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Law of Consecrationby Frank W. Hirschi
The law of consecration was introduced through revelations given to the Prophet Joseph Smith. As early as 1829, he was directed by the Lord to "seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion" (D&C 6:6; 11:6; 12:6; 14:6). Anciently, the Zion of Enoch was made up of people who "were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them" (Moses 7:18). These features have characterized the Lord's people who have accepted and applied the fulness of the gospel in their lives, such as the people of the city of Enoch (Moses 7:17-18) and the Nephite golden era (4 Ne. 1:2-3, 15-17) and some of the early Christians (Acts 4:32-37). Latter-day Saints have also been given the law of consecration as an ideal and a challenge and promise for the future (D&C 42:32-39).
The level of dedication required to live the law of consecration has many ancient echoes. The Bible records acts of consecration expressly connected with instituting covenants with God (e.g., Gen. 9:8-17; Num. 6). The willingness to sacrifice Isaac signified the complete dedication of Abraham to God's commands (Gen. 22:1-18). Exodus and Leviticus also disclose various sacrificial acts involving consecration to God, principally by aaron and his sons (cf. Ex. 40:12-16; Lev. 1- 7). The New Testament records that early Christians were called upon to set their hearts first on the kingdom of God and to have "all things in common" (Acts 2, 4, 5).
After the risen Jesus established his Church in the Western Hemisphere about A.D. 34, the Book of Mormon people followed the practice of consecration for nearly 200 years. "The people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another. And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift" (4 Ne. 1:2-3).
On January 2, 1831, the Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith in Fayette, New York, that anciently he had taken the Zion of Enoch to himself and then commanded him to go to Ohio to receive the law (D&C 38:4, 32; cf. Moses 7:21). When Joseph Smith arrived at Kirtland, Ohio, in February, he found the Saints organized in a communal society called "the family." He persuaded them to abandon this practice for "the more perfect law of the Lord." On February 9, while in the presence of twelve elders, he received the revelation that embraced "the law of the Church" (HC 1:146-48; D&C 42). This revelation presented the laws of Church government and of moral conduct for members and established the basic principles of consecration (D&C 42:32-39).
The key principles given in the revelations are consistent with those required for celestial living: all things belong to God, and his people are stewards (D&C 38:17; 104:11-14); individuals are to esteem others as themselves (D&C 38:24-27; 51:3, 9; 70:14; 78:6; 82:17); mankind must retain free agency (D&C 104:17); men and women are made equal according to their wants, needs, and family situations (D&C 51:3); and there must be accountability (D&C 72:3; 104:13-18). Although the implementation of the law of consecration of property as revealed in the early 1830s was temporarily suspended (cf. HC 4:93), the principles themselves were not discontinued.
THE COVENANTS OF CONSECRATION TODAY. The Lord revealed several purposes for the law of consecration: to bring the Church to stand independent of all other institutions (D&C 78:14); to strengthen Zion, adorning her in beautiful garments, as a bride prepared and worthy of the bridegroom (D&C 33:17; 58:11; 65:3; 82:14, 18; etc.); and to prepare the Saints for a place in the Celestial Kingdom (D&C 78:7).
Commenting on this subject, President John Taylor stated that consecration is a celestial law and, when observed, its adherents become a celestial people (JD 17:177-81). Thus, men and women today can become like as those of Enoch's day, "of one heart and one mind, with no poor among them" (Moses 7:18). Orson Pratt, an early apostle, observed that if the Lord's people aspire to the Celestial Kingdom, they must begin to learn the order of life that is there (JD 2:102-103).
