Church History Lesson 15 (D&C 42:30-42; 51; 78: 82; 104: 11-18)
The Commandment to Consecrate
In February 1831, soon after the Saints began to gather in Kirtland, Ohio, the Lord revealed that they should begin to live the law of consecration. This is consistent with what the Lord has done in every dispensation where he has gathered together a group of chosen people. He immediately offers to them the opportunity to become a Zion people. He did this with Enoch’s people, and they accepted His offer and were translated. He did it again with Melchizedek’s people with the same result—they were translated. He tried it with the children of Israel at Mt. Sinai, but they rejected His offer and brought upon themselves the restrictive society of the Mosaic Law. He tried it among the Nephites after His visit to them, and it worked for about 200 years (four generations), then fell apart. Now, here in February 1831, he will try it again with his latter-day saints. And as in previous dispensations, the early Latter-day Saints had mixed results with this principle, and still do to this day.
The Underlying Principles of Consecration
● The earth is the Lord’s (D&C 104:13–14). A person’s willingness to consecrate results from the recognition that the earth and everything in it belongs to the Lord (Psalm 24:1). Persons who do not believe this will not see themselves as “stewards” over the blessings they possess, but rather as the sole owners of self-made circumstances.
● The Lord’s way is to exalt the poor and humble the rich (D&C 104:13–14). We should not misunderstand. This is not socialism, nor taxing the rich to provide handouts for the poor. The Lord’s way provides for personal growth for both the rich and poor as they come together in a covenant bond. The poor must work for what they receive, and every man must contribute his excess to the common good of the whole.
● Consecration is a spiritual law, not just a temporal or economic program (D&C 29:34–35). It helps participants prepare for eternal life in a celestial kingdom wherein the inhabitants live the law of consecration (v. 35).
● We must not “covet” our possessions (D&C 19:26). This is an interesting use of the word “covet,” since we normally think of it as unrighteous wishing that we possessed the means or circumstances of another. But we must also not covet our own possessions.
● Consecration must be done willingly, not grudgingly nor by force (D&C 64:34). This is consistent with all spiritual laws, which are voluntary, not forced. God insists that every man “should be an agent unto himself” (D&C 29:35). In consecration, “the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind” and only the “willing” and the “obedient” may participate in this celestial program among a Zion people.
Consecration Is Neither Socialism Nor Communism
Some have suggested that the law of consecration and the system of the United Order are a religious kind of socialism or communism. These assumptions are false.
J. Reuben Clark, Jr. said: “The United Order has not been generally understood,.. the United Order was not a communal system…The United Order and communism [socialism] are not synonymous. Communism is Satan’s counterfeit for the United Order. There is no mistake about this and those who go about telling us otherwise either do not know or have failed to understand or are willfully misrepresenting.”1
The Prophet Joseph Smith attended a presentation on socialism in September 1843 at Nauvoo. His response was to declare that he “did not believe the doctrine” (History of the Church, 6.33). He also said: “I preached on the stand about one hour on the 2nd chapter of Acts, designing to show the folly of common stock [holding property in common]. In Nauvoo everyone is steward over his own [property].”2
The Process of Consecration
To fully appreciate the difference between a welfare state and the law of consecration, we need to examine the process by which consecration is accomplished under the Lord’s plan. It can be thought of as a four-step process.
Step #1: Consecrating Possessions
1. Church members voluntarily consecrate their possessions to the Church by legal deed (D&C 42:30–32). This is the first step and perhaps the one that requires the most faith. To be effective, and to allow the issuance of stewardships, this had to be done voluntarily (v. 31; D&C 64:34) and with a legal deed of ownership—secure enough that ownership of the properties was sure and “cannot be taken from the church” (v. 32). Not everything was thus consecrated—only those things that had real value (e.g., property) or could be used to make a living (e.g., farm animals, tools), plus money and goods that could be used to help the poor.
2. These consecrated properties are “laid before the bishop ” (D&C 42:31). The bishop was thus the agent through which consecration was made. Bishops had to be men of uncommon character, a man whose “heart is pure before me… [and] in whom there is no guile” (D&C 41:11).
Step #2: Receiving a Stewardship
1. In return, the bishop deeds back the man’s property, with a covenant of stewardship (D&C 42:32). The Lord said: “every man shall be made accountable unto me, a steward over his own property ” (v. 32, emphasis added). Why was property deeded to the bishop and then deeded right back? The answer is covenant stewardship. When I receive it back, I do so with a covenant and promise to take care of it and use it for the blessing and benefit of all.
