The Webster’s definition of apostasy is 1) renunciation of a religious faith and 2) abandonment of a previous loyalty. Tracing the word back to its original Greek, one finds that an apostate could be defined as ‘one who stands apart.’ There are many great men and women who, based on their conscience or on revelation, were called to stand apart from their religious traditions. I would like to consider a few of these great souls both within and without the Mormon sphere.

Martin Luther

I have truly enjoyed reading on the life and works of Martin Luther. For many years, I simply placed him in the realm of a predecessor to Joseph Smith. This is still a valid statement but I believe we can learn much more from his life and struggles. He was born 8 years before Columbus discovered America. He grew up in the home of his parents who looked forward to their son becoming a lawyer and supporting them. While returning to school after a visit home, he was knocked down by a lightning strike. Fearful for his life, he pledged at the spot to enter the service of God. Two weeks later, he entered the monastery at the age of 22 never having read the Bible. When it was presented to him, he devoured it spending many days and months reading the word of God. Continually, through fasting and prayer, he sought to be acceptable to God. In 1510, Luther had the privilege of spending a month in Rome. He returned to Germany disillusioned by the crassness of the priests and the singular focus he saw there on money and excess.

While much of his life in the monastery was filled with the anxiety of a sinful soul, Martin struggled to find peace with God. Something, he realized, that could not happen until the whole man had been changed. With this challenge he struggled for many months. In 1513, he was assigned the chair of the Bible. Teaching from the Psalms brought him to the realization that Christ had indeed taken upon him our sins. It was an epiphany for the man who came to realize that he had did not have to rely on the myriad of acts demanded by the Holy Roman Church but only upon the merits and mercies of Jesus Christ.

This awakening caused him to rethink all that he had come to accept within the church and quickly led to the 95 Theses hanging on the door of the church in Wittenberg. His path took him before kings and princes. He was thrice excommunicated and condemned to death for his efforts to reconcile the actions of the church with the scriptures. His writings were burned and his life was only spared by the help of friends.

While he did not initially intend to break from the Catholic Church, he succeeded in crystallizing the German efforts to separate themselves from the Italian papal domination.

“Here, I stand” Words Martin Luther is said to have uttered as he stood before Emperor Charles V who was awaiting a recantation of all the ills that Luther had brought out upon the church. Luther did not recant but branded himself an apostate. One who stands apart.

(Here I Stand, A Life of Martin Luther by Roland H. Bainton and The Life and Times of Martin Luther by J. H. Merle D’Aubigne’)


What would you call a man who deserted his home and struck out into the wilderness with his family without telling anyone? What would you think if this same man sent his sons back to kill one of the leaders of the church, kidnap his assistant and steal the sacred records of their faith?

I have often wondered what Lehi must have endured to follow the word of God into the desert. In this day, I would liken it to someone fleeing out of Salt Lake only to return, kill a church official and steal one of the original copies of the Book of Mormon.

Here is a man who, based on a dream, packed up a few possessions and disrupted the lives of his family in a major way. I don’t think Laman and Lemuel ever got over it as they stated in 1 Nephi 18:

21 Behold, these many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance; yea, and we might have been happy.

22 And we know that the people who were in the land of Jerusalem were a righteous people; for they kept the statutes and judgments of the Lord, and all his commandments, according to the law of Moses; wherefore, we know that they are a righteous people; and our father hath judged them, and hath led us away because we would hearken unto his words…

Lehi was called to leave his comfortable surroundings and his family, friends and church at the request of God. He was to separate himself from the life and environment that, undoubtedly, was comfortable and appealing. Wouldn’t Lehi have been considered an apostate by the leaders of the Jerusalem community? What kind of faith would it have taken to leave behind the comfort of orthodoxy for a tent in the desert?

Lehi, the visionary man, was willing to stand apart from what had been his entire life and livelihood. He caused his family and selected friends to leave the known and comfortable for the unknown and painful. While he may have been an apostate to the elders of Jerusalem, he was the father of a new nation to us… all because he hearkened to the word of God given him in a dream.

Alma the Elder

Alma had things going quite well. He had recently been elevated to a high priest position under great King Noah. He, perhaps along with his wives and concubines, were likely living large as we read in Mosiah 11:

14 And it came to pass that he (King Noah) placed his heart upon his riches, and he spent his time in riotous living with his wives and his concubines; and so did also his priests spend their time with harlots.

