“Some day we will live the law of consecration again, but until then we must be ‘willing’ to live it.”
“It is Church doctrine that the full Law of Consecration was suspended by the Lord through the Prophet in 1834.”
“My belief is that things will get progressively worse until the actual Second Coming when Christ will institute the law of consecration.”
Have you ever heard these types of statements before? Each one comes from active, church-going, temple-attending, members of the Church. Each of them was said to me in conversation over the past two weeks. Each one is also, unfortunately, untrue.
We have some common myths in the Church, and one of the biggest surrounds the law of consecration. I was taught the same sort of thing above growing up in Sandy, Utah, and believed it for a long time. Whenever we spoke about the law of consecration in our church meetings the discussion usually surrounded some common points. See if these sound familiar:
- The law of consecration/United Order was implemented by Joseph Smith in the early church.
- It involved the Saints giving everything they had over to the church, including all their possessions.
- Members failed to live the law (the higher law) so the Lord withdrew it and gave the law of tithing (the lower law) in its stead.
- In a future day the prophet will require us to live the law of consecration again.
There are many misunderstandings and fallacies in these statements that I’ve learned over the years, particularly reading Hugh Nibley’s many comments on the subject. Prophets and apostles have also debunked these, yet somehow the myths continue to be perpetuated, much to our own spiritual detriment in building up Zion.
Most recently I attended the 37th annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium at BYU on October 24-25, where there was some excellent presentations on different aspects of “the Law.” One of the best presentations I’ve ever heard on the law of consecration was given by Steven C. Harper entitled “All Things are the Lord’s: The Law of Consecration in the Doctrine and Covenants.” Br. Harper is an associate professor of Church History and doctrine at Brigham Young University and an editor of the Joseph Smith Papers. His presentation was so clear and well-stated on the subject that I immediately went and purchased the book compiled from the presentations called The Doctrine and Covenants: Revelations in Context.
In the next few posts I hope to be able to draw from Br. Harper’s paper on the subject, as well as other statements from apostles and prophets, so that we may come to a better understanding of what the law of consecration is, and what it is not. Elder Maxwell noted in his April 2002 Conference address that “many ignore consecration . . . the conscientious among us, however, experience divine discontent” ((Neal A. Maxwell, “Consecrate thy Performance,” April 2002 General Conference.)). The word discontent means a restless longing for something better than the present situation. That feeling surely comes because we know there is something more we could do with regard to consecration, yet we don’t know what it is or how to do it. Br. Harper writes his purpose, and mine, “to help conscientious Saints understand and live the law of consecration as it is embodied in present-day Church practices” ((H. Hedges, J. Spencer Fluhman, and Alonzo L. Gaskill, eds., The Doctrine and Covenants: Revelations in Context, 213.)).
Br. Harper and other historians have classified the quotations and the common points at the beginning of this post a “folk memory” ((ibid., 212; see also Leonard J. Arrington, Feramorz Y. Fox, and Dean L. May, Building the City of God: Community and Cooperation among the Mormons (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992), 426.)). According to my wife who is a folklorist, a folk memory is a communal belief passed on through generations, usually orally, and because of this longevity the truth of the idea may not be questioned. As Harper, Nibley, and many others have noted about the folk memory of the law of consecration, “No matter how widely believed it is, that is not the law of consecration contained in the Doctrine and Covenants” ((ibid., 212)).
Probably the first thing that we must understand about the law of consecration is that it is still binding on the Latter-day Saints today. For those members who have attended the temple, this should come as no surprise. One of the covenants that we enter into in that sacred edifice is the law of consecration ((Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988): 121; Bruce R. McConkie, “Obedience, Consecration, and Sacrifice,” Ensign, May 1975.)). We covenant and promise to live this law – not that it was once lived, not that we are “willing” to live it, or that some day we will live it – but that we will live it, and now. It is as binding upon us today as every other covenant we enter into in the holy temple. We can, and should, live the law of consecration today, and I believe that many Saints are living it. For those who have the “folk memory” belief, like I did, and are erroneously awaiting the prophet to announce something in this regard, hopefully some of these things we’ll share here will allow each of us to better understand this subject and consecrate ourselves to the Lord and his kingdom as we have covenanted to do.