2. The stewardship property is owned by the recipients (D&C 51:4). This is private property, not communal property. It is given to them with a deed of ownership so each member will be fully responsible and accountable for managing it.
3. Stewardships come with a covenant of accountability for their use and management (D&C 104:11–13).
4. The size of the stewardship depends on the circumstances, wants, and needs of the family (D&C 42:32). In every case, he was to receive “sufficient for himself and family” (v. 32). This would mean that the size and nature of stewardships would vary according to the size and needs of each individual family. The bishop was commanded to “appoint unto this people their portions, every man equal according to his family, according to his circumstances and his wants and needs” (D&C 51:3, emphasis added). Notice that the bishop was to take into account the family’s righteous “wants” so long as they were “just” and not selfish (D&C 82:17).
5. The bishop and the member decide by mutual consent how much is enough. The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “The matter of consecration must be done by the mutual consent of both parties; for to give the bishop power to say how much every man shall have, and he be obliged to comply with the bishop’s judgment, is giving to the bishop more power than a king has; and upon the other hand, to let every man say how much he needs, and the bishop be obliged to comply with his judgment, is to throw Zion into confusion, and make a slave of the bishop. The fact is, there must be a balance or equilibrium of power, between the bishop and the people, and thus harmony and good will may be preserved among you.”3
6. The stewardship also depends on the particular training, skills, knowledge, talents, and interests of the recipient, recognizing the uniqueness of each individual. A blacksmith received what was needed to operate a blacksmith shop. A printer received a print shop. A baker received a bakery. For example, individual stewardships were granted to Church leaders at Kirtland, based on their personal skills and desires (D&C 104:19–46).
7. Participants must be righteous in order to participate (D&C 51:4). If a steward “transgresses and is not accounted worthy” he is no longer eligible to participate. In such cases, the participant is given back the money and property he consecrated and is required to leave the system (D&C 51:8-10).
Step #3: Managing Stewardships and Contributing Surpluses
1. Stewards must regularly report to the bishop on their stewardships (D&C 72:3–4). This “return and report” process can be seen throughout the plan of salvation. By this process the Lord can determine “who is faithful and wise” both in this world and when we “inherit the mansions prepared for [us] of my Father” (v. 4).
2. Stewards consecrate any surplus they have generated to the bishop (D&C 42:33).
3. The bishop places all surplus property and goods into a “bishop’s storehouse” (D&C 51:13).
4. The lazy and indolent do not receive a stewardship (D&C 42:42, 53). The system rewards those willing to work with the means to make their living. It does not provide handouts to the lazy and indolent.
5. Participants pay for whatever they obtain from each other (D&C 42:54). People were not to borrow from their neighbor but to pay for whatever they received from anyone else. In this way, every person’s stewardship is productive, with nobody taking advantage of any other person’s labor. Each has a profitable enterprise from which they can generate the means to purchase whatever they need from others.
6. New stewards participate like all other stewards (D&C 42:53, 55).
Step #4: Managing Surpluses
1. The surplus is used to provide new stewardships to others (D&C 42:33).
2. The bishop also uses the surplus to care for the poor, to build houses of worship, and for other worthy purposes (D&C 42:34–35).
An Example of How Consecration Works
To illustrate this celestial principle and how it might work among a righteous people, let us take an imaginary example of a young man who has recently come of age to receive his own stewardship. He wants to be a dentist, and he has prepared himself for this stewardship by attending dental school, graduating, and obtaining a license to practice. How does he proceed?
Step #1: Consecrating Possessions. The bishop’s storehouse already contains sufficient money and equipment to set this young man up in his dental practice. Perhaps a member whose stewardship is manufacturing has already donated the necessary equipment. Or, if not, then the funds of the storehouse can be used to purchase the equipment from a vendor. Also, because of the consecrations that have been made, land and building materials are available to construct him an office. The young man needs only to go to the bishop and consecrate to the system whatever he possesses of value and express a desire to receive a stewardship.
Step #2: Receiving a Stewardship. Seeing that he is fully qualified, worthy, and willing to enter into his stewardship with a covenant, the bishop arranges for him to receive his stewardship—everything necessary for him to practice dentistry. He makes a covenant with the bishop to manage and maintain his stewardship to the best of his ability, and to consecrate to the storehouse any surplus he may generate from his practice. He and the bishop agree together as to what his family’s needs and wants are, and anything above that will be considered to be “surplus.” He receives his property and equipment with a deed, makes his solemn covenant of stewardship, and begins his practice.