15 And it came to pass that he planted vineyards round about in the land; and he built wine-presses, and made wine in abundance; and therefore he became a wine-bibber, and also his people.

That is, until he heard Abinadi preach of Christ and was convinced that something was seriously wrong with what he was seeing. Unable to convince Noah of the error being committed, Alma was forced to flee for his life. He found refuge in the wilderness and was led by God to form a community based on principles that set him apart from his former life and position.

Given that King Noah was the ruling secular and religious authority at the time, I am sure that Alma was branded as an apostate; one who has abandoned his previous loyalty. To us, Alma was responding to the promptings of the spirit – first, seeking to give a man of God a wide berth but ultimately to re-establish the church of Christ in the wilderness.

Good Apostate or Bad Apostate?

The message here is that there may be times when being an apostate is doing the right thing. If the existing religious framework has become disconnected from the original mission of the church, it may take an apostate or two to bring some, perhaps a remnant, back in alignment with the will of God. Samuel the Lamanite stood on the wall and delivered a message to the Nephites that God was not pleased. Some people heard his words and repented. Most times, it seems these outliers are given the task of taking the message of repentance to the majority and are then encouraged to flee for their lives.

In D&C Section 112, we are told that ‘vengeance cometh speedily upon the inhabitants of the earth’ and ‘upon my house shall it begin.’ The meaning here to me is that latter day church is to encounter a correction or cleansing. Several times in the Book of Mormon, we Gentiles are told to ‘repent and return’ to the gospel. We are told that only we Gentiles who repent will participate in the building of New Jerusalem (3 Nephi 21:14-24). I believe there are many scriptural signs that dictate we, as a people who profess to have taken upon them the name of Christ, will need to repent and return or be left behind.

Have our hearts been so focused on riches that we are ripe for the message of Samuel the Lamanite to be delivered to us? Could it come from someone who was branded by the hierarchy of the church as an apostate? Time will tell.

What think ye?

6 Responses to “Great Apostates in Church History”

  • Jack:

    What we see in the Book of Mormon are a few rare instances of prophets fleeing a wicked society and then long, long periods afterward where prophets are striving to keep the people *in* the society of God. And I think that’s where we’re at now — one of those long periods following a radical sectarian separation.

  • Jack,
    I don’t know how many shades of gray there are in this situation. Those long periods, as far as I see, were slow slides into apostasy; moving away from the truth. In Helaman 3, we read about how successful the church was:

    “25 And so great was the prosperity of the church, and so many the blessings which were poured out upon the people, that even the high priests and the teachers were themselves astonished beyond measure.”

    Yet, only twelve years later, here is where they were at, in Helaman 4:

    “12 And it was because of the pride of their hearts, because of their exceeding riches, yea, it was because of their oppression to the poor, withholding their food from the hungry, withholding their clothing from the naked, and smiting their humble brethren upon the cheek, making a mock of that which was sacred, denying the spirit of prophecy and of revelation, murdering, plundering, lying, stealing, committing adultery, rising up in great contentions, and deserting away into the land of Nephi, among the Lamanites—”

    So what happened in this short time? Why do we think that the great prosperity that we have enjoyed will make us more spiritual as as people when no one else has been able to do it?

    Joseph Smith has this to say about our need to stay on task:

    “…for if Zion will not purify herself so as to be approved in all things, in His sight, He will seek another people, for His work will go on until Israel is gathered, and they who will not hear His voice, must expect to feel His wrath.” TPJS p.18

    There is only one way for us to be sanctified, either as a church or as an individual, and it is not through the acquisition of wealth and prosperity. I believe that Joseph was accurate, if we do not repent and return we will face the same fate as the sleeping bridesmaids.

  • Rob:

    Regarding the final part of your comment asking the qusetion would it come from someone who had been banded by the Hierarchy…I think the answer to that would be Absolutely Yes !

    The Marred Servant in my opinion, would be someone who probably presented himself to authorities as being sent from God. I know many Self Appointed Candidates have more than offered up their services, but what about the “ONE” who Really WAS ?…

    He would be Spat Out with the Rest of the wanna bees who ARE truly apostate for attempting to assume something that did’t belong to them.

    But what about the “ONE”? Would ANY Current Prophet of the Church be willing to Relinquish his Position of Authority for some LOW LIFE among the Ranks of Common Members ? COME ON !!!…

    If this actually happened….His being REJECTED by his own people as was Christ….Would the Lord’s “OTHER HAND” need to be “SET AGAIN” in order to ” Set The Lord’s House in Order” ?

