raemers, notes that for more than fifty years the powerful family of the Roman vestiary Theophylactus, especially his daughter Marozzia, "dominated Rome and imposed the candidates of their choice upon clergy and people." When John X, who owed his election as Pope to Marozzia, shook off her yoke, Marozzia stirred up a revolt in Rome and had the Pope killed. "Marozzia was now able to control the papacy. She gave it in turn to her puppets, Leo VI (928-929), Stephen VII (929-931), and finally to her own son John XI."40 (Click on the names of John X and John XI to see confirmation of these facts at the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia Website.)

I could go on and on with examples of Popes, bishops, Orthodox Patriarchs, etc., who were elected in this way. However, in my experience, Roman Catholic historians will readily admit that there have been a few "rotten Popes" like these, and that corrupt Emperors and other political figures exercised their influence to elect them. "But," they say, "certainly God would not allow a few rotten apples to spoil the whole barrel!" Indeed, I don't mean to imply that all, or even a great many, of the Popes have been bad men. This is demonstrably not the case. So why do I bring up this issue? It is much more than a crass ad hominem attack on the papacy.

Consider the seriousness of the charge. Does the fact that bishops, popes, patriarchs, etc. were at one time or another appointed by worldly rulers in nearly all the Catholic and orthodox branches of Christianity mean that they have lost the authority of God? The Apostolic Constitututions, a fourth-century compilation of Catholic canon law (some of which is based on first and second-century material) says the following: "If any bishop makes use of the rulers of this world, and by their means obtains to be a bishop of a church, let him be deprived and suspended, and all that communicate with him."41 Therefore, by the standards of early Christianity, nearly the entire Christian world has excommunicated itself. Every bishop, pope, or patriarch who was appointed by political machinations, as well as all those who submitted to his authority in any way, have cut themselves off from the Church of Christ.42


What are we to conclude? There is irrefutable evidence that an apostasy was foretold and did occur in the late first and early second centuries. Very solid evidence exists that this apostasy was to be complete. The language of the New Testament strongly suggests that Apostles and prophets are meant to continue in the Church, but even if a continuation of priesthood authority was possible through episcopal succession, the canon law of the early Church makes it abundantly clear that the later episcopate, including the papacy, cut itself off from any valid succession of authority.

If Catholic and LDS reasoning is correct, and a valid succession of ordinations is necessary for the existence of the Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only viable option. The prophets and Apostles have returned, and the priesthood authority has been restored through heavenly messengers! In this opening statement I have not touched on peripheral issues such as the presence of the Gifts of the Spirit and doctrinal changes through the centuries, or even on the specific claims of the Roman papacy and LDS prophets. I suspect the later segments of this debate might move in that direction. However, I believe I have made it sufficiently clear why I can never accept the authority of the Roman Catholic Pope. History and the Scriptures are on my side.


1 1 Clement 42, in Roberts, A., and Donaldson, J., eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols., (Buffalo: The Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1885-1896,) 1:16. Hereafter cited as ANF.

2 In the Old Testament, Aaron and his sons were consecrated as priests by Moses: "Anoint them, and consecrate them, and sanctify them, that they may minister unto me in the priest's office." (Exodus 28:41) This "consecration" was certainly accomplished by the laying on of hands, since that is the way Moses transmitted authority on other occasions. "Moses set Joshua before the congregation; he laid his hands upon him, and gave him a charge, as the Lord commanded." (Numbers 27:22-23)

3 Hippolytus, The Apostolic Tradition 2, 8-9, pp. 2-3, 13-17.

4 Ignatius, Trallians 3, in ANF 1:67.

5 An interesting case is that of Tertullian, who early on in his career was quite critical of heretics who separated themselves from the priesthood leadership, but changed his tune after he became a Montanist. Compare Prescription Against Heretics 32, in ANF 3:258 and Prescription Against Heretics 41, in ANF 3:263 with Exhortation to Chastity 7, in ANF 4:54.

6 Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4:33:7, in ANF 1:508; cf. Ignatius, Ephesians 5, in ANF 1:51.

7 Jackson, K.P., From Apostasy to Restoration, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1996), p. 9.

8 Davies, J.G., The Early Christian Church, (New York: Anchor Books, 1965), p. 86. Note also that John addressed his Revelation to the seven churches in Asia, which might also indicate this was the center of the Christian population.

9 The Jerusalem Bible.

10 Draper, R.D., Opening the Seven Seals: The Visions of John the Revelator, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991), p. 37.

