No story differentiates Mormonism from other Christian traditions more than its claim to be the restoration of the church Jesus Christ set up while on the earth—an organization led by twelve apostles who were granted priesthood and authority to continue Christ’s saving work after he died. This framing narrative of an original church organization with priesthood keys that entitled its apostles to special revelation that, following the death of these leaders, fell into apostasy for some eighteen centuries before being restored to the earth, has provided a key part of our understanding of ourselves as Latter-day Saints and our historical location in God’s unfolding salvation story. The idea of an apostasy—a fall from a more pure form a Christianity—has provided us with a way to understand why there are so many competing traditions, so many different ideas about God and God’s requirements of us. It has also offered a sense of our own specialness, of being called to a particular work. However, scholarship over the past couple of centuries has begun to challenge the idea that Jesus was particularly concerned with priesthood ordination or an organization with a particular leadership structure. Early Christianity is becoming increasingly understood as anything but unified or a pure system that stood apart in key ways from other movements. The idea of apostleship seems to have been a fluid category. There is no consensus on who “the twelve” were, nor if Jesus considered them apostles. There doesn’t seem to be many hints that Jesus gave much thought to establishing an organization to aid his followers.
A recent volume, Standing Apart: Mormon Historical Consciousness and the Concept of Apostasy, offers a wonderful introduction to the apostasy (and thus a restoration was needed) narrative. The various articles in the collection trace the story’s origins how it has taken root in LDS self-understanding, and then complicate it. Written by LDS scholars who are disciplinary experts in the tune frames and approaches they cover, each wrestles with the historical record and its mismatch with the traditional narrative. But instead of only finding hopelessness as another sacred story falls back to earth, many of the pieces present rich and potentially transformative new framings for us to consider at this important moment in our tradition’s history. The book is a wonderful accomplishment and belongs on the shelves of all good LDS libraries.
In this episode, the volume’s editors, Miranda Wilcox and John D. Young, and one of the contributors, Taylor Petrey, join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon in introducing this volume and the history of the apostasy narrative, pointing out the directions current research is taking it, and highlighting new possibilities for LDS self-understanding.
After listening, we hope you will share your questions and ideas in the comments section below!
Miranda Wilcox and John D. Young, eds., Standing Apart: Mormon Historical Consciousness and the Concept of Apostasy, Oxford University Press, 2014
Taylor Petrey, “Junia the Apostle and Mormon Priesthood,” blogpost at Peculiar People, 5 October 2014