Two Plans: You, Me, and the Law of Consecration
The is Part II of Peter Danielson’s series on the Law of Consecration. Click here to read Part I.
In my last post, I set out some of the history of the Law of Consecration and the early saints’ short-lived “experiment” with the United Order, a communal social order which the Lord gave “for a permanent and everlasting establishment and order unto my church… that you may be equal in the bonds of heavenly things, yea, and earthly things also, for the obtaining of heavenly things. For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things” (D&C 78:4-6). In this post, I want to discuss the current place of consecration in the context of the temple (where we covenant to obey this law), in the church at large, and in our individual lives.
In the Temple of Our God.
From the time we are children in the LDS church, we are told of the “council in heaven” a pre-mortal meeting at which the details of a “plan of salvation” was advanced that would enable the sons and daughters of God (the entirety of the human race) to advance and become beings like our heavenly parents. The plan involved a “mortal probation” on an earthly realm, our eternal spirits, inhabiting physical bodies of flesh and bone. We are told that the hosts of heaven, of which we were part, rejoiced at the plan; which promised to the faithful, a life like that of our loving exemplars… to be like God. We are also taught that an honored and beloved son named Lucifer advanced an alternative plan by which he would guarantee the salvation of all, with provision for due honor and the greatest reward. His plan involved the dissolution of free agency; and we are told that because he “sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power… I caused that he should be cast down” (Moses 4:3) and Lucifer fell and became Satan.
The temple liturgy advances the notion that Satan continues in this mortality, to offer the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, his own version of a plan for happiness and advancement, which he knows will ultimately distract humanity from the path that God intends and yield them only misery and damnation. A primary consequence of Adam’s fall was the need to work to acquire food. “Cursed shall be the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life. Thorns also, and thistles shall it bring forth to thee, and thou shalt eat the herb of the field. By the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, until thou shalt return unto the ground.” (Moses 4:23-25) Hugh Nibley summed the situation up like this:
“Adam was cast out of the garden into an alien world where he had to work his head off just to stay alive, and this is our excuse today for total absorption in the economy. But Adam was not only given protection and told what to do until help arrived, but also ‘after many days’ an angel came and began to teach him what he must do to reverse his condition at once and begin his return to the presence of the Father. For this he took the same covenants that we take [in the temple] today. Satan had already introduced his order of things on the earth, where money was the name of the game, and the treasures of the earth could get you anything you wanted. Adam refused his propositions and the devil took his business elsewhere, to Cain, who learned from him how to get gain by becoming a predator and whose master’s thesis was an exercise in getting possession of his brother’s flocks. He said it was all perfectly legal in the name of free competition; he was not responsible for Abel.”
The word for “flocks” in the primitive Hebrew is elsewhere used, to indicate wealth generally, so Cain can be more accurately understood to have desired his brother’s wealth, than specifically his brother’s sheep. This simple continuation from the familiar temple narrative, into the next chapter of both the Pearl of Great Price and biblical accounts, makes the picture clear… Satan’s program is hardly about getting us to worship other Gods or subscribe to false creeds. He doesn’t even need us to make an oath. It’s about keeping us so concerned with the acquiring, maintaining, and growing of wealth and the economics of this world, that we ignore the sacred oaths we have already received. We will be tested in mortality as to whether we will hold them sacred, or whether we consider them just another commodity that has its price.
In the Church and Kingdom of God
God’s plan is different. He unabashedly intends to make us equal. If equality is distasteful to you, so will be the Celestial Kingdom, because “he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory” (D&C 88:22) “For 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.” (D&C 78:7) Consecration is, point blank, the law of the celestial world. And we either need to be on board with that, or content with another kind of eternity.
I have sat through many a Sunday School lesson on consecration, and inevitably someone will offer an explanation about how consecration is really a spiritual law, in an effort to justify systematic de-emphasis on the temporal aspects of it. But “if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things” (D&C 78:6). The Lord would remind us that the temporal law is a starting point for us in the quest to live a consecrated existence; it is preparatory. Joseph Smith taught that the laws of consecration and sacrifice were integral to obtaining justification by faith through the grace of Christ:
“Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for, from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things. It was through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life.” (Lectures on Faith 6:7)
Elder Neal A. Maxwell made it clear what “our all” is really all about.
“The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. The many other things we ‘give’, brothers and sisters, are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession, which is truly ours to give! Consecration thus constitutes the only unconditional surrender which is also a total victory!”
God doesn’t want your 401k or your HD Television, he wants you. He doesn’t want your things to get in the way of your ultimate happiness. And your ultimate happiness comes in becoming a consecrated being. The spiritual aspect of this law, is indeed where God can give us spiritual power, and begin the process of exalting us in haste. Nearly every book of Mormon scripture contains a discussion of the “gifts of the spirit”. Often we treat this subject only once a year in our various curricula in each church auxiliary, and the lesson often gets the spice of your typical tithing or word of wisdom lesson. But spiritual gifts are actually the keystone of the atonement. They are the primary instrument of enabling grace. Mormon implores us to pray for the gifts of the spirit, particularly charity or love, “with all the energy of heart” (Moroni 7:48). And as we ask for and seek spiritual gifts from God, we are promised to receive them. In receiving them we are taking upon ourselves the very traits of Godhood. We are, to use Paul’s phrase “putting on glory”.
