Mormonism is founded on the premise that, after the apostles’ death, the Christian Church became corrupt and apostate. The Mormon version of Christian history goes something like this:
• Jesus established his church
• The apostles died and with them went authority
• Constantine established the Catholic Church
• The world was plunged into the Dark Ages
• The Reformers made a brave effort
• Joseph Smith restored the church
The defining event of Mormonism is the so-called first vision. Smith claimed that, confused by the “strife among the different denominations”, he retired to the woods near his home “to inquire of the Lord which of all the sects was right, that I may know which one to join.” He goes on:
“I was told that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage [God] who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrine the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power therefore. He again forbade me to join with any of them” (Joseph Smith – History 1:19/20)
Note the four key elements in the answer:
• All the churches are wrong
• All their creeds are an abomination
• All those who profess those creeds are corrupt
• All offer only lip service, teaching men’s doctrines
The Book of Mormon presents an almost exactly parallel picture of apostasy:

“And it came to pass that when two hundred and ten years had passed away there were many churches in the land; yea, there were many churches which professed to know the Christ, and yet they did deny the more parts of his gospel, insomuch that they did receive all manner of wickedness, and did administer that which was sacred unto him to whom it had been forbidden because of unworthiness.”
“Nevertheless, the people did harden their hearts, for they were led by many priests and false prophets to build up many churches, and to do all manner of iniquity. And they did smite upon the people of Jesus; but the people of Jesus did not smite again. And thus they did dwindle in unbelief and wickedness, from year to year, even until two hundred and thirty years had passed away.”
 “And they did still continue to build up churches unto themselves, and adorn them with all manner of precious things. And thus did two hundred and fifty years pass away, and also two hundred and sixty years” (4 Nephi 1:27, 34, 41)

Footnotes make clear that what is being described here occurs between AD 211 and AD 321, the period that led up to Constantine in the Old World. It is clear what is in view here and the end of the book declares:
“28 Yea, it shall come in a day when the power of God shall be denied, and churches become defiled and be lifted up in the pride of their hearts; yea, even in a day when leaders of churches and teachers shall rise in the pride of their hearts, even to the envying of them who belong to their churches.” (Mormon 8:28)
The first Nephi gives an account that mirrors the Mormon view of Christian history (1 Nephi 11-14)
The life and ministry of Jesus (ch.11)
The Twelve Apostles (11:29; 12:7-11)
A “dwindling in unbelief” (12:23)
An apostate church (13:4-6)
Nephi describes a Christian Church that is “most abominable above all churches” whose founder is the devil; that persecutes, tortures and kills the saints; that corrupts and perverts the Bible and “blinds the eyes and hardens the hearts of the children of men”, putting them in Satan’s power. He then describes the publication of the Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith (1 Nephi 13:35-40). Then, we read:

“Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.” (1 Nephi 14:10)
This idea has always coloured the Mormon view of Christianity as Mormon leaders confirm:
“If the Catholic Church is bad, how can any good come out of it? The character of the old churches has always been slandered by all apostates since the world began” (Joseph Smith)
“Both Catholics and Protestants are nothing less than the whore of Babylon whom the Lord denounces by the mouth of John the Revelator as having corrupted all the earth by their fornications and wickedness” (Orson Pratt)
“We have seen Christianity, but it is a perfect pack of nonsense…and the Devil could not invent a better engine to spread his work” (John Taylor)

Originally then Mormons saw no redeeming features in the traditional churches, the creeds or Christians. Of Mormonism however Charles W Penrose said, “Our organisation is a glorious one. It is a perfect organisation – perfect – because it is divine. It was not made by man…It came down from above, direct from eternal worlds”
How Wide the Divide?
Stephen E Robinson, a Mormon scholar and apologist at Brigham Young University (BYU), published in 1991 a book entitled Are Mormons Christians? He wrote to show that arguments used to exclude Mormons from the “Christian world” are invalid and that Mormons should be seen as very much a part of that world. In 1998 Richard G Grant, another Mormon scholar, published Understanding These Other Christians with more or less the same purpose and the additional aim of building bridges between Mormons and Evangelicals in particular.
In 1997 a curious collaboration between Craig Blomberg, an Evangelical believer, and the same Stephen Robinson mentioned above, issued in a book entitled How Wide the Divide? The declared aim of this dialogue was to “ferret out the genuine agreements and disagreements between them.”
Given the founding claims of Mormonism with regard to an apostate Christendom the answer to the question “How Wide the Divide?” might seem straight-forward enough. A great chasm divides us. The attitude of Mormons to “These Other Christians”, one might expect would be one of urgent concern that we should leave behind an altogether corrupt and corrupting system and join the Mormons. The answer to the question “Are Mormons Christians?” must surely be that they are the only Christians since, according to The Book of Mormon, all the rest are of the church of Satan. As Paul wrote:

