Living The Law Of Consecration – Part 4: What is Tithing?

(Continued from Part 3)

This is a continuation of a series of posts that I started a few years ago.  Of course, it could easily fit within the series very recent posts on the same subject of the law of consecration, including Hugh Nibley quotes from Approaching Zion, “Are we required to live the law of consecration, now?“, and Mormon Channel Episodes On The Law Of Consecration And The United Order.

In this post we will examine this question – “What is tithing?

This seems to be a pretty basic question, with a Primary answer.  We all know what tithing is, right?  I mean, even the etymology of the word tithe itself, coming from the Old English teoþa or even earlier to the Hebrew tithes in Malachi 3:8 (ma`aser or מַעֲשֵׂר, or an even earlier root `asar or עֶשֶׂר meaning “ten”), means a “tenth” part.  What could be more simple?  This seems to be a commandment that we could easily say we keep or do not keep.  We either give a tenth part of our income annually, or we don’t.  Is there any more to it?

The truth of the matter is that everything we think we know about tithing is most likely wrong.  This could come as a shock to some, but when you get right down to what tithing is, as revealed by the Lord through the prophet Joseph Smith in this dispensation, it is not what we commonly think it is.  Personally, I think this is unfortunate, because we do not know what the Lord revealed and commanded, and if we are thus ignorant, how do we expect to be able to follow His word?  What does the Lord say?  What do our scriptures teach?

This 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 grew up with it, and which we often hear in the Church:

  • the Lord revealed the law of consecration to the early Saints
  • the Saints tried to live it
  • they couldn’t live it, for whatever reason, perhaps it was persecution, being driven out of their lands, etc.
  • the Lord withdrew the law of consecration (the higher law)
  • the Lord gave the revelation on tithing (the lower law)
  • tithing is now a preparatory law that helps us learn and prepare for receiving the higher law of consecration again some day in the future

This is not true, brothers and sisters.  It simply is not, in many ways.  It comes down to whether we believe what the Lord says, and are we willing to live his law as he has given it to us.  Let us learn our duty to God, today.  It reminds me of President Benson’s admonishments to not take the Book of Mormon lightly, and that we may even be under condemnation as a Church for doing so.  Such a condemnation may in likewise manner apply to all the standard works, if we do not read the word of God as he has given it to us to understand it.  Would the Lord give us any more if we do not understand what we currently have?  Line upon line, precept upon precept.  Let’s do our best to try to understand this precept as it truly is.

The section which contains the revelation on tithing is Doctrine & Covenants 119, which has been noted as perhaps Joseph’s “most misunderstood revelation.”1 This alone should peak our interest in wanting to learn much more about it. How could a simple revelation on tithing, no longer than seven verses, be so misunderstood? In the Church’s official Mormon Channel “United Order” episode I referred to in my last recent post on this subject, it is noted that this is hard for the Saints to come to grips with the reality of this revelation, as it challenges the Saints commonly held preconceptions of what tithing is.

To show just how deeply a misunderstanding we have, even the section heading that is printed directly in our scriptures for the revelation on tithing, D&C 119, is wrong in many respects.  If we read the section itself, combined with all other revelations of the Doctrine & Covenants, the heading does not equate with what is revealed there.  What is perhaps even more stunning than this is that the revelation is very clear, simple, and short.  How could we possibly go wrong? We will analyze the revelation first, and then go back and see what may be mistaken in the section heading.

What is the law of consecration?

Just to give a little background first, before we dive into what tithing is, let’s talk about what preceded this revelation in the history of the Church.  Let’s review what the law of consecration is.  The law is taught throughout the Doctrine & Covenants, and weaves its way throughout many of its revelations, but the heart of it is found in section 42, a revelation given to Joseph Smith in February of 1831. Dr. Steven C. Harper, a professor of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University, and an editor of the Joseph Smith Papers project, and who perhaps has studied the revelations as much or most than any other, gives us this introduction:

In early February 1831, Joseph Smith received the law of consecration. It commanded the Saints to freely offer the Lord what he had given to them. Then he would consecrate a stewardship to them. Thereafter, the Saints were to be stewards of what they needed to be “amply supplied” and return surplus to the bishop of the Church for his stewardship “to administer to the poor and the needy” (D&C 42:33–34).

The Lord revealed the law of consecration to relieve poverty, purchase land for the public benefit of the Saints, and to build temples and the New Jerusalem so that his covenant people could be saved by gathering to his temple (D&C 42:30–36). Joseph and the bishops of the Church worked to implement the law of consecration, but unwilling Saints and antagonistic neighbors in both Ohio and Missouri thwarted their efforts.2

Where did D&C 119 and tithing come from?

