I noted a couple days ago in my discussion about the law of consecration that there was an episode available from the Church’s official Mormon Channel on this topic, as well as on the United Order. I think these are areas where we, as a people, lack significant knowledge and correct understanding, and I would recommend that we all spend some time and learn more about them, so that we might be better educated in these important matters, and not perpetuate some of the myths that we continue to believe.
The episodes are hosted by Dr. Brent Top, chairman of the Department of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University, with Dr. Steven Harper as a guest joining him, Associate Professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University, and one of the major participants in the Joseph Smith Papers Project of the Church History department. Brent notes that Harper is one of the Church’s “experts” on the law of consecration, and that early period of Church History when it was introduced. I have read Harper’s work, and heard him speak on the topic before, and believe he has a lot to teach us regarding these subjects, and which are fully relevant to our discipleship today.
You may listen to the episodes below by clicking the “play” buttons.
My notes from the Law of Consecration, Episode 20:
consecrate = to make sacred (not necessarily to “give away”), to set apart for sacred purposes
law of consecration is found in each of the standard works – D&C 42 – “remember the poor, and consecrate thy properties… when thou obtainest more than would be for thy support, thou will give it unto my storehouse.”
we receive what God has given us sacredly, “by consecration,” we receive our bodies, our time, spiritual gifts, material resources, food we eat, oxygen we breathe, we receive these by consecration from the Lord, and he expects us to offer ourselves, to make ourselves sacred, for his purposes
D&C 42 = “The Law of the Lord”
how did the revelation come about in Kirtland? shortly after New York, the Lord commands the Saints to gather to Ohio. v37, because of the enemy and for your sakes. Saints wonder why they should go to Ohio? Section 38 is given, why move to Ohio. If they go, he will give them his law, and endow them from on high. The Lord is allowing the Saints to self-select. He conditions the receipt of more law to their treatment of the law they get. One builds on top of another. Foreshadowed in Section 38, the Saints obey and move to Ohio, and Joseph receives Section 41 which calls the first bishop, and a week later they are given Section 42, the Law.
Section 41 – my law, my law is to be kept, my law. The Law is revealed in Section 42. It includes all of the laws of the Lord, it is encompassing. V29 onwards is the law of consecration. v29, why would anyone obey the law of consecration? culturally conditioned question in our materialistic world, where enlightened self-interest is the dominant ethos.. everything we do is so that we can get more. The idea that we would love the Lord with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourself, what’s the motivation? v29, if thou lovest me, thou shalt keep my commandments, and give unto the poor. Part of the two great commandments.
Was the law temporal or welfare situation? It was all-encompassing in the law of God, and celestial law. What should we look for in the law of consecration?
strategies vs. tactics.. tactics can change, but are meant to fulfill the strategy.
law of consecration is a law of God, he revealed in 1831 in this dispensation, but it is all over in the scriptures… the strategy is to bring his children to eternal life, and one of those laws is the law of consecration.. tacticly it is implemented differently, in section 42 you see both strategy and tactics, and how to act it out. Section 51 is one of the most tactical revelations, instructions to Bishop Partridge on how to implement the law of consecration. We must understand the distinction between the strategy vs tactic. It is not a doctrine that the law must be carried out in any particular way, no particular forms. The doctrines that underpin the law are the same, eternal. The tactics, forms, practices change, but the law stays the same.
it is to be adapted to the circumstances of the children of men. There are principles, and then there are practices or policies, and that’s another way to look at it.
The Lord teaches the doctrine, and also gives instruction for how it is to take place practically.
The law is like a 3 legged stool. 3 doctrines – agency, stewardship, and accountability. These are there with our love of God, to look after the poor, and give to their support. the dominant political economies in the world are missing one or more of these 3 things, they may have one or two, but not all three.
agency – We can choose independently whether we will keep the law. fundamental.
stewardship – this is something we can act upon, our stewardship, our bank account, our time, our material possessions, etc.
accountability – an owner doesn’t feel accountable to anyone, but a steward is accountable to the owner. our world today is dominated by ownership. but in the law, we are stewards for everything the Lord has provided.
how did the Saints implement the law of consecration in the early Church in Ohio? Bishop Partridge new they would need resources for the Saints that were gathering. Missouri is where the law was first implemented on a large scale (section 51). Tactical instructions to implement the law. We can learn about the law from these instructions about how it was first implemented.
