What is Priestcraft?
By Nelson Whiting
Interestingly, one of the only environments in which we would find a care about priestcraft in a negative connotation is among Mormons. In the dictionary, priestcraft simply means a priest practicing their craft, such as preaching or exercising priesthood. However, the Book of Mormon has taken that term to another level and condemned certain practices by telling us what constitutes priestcraft and how to avoid it like the plague it is, and it’s not confined to ordained priests. Here is a link to an expanded discussion on this topic in case you want to take a deeper dive. But let’s briefly address some key points here.
The word “priestcraft” is not actually in the KJV Bible. From the Book of Mormon definition of priestcraft (which we will look at here in a minute), we can see cases of priestcraft in the Bible. For example, Simon the sorcerer wanted to pay for Peter to ordain him to the priesthood (Acts 8:14-24). Peter makes a stink about how that is entirely inappropriate because Simon’s heart was in the wrong and only God can bestow such a gift. If Peter had tried to bestow such a gift for money, it would have constituted priestcraft.
2 Peter 2:3 is another example and tells us not to lie, pretending to help people while inside we are greedy and damned souls intending only to take advantage. This would constitute priestcraft according to the Book of Mormon. Both of these Biblical examples involve money AND the condition of the heart, so which is really the problem, the money or the heart? Let’s take a look at the Book of Mormon.
Jacob tells us (2 Nephi 10:5) that priestcrafts are what caused the Jews to have stiff necks and eventually crucify Christ. So what is it? Nephi gives us the best definition in 2 Nephi 26:20-31, but we’ll only look at a few verses here:
[Christ] commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts; for, behold, 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; wherefore, the Lord God hath given a commandment that all men should have charity, which charity is love. And except they should have charity they were nothing. Wherefore, if they should have charity they would not suffer the laborer in Zion to perish. But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish. (2 Nephi 26:29-31)
Whew! If you go read all 11 verses this is a lot to consider about us fallen Gentiles and our tendency towards wickedness, including priestcraft (see also 3 Nephi 16:10, 21:19, 30:2). From those verses we learn that Gentiles:
But God, whom we should emulate:
So, this scripture outlines the Gentile follies. But if you pay close attention money is not actually the issue. There is nothing in the scripture that says money is evil. Rather, we know from the Bible that the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10). That’s a heart thing. Money is simply a tool of exchange, a form of creation and abundance. Greed is merely a symptom and a false idol, an evil desire of the heart growing out of the love for Babylon instead of Zion. What comes without price or money is salvation, for it is free. Saying money is evil or corrupting is like saying books are evil and corrupting. It all depends on how you use it and why. But nobody here on this planet can sustain you without price or money and offer you salvation. Only Christ can do that. The issue between men and men when it comes to priestcraft, concerns the condition of the heart of he or she who seeks to become a light to the world for praise and wealth, not for Zion.
Nephi’s scripture, as it pertains to money, is saying that we must not labor solely to earn money (see also 1 Peter 5:23). But rather we are to labor with our hearts set upon furthering the Lord’s work with any money we are allowed by His good grace to be blessed with, after we have met our obligations of providing for our families. Zion can only come about as a consequence of consecration and sacrifice, and not as a result of seeking to get gain and praise.
The Kirtland Safety Society failed horribly, but Joseph saw a financial opportunity and need that would promote Zion and tried to fill it. They even needed money so badly they asked for donations in return for giving away Books of Mormon. In some cases, the missionaries sold copies of the Book of Mormon. Samuel Smith, Joseph’s brother, started out his missions carrying a satchel full of copies of the Book of Mormon that he would sell. Other early missionaries often started their preaching tours among relatives and then branched out by selling or lending copies of the Book of Mormon to all who would receive them. They asked for donations for all kinds of things as long as it was in an effort to further the cause of Zion, which to them was everything from putting food on the table, to clothing themselves, to building a temple. Is that priestcraft to sell God’s Book of Mormon, the book He gave us as a free gift? Is that making a business out of the gospel? It seems not. Why? Again, the issue comes back to a condition of the heart; bad motives—acting selfishly and against the interests of Zion.