In 1996 President Hinckley taught the following at a Logan Temple Workers Devotional:
Without the spirit of dedication, without the spirit of sacrifice, without the spirit of consecration, temples could not function. That goes without saying. The work in the temple is essential, it is a work of personal sacrifice and individual consecration. . . . the law of sacrifice and the law of consecration were not done away with and are still in effect. ((Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997), 639.))
Br. Harper comments on President Hinckley remarks:
No revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants rescind, suspend, or revoke the law of consecration. . . . The law, in other words, was revealed to Joseph Smith in February 1831, but the law itself simply has been, is, and ever will be. Consecration is the law of the celestial kingdom, and section 78 teaches that no one will receive an inheritance there who has not obeyed the law (see D&C 78:7). ((H. Hedges, J. Spencer Fluhman, and Alonzo L. Gaskill, eds., The Doctrine and Covenants: Revelations in Context, 213.))
At the annual banquet of the FARMS organization at BYU on September 27, 1991, Elder Maxwell taught “a word about consecration”:
You will recall the episode in the fifth chapter of the book of Acts about how Ananias and Sapphira “kept back part” of the monetary proceeds from their possessions (Acts 5:3). . . . there are so many ways of keeping back part, and so many things we can withhold a portion of besides property. All things really ought to be put on the altar.
This holding back may occur even after one’s having given a great deal, as likely had Ananias and Sapphira. Having done much, we may mistakenly think that surely it is all right to hold back a remaining part. Obviously, there can be no total submissiveness when this occurs. ((Neal A Maxwell, “Discipleship and Scholarship,” Educating Zion, 201-202))
Some are undoubtedly asking, but how do I live the law today? How do I give my all my possessions to the Church? What program has the Church instituted to allow for the Saints’ consecration? We’re not living the United Order today, are we? It is these questions and more that we hope to help answer, including clarifying the mistaken premises upon which they are asked.
In the next part of the series we will define what the law of consecration is, and what the United Order is, for much of the confusion comes by conflating the two. The law of consecration is not the United Order, and the United Order is not the law of consecration.
Approaching Zion was a life changing book for me.
I’m excited to hear what you’ve got on this subject.
Approaching Zion was the same for me. It gives a completely different perspective on life, and what we are really here for.
Nice article. I agree that many do not fully understand. The Joseph Smith PH/RS manual briefly explains it, but it can easily be misread as well: “This book deals with teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith that have application to our day. For example, this book does not
discuss such topics as the Prophet’s teachings regarding the law of consecration as applied to stewardship of property. The Lord withdrew this law from the Church because the Saints were not prepared to live it (see D&C 119, section heading).”
So, while we do not practice the stewardship of property, we still can be consecrated in our time, talents and efforts.
I agree that such statements can be misread, and such perpetuate the myths surrounding this subject. The Lord has not withdrawn any laws from His Church, for they are everlasting. He may have changed the way they are practiced, but the Saints will never be prepared to live a law if they are not given opportunity to practice it. Elder Christofferson in his most recent General Conference address spoke on “the law” and how the early Saints failed to live it, and then said, “Rather than judge these early Saints too harshly, however, we should look to ourselves to see if we are doing any better” (link). How could we be doing any better if we don’t have the law to begin with?
I disagree with the way the section heading from D&C 119 is often interpreted (and which is not a part of canonical scripture) – rescinding the law of consecration to be replaced with the law of tithing – which I will explain in the forthcoming parts. The stewardship of property, along with the rest of consecration, was not taken away, but our understanding of how it is practiced has changed (i.e. no longer with a deed). As Elder Christofferson noted, “We control the disposition of our means and resources, but we account to God for this stewardship over earthly things.”