IMPLEMENTATION OF THE LAW OF CONSECRATION. The law of consecration requires dedicating all of one's time, talents, and possessions to the Church and its purposes (D&C 82:19; 64:34; 88:67-68; 98:12-14). John A. Widtsoe, an apostle, noted that its operation was quite simple. Those who joined such an order were to place all their possessions in a common treasurythe rich their wealth, the poor their pittance. Then each member was to receive a sufficient portioncalled an "inheritance"from the common treasury to enable that person to continue in trade, business, or profession as desired. The farmer would receive land and implements; the tradesman, tools and materials; the merchant, necessary capital; the professional person, instruments, books, and the like. Members working for others would receive proportionate interests in the enterprises they served. No one would be without property. All would have an inheritance (Widtsoe, pp. 302-303).
A person's inheritance was to consist of personal property, to be operated permanently and freely for the benefit of the person and the family. Should the person withdraw from the order, the inheritance could be taken with him, but the person would have no claim upon surplus donations or possessions initially placed in the common treasury (D&C 51:3-6). At the end of a year or set period, the member who had earned more than needed for his family would voluntarily place the surplus in the common treasury. Substantial profits were to be administered by the group rather than by one individual. Men and women who, despite diligence, had a loss from their operations would have the loss made up by the general treasury for another start, or they mightwith consentbe placed in some activity better suited to their gifts. In short, the general treasury was to establish every person in a preferred field and was to care for those unable to profit from their inheritance. The general treasury, holding members' surpluses, would also finance public works and make possible all community enterprises decided upon by the group (D&C 104:60-77).
President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., counselor in the First Presidency, explained that the law of consecration as practiced was not a fully communal life. There was no common table. Each family lived as a unit. Property that was not turned back to the donor by mutual consent of the donor and the bishop became the property of the Church and was placed in the storehouse. Every member of the Church had equal access to the contents of the storehouse according to personal needs, circumstances, and needs of the family (Clark, p. 3).
EFFORTS TO LIVE THE LAW OF CONSECRATION. An early effort to live the law of consecration was first tried at Thompson, Ohio, in May 1831 by the members from the Colesville Branch who had moved there from New York. Complications arose when one of the participants withdrew his land and some of the members left for Missouri to help establish the center place of Zion before the practice could take root (Stewart, p. 125). Continued efforts to make necessary refinements in practicing the law in Ohio ultimately failed. A similar attempt was also made at this same time to institute the law of consecration and stewardship in Missouri, but intolerance and bickering among some of the Saints and the lack of any surplus to consecrate rendered the attempt unsuccessful (see Consecration in Ohio and Missouri).
After these early failures, the Lord adapted the requirements of the law of consecration to the capacities of the Saints and revealed the law of tithing as a practice to follow (HC 3:44; D&C 119). Although tithing does not require the giving of everything to the Lord, it teaches the fundamental elements upon which the character of a Zion people rests: self-control, generosity, love of fellow humans, love for God, and a desire to build the kingdom of God. Giving tithing for over a century, as the Saints proved their ability to live this commandment, prepared them to accept also the Welfare program, introduced in 1936 by Church President Heber J. Grant (CR [Oct. 1936]:3). Five years later, President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., observed that the practices of tithing, fast offerings, and Church Welfare had brought Church members closer to the original principles of the United Order and law of consecration (CR [Oct. 1942]:57).
Concerning the future, Zion can be redeemed only by obedience to the law of consecration. At the proper time, the Lord's leaders will implement the program. While it is not clear what procedures will be revealed, Latter-day Saints anticipate that the principles of stewardship, equality, agency, and accountability will eventually be subscribed to by all participants and that the goals originally envisioned will be reached (D&C 78:7, 14; 82:14).
Clark, J. Reuben, Jr. "Testimony of Divine Origin of Welfare Plan." Deseret News, Church Section, Aug. 8, 1951, p. 3.
Cook, Lyndon W. Joseph Smith and the Law of Consecration. Provo, Utah, 1985.
Nelson, William O. "To Prepare a People." Ensign 9 (Jan. 1979):18-23.
Stewart, George, et al. Priesthood and Church Welfare. Salt Lake City, 1939.
Widtsoe, John A. Evidences and Reconciliations. Salt Lake City, 1943.
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.1, Law of Consecration
Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company