    The BOM says he is in the hands of Christ and they will not Hurt Him. So this excludes any type of Physical Marring. that seems to be the USUAL interpretation of MARRING. But what about SPIRITUAL MARRING ?… Authorities Causing others to THINK he was an Apostate like all the Rest…

    Having his Good Reputation being Marred…

    Now as far as the rest of that Marring description goes of him being Marred Beyond the Semblence of Men…This Could be refering to the fact, that when this Servant was taken before Authorities as was Christ…That in similar Fashion, as CHRIST was more than HUMAN or MAN and was considered NOT just an Apostate, but BLASPHEMOUS by proclaiming to be the Son of GOD….So too, maybe THIS GUY was the OTHER Son of GOD…And His SPIRITUAL Marring as an Apostate, jacked the severity of his offence up to the level of BLASPHEMY for proclaiming to be the OTHER Son of GOD…?

    I suppose HE would rate his turn in a Mortal Body just like Jesus & the Rest of Us.

    There sure is a Lot of Scriptural Hoop-La concerning this Servant & His Mission that seems to ALMOST place him on Par with the Savior…

    WHO would be a more WORTHY OR CAPABLE Servant of Christ, than His Brother the Holy Spirit, who has been doing this stuff behind the scenes for Christ & His Father since the BEGINING…?

    And now that we are Nearing the END…MAYBE it’s HIS TURN to FINISH what He STARTED by bringing ISRAEL unto CHRIST…?

    How MANY HANDS does Heavenly Father Have ? We know that Jesus is His RIGHT HAND Man. The Servant is refered to as “HAND” & we KNOW he isn’t Christ….

    Why would it take the FATHER to initiate this last Great Work and not Christ , if this where just ANY MAN ?

    Now once the Work HAD been Established by the Father, would it not THEN be appropriate to turn things over to Christ, God’s OTHER HAND to Assist the LEFT HAND OF GOD ?

    Is there some sort of DIFFERENT set of Rules that would apply to Him in regard to NOT Eventually Taking a Body as did Christ & the Rest of Us ?

    After all the hard work he’s done for EONS…wouldn’t you think HE should have HIS DAY IN THE SUN ?

    Or maybe He dosen’t DESERVE THAT…Or maybe the Holy Spirit, who is PROBABLY Jesus’ BEST FRIEND…Ya THINK ?…. Is ALSO the “FRIEND” of the BRIDE GROOM we are WAITING FOR ?…DUH….

    WHY is this so hard to figure OUT ?….It seems So Dumb Founded Simple to me.


    And YES !!! They would CRAP on Him just as they did Jesus…And MOCK HIM !

    This may be why Isaiah ch. 66 describes Him to be Getting a Little “PAY BACK” in the Temple.

    Is that TEMPLE Scene in Isaiah 66, the SAME SCENE described in Section 85 and a prelude to 112 ?

    YOU BET YA !!!

    And at THIS POINT IN TIME…I’d be will’n to bet a Dollar against a Donut, that this Dude MUST BE P—–!!!

    Just as Jesus was a Carpenter that Symbolically Characterized HIS Mission…I Wonder if this Dude might be a MARINE or something that would Characterize HIS MISSION that is described an AWEFUL LOT like a WARRIOR who would have a SOFT SPOT for the Good Guys & The HAMMER OF THOR for those Arrogant B——- at the Top who TRULY BLASPHEMY !!!

    Sorry for the little out burst…

  • Rob:

    Just for the Record…That “TIME” is not far off.

    And ALL those wanna be Heros who have been Contending for the JOB using Very WHIMPISH “intellectual” efforts to convince others they are the ONE to listened to or follow… THEY are going to be among the FIRST to have their Butts kicked to the curb if they don’t get their Heads out of their South Side !

    HAS GOD & CHRIST ALREADY APPEARED TO ANY OF YOU ??? Not as having recieved the Second comforter as I’m sure Many Have, but rather have had them SIT WITH YOU and GO OVER THE PLAN ???

    IF NOT….Then SHUT the —UP!!!


  • Rob:

    This is my Final Comment on ANY site. So don’t Worry about my Further Offending any Virgin Ears out there.


  • Rob,
    Weeping for Zion has a relevant post to this conversation.

    Yes, I agree we do need to get ready.

    Also, I don’t currently accept the Holy Ghost as the brother of Jesus. I am inclined to go with the mystical Jewish perspective that the Holy Spirit is feminine but that is a very deep topic for another time.


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