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Monday, December 2, 2013

14. Spiritual Land Mine #3: Encouraging or Accepting Adulation

Note: This is one of a series of posts devoted to the study of D&C 93:1, and the 14th examining the phrase "calleth on my name".

About two years ago, I was traveling down one of Utah's interstate highways when I recognized a very interesting trend:

About every sixth billboard praised a particular BYU basketball player.

Because I frequently needed to travel this stretch of highway, I passed by these billboards over...and over...and over again (I think the Latin term is "Ad Nauseum").

The billboards (kind of) worked.  I researched this player, and discovered he had worked extremely hard and clearly had a lot of talent.  He even signed -- and publicized -- a self-contract to do what?  Draw closer -- and bring souls -- unto Christ?  Do proxy ordinances for his dead ancestors?  Support and do missionary work?  No.  It was to play in the NBA.

Bookstores which specifically catered to LDS customers converted this basketball player's fame into five star-rated hardcover books, paperback books, e-books, DVDs, documentaries, LDS magazine covers and posters.  Sweatshirts, jerseys, t-shirts, book chapters, hats, stickers, custom iPhone cases, endorsement deals, autographed basketballs and pictures, trading cards (using the term "immaculate" in their descriptions) and more followed.  I highly doubt these efforts (in general) would have proceeded without this player's permission or foreknowledge.

All these "things" featuring a man who describes himself -- and wants us to consider him -- as "just a normal guy."

Despite the aforementioned basketball player's "good works" (and I admit, his stats are impressive), there are other good works which motivate many to praise others...

...for example, doing the works of righteousness.

The True Definition of Alms You've Probably Never Heard

In Matthew 6:1-8, the Savior gave true workers of righteousness a terrific strategy: "Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven."

The word alms is mentioned in three of the Standard Works (D&C 88:2; 112:1; 3 Ne. 13:1-4; Matt. 6:1-4).  The giving of alms is most often associated with money, such as an offering or donation to the poor.  However, the Greek word for "alms" means something more universal: righteousness or acts of religious devotion (see the footnote for Matthew 6:1b).

Christ's injunction is unmistakable; our alms (any act of religious devotion, including fasting or prayer) should be in private, not shown off in pious exhibitionism.  Our focus can be on God or mammon, but not both.  We lay up treasures on earth or in heaven, but not both:
"Notice how often the word reward is repeated in [3 Nephi] chapter 13. Verse 1: If you give your alms before men, you'll have your reward here, but don't expect any reward there. No reward of your Father in Heaven. Next verse: "Verily I say unto you, they have their reward." He doesn't resent their having it. If you want rewards for being famous-if you want to become renowned in Hollywood or something like that-you're welcome to it. But that's all you're going to get; you're not going to get anything further out of it." (Hugh Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon--Semester 1: Transcripts of Lectures Presented to an Honors Book of Mormon Class at Brigham Young University, 1988-1990, p. 97)
In other words, true greatness belongs to humble people.

So, as a people, how are we doing (in terms of our humility)?  Well, if the Lord's observations in Doctrine and Covenants are still applicable (which I think they are), we're not doing too well:
"The first section of the Doctrine and Covenants, which speaks of people in the last days, gives a description that seems to include those who serve for hope of earthly reward of one sort or another: 'They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol.' (D&C 1:16)" (Elder Dallin H. Oaks, "Why Do We Serve?" Ensign, November 1984
"In spite of our delight in defining ourselves as modern, and our tendency to think we possess a sophistication that no people in the past ever had — in spite of these things, we are, on the whole, an idolatrous people — a condition most repugnant to the Lord."  (Pres. Spencer W. Kimball, "The False Gods We Worship", Ensign, June 1976)

Latter-day Almsgivers, Their Publicity and Praise

"It seems as though only an exceptional few put their hands to the plow and move forward without reaching back to grab a reward for efforts expended (Luke 9:62)." (Elder Carlos E. Asay, "The Seven M's of Missionary Service: Proclaiming the Gospel as a Member or Full-time Missionary," Deseret Book, 2011).

Those who seek honor and gain for themselves in doing the Lord's work are guilty of what the scriptures call priestcrafts.  They "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." (2 Ne. 26:29; emphasis mine)  These efforts are often preceded by the "sound [of] a trumpet" before them (Matthew 6:2; 3 Nephi 13:2) -- which I suppose in today's world could include a pretty well-orchestrated PR effort like TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, direct mail pieces, e-mail and websites.

In referring to priestcraft, Elder Oaks continues:

"Unfortunately, not all who accomplish works under that heading ["seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion" -- D&C 6:6] are really intending to build up Zion or strengthen the faith of the people of God. Other motives can be at work."

