Beginning in February 1831, the Lord revealed “the laws of consecration,” whereby the Saints of this dispensation were to make sacred covenants to provide means for the poor and needy and to build up the kingdom of God on earth (D&C 42:2, 30, 34-35; 105:5, 29). The underlying principle of consecration rests in recognizing that the Lord is the Creator and that all things are his; mankind are the Lord’s stewards over the earth and its riches (D&C 104:13-14). In commanding the Saints to consecrate their worldly wealth and honest efforts to his Church, the Lord gives them an opportunity to become more godlike in blessing others.
Although the principles of consecration are the same for all of God’s covenant people in all ages, the implementation of the financial aspects of consecration may vary according to the times and circumstances of the Saints, as directed by living prophets. In 1838, the financial portion of the law of consecration was adjusted to include the law of tithing. Over time, tithes and offerings have become the main means of financing the Church, rather than the consecration of property as described in the revelations of the early 1830s. Nonetheless, the principles of consecration—providing for the poor and serving to build up the kingdom of God—are in operation in the Church today. Worthy Latter-day Saints in modern times, who make sacred covenants of consecration, can and do give of their surplus through the current system of tithes and offerings and unselfishly give of their time and energies to build up the kingdom of God.
Commandments regarding consecration are a prominent theme in the Doctrine and Covenants, including the fact that the law of consecration is to be implemented within the organization of the Church under the direction of priesthood leaders. At least twenty-four revelations give instructions regarding consecration and its attendant aspects of stewardship, the Lord’s storehouse, the United Firm, and the law of tithing (D&C 38, 42, 44, 48, 51, 54, 56, 58, 70, 72, 78, 82-85, 92, 96-97, 104-106, 119-120, and 136).
Bishops’ Storehouse: Providing for the Poor and Needy
The Lord’s command to provide for the poor and needy in this dispensation connects latter-day efforts with those of past dispensations. In the Old Testament the children of Israel were commanded to give the fruits of the harvest from each seventh year “that the poor of thy people may eat” (Ex. 23:11). In addition, the Lord commanded them to leave the corners of their fields and not to return after a harvest to glean that which remained. Rather, they were to “leave them for the poor and stranger” (Lev. 19:10). In the New Testament there was a time when the Saints “had all things common … and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need” (Acts 4:32-35). In the Book of Mormon, Alma recorded that in his day “they did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted” (Alma 1:27).
When the restored Church was less than a year old, the Lord gave his law to those who had joined the Church in the area of Kirtland, Ohio. Caring for the poor, according to the Lord’s law, was to be accomplished by the combined consecrated efforts of all the Saints. He instructed that “inasmuch as ye impart of your substance unto the poor, ye will do it unto me; and they shall be laid before the bishop of my church” (D&C 42:31). Lands and goods were thus consecrated for the use of the Church, meaning that those who gave their substance did so with a covenant and a deed. This procedure provided the sacred context of consecration within the covenant and satisfied the laws of the land by using a legal deed. Consecrated properties were given to members, who acted as stewards for the Lord in caring for the property and providing for their own support. The Lord commanded that any surplus derived from the operation of these stewardships “shall be kept in my storehouse, to administer to the poor and the needy, as shall be appointed by the high council of the church, and the bishop and his council” (D&C 42:32-34).
The Lord called Edward Partridge as the first bishop in his Church to oversee the consecration (D&C 41:9). In addition, the Lord explained that Bishop Partridge was to “appoint a storehouse unto this church” (D&C 51:13). He commanded Bishop Partridge to take up residence in Independence, Missouri, and serve as bishop there (D&C 58:24). The Lord then called Newel K. Whitney to be the bishop in Ohio “to keep the Lord’s storehouse; to receive the funds of the church in this part of the vineyard … that this also may be consecrated to the good of the church, to the poor and needy” (D&C 72:8-12).
The Lord revealed that women who have lost their husbands and children who have lost their fathers “have claim upon the church, or in other words upon the Lord’s storehouse … and the storehouse shall be kept by the consecrations of the church; and widows and orphans shall be provided for, as also the poor” (D&C 83:1-6).
