Tell-tale Signs of Priestcraft
Jesus foretold that the Gentile Latter-day Saints would be “filled” with “priestcrafts,” naming them as a major contributing factor to the Father taking away “the fulness of [His] gospel from among them.”Priestcraft is devilish in its intent, taking advantage of people’s desires to follow God through religion. Shepherds feeding themselves upon sheep expecting to be led to green pastures is accurate imagery. Through Ezekiel the Lord said: “I will deliver my flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them.”
Even Lehi, a covenantal father of nations, was for a brief moment, entranced by a man “dressed in a white robe,” following him until he found himself “in a dark and dreary waste.”Priestcraft always leads away from God into darkness. Nephi provided the clearest definition:
“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.”
Three tell-tale signs of priestcraft were given in Nephi’s statement, making it easy to identify. In each of the three the men, or priests, set themselves up as a light unto the world—i.e. replacing the true light of the world with an idol. We can recognize this by noting men who use their religious office (or station as a priest) to 1) get gain, 2) get praise of the world, and 3) seek not the welfare of Zion, or in other words, to push their own evil agenda and fight against Zion. The religion becomes a Trojan horse, you see, a mere means to an end. Though the men seem harmless, even godly, that is all by design; inwardly they are “ravening wolves.”Let’s take a look at all three signs through the lens of the Book of Mormon— the most relevant and selective prophetic record that exists. Mormon and Moroni gave us no shortage of types depicting this kind of fraud and deceit, trying desperately to grab our attention and show us what will be taking place among us, the Gentiles, who have “polluted the holy church of God.”
Nehor went about preaching “that which he termed to be the word of God.”A flattering message void of repentance (and truth) and full of rejoicing. The type surely to be circulated, re-read, re-hashed, and re-read again to fully take in its positive splendor. Now there was a catch, you see, this kind of magnificence didn’t come without a cost. He believed the priestly leadership “ought to become popular,” and “ought not to labor with their own hands,” but “ought to be supported by the people.” (That is, through their sacred offerings of course.) Surely he deserved a six-figure living stipend for his wisdom and creativity—I mean with his prowess he could have been working for any number of impressive institutions with a much higher salary, the people were lucky to have him!
And if you think this is all too good to be true, then think again. For we read that many “began to support him and give him money.”His secret to success: “he did teach these things so much that many did believe on his words.” Imagine hearing a testimony of the arm of flesh over, and over, and over again, promising it would never lead you astray. It was paid programming; exploiting the people’s desire to check religious boxes—wanting to be pious without having to come too close to God in fear of the sacrifices direct communication with Him would require.
People embraced this type of religious structure in parts of the land for generations, patterning their order of worship after Nehor. How did they know their salaried priests were using their tithes appropriately? We can only guess. Perhaps the presiding priests “of the profession of Nehor” in Ammonihah had an internal spokesman get in front of the people every so often, pretending to have performed an audit, reading a robotic statement assuring the people their consecrated funds were being used responsibly. And, undoubtedly, people would be more likely to believe him if he was dressed for success—only the finest “costly apparel” for the devoted clergy. (Don’t forget the hair gel for a nice slick look and the makeup powder for the face)
Let’s not leave out formality’s first cousin, flattery, which is equally pretentious. Sherem had “a perfect knowledge of the language of the people; wherefore he could use much flattery, and much power of speech, according to the power of the devil.”Zoram and his popular priests maintained “their craft” over their apostate followers by debasing their religion with a haughty, perverted version of the doctrine of election. This led the people to worship on only “one day of the week” where they praised and thanked God “that we are a chosen and a holy people,” after which “they returned to their homes, never speaking of their God again until they had assembled themselves together again.” How devout they were!
In the days of Samuel the Lamanite, which typify the days of the coming Lamanite Servant, the people revered and trusted their money with men who spoke many “flattering words,” telling them “that all is well.”Samuel noted: “if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him. And ye will say that he is a prophet; yea, ye will lift him up. And ye will give him of your substance…of your gold and your silver.” It was not that the men manifested any of the real fruits of prophets, such as the spirit of prophecy and revelation or a literal testimony of Jesus, they earned the title by telling the people what they wanted to hear. No doubt these profits, I mean “prophets,” relished being “lifted up” in the eyes of the people, with their egos as fluffed as a feather down pillow from the praise and adulation.
Noah’s priests received no shortage of veneration. Being a presiding priest in an organization which “built many elegant and spacious buildings” that were “ornamented” with “all manner of precious things” was exciting.Think of the amount of people they could fit in their magnificent performance halls! And the “seats which were set apart for the high priests” were “above all the other seats” adorned with gold and an incredible “breastwork” that was “built before them.” Indeed, only the best for the priests would do. The finest suits, the finest cars, the finest homes, the finest seats in their conference centers where they can be properly seen, etc. They were probably carted around like Prince Ali from conference to conference, meeting to meeting. Everyone make way for the priest—wash the windows, sweep the sidewalks, dust the banisters. Be sure their titles are always used, all must stand when they enter, and never forget to announce their presiding presence, lest anyone forget the nobleness of who is in charge around here.
