The “Law of Consecration,” as it is called in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, seems to be one of the things that is not well understood both inside and outside of our faith. I’m certainly not an expert, but I’ll share what I know and believe.
Consecration in the New Testament
I read the story of Ananias and Sapphira as a teenager, and I remember thinking that God was a harsh, angry being. (Of course, that was partly because of the religious training I had received to that point.) I didn’t understand why keeping a little bit of money or personal property back was such a big deal, and it seemed unfair that they would be struck dead when other people in the Bible had lied (and people were still lying) without having that kind of penalty imposed.
While I still don’t completely understand everything about the event, I feel I have a deeper understanding now.
- The Apostles were establishing a “United Order” among the ancient saints. The United Order is actually Heavenly Father’s plan to eliminate earthly inequality among His children. It was (and is) voluntary. It requires the giving of everything to the Lord’s servants and receiving back a stewardship. Each member of the order was then under covenant to grow the stewardship and return the excess to the Lord’s servants to continuing building the church.
- Since Ananias and Sapphira were not required to live under the United Order they were trying to receive the benefits and blessings without living the covenant. They were, in effect, making a mockery of God’s commandments, whether they chose to see it that way, or not. That’s a little more serious than just “telling a lie.”
- God’s judgments can be merciful. I don’t know what Ananias and Sapphira would have done to the faith of the saints if they had been allowed to enter the order and pretend that they were living the Law of Consecration with the same purity as other saints. There’s also no telling how much more sin they may have committed. I have learned that sometimes, Heavenly Father will step in and prevent people from causing more harm.
The “United Order”
Because Heavenly Father is working with imperfect humans, the United Order worked for a while, and then failed. Many factors have been given as reasons for its failure, including instability in the economy throughout the United States at the time, extreme poverty among the saints, greed among the members of the order, and poor decisions made by those who were leading.
The order was established by those who wished to join bringing everything they had to the bishop and then receiving back as a stewardship what they needed for their families. Each family was then to grow their stewardship, knowing that the surplus was to be given to the bishop for the blessing of others.
- I have listened to arguments that this was early socialism or communism, but I see a big difference: socialism and communism exist by the coercion of the government, which decides how much is given and how much is received. The United Order was voluntary, and the members counseled with leaders and reached a joint decision. The United Order respects individual agency, whereas communism and socialism do not.
If you would like to read a little more about the United Order, try these references:
- Doctrine and Covenants, Section 78
- Doctrine and Covenants, Section 82
- Doctrine and Covenants, Section 92
- Doctrine and Covenants, Section 96
- Doctrine and Covenants, Section 104
- Guide to the Scriptures, “United Order”
I have participated in Sunday School classes in which the argument has been presented that the Law of Consecration has been replaced by the Law of Tithing and the Law of the Fast. I’m not sure that I agree. I think it is much more accurate to say that the United Order was replaced by tithing and fasting:
- Tithing funds are used for the day to day expenses of running the worldwide church.
- Tithing amounts are determined on revealed principles, but are set between the individual and Heavenly Father. The bishop, at tithing settlement accepts the declaration made by each member.
- Fasts are accompanied by offerings, which are used for the care of those who are “poor and/or needy.” Bishops meet with individuals who are struggling with financial issues, and determine the best way to help.
These things are aspects of the United Order, not of the Law of Consecration. Consecration is a covenant to dedicate time, talents, and possessions to be used at the Lord requests and requires.
So, how can I keep the Law of Consecration without the United Order?
- View my time, talents, and possessions as blessings over which I have been given stewardship, rather than as things over which I have sovereign control. This readies my heart and mind to share as needed without viewing the call as a sacrifice of “my stuff.”
- Seek to bless and brighten the lives of the people around me. This was the principle at the heart of the United Order.
- Find ways to increase my talents and skills. The more I know and can do, the more I can be of service when needed.
After publishing this post, I found an article by Larry Barkdull. He is a gifted writer with deep insights. I recommend his article for even more to ponder: What is the Law of Consecration?