"Some may serve for hope of earthly reward. Such a man or woman might serve in Church positions or in private acts of mercy in an effort to achieve prominence or cultivate contacts that would increase income or aid in acquiring wealth. Others might serve in order to obtain worldly honors, prominence, or power." (ibid)  

Does this mean that there is a danger of priestcraft within Christ's church?  Absolutely.  Here are two examples:

  • Thomas B. Marsh, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: On July 23, 1837, the Lord gave a revelation to Thomas B. Marsh (who was at this time President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) via the Prophet Joseph Smith.  In it, the Lord said that Marsh's alms had "come up as a memorial before me" [D&C 112:1].  Marsh's deeds at the time included prayers of unity among the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, over which he presided.  Yet later in this revelation, the Lord repeatedly warned Marsh to check his motives and stay humble:
3 "Nevertheless, inasmuch as thou hast abased thyself thou shalt be exalted..."
10 "Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers."
15 "Exalt not yourselves..."
  • Martin Harris: 16 months after being baptized and two months after he was made a High Priest, the Lord (through the Prophet) told Martin Harris that he needed to repent, "for he seeketh the praise of the world."  (D&C 58:35,39)
If we are not careful, we, too, may be turned by the praise of the world and lose not a manuscript, but our humility and perspective.

Question: How did the Savior consider those who publicized their good works, or permitted them to be publicized?

How To Spot Adulation-Seekers (and Prevent Giving Them What They Want)

Elder Oaks outlined some things we can be aware of in preventing ourselves from engaging in -- or enabling -- priestcraft:

"Focusing on the needs of the students, a gospel teacher will never obscure their view of the Master by standing in the way or by shadowing the lesson with self-promotion or self-interest.
A gospel teacher does not preach 'to become popular' (Alma 1:3) or 'for the sake of riches and honor' (Alma 1:16).
He or she follows the marvelous Book of Mormon example in which 'the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner' (Alma 1:26). Both will always look to the Master." (Elder Dallin H. Oaks, "Gospel Teaching," Ensign, October 1999 General Conference)

Here are some more factors to consider:
"I have many times turned aside from the company of those who were highly esteemed in the world, and sought the society of the poor and humble, those who loved the ways of the Lord better than the praise of the world." (Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, p. 17-18). 
"Those who choose not to follow Him are sometimes quick to say 'Follow me'; they enjoy being a light, and the accompanying recognition and reward are not unpleasant." (Neal A. Maxwell, "Plain and Precious Things," p. 87) 
"When we seek to serve others, we are motivated not by selfishness but by charity. This is the way Jesus Christ lived His life and the way a holder of the priesthood must live his. The Savior did not care for the honors of men." (Pres. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Lift Where You Stand," October 2008 General Conference
"It is never about me and it is never about you. In fact, anything you or I do as an instructor that knowingly and intentionally draws attention to self — in the messages we present, in the methods we use, or in our personal demeanor — is a form of priestcraft that inhibits the teaching effectiveness of the Holy Ghost." (Elder David A. Bednar, "Seek Learning By Faith," Address to CES Religious Educators, Jordan Institute of Religion, February 3, 2006)
Additionally, those who receive praise or adoration should be quick to redirect that praise to the Father (in other words, all credit belongs to the Giver of Gifts, not the receiver):
"To come to earth with such a responsibility, to stand in place of Elohim - speaking as He would speak, judging and serving, loving and warning, forbearing and forgiving as He would do - this is a duty of such staggering proportions that you and I cannot comprehend such a thing. But in the loyalty and determination that would be characteristic of a divine child, Jesus could comprehend it and He did it. Then, when the praise and honor began to come, He humbly directed all adulation to the Father.
'The Father … doeth the works,' He said in earnest. 'The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever [the Father] doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.' [John 14:10; John 5:19] On another occasion He said: 'I speak that which I have seen with my Father.' 'I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me.' 'I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.' [John 8:38, 28; John 6:38]" (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, "The Grandeur of God," October 2003 General Conference
"We must be meek even in our minor developmental successes. A difficult situation may have actually been resolved by the grace of God 'after all we can do.' To recognize this fact inwardly is good, but to confess it openly is even better.    
After His moment of great personal triumph and of supernal service, when in supreme success Jesus had "descended below all things" and "below them all," in order to comprehend all things (D&C 88:6; 122:8), when He had "trodden the winepress alone" (D&C 76:107), He nevertheless said, "Glory be to the Father" (D&C 19:19). He claimed no glory for Himself.    
By our giving the honor, praise, and glory to God, we are actually being intellectually honest; unprofitable servants had best not claim too much credit. Similarly, giving deserved credit to others not only enhances our graciousness but it also can help us to steer the narrow channel between the dangerous rocks of self-adulation and destructive self-criticism." (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, "Men and Women of Christ," p. 29; emphasis mine)