It is worth noting that we promise to observe and keep various covenants. However, with the law of consecration we promise to accept. This is true. Now, this is not an out to keeping this covenant. Rather, it leaves full implementation of it to a later date. For now, we can live the law of consecration in a more limited and personal fashion. It is surely binding upon us and our hearts must be fully converted to the principle and prepared for it if called upon.
Thanks for your comments Sean. Here are my thoughts.
Prophets have said on several occasions “We covenant to live the law of consecration” (Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988): 121; Bruce R. McConkie, “Obedience, Consecration, and Sacrifice,” Ensign, May 1975.). Even if the temple wording is “accept,” what good would it do to accept a law unless we have the opportunity to live it? The state can legislate a law that I can accept, but unless I am able to abide by it or not, it makes no real difference whether I accept it. I believe the temple covenant has more meaning than we often give it.
Implementation of the law may change in the future, but we can still fully live the law of consecration as individuals today, as taught in current doctrines, principles, and programs. President Marion G. Romney once taught,
The “basic principles of the United Order” is the law of consecration. These posts will delve into how we might implement the basic principles of this law in our lives today. That implementation includes much more than having an open heart and being willing to live the United Order in a future day. There are many things we can do to live this law of consecration today so that we will be fully prepared to live the United Order when that time comes. It will only be a change in implementation, not a change in the law.
From the Romney quote you just used in the previous comment:
I don’t think that’s right. What prevents me is that I am expected to be self-reliant. I am expected to save my money to protect against loss of job or catastrophe. I am expected to save for my retirement. I am expected to save so that I can help out anyone in my family who falls on hard times economically. All of these reasons to save give me very real restrictions on how much of my surplus I can give as a fast offering. I can still be generous, but I can’t responsibly give as much as people gave under the United Order. Not even close.
Thanks for your comment and thoughts. President Romney’s teaching can be easily misunderstood unless we have a proper understanding of the law of consecration and the United Order. He wasn’t saying that we should not save. The early Saints still had money saved in the bank. Joseph Smith even created a bank, the Kirtland Safety Society. Remember that what was ultimately relinquished to the bishop under the United Order was a “surplus.” That means that it was after taking care of all personal and family needs and wants, it was that part that was a “residue” or “more than [was] necessary for their support” (D&C 42:33-34). If we determine that saving for retirement, saving for emergencies, job loss, hard economic times, etc., is necessary for the support of our family, then those resources are not a “surplus.” But such a determination, including amounts and uses, is between us and the Lord. We determine what we do with the resources that we have been given, always keeping in mind what we have been counseled by prophets to do in the spirit of self-reliance, for we are free agents. The only limitations on what we do with the “surplus” thereafter are those that are self-imposed. Will we use the surplus to live more lavishly, comfortably, keep up with the Joneses, and be endlessly entertained, or will we use it to build up the kingdom of God? But we must also remember that consecration includes many more things than solely monetary possessions. It is these dimensions that we will discuss in the forthcoming posts.
Thank you so much for this post.
I can’t explain to you how much pain this topic has caused me, more so than any other. I completely agree with your comments. I had thought several times of making a similar post on my site, but never actually dared to do so. I have lost several friends over my views on the Law of Consecration, I now just shut-up when the topic comes arises.
I hope you fair better than I have. Good Luck!
Well, I will have to wait for future installments to find out what the “proper understanding of the law of consecration” is. But, hopefully you can see that in saving for catastrophes that might occur to me or my family is a potentially limitless bucket. Thus, it seems like a very reasonable thing for most people to honestly conclude that they have NO surplus if they are following the counsel to save for retirement, a rainy day, etc.