United Order or United Firm, Literary Firm
In addition to providing for the poor and needy, the Lord instructed that consecrated properties and funds were also to be used “for the purpose of purchasing lands for the public benefit of the church, and building houses of worship, and building up of the New Jerusalem” (D&C 42:34-35). The Lord further revealed that the commandments and revelations, which he had given through the Prophet Joseph Smith, were to be published to the world using funds generated from consecrated properties within this law. He appointed five additional brethren to assist Joseph Smith in managing this endeavor: Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, John Whitmer, Sidney Rigdon, and William W. Phelps (D&C 70:1). The organization of stewards over the revelations and commandments was officially called the Literary Firm. Members of the Literary Firm were charged to consecrate their time and talents to publish the revelations and other Church literature. Funds needed for publication were to be provided from the Lord’s storehouse. Likewise, any profits generated from the sale of these items, after the “necessities” and “wants” of the Firm were taken care of, were to be given to the storehouse (D&C 70:2-8).
In March 1832, the Lord commanded that Joseph Smith and other Church leaders organize a mercantile firm in which Church properties, such as the Newel K. Whitney store in Kirtland, Ohio, and the A. Sidney Gilbert store in Independence, Missouri, were to be consecrated as Church-owned commercial businesses. In addition, these two buildings were each to serve as a “storehouse for the poor” (D&C 78:3). Further, the Literary Firm, the mercantile businesses, and the Lord’s storehouses were to be organized under the head as the United Firm (later edited in the revelations to be the “order” or “United Order”; 78:8; 82:20; 92:1; 104:1, 5, 10, 48). The Prophet Joseph Smith traveled from Ohio to Missouri to sit in council with members there and to organize the United Firm. Members of the United Firm were to “be bound together by a bond and covenant that [could not] be broken by transgression, except judgment [should] immediately follow, in [their] several stewardships—to manage the affairs of the poor, and all things pertaining to the bishopric both in the land of Zion and in the land of Kirtland (D&C 82:11-12). Edward Partridge, Newel K. Whitney, and A. Sidney Gilbert were called to join with members of the Literary Firm in forming the United Firm (D&C 82:11). The Lord indicated that the initial organization of the United Firm was to prepare Church members to accomplish the Lord’s commands to provide for the poor, “that through my providence, notwithstanding the tribulation which shall descend upon you, that the church may stand independent above all other creatures beneath the celestial world” (D&C 78:13-14).
Members of the First Presidency presided over the consecrated properties of the Church and directed the work of the bishopric in providing for the poor. When Frederick G. Williams was called as a counselor in the First Presidency, replacing Jesse Gause, the Lord instructed that Williams should be a member of the United Order (D&C 92:1-2), in accordance with the Lord’s explanation that “this order [United Firm] I have appointed to be an everlasting order unto you, and unto your successors, inasmuch as you sin not” (D&C 82:20). Other individuals were also added to the group of leaders overseeing the United Firm. For example, after John Johnson sold his home and farm in Hiram, Ohio, he consecrated the proceeds to the Church. Subsequently, the Lord revealed that “it is expedient in me that he [John Johnson] should become a member of the order [United Firm], that he may assist in bringing forth my word unto the children of men” (D&C 96:8).
The Lord commanded that two treasuries be established to “print my words, the fullness of my scriptures [Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible], the revelations which I have given unto you, and which I shall, hereafter, from time to time give unto you—for the purpose of building up my church and kingdom on the earth” (D&C 104:58-59). Funds from the sale of scriptures were to be placed in a “sacred treasury” “for the purpose of printing these sacred things [the scriptures]” (D&C 104:60-66). The Lord also commanded that “another treasury” be prepared, “and all moneys that you receive in your stewardships, by improving upon the properties which I have appointed unto you, in houses or in lands, or in cattle, or in all things save it be the holy and sacred writings, which I have reserved unto myself for holy and sacred purposes, shall be cast into the treasury as fast as you receive moneys” (D&C 104:67-68). This second treasury provided for the expenses of Church buildings and programs, as well as being available to be used in various individual stewardships (D&C 104:69-77). Stewards of his work were “to be equal, or in other words … have equal claims on the properties, for the benefit of managing the concerns of [their] stewardships, every man according to his wants and his needs, inasmuch as his wants are just—and all this for the benefit of the church of the living God, that every man may improve upon his talent, that every man may gain other talents, yea, even an hundred fold, to be cast into the Lord’s storehouse, to become the common property of the whole church—every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God” (D&C 82:17-19).