In Summary

We bring onto ourselves a certain amount of condemnation whenever we praise, promote, highly esteem or elevate another OR when we choose to follow someone who shows no interest in deflecting such adulation.
"Most of us do not engage in priestcraft, which Nephi defined as the practice of setting ourselves up for a light to get gain and praise of the world. But some of our attitudes and behaviors may fall dangerously close to the practice of priestcraft, for priestcraft is surprisingly easy to embrace." (Elder John K. Carmack, "The Zeezrom Syndrome", A Bright Ray of Hope: The Perpetual Education Fund).
While we can't know the motives behind others' actions, and although we may not be embracing priestcraft, we can certainly avoid it -- or avoid those engaged in it -- by taking the apostolic statements (above) seriously.  Using their words (not mine) as a guide, and hearkening to the Holy Ghost as a testifier, we may recognize active priestcraft when a teacher or leader engages in any of these actions:
  1. Directly or indirectly trumpets their good works.
  2. Seeks not the welfare of Zion, but instead, preaches "to become popular" or "for the sake of riches and honor."
  3. Is sometimes quick to say "Follow me."
  4. Accepts (or allows) "recognition and rewards," praise or adulation, without redirecting the praise to whom it should rightfully go: the Father.
  5. They become highly esteemed in the world while not being "poor and humble."
  6. Their pride is fueled and ego enlarged to where they consider himself/herself (or allow others to consider them) as better (even more Christlike) than the hearer or learner.
  7. The light of "self-promotion or self-interest" -- in the messages they present, in the methods they use, or in their personal demeanor -- obscures others' view of the Master. 
"Praise of world a bad sign. It is no good sign for us to be beloved by the world, and to be spoken kindly of by the world, however pleasant it may be to us, and however much we may shrink from the opposite condition of affairs, and dread its manifestation, and wish that it could be otherwise - and it is natural to human nature to shrink from these trials - nevertheless, it is one of the worst signs for us as a people to be spoken well of by the world, and to be free from threatenings, from opposition and from hatred. It is not the true condition for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be in, to be petted by the world, to be fostered by the world, to be spoken well of by the world, to be welcomed by the world, to have favor showered upon it by the world, because we ought not to be of the world, God having chosen us out of the world." (George Q. Cannon, "Gospel Truth: Discourses and Writings of President George Q. Cannon," Jerreld L. Newquist, ed, p.305; JD 24:360)

"look to God...and live." (Alma 37:47)


  1. This has caused me to think, what have I done?

    May none of us loose our focus and be brought down by our pride, our doings, to be guilty of this terrible infraction.

  2. Excellent, Excellent post Mr. Anonymous LDS Perfect Day. I love how you are anonymous, practicing what you preach. This whole post was focusing on giving the glory to Him whom it is due, the Father and the Son. I love it!! We should all be anonymous and give ALL praise to Him who created all things and without whom we would all be lost forever. There is a wonderful expose on this topic found in Alma 42:6-15. I believe that in "acknowledging the hand of God in all things" we can look at that from the view point that all things are not only known to Him, but He has a part in all things that are Good. There are no coincidences for good. Case in point, just last night and without prior knowledge of this blog post, since it came out today, I was reading from an absolutely terrific book. This book is so amazing and yet the author does not take adulation for himself, he gives glory to the Father and the Son and the entire book begs the audience to seek the truth and seek guidance from God. My point being, as this post was focused on seeking God's will and giving glory only to God, the pages that I read focused on Abiding in Jesus. Wow, I was just overcome with a deep peace when I wrote that line: "Abiding in Jesus." I love Him and I know that He lives. Anyway, this author, who will remain anonymous as well as myself, while quoting our Savior wrote these words from John 15:5 "I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." So sure, I have read that before, but how many times have I glazed over the last part: "for without me ye can do nothing." The author further iterates this point by saying: "Fruit comes only from Him. Not from the outward observance of physical ordinances. Not from a claim to be 'chosen' of God. Not from having scriptures written by authentic messengers sent by God. Nor by claims of righteous conduct." The author then makes this humbling comment: "Apart from Him, all of us are merely 'withered branches,' which will be 'cast into the fire.' Even if we belong to a church He claims as His, and have received all its ordinances, we are nothing apart from Him." Now, having read that and then reading your post today I am doubly convinced that the light is not on me, never was and never should. We should abase ourselves and give all the glory to Him. We are but beggars as King Benjamin so aptly reminds us in Mosiah 4:19 which says: “For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?” Oh remember! that without abiding in Jesus Christ and doing His will and giving ALL the glory to Him and His Father, you are NOTHING and all that you do amounts to NOTHING! That is what I have been reminded of yesterday and today. Thanks for sharing this wonderful post with us.

  3. This is a wonderful post. I heard once that "humility is something we know we need, but cannot admit that we have." I am reminded of the great discourse on charity in the 7th chapter of Moroni which says among other things that "charity seeketh not her own." True it is, that if anything we do is done with any hope of a smile, a thank you, or a pat on the back, then it was not done with charity. If those things are not forthcoming and you say within your heart (or worse, under your breath) "How rude! At least they could have said thank you!" You have lost your reward. I am also reminded of Elder Oaks' talk about how it bothers him to have members come up to him after giving a talk wherever he may be addressing the saints and to here things such as, "That was a great talk" or anything like unto it. The Holy Spirit does not seek to entertain us but to draw us nearer to the Father and the Son.