Of course I noticed that you left a caveat about the determination of what my surplus is being between me and the Lord. That’s fine, but it doesn’t really address the fundamental problem. In a Zion society where everyone in that society has consecrated all of their property, the need to save for retirement and a rainy day is fundamentally different because the society has banded together in a covenant to take care of one another. So, that doesn’t mean that there will be no saving, but that the requirements for personal savings will be fundamentally different (and lesser in a consecrated society).
By bringing up the Kirtland Safety Society, you raise a very interesting problem with discussions of consecration. In actual practice, the “law of consecration” has taken on various forms. It would be nice to refer solely to what is in the Doctrine and Covenants to establish what the law of consecration “really” means, but unfortunately it is to vague and incomplete to answer the questions that quickly arise if we think about implementing what is there. We can supplement our understanding by what the early saints did, but then we have to decide which implementation we will use as our model. Notably, none of the implementations succeeded for very long, so we have the problem of asking what caused their failures. Was some of the failure due to incorrect implementation of the law? Quite possibly. To throw in another monkey wrench, Orderville was arguably the most successful implementation, but it does not seems to follow the D&C most closely. So, with respect to the KSS, which was perhaps Joseph Smith’s biggest failed enterprise, should we appeal to this as part of the model for how consecration should work? I think it is a tricky problem. I’ll stay tuned to see how you deal with these sorts of issues in coming installments.
Thanks for your reply. I hope to be able to communicate in the forthcoming posts accurately what the law of consecration is as I understand it from reading the words of the prophets, scholars, and the scriptures.
We have to remember that it will be different and unique for each individual. Some may find that they don’t have any resources after saving as the prophets have counseled. Some might. It is dependent on each person, their individual situation, and the guidance of the Spirit. For example, in my situation I don’t believe the prophets have counseled me to save millions of dollars in case I lose my job, or even for retirement, so that it not a limitless bucket.
A Zion society doesn’t necessarily “take care of one another” per se. This is another myth. A Zion society consecrates individuals’ surplus for the support of the poor or those who have not, so that there is “no poor among them.” Those that have sufficient for their needs don’t give or receive any material resources from anyone else necessarily. A society that lives the law of consecration does not relieve the people from the duty and responsibility of working and taking care of their own selves and families. Self-reliance is still at work. Saving is still at work. Preparation is still at work. A Zion society doesn’t relieve anyone from these basic principles. If I don’t save in a Zion society because I think the society will take care of me in an emergency, it is nothing less than irresponsibility and idleness. One of the aspects that I hope to write about is the difference between living the law of consecration and socialism/communism. There could not be more distant opposites. In other words, a Zion society doesn’t “take care of me” economically unless I am poor and can’t yet take care of myself.
It is good that you note that the law of consecration is “vague” in the D&C, and that is for a specific reason, but it does not mean that we can’t understand it and live it. Hugh Nibley once noted that the law of consecration is “explained [in the scriptures] not once but many times, so that there is no excuse for not understanding it.” Steven Harper writes:
The vagueness is not a closed door, but an open one for us to discover, through prayer and the Spirit, what our duty is under the law since it is different for each individual. But we must understand the basic principles before we can make wise decisions.
I believe that failure to live this law has been for the most part that of the Saints, not the implementation. The Lord didn’t fail, the Saints did. If you read the revelations carefully you will see that the members were slothful, covetous, greedy, envious, full of idleness, etc. The United Order would have worked just fine if the members had been of a mind to live it as it was revealed through the prophet Joseph Smith. But the Saints “would not.”
Again it is not the implementation that matters, but the principles of the law that we must seek out in our lives. When the “United Order” is reestablished, I believe it will most likely not look anything like what it did in the early days of the Church, because the environment will be different, the people will be different, and the circumstances surrounding it will be different. But the same principles will still be there.
Jacob said: “It would be nice to refer solely to what is in the Doctrine and Covenants to establish what the law of consecration ‘really’ means, but unfortunately it is to vague and incomplete to answer the questions that quickly arise if we think about implementing what is there.”