Consecration and Stewardships of Personal Property
The covenant of consecration involved assigning by legal deed to the Church all of one’s property and possessions and receiving, also by legal deed, a stewardship of land or a business to provide for one’s needs (D&C 42:30-32; 51:4-6). The determination of what was to be consecrated was simple: it was everything one owned. The determination of appointing a stewardship required great care. No two families or individuals have the same needs or preferences. The Lord explained that the bishop and those working with him were to appoint stewardships based upon the principle of “every man equal according to his family, according to his circumstances and his wants and needs” (D&C 51:3). Thus, the bishop considered the number and ages of the family’s children. Additionally, a farmer would receive farm land; a tanner, a tannery; a printer, a print shop; and a businessman, a mercantile establishment (D&C 57:8-12; 104:19-42). The Prophet Joseph Smith wrote to Bishop Edward Partridge that the bishop and the members consecrating property and receiving stewardships were to determine together their needs and just wants, indicating that “there must be a balance or equilibrium of power, between the Bishop and the people, and thus harmony and good ill may be preserved among you.” If no agreement could be reached between the bishop and the member, the case was to be turned over to a council of twelve high priests (History of the Church, 1:364-365).
The Lord instructed that if any individuals produced “more than is necessary for their support after this first consecration,” the residue property or money was “to be consecrated unto the bishop” to be kept “in my storehouse, to administer to the poor and the needy” and for purchasing lands, building houses of worship, and “building up of the New Jerusalem” (D&C 42:33-35).
Consecration and Zion
In a revelation given in April 1832, the Lord declared, “Zion must increase in beauty, and in holiness; … yea, … Zion must arise and put on her beautiful garments” (D&C 82:14). The Lord also revealed that unity among the Saints, gained from living the law of consecration, is “the union required by the law of the celestial kingdom” upon which Zion must be built (D&C 105:3-5). This unity requires equality. The Lord commanded, “Let every man esteem his brother as himself” (D&C 38:25) and explained, “If ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things” (D&C 78:6). The goal for a latter-day Zion is to be like the “Zion of Enoch,” which the Lord took “into [his] own bosom” (D&C 38:4) “because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them” (Moses 7:18).
Challenges to Living the Law of Consecration
The antithesis of consecration—covetousness—contributed to challenges the early Saints faced in living “the laws of consecration” (D&C 105:29). When the Saints were persecuted and eventually driven from their properties in Jackson County, Missouri, the Lord informed them that it was due to their disobedience and “covetous desires among them; therefore by these things they polluted their inheritances” (D&C 101:1, 6; cf. 104:4). This inability of Church members to live the law of consecration led to the dissolution of the United Firm. The Lord instructed the Prophet Joseph Smith to reorganize the United Firm as two firms, each under its own name in Ohio and Missouri, respectively (D&C 104:47-48), and to divide the properties of the Firm into individual stewardships, still under the principles of consecration. Sidney Rigdon was appointed “the place where he now resides, and the lot of the tannery for his stewardship” (D&C 104:20), Martin Harris and John Johnson were given land (D&C 104:24-26, 34-38), Frederick G. Williams and Oliver Cowdery were assigned the printing office, Newel K. Whitney the mercantile establishment and the ashery (D&C 104:39-42), and the Prophet Joseph Smith the lots for the house of the Lord (D&C 104:43-46).
