What do you think of when you hear about the law of consecration? For me, the initial images that flash through my mind have to do with past attempts in the Church to implement programs like the United Order of Enoch in various communities in the Midwest and Utah during the 1800s. Yet, I also recognize that there is more to the topic, even if it’s hard to adjust that mental image that I have held in the past. When I first encountered it, I assumed talk of promising to live the law of consecration today was usually a hypothetical “if the Church reinstitutes the United Order, you’ll live it” type of promise. However, as historian Steven C. Harper discussed in a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk in connection with his forthcoming book Let’s Talk About the Law of Consecration, the Law of Consecration really is something that we can live by today in ways that the temple covenant reflect rather than strictly being limited to the United Order systems. What follows here is a co-post to that interview.
In introducing what the law of consecration means to him, Steven C. Harper had the following to say:
It’s the two great commandments. People who love God and their fellow beings consecrate all they have and are to the welfare of God’s children.
The Law of Consecration is part of the revelation in D&C 42 known as the law of the Church. It includes the command:
“Thou shalt remember the poor, and consecrate of thy properties for their support.”
Doctrine and Covenants 42:30
He added some indications of what he sees as common misconceptions about the Law of Consecration:
- It’s commonly thought that the Lord suspended the Law of Consecration, or that He replaced it with the Law of Tithing.
- It’s common to confuse the Law of Consecration with the United Order.
- It’s common for people to think that early saints failed to live the Law of Consecration and that future saints will be commanded to live it.
And in explaining the United Order referenced in the Doctrine and Covenants, he indicated that:
Some of those revelations build—and then dismantle—the United Order. It was a group of men, named in D&C 82 and elsewhere, who covenanted with God and each other to do what they were commanded to do in D&C 70, 78, 82, and elsewhere.
The United Order existed from 1832–1834, after which the work it did was carried out by other revealed organizations. Later in church history there were united orders of various kinds but they were not much like the United Order mentioned in the Doctrine and Covenants.
These statements start to paint a different picture of the Law of Consecration for Latter-day Saints than I think many of us (myself included) typically assume it looks like. Yes, there were various United Order systems that were attempted in different communities of Latter-day Saints as an expression of their efforts to practice the law of consecration, but those were only specific systems used in attempts to implement the law in a more comprehensive way rather than being the law itself.
Some of what Harper expressed in the interview that way reminds me of something President Henry B. Eyring said in general conference a few years ago:
Our Heavenly Father hears the prayers of His children across the earth pleading for food to eat, for clothes to cover their bodies, and for the dignity that would come from being able to provide for themselves. Those pleas have reached Him since He placed men and women on the earth. …
Because the Lord hears their cries and feels their 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.
His way of helping has at times been called living the law of consecration. In another period His way was called the united order. In our time it is called the Church welfare program.
The names and 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.
Whatever it’s called and however it’s enacted in practice, efforts to consecrate ourselves and our means to God and His work is obedience to the law of consecration.
In the interview, Steven Harper pointed out that, with that being the case, our understanding of the law of tithing and its relationship with the law of consecration changes. He explained:
The Lord’s revelations to Joseph Smith used the word tithing as a synonym for any freewill offering.
Then, in Section 119, the Lord elaborated. That revelation equates the offering of surplus property with tithing, and then commands saints to offer a tenth of their annual interest. Bishop Partridge used a complex formula for calculating what that meant, but pretty quickly it simply came to mean a tenth of a person’s time, work, income, etc.
If people read Section 119 closely they will find that tithing is not a lower law to be superseded by consecration. It’s a standing law that is part of consecration. Obedience to it, according to Section 119, is prerequisite to Zion.
Rather than being a temporary fix until people got their act together enough to live the law of consecration, tithing is part of how we currently live the law of consecration today.
Thus, it really does seem like the Law of Consecration is something that we can incorporate and live by today without trying to establish a United Order in our local communities. It is still challenging, but far more applicable than trying to locate it as a practice in our past and future rather than the present. For more thoughts on what the Law of Consecration is and how it applies to our lives today, head on over to read Steven C. Harper’s thoughts at From the Desk.
 Henry B. Eyring, “Opportunities to Do Good,” General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April 2011, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2011/04/opportunities-to-do-good?lang=eng