So impressive was this facade the people sustained these priests through “laziness,” “idolatry,” and “whoredoms.”These charlatans are reminiscent of the scribes and pharisees of old of whom Christ said:
“They bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. And all their works they do to be seen of men. They…love the uppermost rooms at feasts and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi (which is master).”
Jesus is well known for his compassion and mercy toward the poor, the meek, and broken-hearted. However, these lovers of praise had forfeited grace through their pretense and deception, and received what they deserved: the harshest, most condemning denunciation the Lord ever pronounced in His mortal ministry.
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Ye blind Pharisees! Cleanse first the cup and platter within, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but are within full of the bones of the dead and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. . . Ye serpents, and generation of vipers! How can ye escape the damnation of hell?”
No wonder Jesus had advised when discerning true prophets from impostors to judge them “by their fruits,” not by their words or outward appearance—even if they “sit in Moses’ seat.”
The third sign Nephi gave for identifying priestcraft was the men would “seek not the welfare of Zion,” implying they would instead be using their religious office and influence to push their own evil agenda—one that directly opposes the Lord’s. Mormon outlined the nefarious nature of just such a regime, which was set up in direct opposition to independently called servants of God who were sent to the people to testify of their apostasy.
“Now it came to pass that those judges had many friends and kindreds; and the remainder, yea, even almost all the lawyers AND THE HIGH PRIESTS, did gather themselves together, and unite with the kindreds of those judges who were to be tried according to the law.
And they did enter into a covenant one with another, yea, even into that covenant which was given by them of old, which covenant was given and administered by the devil, to combine against all righteousness. Therefore they did combine against the people of the Lord, and enter into a covenant to destroy them, and to deliver those who were guilty of murder from the grasp of justice, which was about to be administered according to the law.
And they did set at defiance the law and the rights of their country; and they did covenant one with another to destroy the governor, and to establish a king over the land, that the land should no more be at liberty but should be subject unto kings.”
Here we have the high priests over the Nephites, a covenant people of God, entering into a covenant with lawyers, judges, and the devil himself to combine against all righteousness. You can’t find a scenario more ironic than this, illustrating the insane grandeur of priestcraft. The religious leaders these people trusted and revered had actually entered into a covenant to destroy them. To them, the people were nothing more than pawns to be manipulated into supporting their totalitarian rule. The people were in reality financing an agenda set on leading them astray and eliminating them, all in the name of religion.
It should be duly noted, if nothing more than an aside, that this is Mormon’s depiction through typology of Ephraim’s presiding leaders’ end-time covenant with death foretold by Isaiah and many other Old Testament prophets.
Moroni pleaded with us to “awake to a sense of [our] awful situation” because of this exact same “secret combination” “which shall be among you.”Mormon identified the intricacies of this type of satanic covenant for us in the book of Helaman, highlighting the following:
Their association was governed by covenants and oaths with the devil.
The promised to protect and preserve each other in any circumstance so they wouldn’t suffer for their evil acts.
They had secret signs and secret words by which they might distinguish a brother who had entered into the covenant.
They did this so they could murder, plunder, steal, commit whoredoms, and all manner of wickedness without any injury or consequences.
If anyone revealed their wickedness and abominations they would be tried by their own conspiratorial laws.
This is the type of secret society the high priests in 3 Nephi were a part of. Can you think of a better place to hide, protect, and at the same time push the agenda of such a machination? The people would never suspect it, at least not most. But what if some did?
Could it be this type of arrangement which led evil priests and their associates throughout the Book of Mormon to revile so viciously against any who opposed them? Like vipers!
Was it not priestcraft which led the cunning leaders of Ammonihah to burn Alma and Amulek’s converts and their scriptures in the fire?All because they taught them about the holy order of God, which was an order of saviors, and charged them to obtain “a hope that ye shall obtain eternal life” that they may “enter into his rest” and “not be bound down by the chains of hell.”
Was it not priestcraft which led the “rulers and their priests” to not only cast out from their land those who believed the words of Alma, but to start the war that ranged over the entire span of the famous war chapters all because the people of Ammon did for the outcasts what had been done for them?
Was it not priestcraft which caused the religious leaders portrayed in 4 Nephi “which professed to know the Christ” and yet “did deny the more parts of his gospel” to “receive all manner of wickedness,” to bend on the moral and social issues, and “administer that which was sacred unto him to whom it had been forbidden because of unworthiness”?
Do we believe Jesus was telling the truth when he said these very priestcrafts would be among us? Do we recognize them? Can we see past the worldly accolades, the perfect suit and tie, the titles, the traditions, and the precepts of men? Will we acknowledge that all is not well in Zion or continue to trust in the arm of flesh? As Voltaire said, “it is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.” Yet is that not the crux of priestcraft—placing chains upon the minds of the people and convincing them to revere them?
3 Nephi 16:10
1 Nephi 8:5-7
2 Nephi 26:29-30
3 Nephi 14:15
Alma 35:3; c.f. Alma 31
Matthew 23:3-4 JST
Matthew 23:22-25, 30 JST
Matthew 7:29 JST; Matthew 23:1 JST
3 Nephi 6:27-30
Alma chapter 13
4 Nephi 1:27