The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, founded in rural New York in 1830 by Joseph Smith, Jr. (1805-1844), is arguably the most successful of the American religions begun in the first half of the nineteenth century. The Church counted 2.9 million members in 1970. In April 2005, the Church officially listed 12,275,822 members. This fast-growing denomination increased its membership by 19.3 percent during the 1990s and rose to be the sixth largest religious body in the United States. By 2005, according to the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, the Church was the fourth largest denomination in the United States.
For now, many of his complex doctrines such as eternal progression, the Great Apostasy, the "only true church," and the Gathering of Israel, which have been debated over the years, have receded in importance in Church teachings. They either do not appear in lesson manuals or are toned down. The Church presents a simple, unified message taught simultaneously in many countries. Mormons believe that God communicates His will through prophets, that Joseph Smith got direct instruction from heaven, and that succeeding prophets receive divine counsel. They believe in the perfection of man to a Godlike state through ages of afterlife. These claims are too much for other Christians to accept. Many Protestants have defined Mormons as separate from Christianity, citing a failure to assent to traditional Christian creeds and other accepted criteria. Yet Mormons pray to God through Jesus Christ, believe in the Atonement and the Resurrection, and partake of sacraments in His name. Mormons, who see themselves as neither Catholic nor Protestant, do not understand how other churches can deny their Christianity. Seeing themselves as the restored Christian church, they believe that their church is the current embodiment of the Church that Jesus Christ organized on earth.