Several years later, there were several developments.  Professor Harper continues:

By mid-1837, the Church was in a desperate condition financially, and the United States had slumped into an economic depression that would last five years. Feeling the pressure keenly, Bishop Newel Whitney and his counselors in Ohio issued a letter proposing that the Saints be tithed. “It is the fixed purpose of our God,” they wrote, “that the great work of the last days was to be accomplished by the tithing of His Saints.” They invoked Malachi 3:10 to assert that “the Saints were required to bring their tithes into the storehouse, and after that, not before, they were to look for a blessing that there should not be room enough to receive it.” The bishopric in Missouri proposed and adopted a similar but more specific policy in December 1837, recommending that the Saints be tithed two percent annually after paying their debts. Both bishoprics emphasized the voluntary nature of the offering based on the principle of individual agency.

Joseph moved from Ohio to Missouri early in 1838. There the city of Far West began to bustle with people and economic enterprise, the Saints planned and the Lord approved the construction of a temple (D&C 115), and hundreds of Saints gathered from the East, with more arriving all the time. By July the prospects of establishing an enduring stronghold in northern Missouri appeared both promising and daunting. The Church needed revenue to accomplish its divine mandates. Joseph prayed, “O! Lord, show unto thy servents how much thou requirest of the properties of thy people for a Tithing?” The revelation recorded now as Doctrine and Covenants 119 was the Lord’s answer.3

In another place, Harper addresses a puzzlement at this point.4  Didn’t Joseph know what “tithe” meant?  Didn’t he already know it meant a tenth part, or ten percent?  It seems strange that he would have to ask the Lord. The fact is, tithing has not been expounded upon by the Lord in this dispensation until this revelation, so it was not a given. Joseph had to inquire.

Doctrine & Covenants Section 119

Harper notes that in Joseph’s handwritten journal, after his prayer (above), is the word “Answer” followed by the text we currently have today as Doctrine & Covenants 119.  Let’s read it very carefully, verse by verse.

Verse 1 - Verily, thus saith the Lord, I require all their surplus property to be put into the hands of the bishop of my church in Zion,

Notice how the revelation starts, that the Lord requires all the Saints “surplus property” to be put into the bishop’s hands, or in other words, the bishop’s storehouse. Recognize this? It is none other than a restatement and reiteration of the law of consecration. A footnote on surplus even points us back to D&C 42, which is the heart of the revelations on “the law” of consecration. Also notice, this is a restatement of the law on consecration. Nothing is revoked or suspended here. The Lord is reiterating this law to the Saints that they must live it as he has revealed it. Nothing is mentioned of a “higher” or “lower” law.

Verse 2 - For the building of mine house, and for the laying of the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood, and for the debts of the Presidency of my Church.

So why were they being commanded to consecrate in verse 1? For the very same reasons the law had been commanded in previous revelations, namely sections 51, 70, 72, 78, 82, 104, and 105. It was for the building of temples, for the establishment of Zion, and the building up of the kingdom of God on Earth. Again, nothing is revoked, only “the law” reiterated, the same as it had been given many times before. How was the Church to find revenue to pay its debts? Consecration. So far so good.

Verse 3 - And this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people.

This is where our whole world gets turned upside down. It’s so simple, so clear, so straightforward, could the Lord be more concise? I don’t think so, and yet, look at where we are. He only used twelve words in this verse. The beginning of our tithing is by living the law of consecration. “This” refers to the first two verses.  In other words, the term tithing in this verse is referring to the giving of surpluses as stated under the law of consecration. The term tithing here is not referring to a tenth part, or 10% of income. The Lord is saying that tithing is the law of consecration. If there are any means that the Saints have that are more than what is sufficient for your needs (or “amply supplied”), then those are surpluses, and are to be consecrated to the bishop and storehouse. This is tithing; it is how the Lord used the word in this verse. There is no other way, that I know of, to view these few verses without relegating meaning that simply does not appear to be there.

Verse 4 – And after that, those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord.

Ok, after the Saints have given of their surpluses, “after that,” after they have “thus been tithed.” Note again, the word tithed is used to refer to the consecration of surpluses under the law of consecration, not a tenth part, or 10% of one’s income. After one has given of all their surpluses into the bishop’s storehouse, then, and only then, shall they pay one-tenth of all their interest annually. Do you see how we have so drastically misunderstood this revelation? Once our surpluses are gone, we are left with what is sufficient for our needs, our “ample supply.” Then, after that, we are to pay another ten percent of all our interest annually. This is on top of, and after, consecrating our surpluses. Think of that. Think of what that means.