But I think what we really should be looking for is what the “Law of Consecration” is that we covenant to obey in the temple, and an explanation is supplied in the temple. It’s not dealing with surpluses, reasonable reserves, retirement accounts, and savings.
If you take the temple explanation, the Lord owns everything you have, from which you take care of your family. I have not seen it in my time, but I can envision a situation where a person would give his savings to further the work, or even mortgage the farm. This strikes at the heart of the issue. One person may say; well these savings are mine under the law and I have to keep it in reserve, while another says; Whatever I have is available for the kingdom.
When actually required to hand over the goods, our hearts’ real intent is clear. But if we keep anything above our necessities, it takes character to truly live this law. Under normal circumstances reasonable reserves etc. make sense (good stewardship), but I suspect more often than not these arguments supply cover for a non-consecrated heart.
I look forward to seeing Bryce’s future posts on this important subject. Today, I just checked back to see if there were more posts and seeing none, I decided to review the comments.
I agree with Bryce’s comments. There is much to this topic. I remember while working at FARMS I came across Nibley’s article on the law of consecration. I had recently returned from a mission and when I read that paper, it greatly influenced me. I was not very aware of what other Church members thought about the law of consecration, however, as I gained experience in the Church I perhaps had similar experiences as David L. mentions above (i.e. “lost several friends”).
A few comments to this post caught my eye – especially the ones that reference “savings” and “socialism/communism”. Last week I blogged about Keynesian Economics and Savings. At the time, I was unaware of the comments here. However, I think this topic directly applies to the law of consecration and the united order. As Bryce mentions above, socialism/communism and the gospel/law of consecration are direct opposites.
A few years ago I began to study socialism and communism in more depth. After studying these things, I then turned my attention to the words of the prophets and apostles. I was astounded to see the subtle counterfeit that had been created to bring about the destruction of our society.
On another note, sometimes I wonder if the law of consecration is connected to the last law revealed to Moses in Horeb and which he never revealed to the children of Israel (Joseph Smith). We know – at least in general – the children of Israel were kept from entering into the Lord’s presence and into the holy order (JST Genesis 34:1-2; D&C 84:24), although there were notable exceptions, Isaiah and other Old Testament prophets in addition to Lehi and Nephi come readily to mind. So we know, even under that system of priesthood, that there were those who entered into the presence of the Lord.
Just a thought or two. I really do look forward to reviewing your posts on this topic in the future Bryce. And I hope that some of the posts on my own blog will augment this topic. In fact, that is really one of the reasons I blog about these counterfeits on my own blog – many have been deceived into thinking that statism and the welfare state are the ideal type of society to which we should aspire… The Book of Mormon really was written for our day. It describes exactly what has been happening in our society and world even though it was compiled 1,600 years ago!
Thanks Greg for your comments. I hope to get to the next post on the law of consecration soon. Family circumstances have prevented me from getting to it. But hopefully we’ll have the next one up sometime this week.
It is true that socialism/communism is the exact opposite of the law of consecration and a Zion society. Hopefully our posts will help our brothers and sisters more fully understand the Lord’s way and more easily detect the adversary’s counterfeit.
Very interesting post on Keynesian Economics. Looks like history is repeating itself.
I also look forward to further posts on this subject. While reading this post and the comments, a couple of thoughts occurred to me:
Many years ago, while living on the East Coast of the U.S., a family moved into our ward from another state. Because of my calling as R.S. president, I became aware when they needed food and financial help from the Church. This large family said that they had participated in what they termed a form of the law of consecration with some other members in California, and essentially ended up with nothing. That, to me, was an example of how dangerous it can be to go beyond what our leaders ask us to do. They had very good intentions, but poor judgment.
On the positive side, I know of families who have told their priesthood leaders (general, stake or ward level) that whenever they have a special need, they have only to ask and name the amount. They have essentially said, as David Littlefield put it in his comment, “Whatever I have is available for the kingdom.” Absent specific requests, these families regularly give generously to the various Church funds and other worthy causes, help out needy friends and relatives, and then use what might be termed “surplus” (but could also be seen as a stewardship) to invest in a way that creates more jobs and earns money which will be available to be used to help the poor and build the Kingdom in the future.
