I’d like to ask a question to any Evangelicals, Protestants, or Restorationists (inc. LDS) who posit a Great Apostasy theory for the Church.
I just want to zero in on one passage in Acts 5:26-42, specifically the Test of Gamaliel. I’d like to know how this can be reconciled with any idea of a total apostasy of the Church.
Here’s the passage (from the Douay-Rheims, online), posted in full context, with the most text in question bolded:
26 Then went the officer with the ministers and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned. 27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, 28 saying: Commanding, we commanded you that you should not teach in this name. And behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine: and you have a mind to bring the blood of this man upon us.
29 But Peter and the apostles answering, said: We ought to obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers has raised up Jesus, whom you put to death, hanging him upon a tree. 31 Him has God exalted with his right hand, to be Prince and Saviour. to give repentance to Israel and remission of sins. 32 And we are witnesses of these things: and the Holy Ghost, whom God has given to all that obey him. 33 When they had heard these things, they were cut to the heart: and they thought to put them to death.
34 But one in the council rising up, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, respected by all the people, commanded the men to be put forth a little while. 35 And he said to them: You men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do, as touching these men. 36 For before these days rose up Theodas, affirming himself to be somebody, to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves. Who was slain: and all that believed him were scattered and brought to nothing. 37 After this man, rose up Judas of Galilee, in the days of the enrolling, and drew away the people after him. He also perished: and all, even as many as consented to him, were dispersed. 38 And now, therefore, I say to you: Refrain from these men and let them alone. For if this council or this work be of men, it will come to nought: 39 But if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it, lest perhaps you be found even to fight against God. And they consented to him. 40 And calling in the apostles, after they had scourged them, they charged them that they should not speak at all in the name of Jesus. And they dismissed them. 41 And they indeed went from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer reproach for the name of Jesus. 42 And every day they ceased not, in the temple and from house to house, to teach and preach Christ Jesus.
You see the problem. Scripture contains this Test of Gamaliel, a very rational, faith-driven, and practical test, applies it to the very authenticity of Christ Himself, His teaching, His Resurrection, His original Apostles, and holds it up against the Church.
If the Church does fail (“come to naught” in this translation), like so many others as Gamaliel cites, it is proof positive that Jesus was not sent by God and is not who He or Christians claim him to be.
If the Church fell into apostasy or even heresy, and these things were not true, and authority was lost, then it fails Gamaliel’s test and the world can rest assured the Messiah has not come.
This seems to me a proof positive in the Scriptures that the Church MUST have been preserved–or else Christ is a fraud. It appears to be a come to Jesus moment–if Jesus is the Christ, His Church cannot “come to naught” on earth.
So please, show me how you reconcile this passage with a total apostasy theory. Feel free to use other Scripture passages, but **please keep focus **on this one. We can wander into other discussions of apostasy theory on other threads; I’d rather this one not get so sidetracked.
Thank you and God bless