It would be good to pause at this point and take in what we are learning here. In this revelation on tithing, the Lord is saying that his law to the Saints is that they live the law of consecration, which is to consecrate all their surplus properties into the bishop’s hands. This, he says, is tithing. There is no talk of a higher or lower law, no talk of a rescinding or suspension, no revoking or pulling back, nothing about the Saints not being “able” to live the law, nothing about them trying to live it, nothing about it being withdrawn, nothing about a preparatory law, nor about the law of consecration coming back in a future day. Consecration did not leave the picture, at all. The Lord is requiring more, not less of the Saints. He is saying that once they have thus consecrated their surpluses, they are to pay 10% more, not less, on top of their consecration. This is very difficult doctrine, but it is the meaning of this revelation.

Hugh Nibley once noted the true sacrificial nature of what we call “tithing,” if it was consecrated and given in the manner outlined in the revelation:

I knew well a bishop, Charles W. Nibley, my grandfather, who had a standard appeal for tithing… His argument… was that after you had paid the Lord 10 percent, you still have 90 percent for yourself, all yours to do with as you pleased. That can never be tithed; the Lord can’t touch it. He gets only 10 percent and leaves you with all the rest.

There is quite a difference between consecrating 10 percent of your net gain to the building up of the kingdom and consecrating your time, talents, and everything you have been blessed with up to this time to the building up of the kingdom of God. Tithing is no part of consecration, though it is an eternal law. There is no conflict here; the law of consecration demands everything you have, but at the same times it fills your every physical need; and it is from that sustaining income, from that substance, that you pay your tithes. This makes it a genuine sacrifice and not a mere token offering skimmed off from a net increase that you will never miss.5

If we paid our tithing the way the revelation states, first giving of all our surpluses into the bishop’s hands, and then another 10% “from that sustaining income,” it would truly be a genuine sacrifice. You would be going without something that is truly, 100%, a need, and not just a want, or extra that won’t be missed. The 10% would come out of those leftover means that are “sufficient for your needs,” your “ample supply.” You would have 10% less of those things, and would truly be required to sacrifice to meet your needs.

This reminds me of a quote from C.S. Lewis that denotes the true spirit of sacrifice that should come from our charity:

If our expenditure 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 because our charitable expenditure excludes them. (C. S. Lewis)

Notice that verse 4 also says that this law is a “standing law unto them forever”! The Lord is not taking anything away, or putting anything else in its place. It is consecration from the get go, from day one of its revelation until the end of times. Once again, President Gordon B. Hinckley taught, not too many years ago, that the law of consecration was not rescinded and is “still in effect.”6 Do we listen to a prophet’s voice?

Again, this is difficult doctrine, very difficult to hear and digest. But is it what the Lord is asking, and is revealing to us in section D&C 119? Back to the revelation:

Verse 5 - Verily I say unto you, it shall come to pass that all those who gather unto the land of Zion shall be tithed of their surplus properties, and shall observe this law, or they shall not be found worthy to abide among you.

Once again, the Lord is repeating his law for the nth time, so that we cannot err (yet do we?). All those who gather unto Zion shall be “tithed of their surplus properties,” again stating that tithing is the law of consecration, it is the giving of all surpluses into the hands of the bishop and his storehouse. “And shall observe this law,” might be referring to the second part of the previous verse, that of giving “one-tenth of all increase annually,” or it may be referring to the law as a whole. You see, tithing is not separate and apart from the law of consecration. It is all consecration.

What bout those who do not live the law? They “shall not be found worthy to abide among you.” Hard doctrine. But the Lord has revealed on several occasions that “Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself” (D&C 105:5). We must be living the Lord’s law in order to build up Zion. It cannot come, and will not come, in any other way. It is interesting that the Lord says that they will not be “worthy” to “abide” among you.  What could that mean? In another place the Lord says that “he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory” (D&C 88:22). Those who will not live the law of the celestial kingdom (law of consecration) cannot live among those who are so living, or those who “abide” the law and the associated celestial glory that comes with it. The two don’t mesh.

One of the unfortunate consequences of the “folk memory” of the law of consecration is that we think that it will be re-instituted in a future day, that the United Order will come again, and that perhaps it will be when the New Jerusalem is built and Zion has been established. Yes, then we will live the law of consecration. It doesn’t work this way. Hugh Nibley wrote “the express purpose of the law of consecration is the building up of Zion… We do not wait until Zion is here to observe it; it is rather the means of bringing us nearer to Zion” (Hugh Nibley, Approaching Zion, 390).  President Lorenzo Snow said that the Saints were “not justified in anticipating the privilege of returning to build up the center stake of Zion, until we shall have shown obedience to the law of consecration.”  Furthermore, the Saints are not “permitted to enter the land from whence we were expelled, till our hearts are prepared to honor this law, and we become sanctified through the practice of the truth” (Lorenzo Snow, Journal of Discourses, 16:276).

Hard doctrine. Have you ever wondered what our headquarters of the Church is doing in Salt Lake City, Utah? It was revealed by the Lord that Independence, Missouri was to be the center place of Zion.  What’s going on?

