This is the fourth of six articles relating the writer’s journey into the bosom of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Having succumbed to spiritual desolation following the rejection of his Adventist heritage, the young seeker investigates various Christian traditions, hoping to discover the Truth. Part I may be found here; Part II here; Part III ; Part IV here.
In the last few centuries, the three great traditions of Christendom – Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism – have been threatened by something entirely foreign to the basic creeds of Christendom: a cluster of movements collectively known as “Restorationism.” Nowadays, it is not hard to find a local Mormon “stake”, a “kingdom hall” of Jehovah’s Witnesses, or even a Christadelphian church somewhere in the neighborhood. This is entirely fine: everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and religious freedom. But it is something that I feel warrants inclusion in this series.
I come from a Restorationist background, having been raised as a Seventh-Day Adventist. But before we get ahead of ourselves, it might be wise to firstly lay down the fundamental characteristics that define the Restorationist church movement.
- Restorationism’s central tenet is that Christianity as we know it is in serious error, and that somewhere early on in the history of the Church, a great apostasy occurred, and true Christianity was lost. Note that this notion is entirely similar to the claims of heretical movements throughout Christianity’s history – one has only to glance upon all the “Secret Lost History of the Feminine Secret Divinity of Mary Magdalene and the Secrets of the Lost Gospels Hidden Away By Evil Patriarchs” to see this on a popular level.
- Restorationism almost always has a central prophet or thinker upon whom its doctrines revolve. In many ways, the Scriptures take second place to the thought and interpretation of this one figure. From a Protestant view, these movements entirely violate the primacy of Scripture. From the Catholic view, they violate both Scripture and Tradition.
- On occasion, the movement will have additional Scriptures and revelations which define its beliefs (i.e. the Book of Mormon, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, The Great Controversy, etc.)
- Almost all Restorationism is apocalyptic and deeply eschatological.
It is incredibly interesting to note that Restorationism as we know it now is entirely a Western phenomenon (one, I feel, that has its roots in such figures as Emmanuel Swedenborg). The Orthodox in the East either know little about it, or view it as merely the logical fruit of Protestantism, and dismiss it as such. But these movements are a great threat to Christian orthodoxy in the West, and both Protestants and Catholics have banded together in order to meet the errors promulgated by Restorationist movements.
Essentially, much of what constitutes Restorationist thought is often merely the revival of an old heresy, school of thought, or what have you.
If one examines each group closely, it is not hard to see the components that make up what really ends up being a kind of Frankenstein’s monster of heretical positions of old. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are modern-day Arianists, for instance; Mormonism is a curious mix of Platonism, polytheism, Freemasonry, Epicurean materialism, and a whole host of other errors; the Seventh-Day Adventists essentially combine the Old Law with the New, ending up as Messianic Jews with an evangelical overtone.
Now to the heart of the issue: Why did I not remain an Adventist, and why did I not gravitate towards any of the other Restorationist movements? I will answer frankly:
- First, the study of Scripture disproves all of these groups. Witness the fact that the Watchtower organization had to produce its own translation of the Scriptures — considered embarrassingly and astonishingly poor in the opinion of most scholars — in order to justify its teachings.
- Second, by examining the lives of their central prophets and figures. Witness the failed prophecies (the Great Disappointment of 1844 for the Adventists, the numerous failed prophecies of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Joseph Smith’s failed prophecies concerning everything from his followers to wars). Witness the hypocrisy that runs through their lives – Ellen White’s plagiarism and inability to live by her own bizarre teachings; Joseph Smith’s constant revision of revelations.
- Third, by examining and diligently studying history. After having done this, the idea of a supposed great apostasy becomes one of the most insulting notions imaginable, and I would think even the most hardline of Protestants who think the Catholic Church is in terrible error would agree. Study the lives of the early martyrs who gave their lives so heroically for this “apostasy” – if your heart can still believe that they died for heresy, then I am speechless on the matter.
Unlike theological issues between the three main branches of Christianity, it does not take a scholar or academic of any kind to disprove the claims of Restorationist movements. In fact, I would be so bold as to say that even the most cursory perusal through Christian theology, Scripture, and history is enough to disprove them on all counts. But the problem is precisely this: many Christians are poorly catechized, and do not know their faith.
This is where the Restorationist groups attack, and wisely so, for it is the weak area. If one feels that the Church is just a money-grubbing organization of old men who are completely irrelevant promulgaters of some kind of modern “churchianity”, what better opportunity for a Restorationist to seize upon? They appeal to emotions and testify to having the true and undiluted teachings of ancient Christianity. Before one knows it, one is caught in a web of false teaching.
Again, I cannot stress enough the importance of educating oneself in matters of religion, faith, and doctrine. Know the Scriptures, know history, know Tradition, read the Fathers, read the lives of the saints, and most importantly, pray and maintain an active relationship with God. This will preserve you from error, and no wolf in sheep’s clothing will be able to infiltrate this mighty fortress.
A summation then as to why the Restorationist movement is in deep error:
- The historically-bankrupt nature of these movements.
- The extremely questionable lives and teachings of their prophets and central figures.
- False prophecies.
- The denial of ancient, almost universally held dogmas concerning Christology, Trinitarianism, etc.
- The false idea of a great apostasy happening with the death of the apostles.
- The elevation of Ellen G. White to the level of near-infallible prophet.
- Sabbatarianism, Jewish dietary laws, legalism, emphasis on the Old Law but viewed through a filter that forgets Christ’s fulfillment of this Law.
- The ridiculous, paranoid, and deeply anti-Catholic assertions in Ellen White’s work, The Great Controversy.
- The notion that all Christians are in error for worshipping on Sunday.
- Failed prophecies, especially the Great Disappointment of 1844.
- Adventist eschatology concerning soul-sleep, investigative judgment, denial of Hell, etc.
- The suspicious and inconsistent life of their prophet, Joseph Smith.
- The wildly unhistorical nature of their chief text, The Book of Mormon, including a total lack of archaeological, genetic, geographical, and historical evidence for the events described within its pages.
- Its inability to stand up to criticism of any kind, which necessitates emotional appeals.
- Its polytheism and blatantly Arian Christology; teachings on multitudes of gods; doctrines on Satan and Jesus being brothers; teaching of carnal union of God with the Virgin Mary, etc.
- Its connections to and obvious influence from Freemasonry, which is completely incompatible with Christianity.
- Its early embrace of polygamy, racism, and violence.
- Its Christology, which is no more than a resurrection of watered-down Arianism.
- Its teachings on blood transfusions
- The shunning of friends and family members who walk away from the faith.
- Its bizarre eschatology, which is too long to delve into here.
- Its negative view of every other Christian group.
- Its horrifically-poorly translated version of the Bible, entitled the “New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures”.
- Its highly suspicious and cultic nature.
Of course, and let me make this very clear, I am not criticizing any adherents to these movements as individuals. Indeed, I know many Adventists who are sincere and “evangelical” Christians, and Mormons are often unmatched in terms of their charity and Christ-like treatment of others in daily life. But as movements, I simply cannot accept what they are saying on a theological, historical, or Scriptural level.
These movements, which border on cults, are entirely antagonistic to history and reason, as well as the ancient teachings of the saints and fathers. They are to be avoided and rejected at all times.