The Bible teaches there is only one way to God. Since all Christians are supposedly striving to follow that one way, the question arises, How do we know which church is teaching the correct way to God? Interestingly, the way each church seeks to justify the correctness of their position is by engaging in intellectual debate, much like the Athenians did. In fact we could modernize these verses of scripture just quoted by restating it thusly:
"Then certain philosophers of the Christian religion encountered a Mormon. And some said, What will this babbler say? Others said, He seems to be setting forth a strange doctrine about God, because he preached that Jesus and God are two separate personages instead of being one unknowable Spirit. Furthermore, this person teaches that God still sends prophets even after God has given us His complete word in the Bible. And they took him, and brought him unto themselves saying, Tell us about this new doctrine, for thou bringest strange things to our ears and we would like to know what it is you believe. (For all these Christian philosophers spent their time in doing nothing else but either telling, hearing, or debating some new thing.)"
In 1820, as a 14 years old boy, Joseph Smith saw first hand this heated discussion of religious ideas between the different churches of his day and he was so confused by their various teachings that he said to himself, "Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it? for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible."
Finally Joseph decided that the only way he would know for sure which church was teaching the truth was to ask God in prayer. Joseph later wrote, "I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof."
The reason why God answered Joseph that all of the churches in his day were wrong was because their doctrines had become corrupted, meaning they no longer taught the same gospel that Christ and His apostles originally had. However, nearly all Christian churches reject this claim. It is their contention that what they are teaching today is exactly the same message that Christ and the ancient apostles taught when they were alive on the earth. Yet, despite this claim, no two Christian denominations teach the same doctrines.
Catholics believe that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ, meaning that he is Christ's spokesman or representative to the Church. As such, when he makes an official proclamation, especially on doctrine, his word is considered infallible because he is not expressing his own ideas or thoughts but is merely relaying the words he has received from Christ Himself.
Of course, this is very different from the way Protestant churches operate. Although each denomination has their own system of church government, in most cases doctrine is decided by some sort of democratic forum. That is to say that an issue is brought before a certain number of people, discussed, and then voted on. When the vote is tallied, whichever side of the argument has the largest percentage of votes wins, meaning that their views become the new doctrine of their church. Thus, in the Protestant faith, doctrine is decided by what the majority wants it to be rather than what one man decrees.
In all churches, there are those who can be classified as "liberals," "conservatives," and "moderates." Among these three groups there are strongly held feelings about what the members of their church should or should not believe. And the same is true in the Catholic faith. Pope John Paul II who died on April 2, 2005 was viewed as a strong "conservative." With his passing many "liberal" members of the Catholic faith were hoping that the next Pope would "move more to the left" and not be so restrictive as his predecessor. Among the things they wished to see the new Pope do was to allow women and perhaps even gays to hold the priesthood, have an easing on the restriction of abortion and the use of contraceptives, allow divorce, and see a greater emphasis placed on the social problems they feel the church should become more involved in. However, it is rare that one Pope changes an official decree that was made by another Pope because it is believed that such a decree was made as a result of divine inspiration from Christ.
On the other hand, Protestants have no such practice. Even if a church has taught a certain doctrine for hundreds of years, that doctrine can be changed by a majority vote of a group of people who make up the leadership of that church. Thus, unlike the Catholics, there is no allegiance to "tradition" or past practices. Whatever the current leadership decides it wants to do or believe, it has the ability and the authority to change it. To them, it doesn't matter what previous leaders have taught. Truth becomes what they want it to be at that point in time.
However, one of the most universal beliefs of all Christians is that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. As Christians we firmly believe that God's word is truth, and truth is absolute. It doesn't change. What was truth yesterday is just as true today and will be just as true tomorrow. Neither does God give one truth to one person and a different truth to someone else. Truth is what it is and it is not dependant on what anyone or any group of people thinks it should be or wants it to be. Since God's word is truth He cannot change His mind about the various doctrines He wants us to live by.
Although all Christians claim to believe in this principle, yet surprising that's not how many professed Christians actually behave. If someone thinks that "truth" is that women should be allowed to hold the priesthood yet their church, as part of their core beliefs, has opposed that practice for hundreds of years they still think the church should change it beliefs to conform to their own. And if enough to those who feel this way can get themselves into a position of leadership where they have enough votes, then they can change the church's doctrines to reflect their own ideas of what they think truth is.
