Nephi provided a definition of the term “priestcraft” in his writings. He explained, “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.” RE/NC 2 Ne. 11:17

The Book of Alma opens with the first example of priestcraft. The man’s teaching is summarized: “declaring unto the people that every priest and teacher ought to become popular and they ought not to labor with their own hands, but that they ought to be supported by the people. And he also testified unto the people that all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice, for the Lord had created all men and had also redeemed all men; and in the end, all men should have eternal life.” Alma 1:1

Consider for a moment the difference between a priest who values popularity and one who has no interest in being popular. As I’ve read the Old Testament it is abundantly clear that the most frequent message of an actual prophet delivering a message from God is something that is very unwelcome. Prophets offend. But the first example of priestcraft comes from a man seeking to be popular.

Not only that, but he thinks preaching should become profitable. People should support the priest. There is a profit motive involved in priestcraft.

The man’s message is fashioned to solicit followers and get financial support: Everyone will be saved!

In contrast to this, Alma explains how actual priests ought to function: “And when their 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 1:5 Alma confronted the man and declared: “Behold, this is the first time that priestcraft has been introduced among this people” Alma 1:2

Religion today is practiced almost entirely through priestcraft. Religions want to be popular. Their advocates want to be compensated for preaching. They either have no idea of Zion, or they use that idea to promote their own causes having nothing to do with establishing Zion.

Religion is very big business because of priestcraft.

Alma’s record is framed as an explanation, using actual examples from his lifetime, of how ‘this-leads-to-that.’ The original false teacher who introduced priestcraft was responsible for breaking apart Alma’s community. The conflict between the false religion taught through priestcraft, with true religion involving prophets delivering God’s message is laid out in Alma’s record. Ultimately violence and death flows from false religion.

Our new scriptures helps clarify why priestcraft destroys souls. It does not and cannot produce faith:

Let us here observe that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation. For from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things: it was through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life, and it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God. When a man has offered in sacrifice all that he has for the truth’s sake, not even withholding his life, and believing before God that he has been called to make this sacrifice because he seeks to do his will, he does know most assuredly that God does and will accept his sacrifice and offering, and that he has not nor will not seek his face in vain. Under these circumstances, then, he can obtain the faith necessary for him to lay hold on eternal life.
It is in vain for persons to fancy to themselves that they are heirs with those, or can be heirs with them, who have offered their all in sacrifice, and by this means obtained faith in God and favor with him so as to obtain eternal life, unless they in like manner offer unto him the same sacrifice, and through that offering obtain the knowledge that they are accepted of him.
T&C 110: LoF 6:7-8