Are Evangelicals correct when they criticize Mormons for believing in a universal apostasy? Is it true that the Christian Church that Christ established always been on the Earth? It doesn’t seem that the following individuals thought so.
Roger Williams, pastor of the oldest Baptist Church in America at Providence, Rhode Island, refused to continue as pastor on the grounds that, “There is no regularly-constituted church on earth, nor any person authorized to administer any Church ordinance: nor can there be, until new apostles are sent by the great Head of the Church, for whose coming I am seeking.” (Picturesque America, or the Land We Live In, ed. William Cullen Bryant, New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1872, vol. 1, p. 502.)
Williams also said, “The apostasy… hath so far corrupted all, that there can be no recovery out of that apostasy until Christ shall send forth new apostles to plant churches anew.” (Underhill, Edward, “Struggles and Triumphs of Religious Liberty”, cited in William F. Anderson, “Apostasy or Succession, Which?”, pp. 238-39)
In a work prepared by seventy-three noted theologians and Bible students, we read: “…we must not expect to see the Church of Holy Scripture actually existing in its perfection on the earth. It is not to be found, thus perfect, either in the collected fragments of Christendom, or still less in any one of these fragments. . . .” (Dr. William Smith, Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1896.)
Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, prominent American Baptist clergyman and author, described the decadent condition of the Christian churches of the first half of the twentieth century in these words:
“A religious reformation is afoot, and at heart it is the endeavor to recover for our modern life the religion of Jesus as against the vast, intricate, largely inadequate and often positively false religion about Jesus. Christianity today has largely left the religion which he preached, taught and lived, and has substituted another kind of religion altogether. If Jesus should come back to now, hear the mythologies built up around hint, see the creedalism, denominationalism, sacramentalism, carried on in his name, he would certainly say, ‘If this is Christianity, I am not a Christian.'”
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, lamented that the Christian had apostatized from the gospel that Christ and the apostles had taught, had lost the spiritual gifts that they once enjoyed, and had turned heathen again with only a dead form left:
“It does not appear that these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit were common in the church for more than two or three centuries. We seldom hear of them after that fatal period when the emperor Constantine called himself a Christian, and from a vain imagination of promoting the Christian cause thereby, heaped riches and power and honor upon Christians in general, but in particular upon the Christian clergy. From this time they almost totally ceased; very few instances of the kind were found. The cause of this was not as has been supposed because there was no more occasion for them because all the world was become Christians. This is a miserable mistake; not a twentieth part of it was then nominally Christian. The real cause of it was the love of many, almost all Christians, so called, was waxed cold. The Christians had no more of the Spirit of Christ than the other heathens. The Son of Man, when he came to examine His Church, could hardly find faith upon the earth. This was the real cause why the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer to be found in the Christian Church because the Christians were turned heathens again, and only had earth a dead form left.” (Wesley’s Works, vol. 7, 89:26, 27)
In the Church of England Homily Against Peril of Idolatry we read: “So that laity and clergy, learned and unlearned, all ages, sects, and degrees of men, women, and children of whole Christendom — an horrible and most dreadful thing to think — have been at once drowned in abominable idolatry; of all other vices most detested by God, and most damnable to man; and that by the space of eight hundred years and more.” The Book of Homilies dates from about the middle of the sixteenth century; and in it is thus officially affirmed that the so-called Church and the whole religious world had been utterly apostate for eight centuries or more prior to the establishment of the Church of England.
In the words of one eminent historian, “Christianity did not destroy paganism; it adopted it. The Greek mind, dying, came to a transmigrated [new] life in the theology and liturgy of the Church.” (Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, 3:595.)
Thomas Jefferson, though not a cleric in the usual sense, was a great student of Christianity. Even he acknowledged the loss of the original gospel and said that he looked forward to “the prospect of a restoration of primitive Christianity.”