The Lord tells Bishop Partridge to receive consecrations, and then have Partridge give unto them a writing giving unto them their portion (deeds).. we have some of these writings today to read.. it is very revealing. He would receive all that the Saints had as consecration, “giving of my own free will and accord,” and Partridge would receive that document, and hand back a writing to the consecrator, and hereby leases the property back, and loaned the material means back as well.
How did the early Saints live the law of consecration? When you study the deeds, Partridge knew the law. the deeds echo section 42, and do exactly what section 51 says. The doctrines are embedded in the documents. All 3 parts – agency, stewardship, and accountability are all there. Nothing actually ever changes hands. It’s not a communal ownership, and the bishop doesn’t run everything. The notion of ownership drops out, and the doctrine of stewardship takes its place. The Saints were no longer owners, but stewards.
All that was consecrated to Bishop Partridge was given back as a stewardship, sometimes with extra. It varied. In most cases, the people received by consecration more than they gave by consecration. Partridge – “I would spend and be spent in the cause of my blessed Master.” Section 41 – That’s a man in whom there is no guile.
Hymn 41 – written by Edward Partridge
How did the law make the people sacred, and not just providing for their temporal needs? My calling is overwhelming (Partridge). His wife consecrates herself as well. The best thing we can consecrate to the kingdom is to be the best sons and daughters of God we can be. To be the best parents we can be, so our children can be our offering to the kingdom.
Wilford Woodruff didn’t wait for any forms or special invitations to consecrate, he wrote in his journal – “I freely consecrate, I feely give myself and all my affects into the hands of the bishop, that I may be a lawful heir of the kingdom of Zion.” He very clearly understood the 3 parts of the law.
These things should inspire us to become more consecrated in our lives.
My notes from the United Order, Episode 21:
As we talk about the history of the Church, there is a question that comes up quite often about the law of consecration, and the United Order. What is the difference? What is the relationship?
There is an important distinction, a very important one!
If we say “We don’t live the United Order today,” then we don’t understand the distinction. The Saints never lived the United Order. The United Order was an organization, the Lord called for it, he made a covenant that would be the foundation of its organization in section 82, and then two years later he disbanded it in Section 104. The covenant of section 82 was broken, “by covetousness and feigned words,” and so the covenant was void. The United Order has not existed since 1834 (section 104), the revelation that dismantles that organization. There were other organizations that might be called united orders, but were different. Lots of variation in late 19th century LDS tried to apply the principles of the law of consecration in Utah.
As we read these revelations of the law and United Order, we also learn about the “literary firm.” What role does this play? The Order, the Firm, the Law?
This can be bewildering as we read through the D&C. There were stewards of the revelations, Joseph, Martin Harris, the proofers, the transcribers, this group was the Literary Firm. Section 78 is a bit cryptic, we didn’t want to broadcast our economic details, so it says that there should be an “organization of my Church” (time for an organization that includes the literary and mercantile establishments of my church). The literary firm had expensive commandments to keep. Section 78 says to make some of the properties into the United Firm, which later became the United Order. The Lord builds the organization, the United Order, to be able to use the assets among the Saints to provide the resources for the building up of Zion. Only about a dozen members of the Church participated in the Order.
Tactical vs strategic revelations. These things were the tactics of how to implement the law of consecration. The tactics have changed a lot, and we can expect them to continue to change. “The law of consecration has not be done away, and is still in effect” – President Hinckley.
We often hear, “The law is the higher law? The law of consecration is a higher law, and tithing is a lesser law because the Saints could not keep the higher law?” Some historians have called it the Mormon folk memory. It’s ubiquitous among us. Many of us have this understanding. But when we make sacred covenants, it is not this way, so it can be jarring. We have to think carefully. There is a theological problem if we say the Lord gave a law that the Saints could not keep. There are many passages that say the Lord does NOT do that. He may give laws that some Saints will not keep, but there is a big distinction. Agency is at stake. He gives laws to the Saints that they can choose to keep or not. He never calls it a higher law, or tithing a lower law. We made that up. As far as we can tell, it comes much later after Joseph Smith. It’s not in his vocabulary. Steven’s theory is that it came as the Saints look backwards, and tried to figure out why they weren’t doing what Joseph’s revelations tell us to do. Commentators on the revelations inject interpretation which is incorrect, and self-serving. “Those early Saints just weren’t good enough.” They say the higher law was “suspended, or revoked. And gave the lower law instead, I would if I could, but I can’t because he won’t let me, but some day in the future he’ll give the higher law again and then we’ll all be glad to live it then.” I just don’t think that’s what the history was, or what the future holds. President Hinckley says the law is in effect. Every latter-day Saint who wants to live it, can, right NOW, as much as they want to. There is no reason not to, there is “no limitations but our own” as President Romney said.