In early revelations the term tithing referred to all offerings and contributions to Church funds (D&C 64:23-24; 85:3; 97:11-12; 119 headnote; 119:3-4). Attempts by the Saints to live the law of consecration did not provide sufficient funds to build the kingdom. Either the Saints simply did not have sufficient surplus funds to contribute to the Lord’s storehouse, or they allowed covetousness to dictate that their surplus was needed for personal wants in the future. While in Far West, Missouri, Bishop Partridge met with his counselors to determine how to meet the expenses of the kingdom, including building a temple; they proposed a plan of assessing the Saints’ property and goods for a payment of “two cents upon the dollar for what every man shall be worth when he renders his inventory to the Bishop” (Far West Record, p.129-130). When the Prophet Joseph Smith inquired of the Lord concerning this plan, the Lord revealed that the time had come for the Saints to establish the law of tithing, or “one-tenth of all their interest annually,” as a “standing law unto them forever” after an initial consecration of “all their surplus property” (D&C 119:1-7).
The Lord also instructed that a council be organized for the disposition of the tithes, “composed of the First Presidency of my Church, and of the bishop and his council, and by my high council [the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles]” (D&C 120:1).
While addressing the high council in Montrose, Iowa, on 6 March 1840 the Prophet Joseph Smith acknowledged the need for suspending the financial system of consecration as it had been revealed at first. The minutes record that “the law of consecration could not be kept here, and that it was the will of the Lord that we should desist from trying to keep it; and if persisted in, it would produce a perfect defeat of its object, and that he assumed the whole responsibility of not keeping it until proposed by himself” (History of the Church, 4:93; cf. 105:34). The president of the Church is the only one authorized by God to declare if, when, and how the law of consecration of properties should be implemented.
The Law of Consecration Today
In 1838 the law of tithing became the source of financing Church expenses. Since that time the Saints have been given additional opportunities to consecrate some of their resources for a variety of programs essential to the building up of the kingdom of God on the earth—fast offerings, temple construction, missionary work, Book of Mormon distribution, the perpetual education fund, humanitarian aid, and so forth—all under the designation, “offerings.”
The law of consecration involves much more than dedicating property or money for the building up of the kingdom of God on the earth. In summarizing the law of consecration, Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained that “righteous saints in all ages have consecrated their time, talents, strength, properties, and monies to the establishment of the Lord’s work and kingdom in their respective days. As circumstances have required, these saints—having set their hearts on righteousness and having actually put first in their lives the things of God’s kingdom—have been and are called upon to serve on missions, colonize wilderness areas, build temples, go to the ends of the earth on the Lord’s errand, magnify calls in the ministry, and contribute of their means in the great welfare and building projects of the Church” (Mormon Doctrine, p.157).
The Lord’s Consecrated Lands
The Lord said that he had consecrated lands where the Saints could live and build houses to his name. For example, “I have consecrated the land of Kirtland in mine own due time for the benefit of the saints of the Most High, and for a stake to Zion” (D&C 82:13). In the summer of 1831 the Lord commanded many of the elders of the Church to journey to Missouri, “which is the land which I have appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the saints” (D&C 57:1; cf. 52:2). More specifically, the Lord identified Missouri as “the place for the city of Zion” (D&C 57:2), and Independence, Missouri, as the center place where a temple is to be built (D&C 57:3). The Lord referred to the site for the temple as “the consecrated spot as I have appointed” (D&C 84:31). Similarly, the Lord commanded, “Let the city, Far West, be a holy and consecrated land unto me; and it shall be called most holy, for the ground upon which thou standest is holy. Therefore, I command you to build a house unto me” (D&C 115:7-8). With reference to the choice of land for the building of the Lord’s house in Nauvoo, he promised, “If ye labor with all you might, I will consecrate that spot that it shall be made holy” (D&C 124:44). Thus, it might be safely surmised that sites for all temples are consecrated to be holy places. Similarly, stakes are designated as holy places of refuge for the Saints (D&C 101:20-22; 115:5-6). (Largey, Doctrine and Covenants Reference Companion, (2012), p.106-112)