When that happens what they are admitting is that what they taught is the past was wrong. And if that is the case, how would anyone in that church know if the new doctrine was the truth or whether it is just as wrong as the old doctrine? What this further demonstrates is that if they are just now coming to understand God's "truth" then that only proves how ignorant their church really was in the past about God and His word. But who would want to belong to a church that openly acknowledges by their very actions and practices that they don't know what God's word says and who are continually admitting that they've taught wrong doctrine in the past?
There was a lot of pressure put on Pope John Paul II during his twenty-six year Papacy to change the church's position on old established doctrine. When he refused to do so, there were some in the Catholic faith who accused him of being stubborn and trying to impose his way on everyone. They claimed he was being unresponsive to the wishes of the people whom he served. They alleged he was uncaring and non-sympathetic to the feelings of others who disagreed with his views. What they wanted him to do was overturn two thousand years of Papal doctrine and change it to fit their own personal idea of what they wanted the church to teach.
Pope John Paul II said that such a course of action on his part would lead to chaos and thence to new forms of tyranny. His words were not based on speculation but were grounded in reality. Because the Protestant faiths are not concerned with tradition of doctrine, what has resulted from their practice of church government has indeed lead to mass chaos and in some cases tyranny, which is the forced acceptance of belief. Just five hundred years after Martin Luther started the Protestant movement there are now over 33,000 different Protestant denominations worldwide. Interestingly, in the past two thousand years there are now only two (perhaps three) Catholic denominations (Roman, Greek, and perhaps Anglican).
Pope John Paul II thought in terms of absolutes rather than in terms of expediency. Although he recognized and even honored other viewpoints that differed from his own, yet he was convinced in his own mind that there was only one truth and he steadfastly remained faithful to what he believed was that truth regardless of what others wanted him to teach. Even though the Catholic church is declining in membership and they are having a harder time attracting people to the priesthood, he still remained true to his beliefs rather than sacrifice them for the sake of making it easier for people to belong to the Catholic church. Yet, there are some in that faith who criticized him for not doing that. And because he was the head of the Catholic church, when he decided what Catholics are to believe and practice, then that became the law of the church and is binding even upon future Popes.
But Protestant churches are not bound by the decisions of past committees, conferences, or other legislative bodies. Their doctrines are subject to change according to the whims of those who vote. A case in point is the American Episcopal Church. On August 5, 2003 the Episcopal House of Bishops voted 62 to 45 to approve the Reverend Gene Robinson to become ordained as the Bishop of New Hampshire. What made this vote so noteworthy is that Reverend Robinson is an admitted homosexual.
Although there were many in the Episcopal church who were strongly against this ordination, yet a majority vote of the church's leadership was able to overturn hundreds of years of traditional doctrine. Before Gene Robinson was ordained, he indicated that his views as a gay would not have an influence on his duties as a bishop. He strongly implied that the people under his stewardship wouldn't even know he was gay by the way he conducted the affairs of the church. And it was on that basis that enough of the leadership of the Episcopal church voted to ordain him. To them, he would be first and foremost an Episcopal Bishop to his assigned flock, following and sustaining the traditional doctrines of the church. Only secondly would he be a gay person in his private life.
However, in February 2005 Bishop Robinson gave a sermon at the Christ Church of Hamilton and Wenham in Massachusetts entitled, "Homosexuality and the Body of Christ: Is There a New Way?" In that sermon he said, "as far as we know, [Jesus] traveled with a bunch of men, had a disciple who was known as 'the one whom Jesus loved' and said my family is not my mother and father, my family is those who do the will of God. None of us likes those harsh words. That's who Jesus is, that's who he was at heart, in his earthly life." Bishop Robinson went on to say that Jesus didn't really talk about the need for a traditional family. Rather than following the traditional doctrines of the Episcopal church, what Bishop Robinson is now doing is preaching from the pulpit the idea that Jesus was very possibly gay and that homosexual relationships are an acceptable way for Christians to live.