We won’t live it according to an 1832-1834 tactical pattern. It isn’t the United Order. The bishop won’t give us a deed, or give us a form. The tactics are different. The Law is the same. We don’t need any forms, really, except for the tithings and offerings slip.
Section 119 – The revelation on tithing. This is the most misunderstood revelations of the prophet JOseph Smith. Why?? What are we missing?
Some trepidation to answer this question. Because it is a challenge for the Saints to come to terms with this revelation. We think we know what tithing is, but what tithing is in the revelations is not exactly what tithing is today, in our minds. Read section 119 carefully, very carefully, and you’ll be surprised by what it says.
I require all their surplus property to be placed into the hands of the bishop.
v2 – for the building of my house, laying the foundation of Zion, for the priesthood…
the law is for the salvation of my people. We should obey it because it is the means by which the Lord sanctifies our souls.. it is salvation!
v3 – this shall be the beginning of the tithing for my people. stop, to what does “this” refer to? It is the surplus from v1.
v4 – after those who have thus tithed (offering our surplus), shall pay one tenth of all their interest annually.
We begin our life of tithing by offering whatever we have to offer to the bishop, and thereafter we offer one tenth of what we get annuallly.
This shall be a standing law unto them forever. No “lower” or “higher” law is mentioned. That is an imposed idea on the revelations that isn’t there.
Tithing is not a lower law, it is a standing law forever. This is the law of consecration for all time.
How do we live the law of consecration today? What do we say to those who say “when we are good enough as a people, the Lord will have us live it.” Are we living it today? How will we live it? What is it today? In the future? In eternity?
Favorite verse – “I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ, of Latter-day Saints.” Section 82:18-19 – here the Lord is talking to the members of the ORder, but they speak to us today too, “for the benefit of the Church of the living God, so that we may improve upon our talent… to be cast into the Lord’s storehouse, to become the common property of the whole church..
We like to belong to the Church of Jesus Christ. We will do whatever the Lord asks us to do today. Keeping the law doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to involve a lot of paperwork. I don’t have to have the bishop come look in my pantry. I need to know that I “belong” to the Church, and do everything with an eye single to the glory of God.
We see numerous examples of Saints that consecrate. Missionaries, good neighbors, Christmastime when we give of ourselves generously. We are living the law of consecration today, and it is inspiring. Sometimes we waste away our time looking forward to a future day that we can do more, we are missing the opportunities to become sacred, and to consecrate and bless the lives of others today.
We cannot wait until Zion is here (paraphrasing Nibley), to live the law. We will never get to Zion, unless it is by living it now.
Some people feel that once we were driven out of Missouri, feel like we shouldn’t live the law anymore. But there were Saints that lived it in Nauvoo, and elsewhere too. It was not the case that these early Saints thought they had no longer obligation to the law. It’s not the case. Wilford Woodruff did not wait for someone else, he consecrated.
Some believe we abandoned the law in Nauvoo because of the minutes found in one of the meetings in an Iowa council meeting. Joseph was not advocating we stop living the law. He was trying to bridle some overzealous. But Joseph intended in Nauvoo to keep the law of consecration. He had the quorum of the Twelve to overseer the building of the temple, for the Saints to tithe and consecrate for the building of the temple. They consecrated on scraps of paper.
To be a lawful heir to the kingdom, I’m going to keep my promise.
We should live the law of consecration wherever we are. How can we better live the law in this dispensation? Worry less about material things. Did we go to college to study to get rich? Section 93:53 – we should do what we do for the salvation of Zion. My motive was called into question. I desired to do things seeking the interest of my neighbor, with an eye towards the glory of God. It doesn’t matter what we do, if its honorable, and we do it with integrity – we can fix cars for the Lord, we can play piano for the Lord, we can teach the gospel for the Lord, we can teach accounting for the Lord. There are wonderful examples all over the Lord. Those who best live the law are those who may choose not to do something professionally, or change their career path, to choose to do something more important. There are many exmaples of consecrated Saints.
The Law of Consecration is to make sacred, us.