Mormonism not only teaches that a Christian apostasy movement was overtaking the New Testament church, but also believes that Satan's abominable church grew and developed into a widespread organized Christian apostate movement during the second and third centuries AD. Mormons believe that during early church history, this apostate Christian church gained complete dominance that led to the total disappearance of the true church from the earth.
Although Mormonism does not name a specific church or denomination as Satan's historic great and apostate church in earliest Christianity, Mormons do generally identify and describe it as "Hellenized Christianity." They believe that early Christianity compromised the biblical truth and authority of salvation, and became thoroughly Hellenized by Greek culture and philosophy. The Mormon thesis is that as the Christian church spread into the Gentile world, it revised and accommodated biblical truth to a Greek worldview. As a result, Hebraic or biblical Christianity lost out to Hellenized Christianity, which radically exchanged New Testament truth for human authority, councils, and creeds.
Mormons claim that the Christian church has lost all apostolic authority to act on behalf of God and no longer possesses the fullness of the New Testament gospel, which they identify as the exclusive doctrines and practices of Mormonism. In the end, however, after all the speculative and generalized talk, the LDS teaching concerning the great Christian apostasy during early Christianity is nothing more than historical patchwork. There is simply no substantial historical support or documentation to uphold such a conspiracy theory, as Dr. Stephen Robinson, Brigham Young University professor, admits:
This period might be called the blind spot in Christian history, for it is here that the fewest primary historical sources have been preserved. We have good sources for New Testament Christianity; then the lights go out, so to speak, and we hear the muffled sounds of a great struggle. When the lights come on again a hundred or so years later, we find that someone has rearranged all the furniture and Christianity has become something very different from what it was in the beginning.
Grounded in the truth of Matthew 16:18, "I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it," Christians today stand strong, trusting in God's absolute faithfulness and sovereignty, knowing that he will build his church on the rock of Jesus Christ, and the gates of hell cannot stand up against it.
What about the Protestant Reformation?
Often, in defense of its apostasy doctrine in early Christianity, Mormonism states that the Protestant Reformers-Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others-used many of the same apostasy Bible passages to prove that the Roman Catholic Church was satanic and corrupt. Some Mormons even claim that the Protestant Reformers actually agreed with their great-apostasy doctrine, as Dr. Stephen Robinson seems to indicate below:
In terms of the doctrine of apostasy-that is, that at some point in time the historical church was no longer the true Church-most Protestants agree with the Latter-day Saints in principle; they just differ on the dates.
But let's be clear. Although the LDS Church states that the Protestant Reformation generated some correction and restoration to true biblical Christianity, it does not remotely conclude that the Protestant Reformation was sufficient or, for that matter, not apostate itself. According to Robert Millet, Brigham Young University professor of ancient Scripture:
Because apostolic power was not on the earth, Latter-day Saints believe that alterations in doctrine took place during the Reformation as well, theological shifts away from the teachings of the primitive church in the days of Jesus and the apostles. Such doctrines as predestination, man's inability to come unto Christ on his own, salvation by grace alone (good works not essential to salvation), and sola scriptura, the notion of the sufficiency of written scripture-each of which is a vital element within current Christian thinking-do not fully reflect the teachings and doctrine of the first few centuries of the Christian church, it was not sufficient. A complete restoration was needed.
Are All Christian Churches Apostate Today?
Since the LDS Church is unwavering toward its official stance that it is the only true and living church on earth, how do Mormons view and interact with today's non-LDS churches and devout followers of Jesus Christ?
Over the last few years, many Mormons have attempted to publicly soften and smooth out their communication about Christian churches, something that is not easy to do when their scriptural books use the terms apostate, abomination, and corrupt to describe Christianity. There is no question, however, that LDS Church officials are pushing a much friendlier and more interactive Mormon approach toward outsiders. Mormons are being exhorted from the highest levels of the LDS Church to be nice and engage in cordial interaction and dialogue with Christians.
Although official teaching of the LDS Church continues to emphasize that Christianity today remains deeply flawed, some Mormons are saying that many Christian churches and individuals are well-meaning and possess some truth. As Dr. Stephen Robinson states:
Informed Latter-day Saints do not argue that historic Christianity lost all truth or became completely corrupt. The orthodox churches may have lost the "fullness" of the gospel, but they did not lose all of it nor even most of it.
The LDS Church emphasizes that Mormonism and Christianity have many moral values in common and encourages working together on humanitarian and political projects in our communities and world. Mormons also make it clear that they do not believe that Christians will go to hell. For example, almost as a token gesture, Dr. Robinson writes:
Christians in the generic sense are not automatically excluded from salvation as they will still have the opportunity to accept the Mormon gospel in the postmortal life after they die.
Yet despite all the nice talk and gestures, the LDS Church still believes that it is the only one and true church on the earth, emphasizing that although today's Christian churches were not the cause of the great apostasy, they are certainly the offspring of it. Although often saying it with a smile of kindness, Mormonism continues to claim unapologetically that the LDS Church is the kingdom of God on earth, and that it alone possesses apostolic authority and the fullness of the gospel of salvation.