1 Hearken, O ye elders of my church, saith the Lord your God, who have assembled yourselves together, according to my commandments, in this land, which is the land of Missouri, which is the land which I have appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the saints.

2 Wherefore, this is the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion.

3 And thus saith the Lord your God, if you will receive wisdom here is wisdom. Behold, the place which is now called Independence is the center place; and a spot for the temple is lying westward, upon a lot which is not far from the courthouse. (D&C 57:1–3)

Whoa, what happened? What are we doing in Utah? The building up of the New Jerusalem is to happen in the mid-West, not in west or the Rocky Mountains. The Lord told us why we’re out here in Utah:

2 …were it not for the transgressions of my people, speaking concerning the church [collectively] and not individuals, they might have been redeemed even now.

3 But behold, they have not learned to be obedient to the things which I required at their hands, but are full of all manner of evil, and do not impart of their substance, as becometh saints, to the poor and afflicted among them;

4 And are not united according to the union required by the law of the celestial kingdom;…

6 And my people must needs be chastened until they learn obedience, if it must needs be, by the things which they suffer.

7 I speak not concerning those who are appointed to lead my people, who are the first elders of my church, for they are not all under this condemnation;

8 But I speak concerning my churches abroad—there are many who will say: Where is their God? Behold, he will deliver them in time of trouble, otherwise we will not go up unto Zion, and will keep our moneys.

9 Therefore, in consequence of the transgressions of my people, it is expedient in me that mine elders should wait for a little season for the redemption of Zion—

10 That they themselves may be prepared, and that my people may be taught more perfectly, and have experience, and know more perfectly concerning their duty, and the things which I require at their hands…

13 Therefore it is expedient in me that mine elders should wait for a little season, for the redemption of Zion…

17 But the strength of mine house have not hearkened unto my words…

23 And let all my people who dwell in the regions round about be very faithful, and prayerful, and humble before me…

24 Talk not of judgments, neither boast of faith nor of mighty works, but carefully gather together

26 Now, behold, I say unto you, my friends, in this way you may find favor in the eyes of the people, until the army of Israel becomes very great.

27 And I will soften the hearts of the people, as I did the heart of Pharaoh, from time to time, until my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and mine elders, whom I have appointed, shall have time to gather up the strength of my house,

28 And to have sent wise men, to fulfil that which I have commanded concerning the purchasing of all the lands in Jackson county that can be purchased, and in the adjoining counties round about.

29 For it is my will that these lands should be purchased; and after they are purchased that my saints should possess them according to the laws of consecration which I have given.

31 But first let my army become very great, and let it be sanctified before me, that it may become fair as the sun, and clear as the moon, and that her banners may be terrible unto all nations;

32 That the kingdoms of this world may be constrained to acknowledge that the kingdom of Zion is in very deed the kingdom of our God and his Christ; therefore, let us become subject unto her laws…

35 There has been a day of calling, but the time has come for a day of choosing; and let those be chosen that are worthy.

36 And it shall be manifest unto my servant, by the voice of the Spirit, those that are chosen; and they shall be sanctified;

37 And inasmuch as they follow the counsel which they receive, they shall have power after many days to accomplish all things pertaining to Zion. (D&C 105:2–37)

Wow! This revelation makes so much more sense in its proper context in the law of consecration. We are, as many have pointed out, very similar to the ancient Israelites, and the similarities do not ever seem to end. The Israelites could not enter into the promised land when they first came to it. Why? Because of their rebelliousness towards God. The Old Testament Student Institute Manual notes:

Forty years of wandering in the wilderness had brought Israel to stand upon a mountaintop overlooking the land of promise… Why? What caused those Israelites who left Egypt by God’s power to lose their privilege of setting foot upon the promised land?…

The initial company of Israelites who departed from Egypt did so with reluctance. Bad as things were in Egypt, the known seemed better than the unknown to those who lacked faith. During their forty years of desert wandering, the children of Israel alternately blessed and cursed the name of God. When He showed them miracles, they humbled themselves. When the tests and rigors of desert life became difficult, they hardened their hearts in anger and resentment. They forgot His power and trembled in fear at the thought of facing the Canaanites. In so doing, they lost their privilege to enter the land of promise.

As their children stood on the mountain and saw in the distance the promised land, the realization of their expectations, were they ready? Did they appreciate the great blessing of receiving that which was denied their fathers? Could they move into the land under the leadership of a living prophet and possess the country on the Lord’s terms? Or would they pollute their inheritance, as their fathers had done before?

