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Saturday, May 30, 2020

What Is Priestcraft and Why Is It Dangerous?

            As the days run together and one week turns into the next, I have a difficult time knowing which block of scriptures I should be studied. This week for my “Come, Follow Me” studies, I studied Alma 1-4 and then moved into Alma 5-7. I decided to go back to Alma 1 for my post, and I remembered some information that I studied for Alma. I think that it is interesting enough to include in this post.

As compiler of the Book of Mormon, Mormon faced difficult challenges in determining what to include in the abridged record. At least two directives guided his selections. First, the Lord told Mormon to “write the things which have been commanded” (3 Nephi 26:12). Second, Mormon knew that his record was to come forth in the latter days for the purpose of gathering scattered Israel to the covenants of the Lord (see Words of Mormon 1:1-11; 3 Nephi 26:6-12; 29:1-9; 30:1-2). We understand, then, that when Mormon made editorial decisions, these two factors were his governing concerns.

It is instructive to compare the length of books in the Book of Mormon and the time periods they covered. The inordinate amount of writing for a rather small period of history alerts the reader that the time of Book of Mormon history covered in the book of Alma is especially parallel and relevant for our time…

(Book of Mormon Student Manual – Religion 121-122 [2009]).

            Knowing that he was writing for our day, Mormon chose to include Alma’s record of his

dealings with a wicked man by the name of Nahor. Nahor was “large … noted for his much strength” (Alma 1:20). He decided to preach what “he termed to be the word of God” (verse 3), which were lies mixed with truths. 

Among the false truths that Nahor taught were the following: (1) Priests and teachers should become popular with the people. (2) They should not labor with their own hands but be supported by the people. (3) He mixed the truth that “all mankind should be saved” or resurrected with the lie that everyone will be redeemed and have eternal life. (See verses 3-4.) 

Nahor became full of pride and wore costly apparel provided by his supporters. As he was on his way to preach, he met Gideon, one of the teachers in the church of God. He contended “with him sharply” (verse 7) to lead him away from the church, but Gideon withstood him with the word of God. Nahor became so angry that he drew his sword and killed Gideon.

Nahor was brought before Alma, the chief judge of the people, to be judged. Alma told Nahor that this was the first time that “priestcraft has been introduced among this people” (verse 12). He told Nahor that he had not only practiced priestcraft, but he had sought to enforce it with the sword. Nahor was condemned to death, but he admitted before he died that he taught false doctrines.

So, why would Mormon include this story from Alma’s record? Was he warning us against priestcraft in our day? I believe that this story tells us that we should be suspicious of false teachers or those who seek riches from their preaching. Nephi left the following definition of priestcraft: “Priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion. Behold, the Lord hath forbidden this thing” (2 Nephi 26:29-30).

Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints warned us of spiritual danger when he urged us to reject modern-day Nehors and their popular messages. “Nehor’s words appealed to the people, but his doctrine, while popular to many, was incorrect. As we face the many decisions in life, the easy and popular messages of the world will not usually be the right ones to choose, and it will take much courage to choose the right” (Ensign, Nov. 1993, 67).

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was more concerned about what is being taught in our classes and meetings. He taught religious teachers to look to the Savior and to encourage their students to do the same.

A gospel teacher will never obscure [students’] view of the Master by standing in the way or by shadowing the lesson with self-promotion or self-interest. This means that a gospel teacher must never indulge in priestcrafts, which are “that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world” (2 Nephi 26:29). A gospel teacher does not preach “to become popular” (Alma 1:3) or “for the sake of riches and honor” (Alma 1:16). He or she follows the marvelous Book of Mormon example in which “the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner” (Alma 1:26). Both will always look to the Master (Ensign, November 1999, 79).

            Any speaker or teacher, who holds the Savior up for a light and encourages listeners to follow Him, is trustworthy, and we should strive to be this kind of teacher. Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles also spoke about teachers in the Church of Jesus Christ and defined how they could be practicing priestcraft.

Anything you or I do as an instructor that knowingly and intentionally draws attention to self – in the messages we present, in the methods we use, or in our personal demeanor – is a form of priestcraft that inhibits the teaching effectiveness of the Holy Ghost. “Doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? And if it be by some other way it is not of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 50:17-18) (“Seek Learning by Faith” [an evening with Elder David A. Bednar, Feb 3, 2006, 4; as found in Book of Mormon Student Manual – Religion 121-122 [2009].

            Alma (and Mormon) did not write of only priestcrafts and false teachers but included counsel on how we can stay strong in the gospel of Jesus Christ: (1) Stand fast in the faith, 
(2) Be steadfast and immovable in keeping the commandments of God, (3) Bear with patience any persecution that comes, (4) Leave our labors to hear the words of Church leaders, 
(5) Work to bring equality to all, (6) Labor to support ourselves, (7) Impart of our substance to the poor, needy, sick, and afflicted, (8) Wear neat and comely but not expensive clothes, 
(9) Be liberal to all, and (10) Treat all fairly (Alma 1: 25-31).

            So, we can assume that Alma 1 was included in the Book of Mormon to warn us against false preachers, false teachers, and false doctrines. We can also assume that we are to learn how to avoid and/or stand strong against all those who practice priestcraft – in or out of the Church of Jesus Christ. I know that we can stand firm by following the counsel of modern-day prophets and apostles.

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