Lesson 3: The Great Apostasy

“Lesson 3: The Great Apostasy,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual (2013)

“Lesson 3,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual

Lesson 3

The Great Apostasy


Jesus Christ established His Church during His ministry on the earth. “The Apostles, after the Ascension of Christ, continued to exercise the keys He left with them. But because of disobedience and loss of faith by the members, the Apostles died without the keys being passed on to successors. We call that tragic episode ‘the Apostasy’” (Henry B. Eyring, “The True and Living Church,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2008, 21). Because of this widespread apostasy, the Lord took the priesthood authority away from the people. Understanding the Great Apostasy helps us better understand the need for the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the latter days.

Suggestions for Teaching

Note: Because this lesson suggests the use of an object and multiple pictures as teaching aids, you may want to gather a few items in advance. These include a mechanical part of some kind and the following pictures: Christ Ordaining the Apostles (Gospel Art Book [2009], no. 38; see also, Young Man Being Baptized (no. 103), The Gift of the Holy Ghost (no. 105), Blessing the Sacrament (no. 107), and Young Couple Going to the Temple (no. 120).

Christ ordaining the Twelve Apostles
Sacrament. Blessing
Courtship and marriage

Jesus Christ established His Church when He was on the earth

Bring to class a mechanical part that is necessary for a machine or piece of equipment to work (such as a power cord from an appliance or computer, a chain or wheel from a bicycle, or spark plugs from a car). Show students the part and ask them what it belongs to and what it does. (If you don’t have access to a mechanical part, draw one on the board.)

  • What happens when this part is missing from the piece of equipment it belongs to?

  • How might this example be compared to the Church of Jesus Christ? (The Church of Jesus Christ has essential components; without these components it cannot function or even exist.)

Ask students to begin thinking about which parts of the Church are essential to its function of offering salvation to the world. Write the heading Essential Elements of Jesus Christ’s Church on the board.

Invite a student to read Ephesians 2:19–22 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and identify the foundation upon which Jesus Christ built His Church during His mortal ministry. (You might want to give students page numbers to help them find the New Testament scriptures they will be reading during this lesson.) As they report what they have found, write the following truth under the heading on the board: Apostles and prophets form the foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ. You may want to suggest that students mark the phrase in Ephesians 2:20 that teaches this truth.

  • Why do you think apostles and prophets are considered the “foundation” of the Church?

To help students identify another essential element of Jesus Christ’s Church, display the picture Christ Ordaining the Apostles (Gospel Art Book, no. 38). Ask a student to explain what is happening in the picture. Then invite a student to read Mark 3:13–14 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and identify another element of the Church that is essential for the salvation of God’s children. After students report what they have found, write the following truth on the board: Priesthood authority is necessary to receive the ordinances and covenants of salvation.

Explain that before the Savior left the earth, He gave His Apostles the authority to direct the Church and act in God’s name for the salvation of His children.

Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Ask the class to identify another essential element of the true Church:

Christofferson, D. Todd

“The truths and doctrine we have received have come and will continue to come by divine revelation. In some faith traditions … doctrinal matters may become a contest of opinions. … But in the Church today, just as anciently, establishing the doctrine of Christ or correcting doctrinal deviations is a matter of divine revelation to those the Lord endows with apostolic authority” (“The Doctrine of Christ,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2012, 86).

  • According to Elder Christofferson, what is one essential role of prophets and apostles? (Students may use different words, but make sure they identify the following truth: The apostles and prophets establish correct doctrine through divine revelation. You may need to remind students that doctrine refers to fundamental, eternal truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Add this truth to the list on the board.)

Show students the Basic Doctrines list found in the appendix of this manual or in students’ scripture study journals. Explain that seminary students are encouraged to gain a deeper understanding of the Basic Doctrines throughout their time in seminary. Doing so will help them strengthen their testimonies and prepare them to teach the gospel to others. Invite students to watch for these doctrines during their study of the Doctrine and Covenants this year.

Invite students to choose one of the Basic Doctrines that is meaningful to them, and ask a few of them to briefly explain why they chose it.

  • Why it is essential that true doctrine is taught and understood correctly in the Lord’s Church? (As students respond, you may want to share the following statement by President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: “True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior” [“Little Children,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, 17].)

To help students think about another essential element of the Lord’s Church, show the pictures Young Man Being Baptized (Gospel Art Book, no. 103), The Gift of the Holy Ghost (no. 105), Blessing the Sacrament (no. 107), and Young Couple Going to the Temple (no. 120). Ask students what baptism, confirmation, the sacrament, and a sealing have in common. (They are all ordinances.)

  • What is an ordinance? (A sacred, formal act performed by the authority of the priesthood.)

  • Why do you think ordinances are an essential part of Jesus Christ’s Church? (To help students answer this question, you might want to invite them to read John 3:5 and then ask them what would happen if there were no way for them to be baptized. Emphasize that all saving ordinances of the priesthood are accompanied by covenants, which are sacred agreements with God.)

Testify that in the Church of Jesus Christ we can receive ordinances that are necessary for our salvation. Add this truth to the list on the board.

Explain that after Jesus Christ died, He was resurrected, and He ascended into heaven. He was no longer physically present to lead the Church on the earth. Even though He is not physically on the earth, Jesus Christ leads and guides His Apostles through revelation. Under the leadership of His Apostles, the ancient Church spread quickly and thousands were baptized. Congregations of Saints were formed throughout much of the Roman Empire. Elders, bishops, deacons, priests, teachers, and evangelists (patriarchs) were called and given priesthood authority by the Apostles.

