When individuals or groups of people turn away from the principles of the gospel, they are in a state of apostasy. One example is the Great Apostasy, which occurred after the Savior established His Church. After the deaths of the Savior and His Apostles, men corrupted the principles of the gospel and made unauthorized changes in Church organization and priesthood ordinances. Because of this widespread apostasy, the Lord withdrew the authority of the priesthood from the earth. This apostasy lasted until Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son appeared to Joseph Smith in 1820 and initiated the Restoration of the fulness of the gospel.
Latter-day Saints believe that, through the priesthood conferred to Joseph Smith by the ministering of angels, the authority to act in God’s name was brought back to the earth. This is “restored,” not “reformed,” Christianity. Their belief in a restored Christianity helps explain why most Latter-day Saint converts, from the 1830s to the present, converted from other Christian denominations. None of these converts thought they were leaving Christianity; they are simply grateful to learn about, and become part of, the restored Church of Jesus Christ, which they believe offers a more complete and rich Christian Church spiritually, organizationally, and doctrinally.
During the Great Apostasy, people were without divine direction from living prophets. Many churches were established, but they did not have priesthood power to lead people to the true knowledge of God the Father and Jesus Christ. Parts of the holy scriptures were corrupted or lost, and no one had the authority to confer the gift of the Holy Ghost or perform other priesthood ordinances.
We now live in a time when the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored. But unlike the Church in times past, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will not be overcome by general apostasy. The scriptures teach that the Church will never again be destroyed (see Doctrine and Covenants 138:44; see also Daniel 2:44).
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.
S. Kent Brown, “Whither the Early Church?” Ensign, October 1988
Kent P. Jackson, “Early Signs of the Apostasy,” Ensign, December 1984
Andrew C. Skinner, “Apostasy, Restoration, and Lessons in Faith,” Ensign, December 1995
“Authority in the Church,” Newsroom
“Apostasy,” Lesson Helps for Teaching Children