Now is the time for us to look in the mirror.  We are as the ancient Israelites today, in a very literal way.  The Lord has told us. We were not allowed to possess the lands of Independence, Missouri, as the center place of Zion and build up the New Jerusalem because the Saints lack faith, our transgressions, not being obedient, being full of all manner of evil, not imparting of our substance to the poor and afflicted (consecration!), not being united, so that we might learn obedience through suffering and our condemnation, because we will not go up unto Zion, and we continue to say “we will keep our moneys.” If it were not so, Zion would have already been redeemed, long ago (D&C 105:2). The Lord allowed us to be run out on a rail from our “promised land” so that we could have time to be prepared, taught more perfectly, have experience, know more perfectly concerning our duty, and the things which God requires at our hands, to be more faithful, prayerful, and humble, and carefully gather together until the army of Israel becomes very great (14.5 million Saints today), that we may be sanctified, until those whom the Lord wills are chosen (who can “abide” the day?), and they are further sanctified, and then, and only then, will we have power (after many days indeed!) to accomplish all things pertaining to Zion, and redeem her at last. For the Israelites it took 40 years of wandering in the wilderness; for us it seems nearly 180 years and counting.

I would ask us, are we preparing ourselves, being taught more perfectly in our duty, gaining experience, understanding well what the Lord requires at our hands, and becoming sanctified through imparting of our substance to the poor and afflicted through the Lord’s law of consecration? Back to the revelation:

Verse 6 - And I say unto you, if my people observe not this law, to keep it holy, and by this law sanctify the land of Zion unto me, that my statutes and my judgments may be kept thereon, that it may be most holy, behold, verily I say unto you, it shall not be a land of Zion unto you.

Hard doctrine. It is by obedience to “this law,” the law of consecration, that we are taught we must “observe” and “keep” (take special note), that by so doing we will sanctify the land, that the Lord’s will might be done and his promises fulfilled, that the land may become holy. If it is not so, it “shall not be a land of Zion unto you.” Once again, “Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom” (D&C 105:5).

The Lord finishes in verse 7:

Verse 7 - And this shall be an ensample unto all the stakes of Zion. Even so. Amen.

Amen. This is an example to us, a pattern or model for imitation for all, the things we should do. The Lord is instructing his Saints.

Seven verses. So simple, yet we seem to completely take for grated what the Lord is teaching us, and turn it into something completely different. No one will receive an inheritance in the celestial kingdom who has not obeyed the law (see D&C 78:7). Again, to abide a celestial glory, we must abide a celestial law (D&C 88:22). Do we understand what the Lord means by tithing in this, the revelation of tithing? In each of three instances when “tithe” or the form of the word is used, it is referring to the law of consecration, not something else. Steven Harper notes, “Thus, section 119 may be best understood as part of, not instead of, the law of consecration.”7

Let’s return for a moment now to the section heading of D&C 119, and see what’s wrong with it.

Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Far West, Missouri, 8 July 1838, in answer to his supplication: “O Lord! Show unto thy servant how much thou requirest of the properties of thy people for a tithing” (History of the Church, 3:44). The law of tithing, as understood today, had not been given to the Church previous to this revelation. The term tithing in the prayer just quoted and in previous revelations (64:23; 85:3; 97:11) had meant not just one-tenth, but all free-will offerings, or contributions, to the Church funds. The Lord had previously given to the Church the law of consecration and stewardship of property, which members (chiefly the leading elders) entered into by a covenant that was to be everlasting. Because of failure on the part of many to abide by this covenant, the Lord withdrew it for a time and gave instead the law of tithing to the whole Church. The Prophet asked the Lord how much of their property he required for sacred purposes. The answer was this revelation.

Indeed, the “law of tithing,” as understood today by most of us, has never been given to the Church. What had been given is the law of consecration, many times; it weaves its way through most of the entire Doctrine & Covenants. Furthermore, the term tithing used in the prayer continued to mean precisely the same thing in the subsequent revelation as it had before, namely, free-will offerings, contributions, or consecrations to the Church funds. Here it notes D&C 85:3 – “It is contrary to the will and commandment of God that those who receive not their inheritance by consecration, agreeable to his law, which he has given, that he may tithe his people, to prepare them against the day of vengeance and burning, should have their names enrolled with the people of God.” It has only now, today, come into our common verbiage to denote tithing as 10% of income. But this is found nowhere in the revelations. The sentence on the giving of the law of consecration is spot on, indeed, “to be everlasting.” But the Lord never “withdrew” the law of consecration “for a time,” nor did he “give instead the law of tithing.” It is all the same law. This is misleading and unfortunately incorrect.

I would also take note that this revelation came in July 1838, some four years after D&C 105:34 (or even D&C 104 for that matter), which many point to as proof of the suspension of the law (it was more likely a suspension of some of the particulars of the United Order/Firm). In D&C 119, in the year 1838, we see the law alive and well.