Canon Chris Sugden , who is a spokesman for the evangelical Anglican organization in England, to which the American Episcopal church is connected, commented on Bishop Robinson's sermon saying, "Those of us who put scripture as a priority are called on to obey the scripture even when that is in conflict with our culture. Bishop Robinson is saying that the culture has moved in his direction and that it's all becoming accepted, so he's looking for ways to interpret scripture to support that instead of realizing that scripture asks us to do the unpopular thing and stand against the prevailing culture."
And indeed, the prevailing culture is slowly moving that church and others in a different direction than what they have traveled in the past. Although this one change has distressed many of the faithful, in five years, after repeated sermons like this one, the shock will have worn off and gradually the doctrine will have become accepted policy. This will in turn lead to the next change from the traditional doctrine, which will then lead to the next. Fifty years from now the doctrines of the Episcopal church will not be those of the Episcopal church of today.
This is how apostasy happens, and the definition of apostasy is: changing the doctrines that Christ taught, which is another way of saying that the doctrines have become corrupted. However, this is nothing new. The doctrines of the Episcopal church today are not entirely the same as what the Anglican church taught 400 years ago. But they are not the only ones who have corrupted their doctrines over the centuries.
The same thing is happening in the Methodist Church. When the Reverend Irene Stroud made public that she was having a lesbian affair with another woman, the church stripped her of her credentials as a pastor and defrocked her in December 2004. However, several months later in April 2005, the same church committee met again and voted to reinstate her as a pastor. However, this decision has continued a growing split within the church over the issue of homosexual behavior, with people lining up on both sides of the issue. The Reverend Hall, who represented the church at the committee hearing said, "It does send a message that we're going to have to look more seriously at this issue. We need some clarification." (from the Baltimore Sun, April 29, 2005).
Homosexuality was rampant during the time of the apostles and has continued as a lifestyle among certain people throughout the centuries. The Methodist and Episcopal churches used to teach firmly against such practices but when one of their high ranking clergymen says they "need some clarification" on this issue what they are readily admitting is that they don't know what the Bible teaches on this subject. And yet, for the past several hundred years they have been responsible for teaching their members the word of God.
But this very process has been occurring for the past two thousands years in nearly every church. The doctrine of the Trinity was changed in 325 A.D. by a vote of bishops. The Catholic church once taught as doctrine that the earth was flat and was the center of the universe and strongly condemned as heretics anyone who taught differently but that doctrine has now changed. The Catholic church was violently opposed to having the Bible made available in any language other than Latin, but that position has changed also.
During his time as Pope, John Paul II apologized for his church's crusade against the Muslims, for its persecution of Galileo, and for its anti-Semitic policy towards the Jews during World War II. But in so doing, he changed the long-standing doctrine of the church and all but admitted that what the church once believed was wrong.
Even among fundamentalist Christians, who claim to be very adamant in following the words of the Bible, they too have changed their doctrines over the years. Today there is hardly one mainstream Christian church who believes that it is necessary to keep the Sabbath day holy as God declared in the Ten Commandments. Yet, less than a hundred years ago every church taught that principle as doctrine and there were even civil laws on the books to enforce it. If what these churches are teaching today is correct, then, like John Paul II, the Episcopal church and the Methodist church, they are admitting that their church was teaching false doctrine in the past.
The question becomes, who decides what is and isn't truth? In the earliest church, it was the apostles who made that declaration. It was they who kept the church from being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine that came along (Eph. 4:11-14). When such men are no longer a part of the church it then becomes impossible to prevent the doctrines of Christ from being corrupted. Without living prophets who speak for Christ with divine authority there is nothing to anchor the truth securely in the church and keep it from being swept away by the fiercely blowing, howling winds of shifting public opinion and culture. When God declared to Joseph Smith that all churches were an abomination in his sight because all their professors were corrupt, He was stating a demonstrable fact.
Today, with the exception of the Catholic church, there is only one other Church who even claims to have someone who speaks as God's divinely appointed representative and that's the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If neither they nor the Catholic church are correctly teaching the pure, uncorrupted doctrines that Christ and His apostles originally taught then there is no church on the earth today who is. And the reason we know that is because no one else even claims to be guided by divine inspiration. Instead, what we see is that men keep changing their own doctrine to accommodate the current faddish thinking of their day. That's why the doctrines they teach are all corrupt.