Monday, March 8, 2010

Consecration and "Divine Discontent"

Despite what some may believe, I have always had a firm belief that the Law of Consecration has never been rescinded, or taken away, and the command of the 10% tithe given instead. It is comforting to know I am not alone in my thoughts. A wonderful article written by Steven C. Harper, called “All Things Are the Lord’s: The Law of Consecration in the Doctrine and Covenants” shares many of the same observations I have had. I highly recommend that you read it in its entirety.

President Gordon B. Hinckley taught that “the law of sacrifice and the law of consecration were not done away with and are still in effect.” Elder Neal A. Maxwell stated, “Many ignore consecration because it seems too abstract or too daunting. The conscientious among us, however, experience divine discontent.” I certainly believe both of these statements are true.

Steven C. Harper addresses an issue he calls “folk memory” among Latter-day Saints in the above mentioned talk. This “folk memory” allows for the teachings such as; “tithing is the lower law, while consecration is the higher law”, “tithing is the preparatory law for the law of consecration”, and “tithing is in force until we are asked to live the law of Consecration once again.” Harper explains, “No revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants rescind, suspend, or revoke the law of consecration. The Doctrine and Covenants never refers to a higher or a lower law, only the law. Indeed, the revelations do not speak of the laws of God as we do of bills before the legislature, as subject to passage, veto, or amendment. Rather, they speak of the laws of God as eternal. The law, in other words, was revealed to Joseph Smith in February 1831, but the law itself simply has been, is, and ever will be. Consecration is the law of the celestial kingdom, and section 78 teaches that no one will receive an inheritance there who has not obeyed the law (see D&C 78:7).”

The only place where one might receive the impression that tithing replaces consecration is found in the section heading found in the Doctrine and Covenants for Section 119. It states, “Because of failure on the part of many to abide by this covenant, the Lord withdrew it for a time, and gave instead the law of tithing to the whole Church.” I believe caution must be exercised when relying on this statement as sole instruction on the matter.

Likewise in the same section heading a definition of tithing is extremely pertinent to understand, as it applies to the amount required as a tithe. It states, “The law of tithing, as understood today, had not been given to the Church previous to this revelation. The term “tithing” in the prayer just quoted and in previous revelations (64: 23; 85: 3; 97: 11) had meant not just one-tenth, but all free-will offerings, or contributions, to the Church funds. The Lord had previously given to the Church the law of consecration and stewardship of property, which members (chiefly the leading elders) entered into by a covenant that was to be everlasting.” The previous statement, about the law of Consecration being “withdrawn”, compared with this statement describing it as “everlasting” causes a bit of a conflict for some.

When I read all the references to tithes in the Old Testament with the understanding that the Lord is referring to “free will offerings” of a consecrated nature, it sheds a new light on what is actually required for the “windows of Heaven to open”.

Perhaps some historical background on Section 119 of the Doctrine and Covenants may be of benefit at this point. When Section 119 was received the saints had just been removed from both Clay County, Missouri, and Kirtland Ohio to assemble in Far West. As they gathered, the Lord instructed the Saints that their first priority was to build a temple. He was very specific this time in His instruction regarding the money situation for building it.

Doctrine and Covenants 115:13 Verily I say unto you, let not my servant Joseph, neither my servant Sidney, neither my servant Hyrum, get in debt any more for the building of a house unto my name;

14 But let a house be built unto my name according to the pattern which I will show unto them.

This command, to be debt free, presented a dilemma for the Saints. On the one hand, they were to make building the Temple a priority, yet on the other, they needed to find a way to finance it, this time without going into debt as they did in Kirtland. They had come to Far West in an impoverished state, many left behind their land, and all their earthly possessions to gather. This state of poverty, which the Saints lived in, was not one in which there was “excess” or “surplus” of financial means. In an attempt to resolve the problem of raising money for the Temple, Bishop Partridge and a committee of men proposed that, a tax be imposed on the Saints which amounted to about 2% of each individuals total worth. In response to this proposal, the Prophet Joseph Smith inquired of the Lord and received Section 119.

Notice what the Lord requires and what he labels the requirement:

Doctrine and Covenants 119:1 Verily, thus saith the Lord, I require all their surplus property to be put into the hands of the bishop of my church in Zion,

2 For the building of mine house, and for the laying of the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood, and for the debts of the Presidency of my Church.

3 And this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people.

I believe that “all their surplus” is another way of restating the Law of Consecration. If that is the case, then the “Law” is also referred to as a “tithe” like explained in the section heading. The problem herein lies that the Saints barely had enough to survive, consequently there was very little, if any, surplus.

The Lord very specifically states that after the required law is met then an added sacrifice is required:

Doctrine and Covenants 119:4 And after that, those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord.

5 Verily I say unto you, it shall come to pass that all those who gather unto the land of Zion shall be tithed of their surplus properties, and shall observe this law, or they shall not be found worthy to abide among you.

I believe that the 10% is an additional requirement to the Law of Consecration, requiring us to “sacrifice” some of our “wants and needs”. Just think of this, Consecration is required of all, but is paid in times of abundance; tithing is the same amount for all, to be paid in time of need thus requiring all to sacrifice. For me, this sheds a different light on which offering could actually be labeled “higher or lower”. This understanding certainly raises some “divine discontent” for me.

“What, then, the conscientious covenant keeper wants to know, does the Lord expect? What does it mean in the twenty-first century to comply with the law of consecration? What is meant by ambiguous terms in the law, like residue, sufficient, more than is necessary, wants, and amply supplied? The carefully worded law clearly teaches principles, not dogma. It gives knowledge of the Lord's will without coercion or compulsion. It enables anyone to become "anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; for the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward. But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned" (D&C 58:27-29). Put another way, words like sufficient leave stewardship and therefore accountability where it belongs. Ironically, they compel us to exercise our agency and act for ourselves. We decide what they mean in terms of amounts of time or money, because we are the empowered stewards accountable to the Lord for our use or abuse of what is rightfully His.” Steven C. Harper

"In pondering and pursuing consecration," said Elder Neal A. Maxwell, "understandably we tremble inwardly at what may be required. Yet the Lord has said consolingly, 'My grace is sufficient for you' (D&C 17:8). Do we really believe Him? He has also promised to make weak things strong (Ether 12:27). Are we really willing to submit to that process? Yet if we desire fulness, we cannot hold back part!"

The only way I see tithing as a “preparatory” law is that it corresponds with the Law of Sacrifice. This starts us out on our journey to consecrate all. Both are required to enter His presence.


Greg Dowden said...

Great post! I totally agree! In fact in the temple we specifically covenant to obey the law of consecration. I don't know how anyone could think that we no longer live it!

Anonymous said...

Yay for the Law of Consecration and Tithing! Both of which we are blessed with now.