The Word of the Lord Today

Now, before anyone thinks, if you haven’t already, that what I’m saying here goes against the grain of what our living prophets and apostles have taught us, please see my previous discussion about “Are we required to live the law of consecration, now?” There I gave some extensive quotations within the last 20 years, of our prophets and apostles teaching us about the law of consecration, and to keep it. I found those, for what it’s worth, simply by doing a search for “consecration” on the Church’s official website, LDS.org.  I found those quotes on the very first page of results.  There are 665 results for that term among the online materials of the Church. There are 1,268 results for the term “consecrate.”

It is certain that today we typically speak, including our Church leaders, of tithing as 10% of our income, but the fact that we’ve been taught to live the law of consecration today can’t be denied. Here is a short reprise:

 “The word stewardship calls to mind the Lord’s law of consecration (see, for example, D&C 42:32, 53), which has an economic role but, more than that, is an application of celestial law to life here and now (see D&C 105:5)… True success in this life comes in consecrating our lives–that is, our time and choices–to God’s purposes (see John 17:1, 4D&C 19:19). In so doing, we permit Him to raise us to our highest destiny.” (Elder D. Todd Christofferson, Reflections on a Consecrated Life – Elder D. Todd Christofferson)

“So many of us are kept from eventual consecration because we mistakenly think that, somehow, by letting our will be swallowed up in the will of God, we lose our individuality (see Mosiah 15:7)… God seeks to have us become more consecrated by giving everything…  Consecration thus constitutes the only unconditional surrender which is also a total victory! May we deeply desire that victory, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.” (Elder Neal. A Maxwell, “Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father”)

To live in the celestial kingdom, we must live the law of consecration. There we must be able to feel that all we are and all we have belong to God.” (President Henry B. Eyring, “The Blessings of Tithing“)

“We might ask ourselves whether we are the kind of people who feel that giving an occasional egg or two toward the building of the kingdom is sufficient or whether we want to be categorized among those who consecrate their all in this endeavor… All of these worthy acts, along with almost countless others, constitute personal efforts by those who are consecrated members of the Church. Disciplining our spirits in this way prepares us for celestial living… Latter-day Saint scholar Hugh Nibley said, ‘The main purpose of the Doctrine and Covenants, you will find, is to implement the law of consecration.‘ He further taught, ‘This law, the consummation of the laws of obedience and sacrifice, is the threshold of the celestial kingdom, the last and hardest requirement made of men [and women] in this life.’… ’The law of consecration,’ said Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915-85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, ‘is that we consecrate our time, our talents, and our money and property to the cause of the Church; such are to be available to the extent they are needed to further the Lord’s interests on earth.’” (Elder Steven B. Oveson, “Personal Consecration“)

“Because the Lord hears their cries and feels your deep compassion for them, He has from the beginning of time provided ways for His disciples to help. He has invited His children to consecrate their time, their means, and themselves to join with Him in serving others… The names and the details of operation are changed to fit the needs and conditions of people. But always the Lord’s way to help those in temporal need requires people who out of love have consecrated themselves and what they have to God and to His work.” (President Henry B. Eyring, Opportunities to Do Good)

“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.” (President Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997), 639.)

And again, that is not even going past the first page of search results on LDS.org. The living prophets and apostles have warned us, and continue to warn us, and teach us our duty to God. Do we have ears to hear? (Mark 4:9, Mark 4:23, Matthew 11:15, Matthew 13:9, Matthew 13:43, Mark 7:16, Luke 14:35, Jeremiah 5:21, Mark 8:18; see also D&C 82:4)

We might honestly ask whether the early Latter-day Saints, including Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, understood this revelation on tithing given in section 119 in the same way we’ve analyzed here. The answer seems to be a resounding “Yes!”  Dr. Harper informs us:

Brigham Young was present when the Lord revealed Doctrine and Covenants 119. He was assigned to go among the Saints “and find out what surplus property the people had, with which to forward the building of the Temple we were commencing at Far West.” Before setting out he asked Joseph, “‘Who shall be the judge of what is surplus property?’ Said he, ‘Let them be the judges themselves.’” As a result, some Latter-day Saints offered all their surplus property. Some offered some of it. Some offered none. No one was coerced. And so it remains.8

And so it has come to be, in the intervening years, that we have almost entirely lost what the Lord meant when he gave the revelation on “tithing.” He was not establishing another law, a lower law, rescinding a higher law, etc. It was the very same law that he had been teaching all along, with additional sacrifice added to it.

This is a standing law unto the Latter-day Saints forever, the law of consecration.

