Evaluating the Blueprint: Change Orders and Apostles

Evaluating the Blueprint: Change Orders and Apostles

The Mormon Church has claims since its earliest days to be a restoration of an "original" Christian religion. The 9th Article of Faith states, "We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth."

However, the era of modern biblical studies arose a few decades before the Mormon Church began, and it's rapid pace of study and learning has continue ever since. The ability to read the Christian New Testament as a unified work has grown extremely tenuous. The formation of Christian orthodoxy and its various hierarchies is now seen as a very organic process that took decades and centuries.

As such, past arguments to "prove" Mormonism as "primitive" Christianity have become increasingly brittle as changes become ever-more obvious.

I have to take my hat off to Tad Callister. He has provided this argument with enough flexibility that I'd bet we'll still be seeing it made for a few more decades before Mormonism succumbs to the inevitable position of acknowledging itself as a modern religion.

As [our] home was being constructed, we occasionally submitted to the builder a "change order" that revised the blueprint. When the home was finally completed, it was in exact conformity with our blueprint as revised from time to time...In a similar way, Christ built a Church to best accommodate the spiritual needs of His children. The spiritual blueprint for this Church can be found in the Bible, especially in the New Testament. Occasionally the Savior made a "change order" to the blueprint. Such a spiritual change order came in the form of a revelation.

This is how Callister is able to explain what previously have been large problems with the "Mormon Church is a Restoration" approach in the past. The Primitive Church had "evangelists" which the Mormons turn into "Patriarchs" (seriously, it's still a moronic change that is meaningless). The original apostles were missionaries, but the modern LDS apostles are corporate board members. Jesus sent his people into "all of the world" but until 1978 the LDS Church didn't really know what to do with their black members.

The "change order" however, has a wonderful flexibility. Did you find a difference between ancient Christianity and modern Mormonism? Change order! The two blueprints are still the same, but the Mormon Church has been divinely altered to better serve the needs of the modern world.

However, the "change order" is also a double-edged sword that threatens Callister's argument as well, because part of the need for a restoration is the idea of the ancient Christian Church disappearing. Callister is going to spend many pages discussing the process that he believes led to the need for a restoration. But first he has to deal with the "change order" idea he came up with.

Bishops are now going to be in charge of the Church? Was there a change order? Perhaps there was. The Catholic Church is a church of bishops. The Orthodox Church is a church of bishops. The Mormon Church is not a Church of bishops. If an ancient change order caused the ancient Church to move to an episcopal hierarchy, then the Mormon Church needs to also have that same change order, but it obviously has not.

So now Callister has to retreat to a position that will cause his argument problems throughout his book. He needs to uphold the idea that there was an ancient Christian Church lying behind all of Christianity (no small task as most scholars today distinguish between the religion Jesus taught and the religion his followers taught about him). He needs to uphold the New Testament as a source of truth and he needs to downplay early Christianity as found outside of the New Testament either in writings by early Christians or scholarship. He needs to show how ancient Christianity fell, but he needs to do so without drawing any disturbing parallels to modern Mormonism. Ancient Christianity fell, but modern Mormonism won't. Why not? That's actually a very difficult thing for Callister to explain.

So he needs to qualify what constitutes a real change order. But here he runs into a problem: he can define a change order narrowly enough that it supports differences between orthodox Christianity and Mormons, but wide enough that he doesn't highlight differences in Mormonism between 1830 and the present day because his thesis is that change without a change order is what constitutes apostasy and the ancient Church fell into the Great Apostacy through the cumulative little differences that arose. At the same time, his argument about the Mormon Church needs to support its truth claims from 1830 to 2015, which is a much larger feat that I believe Callister is aware of.

As an example, let's look at his first assertion of a matching blueprint:

Apostle and Prophets as the Foundation

...The Apostles understood the imperative need to keep the quorum of twelve Apostles intact. This was demonstrated when one Apostle, Judas, died and a portion of the foundation was "chipped away." The other eleven Apostles gathered together and by revelation chose a successor so the foundation would be whole again (see Acts 1:22–26).

This pattern evidenced the importance of maintaining a quorum of twelve Apostles. In other words, the selection of the initial twelve Apostles was not a single, isolated event in the establishment of Christ’s Church... Suffice it to say, the Apostles were critical to keeping the doctrine pure.

The blueprint clearly reveals that at the foundation of Christ’s Church are apostles and prophets. Do you know of any change order in the New Testament, any revelation that revised the blueprint and stated that Apostles were no longer needed? I do not. If that is the case, then Christ's true Church today should have apostles and prophets at its foundation. Such is the case with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Grand words (I get the feeling I'll be saying this a lot over the coming weeks), but problematic. Only one chapter later, Callister says:

At first, upon the death of one Apostle, the surviving Apostles would gather and choose a successor. This pattern was established after the death of Judas. Since part of the foundation had been "chipped away" with Judas's death, the other eleven Apostles gathered together to make it whole again. The scriptures tell us: "Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection... that he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell,... and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles" (Acts 1:22, 25–26).

I'm surprised Callister even chose to quote the qualifications that Luke gives for what constitutes an Apostle: a man who had been involved with the movement from the Baptism by John but who also witnesses Jesus ascend into heaven. Where is the change order that these requirements went away? Callister instead chooses to view this as proof that the Apostles all died before they could replenish their number. In Acts 1 it is stated quite clearly that the rewards appointed to Judas needed to be taken up so that there would be 12 Apostles. But there is no change order in this chapter stating that an unfallen apostle must be replaced upon death but only that Judas was replaced.

Another missing change order is that the Apostles were commissioned to go out into the world in Matthew and Luke. In Luke's sequel, Acts, we see the Apostles appointing seven men to take on the chore of handling the economics of the fledgling organization (Acts 6:2-4) so that they could be specifically freed to preach as missionaries (those same seven would also be compelled by the Holy Spirit to be missionaries themselves, a common theme in Luke-Acts of the irresistible Spirit, leaving the question of who actually handled the finances of the commune unanswered). Where is the modern change order for the Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be in charge of the day-to-day operations of the physical organization? It doesn't exist, at least not to be studied.

(In all of this I am still struck by how Callister approaches books like Luke-Acts as though they were history books. This is going to come up to bite him in the ass later on when he talks about an "open canon" as Callister rejects books many early Christians viewed as authoritative, choosing to quote from them only when it suits his purposes.)

This is getting pretty long as is, so I'm going to stop for now. Next time we'll go into more detail on Callister's absurd claims about the name of the Church and the "loss" of early "teachings" of the ancient Mormon Church.

Tom Doggett

Tom Doggett

I'm a programmer, Ancient Greek reader, feminist, spouse and partner, and a dad.

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