Step #3: Managing Stewardships and Contributing Surpluses. To understand the genius of this system, we should ask ourselves three questions at this point:
— First, how much debt does the young man have? He has none. The land and building and equipment are all paid for. So, too, is his house and his car. All were received as part of his stewardship. So he begins his stewardship debt-free and able to concentrate on managing his practice and spending plenty of time with his family. He is truly free.
— Second, how expensive will his fees need to be in order for him to practice? Not very expensive. People can obtain dental services from him for a reasonable cost that does not have to cover the cost of his equipment or facilities. Nor does he have to generate unreasonable sums of money to satisfy his desired lifestyle. That has already been negotiated and agreed to with his bishop, and his home and cars, etc. are all paid for. The entire community benefits from dental services at a very reasonable price.
— Third, how much excess will he generate from his practice? Quite a bit, since he has no payments to make. After keeping what he and the bishop have agreed he should keep to satisfy his family’s needs and wants, he then gives back to the storehouse all of the excess he generates each year. It might be safe to say that at least half of what he generates will be excess, if not more. A large amount of money flows back into the storehouse from this young man every year of his life, providing the means to set others up in their own stewardships.
Step #4: Managing Surpluses. It should not be difficult to imagine how an entire community would benefit from such a system. Nobody is in debt. Everybody has what they need and want. And this young man’s story is multiplied by the thousands of people, in all walks of life, who are consecrated stewards. It is not surprising, therefore, that societies that have lived this law have become extremely blessed as a people. They all get rich—together. And they all stay focused on the more important things of life—family, Church, and the welfare of their neighbors. They become, indeed, a celestial people.
The Purposes of Consecration
The goal of the system is not just “to get rich,” but to shape a people into a Zion society where they have “all things common” (Acts 4:32) and there are “no poor among them” (Moses 7:18). Both temporally and spiritually, they are united and unfettered and blessed. Thus, consecration achieves a number of important things for those who live it.
Temporal Reasons for Consecration
● To care for the poor and needy (D&C 42:31).
● To teach us to be industrious and to avoid idleness (D&C 42:42). In our modern society we see thousands of “idle poor” who feel entitled to the care of others without regard to their own productivity. That is not the Lord’s way. The poor must labor for what they receive, both as their way of contributing to the blessings of others, and also for the sake of their own self-dignity.
● To make us “equal” in earthly opportunities (D&C 51:3, 9). Bishop Partridge was charged to “appoint unto this people their portions, every man equal according to his family, according to his circumstances and his wants and needs” (v. 3, emphasis added). This did not mean identical, but that every steward has all that he needs and desires in righteousness.
● To provide a common pool of resources from which to help people (D&C 82:18). Notice that it is what goes into the storehouse that becomes common property, and not the private property of the people. Each stewardship is considered private property. This is not communism but joint-capitalism,
● To make it possible to focus on spiritual things (D&C 78:5–6). People who are unequally yoked with the cares of the world will be unequally able to give their attention to spiritual things.
● To improve our talents for the benefit of all (D&C 82:18). While taking a stewardship upon himself and learning to manage it “for the benefit of the church of the living God,” “every man may improve upon his talent, [and]… gain other talents, yea, even an hundred fold.”
● To purchase lands and build buildings (D&C 42:35). The Church needs places of worship and temples and administrative buildings around the world. Thus, the money and goods that are consecrated to the Lord may be used for these purposes.
● To support full time Church officers and workers (D&C 42:70–73). Those who labor full-time in the management of the affairs of the Church are entitled to either be paid for their service or to receive goods from the bishop’s storehouse.
● To help the Church “stand independent above all other creatures (D&C 78:14).” The traumatic events of these last days would be much worse if the Church and its people are financially insolvent.
Spiritual Reasons for Consecration
● To help us to overcome pride (D&C 42:40).
● To teach us to be honest (D&C 51:9). This is a system which requires households to declare their needs and wants to the bishop. There are all kinds of opportunities for greed and selfishness under such a system. The Lord said as He implemented this plan, “And let every man deal honestly.”
