Answers.com gives the definition as "Abandonment of one's religious faith, a political party, one's principles, or a cause."
lds.org says "When individuals or groups of people turn away from the principles of the gospel, they are in a state of apostasy."
Simply put, personal apostasy is when a person turns from the things they know to be true. Why does this happen? This subject has come up many times in the past few weeks. One reason I decided to write about it is because I have been feeling that nagging warning that I might be at risk. Now DON"T PANIC!!!! I will explain why I feel that I am in need of correction.
For some time now I have been trying to learn more about other religions. I have found that I am fascinated by the similarities between my religion and that of my acquaintances. I have learned a lot about faith, obedience, and devotion. I have also seen my personal failings in some of these areas, which I will explain again later.
One day I somehow started thinking about the idea of President Monson standing in General Conference and saying something like "A few weeks ago an angel visited me and told me to go to some foreign land and dig up a record of the tribe of Israel who were scattered there. I went and got it and I have translated it using the Urim and Thummim that I was given by the angel. The new book of scripture will be printed and published as soon as possible. Now I will share an excerpt with you."
What was your first reaction to that fantasy? Be honest.
I was surprised to realize that I was rolling my eyes (theoretically) and thinking "yeah, right. Like that would happen. How ridiculous."
Wait a minute. Did I just say it was ridiculous for the Lord to send an angel to His chosen prophet, give him instructions and reveal new scripture to him?
I was seriously taken aback by my reaction to such a possibility. Don't I believe in Joseph Smith and the Golden Plates? Don't I believe that "someday" there will be other records from the "other sheep" spoken of in both the New Testament and Book of Mormon? Don't I believe in continuing revelation?
I was again surprised as I reasoned that "Maybe that is what happened in the past but it doesn't happen that way now."
WHAT!!!! Did I just use a Baptist excuse for denying the Book of Mormon?! Really?!!!
This experience alone gave me a serious pause. I realized that I needed to check my attitude. I realized that I have been slowly accepting ideas of man and the world instead of standing firm in the truth that God has revealed. Why? How?
Well, for one thing, I am a slacker. I have been sliding by spiritually, neglecting scripture study and personal prayer in favor of fiction novels and the Internet, TV and sleep. And why have I been a slacker? Pride. It's always pride, isn't it? That slippery sin that has so many forms and is so subtle and sneaky. It seems to show up when you least expect it. You're going along, minding your own business and all of a sudden you find yourself flat on your back, knocked off your feet by a little smear of pride in your path.
Another reason I might be at risk of apostasy is ease. We modern Latter-Day Saints have it so easy. The gospel is laid out for us in scripture, manuals, Sunday meetings, temples, magazines, a vast website, not to mention general conference, stake conference, firesides, and other special meetings. Could it be that we are so used to being spoon-fed the gospel that we ignore it?
I am reminded of the many cautions in the Book of Mormon.
And he did straiten them in the wilderness with his rod; for they hardened their hearts, even as ye have; and the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished. 1 Nephi 17:41, (emphasis added)Here is that stinkin' pride again! Making us want confusing doctrines and difficult commandments! Why?!
But behold, the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may stumble. Jacob 4:14
Be careful what you ask for, right? Heavenly Father only tries so hard to get through to us, then he lets us learn the hard way. Honestly, I don't blame him!
But let's get back to the subject of personal apostasy. One reason this has been on my mind is that a non-LDS friend of mine has been asking these questions on her blog. She is lamenting the loss of faith among those who once believed as she does. Now, my first thought, because I don't accept her beliefs as 100% true, was that maybe those who left that faith had grown beyond it. Maybe it was no longer fulfilling and they were seeking higher truths.
Then I thought of my own religion. Why do people leave my church? An outsider might have the same response I did to my friend's concern. "Thank goodness they came to their senses and got away from those Mormons!"
But if this is the true church, why would people leave? They couldn't "out grow" the true gospel, could they? Perhaps when this is the excuse, they are following in the steps of the Israelites Nephi and Jacob described. They are not seeking truth and understanding but trying to cram their brains full so they can impress people with their big brains (and big mouths!) Finding bigger ideas doesn't mean better ones!
Why else might a person abandon their beliefs? Retention is always a concern among the Latter-Day Saints. Plenty of people are baptized and fall to the wayside. There are many reasons. Sometimes they were not really converted. They joined the church to please a loved one or because a missionary was so charming. I know of one woman who joined the church so her children could have friends with good values. She later gained a strong testimony but she freely admitted that she did not have one when she was baptized.
Life is full of challenges. Being a member of this or any church does not make us immune to this. We may find ourselves in conflict with another church member. I always thought it was crazy that a person would leave the church because of personal conflicts but I get it now. I still think there is a lot of pride and slacker-ness involved. If we are living like we should we won't care about the jerks. But I also see how wearing it can be if you are struggling to pick yourself up and someone comes along and kicks you every chance they get. NOT COOL!!! It still isn't an excuse to run away from the church but I see why some people do.
President Hinckley has said that every new member should have a friend and a responsibility. My dad amended that to every member needs those things, no matter how long ago they were baptized. I agree. Life changes. Families move. Kids grow up. People retire. There are so many reasons why a person might suddenly find themselves in need of a friend or something to do. How wonderful that the church so often provides this.
In a nutshell, the basic safeguards against personal apostasy are having good freinds, being active in the chruch, studying the scriptures, praying regularly, obeying the commandments, and especially being humble. I know it is possible to avoid the (spritually) deadly trap that waits menacingly along the path of righteousness. We just have to keep our eyes open and recognize that we are all vulnerable to it. If you are on the right path, help keep others there. If you are not, turn around before it's too late!