“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?…Therefore come out of them and be separate, says the Lord” (2 Cor.6:14-17)
Yet it is the spirit of Robinson, Grant and other unofficial Mormon scholars and their initiatives that we often meet and it can cause considerable confusion. When informed Christians point out the alarming and, frankly, insulting statements of early leaders, especially Joseph Smith, Mormons can be found furiously backpedalling, insisting that Smith only found fault with the creeds of the churches, not the churches or Christians as such. They will often play the popular “that-was-then-this-is-now” card, insisting that it was the nineteenth cent
ury church that Smith had in view and things are clearly so very different today.
However, things are no different because, notwithstanding the sometimes peculiar innovations of the twentieth century, the same creeds and confessions, the same practices, the same understanding of the central tenets of Christianity prevail today as then. A study of the creeds, councils and confessions of Christian history will show a striking continuity on essential issues regarding the nature of God (triune); his purpose in creation; the origin and influence of sin; the person of Jesus (God with us); the means of salvation (by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone); the final hope of the saints and the destiny of the lost. All these, as we understand them, are roundly condemned and rejected in Mormonism.
As to what Smith actually said, he condemned these same creeds as abominable! He charged all who believe in them with being corrupt; he said that we followed doctrines of men. His Book of Mormon charged us with “all manner of corruption”, greed and violence, with seriously corrupting the Bible, removing from it many key teachings which only Smith was to restore. Catholics and Protestants alike have nothing to commend them and Mormonism alone stands as “the only true church on the earth”, “a perfect organisation”.
Every generation of believers of every stamp likes to think that believers have always viewed the world as they do today. It is likely that when a Mormon explains earnestly that he does not condemn you or your church he is being honest even if he is not telling the truth, i.e. they mean it even though it isn’t true. They mean it because they fail to understand how the Mormon message, so striking and uncompromising at its inception, has been diluted in its presentation in order to make it more acceptable. They fail to see the disconnection between what they are still taught in official classes, courses and manuals inside the church and how Mormonism is presented to the world outside. It was Adolf Hitler who famously declared that if you repeat a lie often enough it becomes the truth.
Christians can easily be wrong-footed by Mormons who present this spirit of conciliation, can be made to feel guilty for being so crass as to raise the issue of what Joseph Smith and others have said their implications and the profound differences between Mormonism and Christianity. “We don’t criticise your church to build up ours” is the common refrain from Mormons. We can be made to feel foolish when they “explain” that Mormonism has been misunderstood and misrepresented, convincing us that we have fallen for a lie put about by those dreadful ‘anti-Mormons’.
But we should know that whatever we might say about these eternally fatal differences Joseph Smith and the Mormon Church said it first. It was he who first insisted that Mormons cannot possibly be a part of the “Christian world”; he who described the divide as unbridgeable; he who said he was commanded by God to join none of the corrupt churches around him. It is the Book of Mormon that characterises Christendom as “the church of Satan”; that portrays us as corrupt and corrupting; that accuses us of robbing the Bible of many precious truths. By all means, let’s not be belligerent in our witnessing, but let’s be robust enough to tell the truth. Perhaps we can do a service to Mormons by applauding their charitable attitude but pointing out how very out of step it is with what their prophet has actually taught. Indeed that, without Joseph’s view of Christianity, Mormonism doesn’t work and simple reformation seems more than enough to return us to the truth.
If the way Joseph Smith saw the Christian/Mormon divide through Mormon eyes is accurate then we should feel no compunction at seeing that same picture from the other, Christian side of the divide. We build bridges of reason to reach those on the wrong side and lead them to Christ and make no pretence to any other motive. It is nothing to be ashamed of and it is just a pity that Mormons cannot deal with this truth as well.