Chapter 27: Unenforced Priestcraft
The Book of Mormon Contains Information Regarding Unenforced Priestcraft
In our discussion of priestcraft in prior chapters, we have been concerned almost exclusively with the type which was enforced by governments. We gave particular attention to this issue not only because it is treated so extensively in the Book of Mormon, but also because of the possibility that it might cause the destruction of our nation today. Alma stated that if priestcraft were enforced among his people it would cause their entire destruction. Our concern is that our public school system might constitute the practice of enforced priestcraft which if not halted, will cause our destruction. But the Book of Mormon also provides information regarding the sin of unenforced priestcraft which may be of value to those who are desirous of knowing under what circumstances it is proper in the eyes of the Lord to receive pay when rendering service to the Church. While modem day scriptures give some guidance on this matter, the Book of Mormon may help to answer questions not specifically dealt with therein. Information on this topic would not have been included in the Book of Mormon were it not for our edification. It would be most unwise to ignore it, especially when the penalty for the sin of priestcraft is so severe.
Righteous Nephite Kings Served Their People Without Pay
Since under our constitutional system of government in the United States today church and state are divided, that information in the Nephite record regarding unenforced priestcraft which should be most helpful to us would be that given regarding their practices during the time when their church and state were divided. During that period, employees of the [p. 206] government received pay for their services as judges, but those who rendered services for the Church were strictly forbidden to receive contributions unless their economic situation was such that without help they would perish.
Nevertheless the practices followed by their kings concerning the receipt of pay during that period when the Church and state were united should be instructive because they served simultaneously as monarchs, judges, prophets and religious teachers. The information included in the record, although brief, was surely placed there for our benefit. When, just a few years prior to his death, king Benjamin called his people together and appointed his son as king, he reminded them in these words of the fact that he had received no pay:
And even I, myself, have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you, and that ye should not be laden with taxes, and that there should nothing come upon you which was grievous to be borneand of all these things which I have spoken, ye yourselves are witnesses this day. (Mosiah 2:14)
Then when Benjamins son, king Mosiah voluntarily resigned his position as king and established a government subject to the voice of the people, the record says this about him:
And they did wax strong in love towards Mosiah; yea, they did esteem him more than any other man; for they did not look upon him as a tyrant who was seeking for gain, yea, for that lucre which doth corrupt the soul; for he had not exacted riches of them . . . . (Mosiah 29:40)
The one exception to the rule that the Nephite kings supported themselves with the labor of their own hands was that of the wicked king Noah. He imposed a twenty per cent income tax upon the people to support himself, his priests and their wives and concubines. Doubtless this account was placed in the record so that the practices of wicked and righteous monarchs could be contrasted. [p. 207]
Priests and Teachers Were Forbidden to Accept Economic Pay
Alma who had been one of the wicked priests of king Noah, listened to the words of Abinadi, repented, and then converted a group whom he led away from under the tyranny of king Noah to establish a society of their own. The following scripture tells us he was given power from God to establish a true Church among his people and to ordain priests to serve them:
And it came to pass that Alma, having authority from God, ordained priests; even one priest to every fifty of their number did he ordain to preach unto them, and to teach them pertaining to the kingdom of God. (Mosiah 18:18)
However the record explains that the priests who were appointed, were not to receive pay for their services:
And he (Alma) also commanded them that the priests whom he had ordained should labor with their own hands for their support.
And the priests were not to depend upon the people for their support; but for their labor they were to receive the grace of God that they might wax strong in the Spirit, having the knowledge of God, that they might teach with power and authority from God. (Mosiah 18:24, 26)
There was an exception to the rule against priests and teachers receiving financial help. It is explained in the following quotation:
And there was a strict command throughout all the churches that there should be no persecutions among them, that there should be an equality among all men;
That they should let no pride nor haughtiness disturb their peace; that every man should esteem his neighbor as himself, laboring with their own hands for their support.
Yea, and all their priests and teachers should labor with their own hands for their support, in all cases save it were in sickness, or in much want; and doing these things, they did abound in the grace of God. (Mosiah 27:3-5)
This scripture justifies the priests and teachers receiving help from others only in cases of sickness or much want. But the following scripture appears to indicate that this same rule pertained to every worthy member of the Church. [p. 208]
And again Alma commanded that the people of the church should impart of their substance, every one according to that which he had; if he have more abundantly he should impart more abundantly; and of him that had but little, but little should be required; and to him that had not should be given.
And thus they should impart of their substance of their own free will and good desires towards God, and to those priests that stood in need, yea, and to every needy, naked soul. (Mosiah 18:27, 28)
The foregoing scriptures indicate that when a Nephite served the Church as a teacher or a priest, he did so without pay. Any financial help came not because of his services, but because his economic situation qualified him to be treated as a welfare case. Only when his own resources and those of his family were insufficient to sustain him was he entitled to relief. Of course this is the rule followed in the Church today with respect to those called to serve in such positions as bishops, stake presidents and missionaries.
The above scriptures also state that those who taught the gospel without pay, received the grace of God, waxed strong in the Spirit, and taught with power and authority from God. On the other hand the consequences of rendering Church service for gain are as follows:
But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish. (2 Ne. 26:31 )
Another point of transcendent importance which is made by the foregoing scriptures is that the teacher who fails to labor with his own hands for his support is subjected to the terrible temptation to become proud. The following scripture emphasizes this same point:
And when the priests left their labor to impart the word of God unto the people, the people also left their labors to hear the word of God. And when the priest had imparted unto them the word of God they all returned again diligently unto their labors; and the priest, not esteeming himself above his hearers, for the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; and thus they were all equal, and they did all labor, every man according to his strength. (Alma 1:26)
The rule against the payment of teachers had for its purpose the prevention of priestcraft: [p. 209]
He 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 for the welfare of Zion. (2 Ne. 26:29)
When a paid teacher reflects upon the fact that the reason many are called but few are chosen is that the many set their hearts so much upon the things of this world and aspire to the honors of men, he can see the awful risk of his profession.
Pride is the great curse of the teaching profession and it would appear from the foregoing that the only way to escape it is for teachers to render their services without pay. This was the issue which caused the great division among the Nephites. When the church was separated from the government and when the rule was adopted prohibiting Church leaders from receiving pay for their services, a great schism developed which led to much bloodshed.
Separation of Church and State
When Alma led his small group of people back to the land of Zarahemla to join the people there, king Mosiah gave up his position as leader of the Church, and conferred this right upon Alma. The record says this of the change:
Now king Mosiah had given Alma the authority over the church. (Mosiah 26:8)
And it came to pass that king Mosiah granted unto Alma that he might establish churches throughout all the land of Zarahemla; and gave him power to ordain priests and teachers over every church. (Mosiah 25:19)
(Note: This chapter was never completed, and l wish it was, as I hesitated to put it in, incomplete as it is. The only additional comment I would make, to avoid leaving the wrong impression, is that Daddy told me the General Authorities were not well paid and he knew there were many others who did not need what they received, and simply turned it back to the Church also.) [p. 210]
Words of Ezra Taft Benson
I have faith that the Constitution will be saved as prophesied by Joseph Smith. But it will not be saved in Washington. It will be saved by the citizens of this nation who love and cherish freedom. It will be saved by enlightened members of this Churchmen and women who will subscribe to and abide the principles of the Constitution. (Ezra Taft Benson, The Constitution, A Heavenly Banner, 1986) [p. 211]