(To be continued…”)

Notes:
  1. Steven C. Harper,  Making Sense of the Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake City 2008), D&C 119 []
  2. Ibid. []
  3. Ibid. []
  4. Steven C. Harper, “All Things Are the Lord’s”: The Law of Consecration in the Doctrine and Covenants,” in The Doctrine and Covenants: Revelations in Context (Provo and Salt Lake City: Desert Book and Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2008) 212-228. []
  5. Hugh Nibley, Don E. Norton, Approaching Zion, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co. & FARMS, 1989, 447-448. []
  6. Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997), 639. []
  7. Steven C. Harper,  Making Sense of the Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake City 2008), D&C 119 []
  8. Ibid. []

10 Comments

  1. Daniel
    Posted September 7, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Bryce, I always appreciate your posts and insight, and I have read your previous posts regarding consecration. I am all for exploration and “digging” into doctrine. It seems, though, that you might be taking some liberties here in reinterpreting the law as it applies to church members in our day. A statement from the First Presidency to stake presidents back in 1970 (a form of which I am sure is in the current handbook), which I am sure you have read might help:

    “For your guidance in this matter, please be advised that we have uniformly replied that the simplest statement we know of is that statement of the Lord himself that the members of the Church should pay one-tenth of all their interest annually, which is understood to mean income. No one is justified in making any other statement than this. We feel that every member of the Church should be entitled to make his own decision as to what he thinks he owes the Lord, and to make payment accordingly.”

    We are not asked to deduct from our income all that is surplus, etc., and then pay 10% of what is left. We are asked to pay 10% of our income/increase. While I would agree that those with exceeding excess ought to counsel with the Lord and determine what they ought to give (NO ONE, in my opinion, needs 4 cars, 2 vacation homes, and a flat-screen in every room “just to have”), the Apostles do not put specific requirements on this. We are asked to give generous fast offerings, I would assume that are proportional to our means. But many people in our day struggle heavily to make ends meet and pay tithing, and giving that 10% literally is all they can spare. (It’s the widow’s mite, so to speak).

    One day (in the Millennium I presume), the United Order will be re-instituted (as described in Moses and 4 Nephi), wherein all will labor for Zion (give 100% of themselves), and in return all people will be provided for and taken care of (all things common, no rich and poor, etc.) While I understand the principle of consecrating ourselves in this day to God’s Kingdom (including money, time, other means, and most importantly ones’ heart), we also have other responsibilities and there needs to be a balance. We are also counselled to save money (Pres. Hinckley), to enjoy the fruits of our labor (within reason), etc.

  2. Posted September 7, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Hi Daniel. Thank you for your comments. You are right, of course, that today we seem to interpret tithing as 10% only, and not a penny more. All I’m showing is that the revelation on tithing does not prescribe that necessarily. It is more nuanced. Yes, we should follow our leaders and their instructions. The “statement of the Lord himself” in D&C 119 is more than paying one-tenth of all our interest annually, as it also includes consecration; and I think that the Brethren also have taught us this principle plentifully in their words on the law of consecration, as I’ve shown briefly. Another example, the Brethren have taught us over the years to give a “generous” fast offering; that could equal as much or far more than our tithing. Of course, this is all voluntary; the law of consecration consists of agency, stewardship, and accountability. President Marion G. Romney taught, “What prohibits us from giving as much in fast offerings as we would have given in surpluses under the United Order? Nothing but our own limitations” (Improvement Era, 1966, 537).

    The comparison with the widow’s mite falls somewhat short, I’m afraid. Let’s read the full scripture:

    41 And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.
    42 And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.
    43 And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:
    44 For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living. (Mark 12:41–44)

    The widow was consecrating everything, all that she had, all her living. This was not her tithing, her 10%, or what she could spare. It was all she had.

    I am of the opinion that we can fully consecrate ourselves today to the Lord and his kingdom, and take care of all our daily responsibilities at the same time, many of which are part of our duty towards our families and/or communities, and our providing for them, which is included in the Lord’s gospel. We do not need to wait until the day when the United Order may be re-instituted to give ourselves to the Lord. I perceive when that day comes, only those who are already so living will be able to “abide” such an institution, for they will already be prepared for it.

  3. Daniel
    Posted September 7, 2012 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Thanks for your response Bryce. Regarding the “widow’s mite” concept, I understand what you mean, the idea being that the poor widow who cast in all that she had was giving more than the hypocritical Pharisees who had an exceeding abundance and loved to show off how much they were giving. Yet we are not required to give to the church “all that we have,” otherwise we would all be homeless and destitute and miserable indeed. I don’t believe that to be God’s will. I wonder if the story isn’t so much about money as it is about the heart. Where is my heart? The Lord knows each of our circumstances–how much we have, what our needs for survival are, our capabilities, etc. The Law of Consecration as given in the temple (which is in connection with tithing) states that we “consecrate” (make holy; set apart) our means, time, abilities, etc., for God’s work. The specifics of this (as most things in the gospel) are left up to the individual and the Lord. We are taught to not hold back anything from God and to be generous. I’m not pointing fingers; I could certainly use improvement here as we all can. I agree completely that we are not to wait for the reinstatement of the United Order to give ourselves to God, but beyond the specifics of the 10% tithing, it is left up to the individual and the Lord.

