“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.