11 1 Clement 44, in ANF 1:17.

12 Ignatius, Magnesians 4, in ANF 1:61.

13 See Ignatius, Trallians 7, in ANF 1:68-69; Ephesians 2, in ANF 1:50., Magnesians 6-7, Philadelphians 3, and Smyrnaeans 8.

14 Ignatius, Smyrnaeans 11, in ANF 1:91.

15 Wagner, W. H., After the Apostles: Christianity in the Second Century, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994), p. 142.

16 Ignatius, Ephesians 11, in ANF 1:54.

17 The Shepherd of Hermas, Sim. 9:31, in ANF 2:53-54.

18 Hippolytus, The Apostolic Tradition 1:4, p. 2.

19 Hippolytus, The Apostolic Tradition 38:4, p. 72.

20 One might object that Paul implied the belief that some in his generation would remain living until Christ's return in 1 Thess. 4:15, but if Paul gave that impression in his first letter to the Thessalonians, he corrected this misconception within a year or two when he wrote his second letter. 2 Thess. 2:1-3 reads, "Now we beseech you... That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled... 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...."

21 Winter, M. M. Saint Peter and the Popes, (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1960,) p. 17.

22 Quasten, J., Patrology, 4 vols., (Westminster, MD: Christian Classics, Inc., 1983-1986), 1:92-93.

23 Kelly, J.N.D., Early Christian Doctrines, Revised ed., (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1978), p. 60. A number of prominent early Christian writers, including Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen quoted the Pastor as one of the books of Holy Scripture. (Quasten, Patrology, 1:103; cf. Origen, De Principiis 2:1:5, in ANF 4:270.)

24 Quasten, Patrology, 1:97-99.

25 Pastor of Hermas, Vision 3:8, in Lake, K., tr., The Apostolic Fathers, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1913,) 2:49. See also Snyder, G., The Apostolic Fathers: A New Translation and Commentary, (Camden, NJ: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1968,) 6:50. Some other translations (e.g. see ANF 2:16 where Hermas asks if it is the "end of the ages") seem to imply that Hermas was asking if the world was about to end, but the more literal translations of Lake and Snyder leave a number of interpretations open, and certainly the other passages quoted make it clear that it was the end of the Church being spoken of, not the end of the world. For the Greek text of the passage, see p. 48 of Kirsopp Lake's volume.

26 Pastor of Hermas, Vision 3:5, in ANF 2:14.

27 Pastor of Hermas, Vision 2:2, in ANF 2:11.

28 Pastor of Hermas, Vision 3:9, in ANF 2:16.

29 Pastor of Hermas, Vision 3:7, in ANF 2:15.

30 Grant, R.M., Second Century Christianity, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1946), p. 9.

31 "With the apostles James the brother of the Lord received the succession in the church." (Hegesippus, quoted in Grant, Second-Century Christianity, p. 58.)

32 Polycrates, Bishop of Ephesus, in Grant, Second-Century Christianity, p. 82.

33 Battifol, L'Eglise naissante et le Catholicisme, (Paris, 1909), pp. 50-51, translated in Barker, J.L., The Divine Church, (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret News Press, 1951), 1:103. LDS scholar Richard Lloyd Anderson, on the other hand, calls this a "forced interpretation". (Anderson, R.L., Understanding Paul, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1983), p. 171.)

34 Butler, S., Dahlgren, N., and Hess, D., Jesus, Peter & the Keys, (Santa Barbara, CA: Queenship Publishing Company,) p. 191.

35 Ignatius, Romans 4, in ANF 1:75.

36 Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, p. 237.

37 Wand, J.W.C., A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500, (London: Methuen & Co., 1937), pp. 256-257.

38 Wand, A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500, p. 244.

39 Lortz-Kaiser, History of the Church, translated from the German, 2nd ed., (Milwaukee, 1939), p. 183.

40 Poulet-Raemers, Histoire de l'Eglise, (Paris, 1926), 1:418-419, translated in Barker, The Divine Church, 3:136-137.

41 Apostolic Constitutions 47:31, in ANF 7:501.

42 David Bercot, a member of the Society of the Good Shepherd, which seeks to reestablish the faith of the pre-Nicene Church, noted that the only possible candidates for an episcopal succession unsullied by the political authorities are a few of the Oriental Orthodox churches, such as the Orthodox Church of India. See Bercot, D.W., What the Early Christians Believed, audio tape set, (Tyler, TX: Scroll Publishing Co., 1994), tape 4.

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