Sunday, June 8, 2008

Priestcraft and the Modern Mormon, Part I

A combination of reading and thinking this week has led me to a sobering train of thought. The book of Alma in the Book of Mormon introduces a man named Nehor. Nehor sets in motion a movement that proves the ultimate destruction of the people of Nephi. Despite his eventual ignominious demise, the organization inspired by Nehor's teachings introduces priestcraft and secret combinations to the people. Nehor is an antichrist. I've read the story dozens of times, but I've never before applied it to my current life this way, nor have I really thought about what an antichrist is.

First, hallmarks of Nehor's teachings.
  1. Nehor taught things he claimed (believed?) were from God.

  2. Nehor taught against the established Church.

  3. Nehor wanted teachers of the gospel to be supported by the people, and essentially voted into place.

  4. Nehor said that all men would be saved, and that all men ought to rejoice because all had been redeemed.

It amazed me how many of Nehor's teachings and behavior are in alignment with modern thought. Despite the desires of those who follow current society's pressure to seem tolerant and modern, their mode of thinking is anything but new. We would like to think that we are tolerant of other people and their beliefs, but the Internet and media discourse are rife with examples of "I'm tolerant unless you think this way." Nehor used the freedom to preach according to belief to gain money and prestige, but he did not allow Gideon the same freedom to do so without money or price.

Nehor also taught against the established Church doctrines. While it is obviously not definitive of antichrist status, teaching against the established Church, especially in certain political climates, is something that bears looking into. In order to determine whether preaching against the established church is indicative of antichristianity, one must examine the motivations. Such motivations are extremely difficult to judge objectively in another person, since (as stated before) the person in question often claims to be preaching according to belief. However, although such judgment isn't objective, it is rather easily determined subjectively by a person's nonverbal behavior. If they are enjoying the attention or popularity, it is priestcraft. A person preaching God's words honestly is largely unconcerned with others' reception of it. They will preach earnestly and entreatingly, rather than with an self-serving personal agenda. They will be shining God's light to the world, rather than their own.

Also, Nehor believed in grassroots change. He taught that the people should determine who should teach. Much like many people today, he thought that the people would be best able to direct the direction of the Church. He thought that those who teach should be paid. I find it interesting how many times I have heard people claim that the LDS Church should switch to paid clergy because the quality of teaching improves.

Nehor also preached that, in the end, all will be saved. This is an enticing teaching that we humans have difficulty releasing. I've heard an increasing number of modern LDS members proffer the opinion that all will be well in the end. They say, for example, that even if a family member does not accept the gospel in this life, despite all opportunity, they will still be able to all live together because the gospel teaches that families are eternal. Essentially, this means that what we do here has no value, so long as we more or less try to be good people. This is one of the most insidious of the Adversary's ideas because deep down, we all want the happy ending and deep down, we have all defined what a happy ending is. We forget that even those who are wicked on this earth will have some level of happiness. We forget that the Church teaches that families can be together forever, not will be. Only those who meet the complete laws of mercy and justice can become as the Father, but everyone else will be happy where they are, too.

Second, Nehor's actions:
  1. Nehor began to wear expensive clothing.

  2. Nehor gathered followers and established his own church.

  3. Nehor fought and contended with those who taught the Church's doctrines.

  4. Nehor became violent during one of these contentions.

I won't spend as much time on these, as they are self-explanatory for the most part. Suffice it to say that there are those who, excommunicated or disaffected from the Church, continue to teach things they claim to believe and who do all they can to gather supporters. Although I don't think physical violence and expensive clothing are prerequisites to being antichrist, they are certain indicators that their "beliefs" are hollow. I think we "modern" humans tend to believe that if the most extreme of indicators are not present, there is no problem. On the contrary, one does not have to apply with the government to establish a church, nor does one have to buy Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses or gas-guzzling Ford F-350's to fulfill the spirit of "expensive clothing".

Next post, I'll discuss how Nehor's teachings and behavior affected both his followers and church members.

Highly Suggested Reading

Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall by Elder Dallin H. Oaks, 1994. I stumbled on this while researching priestcraft. It is an utterly amazing talk, given almost a decade and a half ago. Read it! I think everyone can find something useful to them in it.
Why We Serve also by Elder Oaks, 1984. This one also holds a magnifying glass to our motives. Well worth a read.


  1. I have been thinking more about this as well. I like what you have included here.

    I have a numbered list in my scriptures about the characteristics/attitudes/behaviors of Nehor. The other night, I wrote the antithesis to each point, which describes true priesthood. Interesting stuff to ponder.

    I've also been fascinated by the emphasis on costly apparel. "Little things," perhaps, can be indicators of bigger issues...not always, but sometimes.

  2. Great thoughts, thank you.

    It's late so no time to read the talks now but will tomorrow, it is good to have more to read on the topic

  3. Nice to see someone take the time to lay it all out.

  4. I especially like the Strengths talk. Many of the things he clarifies are fought about daily on "LDS" websites. The clarity of having modern day revelation is wonderful!

  5. Nehor also preached that, in the end, all will be saved. This is an enticing teaching that we humans have difficulty releasing

    That gave me thought.

    Thank you.

  6. Totally off topic, just perusing comments since there wasn't a new post. Did you pee in someone's cheerios? Probably just said something that rang so true someone felt a need to lash out.

    Keep the faith sister! (by the faith I don't mean 'religion' so much as in yourself)

  7. I'm teaching a lesson on this in gospel doctrine and I'm so grateful to have come across this..thank you! You have some great thoughts on the subject :)


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