The Great Apostasy occurred during the centuries following the Lord’s mortal ministry

Write the following truth on the board: Apostasy occurs when people turn away from the true doctrine of the gospel and reject the Lord’s authorized servants.

Explain that periods of general apostasy have occurred throughout the history of the world. One example is the Great Apostasy, which occurred after the Savior established His Church (see 2 Thessalonians 2:1–3). Following the deaths of the Savior’s Apostles, the principles of the gospel were corrupted and unauthorized changes were made in Church organization and to priesthood ordinances. (See True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference [2004], 13–14.)

Write the following scripture references on the board: Acts 12:1–3; 2 Timothy 4:3–4; 2 Peter 2:1–2.

Explain that despite the efforts of the Apostles, the early Church faced threats. Divide the class into three groups. Invite each group to study one of the scripture passages on the board, looking for something that threatened the Church. (For those who are reading Acts 12:1–3, you may need to clarify that James and Peter were Apostles.) After sufficient time, invite one student from each group to report what the group found.

  • Why do you think these threats were so dangerous to the Church?

Invite a student to read the following statement by President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who spoke of the great losses the New Testament Church experienced during this time:

Packer, Boyd K.

“James was killed in Jerusalem by Herod. Peter and Paul died in Rome. Tradition holds that Philip went to the East. Much more than this we do not know.

“They scattered; they taught, testified, and established the Church. And they died for their beliefs, and with their deaths came the dark centuries of apostasy” (“The Twelve,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2008, 84).

Invite another student to continue reading President Packer’s explanation of the most significant loss resulting from the Great Apostasy:

Packer, Boyd K.

“The most precious thing lost in the Apostasy was the authority held by the Twelve—the priesthood keys. For the Church to be His Church, there must be a Quorum of the Twelve who hold the keys and confer them on others” (“The Twelve,” 84).

  • How would the loss of priesthood authority affect the other essential elements of the Church?

  • Was there any way that people could repair the Church without the apostles and prophets, priesthood authority, or correct knowledge of Jesus Christ’s doctrine? Why or why not?

Invite a student to read the following historical summary by President Packer:

Packer, Boyd K.

“As the centuries passed, the flame flickered and dimmed. Ordinances were changed or abandoned. The line was broken, and the authority to confer the Holy Ghost as a gift was gone. The Dark Ages of apostasy settled over the world” (“The Cloven Tongues of Fire,” Ensign, May 2000, 8).

  • Why do you think it is important to understand the Great Apostasy and its consequences? (Although students may identify a variety of reasons, emphasize that understanding this great falling away helps us realize that a restoration of Jesus Christ’s doctrine and authority was necessary to overcome the effects of the Great Apostasy.)

Explain that although there will not be another general apostasy from the truth, we must each guard against personal apostasy by keeping covenants, obeying the commandments, following Church leaders, partaking of the sacrament, and constantly strengthening our testimonies through daily scripture study, prayer, and service (see True to the Faith, 13–14). Conclude by testifying of Heavenly Father’s love for His children, the reality of the Great Apostasy, and the great gift of the Restoration of the gospel.

Commentary and Background Information

Apostasy occurs because of disobedience and loss of faith

President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency explained that one reason the Apostasy occurred was lack of faith among Church members:

Eyring, Henry B.

“God’s people have not always been worthy of the marvelous experience we have shared today. The Apostles, after the Ascension of Christ, continued to exercise the keys He left with them. But because of disobedience and loss of faith by the members, the Apostles died without the keys being passed on to successors. We call that tragic episode ‘the Apostasy.’ Had the members of the Church in those days had the opportunity and the will to exercise faith as you have today, the Lord would not have taken the keys of the priesthood from the earth. So this is a day of historical significance and of eternal importance in the history of the world and to the children of our Heavenly Father.

“Now our obligation is to remain worthy of the faith necessary for us to fulfill our promise to sustain those who have been called. The Lord was well pleased with the Church at the beginning of the Restoration, as He is today. But He cautioned the members then, as He does now, that He cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance. For us to sustain those who have been called today, we must examine our lives, repent as necessary, pledge to keep the Lord’s commandments, and follow His servants. The Lord warns us that if we do not do those things, the Holy Ghost will be withdrawn, we will lose the light which we have received, and we will not be able to keep the pledge we have made today to sustain the Lord’s servants in His true Church” (“The True and Living Church,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2008, 21).

God did not turn His back on His children during the Apostasy

Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that even during times of darkness and apostasy, Heavenly Father does not turn His back on His children:

Ballard, M. Russell

“In the relatively short span of years covered by the New Testament … the people turned against Christ and His Apostles. The collapse was so great we have come to know it as the Great Apostasy, which led to the centuries of spiritual stagnation and ignorance called the Dark Ages.

“Now, I need to be very clear about these historically reoccurring periods of apostasy and spiritual darkness. Our Heavenly Father loves all of His children, and He wants them all to have the blessings of the gospel in their lives. Spiritual light is not lost because God turns His back on His children. Rather, spiritual darkness results when His children turn their collective backs on Him. It is a natural consequence of bad choices made by individuals, communities, countries, and entire civilizations. This has been proven again and again throughout the course of time. One of the great lessons of this historical pattern is that our choices, both individually and collectively, do result in spiritual consequences for ourselves and for our posterity” (“Learning the Lessons of the Past,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2009, 32).