Since its inception in 1830, the Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) has denied any continuous historical connection with Christianity.
Mormonism's founder Joseph Smith, claimed that in 1820 God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him in the woods near his home in Palmyra, New York. Jesus said that for the proceeding 1700 years (give or take a century — Mormonism can't say exactly) the world had been living in the darkness of a total apostasy from the gospel.
This was the answer to a question young Smith had been pondering. "My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of these sects was right, that I might know which to join. . . .I asked the personages who stood above me in the light, which of all these sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong), and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me [Jesus] said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that their professors were all corrupt"
Smith convinced his credulous followers, most of them simple rural folk, that he'd been chosen, in what Mormons have come to call the First Vision, to be the first post-apostasy prophet — God's hand-picked agent charged with restoring the true gospel.
Over the next several years Smith purported to have received additional revelations from "heavenly personages." He claimed that after establishing his church in Palestine, the resurrected Jesus appeared in South America to the Nephites (Jews who, Smith said, had migrated to the New World between 600 and 592 B.C.) and organized a parallel church there (3 Nephi 11-28).
The new prophet seized on Jesus' words in John 10:16 ("I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd") as proof of the Lord's impending South American travel plans. The exegesis might impress one unfamiliar with the New Testament, but the usual understanding is that the "other sheep" Jesus referred to were the Gentiles, to whom the gospel also was extended.
Smith claimed the Nephite church had the same hierarchy and ordinances as its sister church in Palestine — living prophets, twelve apostles, seventy disciples — but things didn't go well for either church. Both collapsed under the weight of pagan influences, dissolving into complete apostasy.
The late Bruce McConkie, a Mormon apostle and, during his life, perhaps Mormonism's leading theologian, explained things this way: "This universal apostasy began in the days of the ancient apostles themselves; and it was known to and foretold by them. . . .With the loss of the Gospel, the nations of the earth went into moral eclipse called the Dark Ages. Apostasy was universal. . . [T]his darkness still prevails except among those who have come to a knowledge of the restored Gospel."
Mormons believe the church Jesus established in Palestine, before its disintegration, was identical to the Mormon Church of today, with ceremonies such as baptism for the dead, a polytheistic concept of God (including eternal progression, the notion that God was a man who evolved into a god and that worthy Mormon males can evolve into gods), and other peculiar Mormon beliefs. The fact that no historical evidence exists to corroborate this position doesn't put much of a dent in the average Mormon's mental armor. . . . (continue reading)