● To teach us to be accountable, faithful, and wise (D&C 51:19). Managing a stewardship which requires us to report the results teaches us to be accountable. Being properly and consistently accountable makes us faithful. And learning to make the proper decisions along the way makes us wise. These are all godlike characteristics which we must obtain if we wish to be exalted.
● To teach us to be unselfish (D&C 70:14). Consecration against our will or with a bad attitude will not bless us. We might as well not give the gift because there will be no reward for giving grudgingly.
● To teach us to be just and fair (D&C 82:17). While living this law, “you are to have equal claims on the properties, for the benefit of managing… your stewardships, every man according to his wants and his needs, inasmuch as his wants are just.” In other words, we need to learn to be fair and equitable in our requests from the system, not greedy and self-serving.
● To provide for the salvation of the Saints (D&C 78:3–4).The Lord intended this practice to be “permanent and everlasting” and to “advance the cause” of Zion (v. 4). Its purpose was to provide for “the salvation of man” and for “the glory of your Father who is in heaven” (v. 4). How does consecration do this? By teaching us how to hold and manage wealth without it destroying us spiritually.
● To learn to live a celestial principle while still on earth (D&C 78:7). Consecration is a celestial law—the inhabitants of the celestial world live by this law. Therefore, “if you will that I give unto you a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves by doing the things which I have commanded you and required of you” (to consecrate).
● To keep our “eye single to the glory of God (D&C 82:19).” Instead of self-interest and self-aggrandizement, consecration encourages “every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God.” It is charity in action
The United Order
● In March 1832, the Lord revealed that there must be an organization to regulate and administer the law of consecration among His people (D&C 78:3). The system cannot function properly in an informal or chaotic context.
● In March 1833, the Lord called this organization the “United Order” (D&C 92:1–2).
● Further instructions on the united order (D&C 104). In a subsequent revelation the Lord said the following about the united order and its participants and financial bondage (vv. 78–86).
The Law of Consecration Was Revoked
● The Lord both gives and revokes his commandments, as needed (D&C 56:4).
● The Lord’s promises are conditioned upon obedience (D&C 58:31–33). The Lord always keeps his part of our covenants. The problem is that men are not obedient. “I command and men obey not,” He said, and therefore “I revoke and they receive not the blessing” (v. 32). But then, like selfish children, “they say in their hearts: This is not the work of the Lord, for his promises are not fulfilled” (v. 33). They fail to see the connection between keeping their covenants and receiving the blessings attached to those covenants.
● The law of consecration was revoked until the time of Zion ‘s future redemption (D&C 105:34).
● The people in Zion were not living the law of consecration nor keeping the commandments (vv (D&C 105:2–4). 3–4).
● The law of consecration is a celestial law (D&C 105:5–6). A Zion people must live by celestial laws, and consecration is one of those. Because they did not do so, they “must needs be chastened until they learn obedience, if it must needs be, by the things which they suffer” (v. 6).
How We Can Consecrate Today
Though we do not live the law of consecration as a people, we are nonetheless asked to consecrate as individuals. We have made covenants to do so. But how can we live the law of consecration in a time when there is no organized process for us to do it as a people?
1. Make the sacrifices the Lord requires now —our time, talents, and possessions—for the building up of the Kingdom of God upon the earth, and for the establishment of Zion.
2. Pay tithing and fast offerings, and give generously in other ways to those in need. By doing this, we can help care for the poor and carry on the important activities of the Church. Thus, each of us could, individually, calculate what is “surplus” in our means and give it willingly to the Church in support of any one of its vital programs.
3. Serve willingly in the Church. The Lord has admonished each person to “learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence” (D&C 107:99).
4. Serve as a full-time missionary. Robert D. Hales said: “Going on a mission teaches you to live the law of consecration. It may be the only time in your life when you can give to the Lord all your time, talents, and resources. In return, the Lord will bless you with His Spirit to be with you. He will be close to you and strengthen you.”4
5. Develop Christ-like love for others. “Every man seeking the interest of his neighbor” (D&C 82:19) is the foundation of the law of consecration.
6. Strive to consecrate willingly. We must willingly consecrate, not do so grudgingly. The revelations tell us that “the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days” (D&C 64:34). Willingness is manifested by our attitude as well as our actions.
1. In Conference Report, Oct. 1943, 11.
2. History of the Church, 6:37–38.
3. History of the Church, 1:364.
4. In Conference Report, Apr. 1996, 50; Ensign , May 1996, 36.