In our modern day, some go so far as to say that anything that seems to be a spiritual line of work, or that works on our spirit or energy is something that should not be done for money. They say this is because there are gifts of the spirit being utilized. So, are the following healing and self-improvement modalities priestcraft? Teaching meditation such as in a meditation retreat (a form of prayer), performing Energy work, Quantum Touch, Body Code, Emotion Code, Reiki, Hypnotherapy, Foot Zoning, EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), Angel Therapy, Chakra work, etc.? For that matter, is acupuncture, chiropractic, or massage therapy a form of priestcraft because it frees up our body of unhealthy energies so our spirit is more in tune with God? What about simple life coaching that uses true gospel principles that get people in touch with their spiritual side to a much greater degree? Granted there is a spectrum here, but can we not see from the foregoing scriptures that it is clear none of these lines of work necessarily constitute priestcraft unless the person is doing it without giving credit to God, setting themselves up as a light for the praise of the world?
But some might say all those types of work are of a more spiritual nature, and they don’t work in any of those kinds of fields. However, remember that D&C 29:34 says, “All things are spiritual unto God.” So, let us further apply the priestcraft standard to ourselves. What is your line of work? What do you do to put food on the table? Legal work? Medical? Real Estate? Teaching k-12 School or Martial Arts or Basketball? Did you pray to know what line of work to do? Do you pray to know what to do for your boss, your employees, your students, your clients, your patients? Do you pray that you will be guided to know how you can help your next client, knowing you will make money off them in your line of work? Do you strive to “counsel with the Lord in all thy doings” (Alma 37:37) so that you can always be doing His will in any line of work you pursue?
Further, what can we say of spiritual gifts directly? We all know someone who is gifted in what they do. A gifted musician, singer, artist, teacher, engineer, basketball player, therapist, etc. We all know them. They seem to have a natural tendency to excel at what they do and we call them gifted. Does that gift not come from God? If it comes from God, and He says all things are spiritual to him, are those not spiritual gifts just as much as the well-known lists we find in Corinthians 12, Moroni 10, and D&C 46? Of course, we should leave room for understanding the difference between gifts associated directly with furthering God’s work, versus gifts that anyone can exercise whether they know or care about God’s will, but do these lines of work and the gifts performed by these people constitute priestcraft because they are exercising spiritual gifts for money? From what we have seen thus far, even with these more secular examples, the answer is yes only if the work is done to get popularity, praise, gain, and not for Zion.
Even performing something spiritual and not charging for it can create pride within us. “Look at me, I don’t charge money for all the work I do for the Lord!” It would be very helpful to get it out of our heads that priestcraft is about money. It’s not about money. It’s not about whether someone is exercising a spiritual gift for money or not. It’s not about whether someone is doing something that seems spiritual and charging for it. It’s not even about preaching and receiving money for it. Priestcraft is about using what God has blessed you with to gratify your pride and your ambitions (and by the way “ambitions” is always used pejoratively in the scriptures).
Some have gone so far in trying to avoid priestcraft that they will not talk about Christ, or say Christ in involved, because in so doing and charging money at the same time they feel they are practicing priestcraft. The truth is, if you engage in work without talking freely of Christ when given the opportunity, and giving Him the credit, you are practicing priestcraft.
Set a check on yourself and your line of work by asking yourself:
What if we have been too accusatory, too judgmental, too misunderstanding, too overly sensitive when it comes to issues of money, fame, and power? Don’t get me wrong, we should be extremely sensitive and cautious to avoid the plague of priestcraft, but what if we have just been acting ignorantly on this topic, and it keeps us from loving our neighbor, paying for self-development courses that boost our spirituality, or putting ourselves down when the Lord wants us up on a hill declaring His word? Let us check our hearts and align them with God’s will, then all will be well.