  4. Posted September 7, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    I like to think of it not as giving 100% of our money to the Church, at least not at the present time, but rather, as Elder McConkie noted, “such are to be available to the extent they are needed to further the Lord’s interests on earth.” All our time, talents, money, and property are to be made available to the Church and cause of the kingdom, whenever or wherever they may be asked of us. If that includes everything we have, then so be it. The Lord will never leave his consecrated Saints destitute.

    It is interesting to note that in the law of consecration, that if one so consecrates all they have, that all your needs are also taken care of. Hugh Nibley noted that “the law of consecration demands everything you have, but at the same times it fills your every physical need.”

    I love the scriptures on “consider the lilies” which I think directly apply to consecration. These are some of the most exquisitely beautiful scriptures that I know of.

    24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
    25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
    26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
    27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
    28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
    29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
    30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
    31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
    32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
    33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
    34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. (Matthew 6:24–34; cf. Luke 12:21–31)

    As Nibley often said, it comes down to our faith. Do we have faith that the Lord will provide if we turn ourselves over to Him? It’s often been said that the Lord can make much more out of us than we can (D&C 98:13, JST Matthew 16:28, D&C 103:27, Matthew 10:39, Matthew 16:25).

    I’m reminded of a promise from President Gordon B. Hinckley:

    President Hinckley taught them that if they would pay their tithing, they would always have food on their tables, they would always have clothing on their backs, and they would always have a roof over their heads.” (Lynn G. Robbins, “Tithing—a Commandment Even for the Destitute,” Ensign, May 2005, 34 (April 2005 Conference))

    These are the blessings of consecration. A binding promise from a living prophet, even the word of the Lord himself (D&C 1:38), that all our basic necessities will be met, and much more! Indeed, all that the Father hath (D&C 84:38).

  5. Posted September 7, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    A marvelous read and very inspiring-much to ponder…thank you so much for taking the time to study and share these important concepts. I’m especially glad that you pointed out the more recent mentions by our prophets. I’ve not read the first 3 parts yet…looking forward to them when I get an opportunity.

  6. Posted September 8, 2012 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Our consecration can be part of our daily responsibilities:

    “Hard-earned achievement brings a sense of self-worth. Work builds and refines character, creates beauty, and is the instrument of our service to one another and to God. A consecrated life is filled with work, sometimes repetitive, sometimes menial, sometimes unappreciated but always work that improves, orders, sustains, lifts, ministers, aspires.” (Elder D. Todd Christofferson, “Reflections on a Consecrated Life”, General Conference, October 2010)

  7. Sandy
    Posted September 25, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been introduced to your site fairly recently and really appreciate all the research you have done. You have some excellent insights and share much fascinating information.

    I think it is valuable to note that consecrating things to the Lord doesn’t necessarily need to involve physical offerings to the church. I think the family with a big house that is frequently letting youth come over or hosting ward activities is consecrating their home. I’m not expected to be as Hannah and ask the temple president to raise my son to be a temple worker, but I am expected to instill a love and understanding of the Gospel in him.
    We can give all of our surplus in fast offerings, or we can give it in other ways – like saving up to serve a senior mission during retirement years.

    The point is that we are stewards of all the Lord has given us, including our physical means, knowledge, time, talents, families, and our bodies. Like the parable of the talents, we should be using what we are given wisely so that we can give back more than we are given to start with. When the Lord gives us blessings, we should give back.

  8. Posted September 25, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    You are absolutely right, Sandy.

  9. Posted March 1, 2013 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Bryce Haymond,
    I’m not convinced, partly because I think like a lawyer, partly because I think you are abstracting the revelation from its time and place.
    I read it as saying that (1) at the time the revelation is issued, everyone is supposed to turn over their surplus property. After that, everyone is supposed to pay a tenth. (2) Later-baptized members are also supposed to turn over their surplus on their joining the community of the Saints. After that, they also pay a tenth every year.
    So really the only aspect of the modern law of tithing that is missing is a requirement that new converts turn over their surplus. But that aspect of the law of tithing has not been commanded by contemporary prophets. Even then, those of us who were baptized at the age of eight are probably still in compliance, since we didn’t have any ‘surplus’ at that age.
    That said, I agree with much of your larger point about the law of consecration still being in force and not being fully fulfilled by paying 10%.

  10. Posted March 1, 2013 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    I like this quote from President Marion G. Romney:

    While we await the redemption of Zion and the earth and the establishment of the United Order, we … should live strictly by the principles of the United Order insofar as they are embraced in present church practices such as the fast offering, tithing and the welfare activities. Through these practices we could as individuals, if we wished to do so, implement in our own lives all the basic principles of the United Order…. What prohibits us from giving as much in fast offerings as we would have given in surpluses under the United Order? Nothing but our own limitations. (Improvement Era, June 1966)

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