The use of the word “stewardship” in the law of consecration is not accidental. Its New Testament usage in the parable of the talents is precisely what God intends to draw our minds to. God has given every one of us at least one spiritual gift. We are to put them out into the world. If you have the gift of faith to heal, God wants your hands on his children’s heads. If you have the gift of prophesy, God intends you to use it to bless his people. If you have the gift of discernment, God would have you discerning the needs of others and seeing they are met. If you have the gift of charity, God wants you to give your love more abundantly, so that you can receive again the gift, in greater abundance. God’s desire for all of us is to use our spiritual gifts to transform one another into the kinds of beings who will see him as he is when he comes again, “that when he shall appear, we shall be like him”. (Moroni 7:48)
Consecration is at the heart of the atonement of Jesus Christ. Just as Christ sacrificed all, culminating in “not as I will, but as thou wilt”, so we should keep our promise to lay down everything that we possess; even extending to our own lives, should it be required, to sustain and defend the kingdom. And the kingdom of God is his church. And “whoso repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church” (D&C 10:67). The organization that we covenant to defend is not the Corporation of the President of the Church, but our fellow disciples, and beyond that our fellow man. “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40)
In the Lives of God’s People
I return to the questions I posed in my prior post:
* If the law of consecration remains in force, how are we expected to live it?
* If the United Order is still the intended institution, how can any of us keep this covenant here and now, without living in a cooperative society?
* Until all the saints together can abide a united order, what are we to do?
These are troubling questions for those who want to keep their covenants. Let me offer just one answer that I have received by revelation.
The last time I was making a significant study of consecration was shortly before I got married. I was reading about the United Order in Kirtland and in Zion, and it suddenly dawned on me (and the spirit bore a strong witness to me that it was true) that a temple marriage is a United Order. We both covenant to observe and keep the law of consecration in our individual endowment and then we kneel across an altar and consecrate our selves to one another. Everything that had always been considered personal property was about to become communal property; because everything that was mine would now be ours. Everything that was hers, would now be ours. I felt a swelling inside myself and became exceedingly grateful for this gift from the Lord. I was being given a crucible, however small, in which I could, if I desired, live the law of consecration completely. Not only in economic terms.
It is the opportunity to share our spiritual gifts and talents and capacities that most blesses my marriage. When Michael asked me to contribute these posts to Rational Faiths, he (however incidentally he may have meant it) called my wife and I, “a power couple”. That is unquestionably how I feel about marriage and consecration… We ought to benefit from each other’s power. If our marriage is working as a United Order, we should become, as it were, “more than the sum of our parts”.
Of course, we don’t all have a temple marriage; but while the temple aspect is significant for me, I don’t think it’s necessarily central. Family is the heart of the blessing. When we decide to have children, our little United Order will grow. Children become the poor in our society, lacking almost everything materially. As we provide for their needs, even from our meager substance (and it is meager), I fully expect our means to grow. As we live the law, the Lord’s promise is for the everlasting security of our little kingdom, and I believe him. I also fully expect that in many ways, my wife and I will be the spiritual beggars, yielding from our humble, innocent and loving children, in dire abundance.
Will the church be asked to live the law of consecration again systematically, someday? I am not sure. But in many ways, it doesn’t matter. I think three things are really vital considerations for each of us in relation to our covenant of consecration. One. Do we live the law of consecration in our families? Can we live it more fully? How can we become less selfish and more consecrated in our homes? Two. Are we widening the group we call our family? I don’t mean having more children. I mean, are you striving to consecrate more fully in the world outside your home? Are you looking for people in need? Are you finding ways to help them? No matter how well you might live the law in your home, we cannot ignore the injunction to live it more fully in the world at large. Three. Are you letting consecration draw you closer to God? Are you sharing your spiritual gifts? Are you consecrating yourself? Are you submitting to the Lord, your only uniquely personal offering, your will?
If we strive to live a more consecrated life, by asking these kinds of questions; if we’re putting these principles to work in our lives; and if we’re looking to Jesus Christ for our example, and striving to do his will more fully, I know that the promise of God regarding the consecration will be born out in our lives.
“That you may come up unto the crown prepared for you, and be made rulers over many kingdoms, saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Zion, who hath established the foundations of Adam-ondi-Ahman…Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye are little children, and ye have not as yet understood how great blessings the Father hath in his own hands and prepared for you; And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours. And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more. Wherefore, do the things which I have commanded you, saith your Redeemer, even the Son Ahman, who prepareth all things before he taketh you; For ye are the church of the Firstborn, and he will take you up in a cloud, and appoint every man his portion. And he that is a faithful and wise steward shall inherit all things. Amen.” (D&C 78:15-22)
“And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” (Moses 7:18)