Sacred Symbolic » Blog Archive » The Most Important Chapters in Scripture? (Part 2)
[…] about the Law of Consecration and how we can begin to offer this sacrifice of ourselves, see this excellent series of articles over at TempleStudy.com about the Law of Consecration vs the United […]
I have just stumbled across this post while doing some research and was delighted I did. You have done an excellent job of teaching the Law of Consecration. I believe that the three statements you made at the beginning, which have been traditionally stuck in our minds will only be done away with because of proper teaching. Bravo to you for doing such a great job with this one.
I actually did an experiment with my seminary students a few years ago and asked them to go home and ask their parents what they knew about the Law of Consecration… they returned with all the traditional statements. By the end of our Doctrine and Covenant year they were taught very differently.. 🙂 I now teach Institute for Young Single Adults, and because they are of Temple going age we concentrate on this Law almost every week in some way or another. They actually get it!
Correct teaching is the only way we will rid the Church of traditional beliefs that are incorrect. I hope you don’t mind but I am going to send the few readers I have your way, to read this post and the next. Brilliant job! Keep teaching truth despite those who would disagree.
Thanks Inthedoghouse for your kind comments. I appreciate them very much. I agree that too many of us have many misconceptions with regard to the law of consecration. Hopefully proper teaching will alleviate that. We’re all waiting for the law to be reinstituted, when it was never taken away.
I still need to add more posts to this series. There are so many more thoughts I have on the subject.
Thanks for the post. On the “accept” wording issue–Think through the complete wording. How is it that we “accept” it? i.e. “…in that…” Is it future or present tense? Not following the law on these grounds would seem a bit like the scribes and pharisees.
I have the capped portion of this quote from C.S. Lewis on my refrigerator that I think concisely defines consecration:
I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditures on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. IF OUR CHARITIES DO NOT AT ALL PINCH OR HAMPER US, I SHOULD SAY THEY ARE TOO SMALL. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities expenditure excludes them. I am speaking now of ‘charities’ in the common way. Particular cases of distress among your own relatives, friends, neighbors or employees, which God, as it were, forces upon your notice, may demand much more: even to the crippling and endangering of your own position. For many of us the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear– fear of insecurity. This must often be recognized as a temptation. Sometimes our pride also hinders our charity; we are tempted to spend more than we ought on the showy forms of generosity (tipping, hospitality) and less than we ought on those who really need our help.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Alas, many Latter-day Saints have yet to grasp this refining principle.
Living the Law of Consecration – Part 2: All Things are the Lord’s » Temple Study – LDS Temples, Mormon Temples, Study Blog
[…] (Continued from Part 1) […]
Bryce, I can not thank you enough for having posted this. I am glad I finally decided to look at it.
I feel as though that folk-lore “veil” if you will has been lifted from my mind.
This site is just the best. Keep it coming!
Hugh Nibley Quotes from Approaching Zion – Temple Study - LDS Temples, Mormon Temples, Study Blog
[…] in our love of wealth and covetousness, lack of living the law of consecration (and our apparent confusion of it), our quibbling over free lunch, lack of faith in the Almighty, and our misunderstanding the […]
Are We Required to Live the Law of Consecration, Now? – Temple Study - LDS Temples, Mormon Temples, Study Blog
[…] delayed, suspended, and is no longer a law of God in the Church!” As I and others have noted elsewhere, the law of consecration is still binding upon us as a people, as every temple-attending member of […]
Living The Law Of Consecration – Part 4: What is Tithing? – Temple Study - LDS Temples, Mormon Temples, Study Blog
[…] is one of the incorrect elements that factors into the perpetuation of the “folk memory” of the law of consecration. Here’s the erroneous yet common LDS line of thought as I […]