Many believe that the Lord gave the Law of Tithing as a lesser commandment after pioneer Latter-day Saints failed to live the Law of Consecration. However, early church history reveals a different story. In this interview, historian Steven C. Harper explains that tithing is part of consecration—and that living both laws is a necessary prerequisite to building Zion.
Read Steven Harper’s book about the Law of Consecration published by Deseret Book.
Table of contents
- What is the Law of Consecration?
- What are common misunderstandings?
- What is the Law of Tithing?
- What is the United Order?
- How is consecration like a three-legged stool?
- How do we live consecrated lives?
- How are we held accountable?
- How are stewardship and ownership connected?
- Did Edward and Lydia Partridge live the law?
- Are today’s bishops like Bishop Partridge?
- What is the difference between sacrifice and consecration?
- What are the signs someone lives a consecrated life?
- Is it the same for everyone?
- What did Elder Bednar say about consecration?
- What do you wish people knew?
- Where can I learn more?
- How can I subscribe to From the Desk’s free email list?
What is the Law of Consecration?
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
What are common misunderstandings 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.
What is the Law of Tithing?
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.
What is the difference between the United Order and the Law of Consecration?
Law of Consecration
The Law of Consecration is a law of God. It is eternal. Evidence for it can be found in all the standard works. It was restored in February 1831 in the revelation that is now Doctrine and Covenants 42.
Several other revelations explain the Law of Consecration, expound on it, and instruct saints how to enact or obey it in their various and changing circumstances.
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.
How is the Law of Consecration like a three-legged stool?
The revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants repeatedly declare three doctrines that underpin the law of consecration:
- Agency is our power to act for ourselves according to the Lord’s revealed will, or not.
- Stewardship is what the Lord owns but has given us to act upon.
- Accountability is what the revelations say will inevitably happen. We will all account to God for the way we acted (exercised our agency) on what we had to act upon (our stewardship).
I liken the Law of Consecration to a three-legged stool because if any of those doctrines is missing, it’s not the Lord’s revealed law, just like a three-legged stool doesn’t work without one or more of its legs.
The Lord’s revelations to Joseph are very clear about the importance of these three doctrines and their relationships to each other. Joseph taught each of them powerfully and beautifully to the early saints.
How does a person educate their desires and choose to live a consecrated life?
The law of the Church (D&C 42) transitions into the Law of Consecration with the Lord saying:
If thou lovest me thou shalt serve me and keep all my commandments.Doctrine and Covenants 42:29
That’s immediately followed by the Lord’s command to remember the poor and consecrate for their support.
So, each of us has to decide whether we love God and our fellow beings—or want to. If so we will keep the Lord’s commandments, including the command to consecrate what we have to relieve poverty and to establish Zion, the society in which the Lord’s people are of one heart, one mind, and eliminate poverty entirely.
If we love the Lord, we will learn of him and listen to his words (D&C 19:23).
In the quest to educate our desires and choose a consecrated life, it’s useful to become aware of how indoctrinated we are in philosophies of men that are alternatives to consecration. They have a strong hold on our economic attitudes and often limit our love for others and curb our commitment to end poverty.
Bishop Partridge gave written documents of the consecrated things he received and what he loaned back. How are we held accountable today for those things we have been given?
Joseph Smith taught Bishop Partridge and Brigham Young to let the saints be their own judges. There never was a time when saints were forced to consecrate, and never will be. But the Lord says over and over that everyone “shall be made accountable unto me” (D&C 42:32).
Section 104 is emphatic about this and evokes the story in Luke’s gospel about the rich man who was tormented in hell as a type for those who exercise their agency to not become consecrated.
In short, the revelations say that it is “expedient” (or a means to an end) that God hold us accountable for the stewardship that belongs to him. He will hold each of us accountable for our covenants personally. We will give a stewardship report to him:
He [or she] that is a faithful and wise steward shall inherit all things.Doctrine and Covenants 78:22
Section 85 says the Church should keep records of what the saints consecrate and leave it to the Lord to handle the consequences for those who don’t consecrate.
But Sections 85 and 104 don’t paint a pretty picture of those consequences.
What is the relationship between stewardship and ownership?
Owners aren’t accountable to anyone. Our culture values ownership very much. The Lord’s Law of Consecration says clearly and repeatedly that He is ultimately the only owner of anything and that we are free agent stewards who will inevitably account to Him.
Section 104 especially forces us to choose. In that revelation the Lord declares that either we are owners and God is less than the all powerful creator and our “faith is vain” (D&C 104:55)—or He is the creator/owner and we are stealing and hell-bound if, as He put it, we:
take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not [our] portion according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy.Doctrine and Covenants 104:18
How well did Edward and Lydia Partridge live the Law of Consecration?
If we asked Edward he would say, as he wrote to Lydia in the summer of 1831, that he was terribly inadequate. Or if we asked the Lord at the moment he gave the revelation in D&C 58, He would say that Edward was being faithless about the future glory of Zion.
So, Edward was like the rest of us in the sense that he fell short, and he felt awful about falling short.
But when the Lord called him to be the first bishop He said that Edward had no guile (D&C 41). Bishop Partridge said he was willing to spend and be spent in the cause of his blessed Master. And he was.
He meekly took a coat of tar and feathers for being the saints’ representative in Independence, Missouri in July 1833. He was worn out by his efforts to build Zion in Missouri in the face of mortal saints and violently-opposed Missourians. He was entirely spent by May 1840, when he died. A year later the Lord revealed that Edward was with him (D&C 124).
Lydia was Edward’s equal partner. She was as consecrated as he was. She left her comfortable life as readily as he did to live the Law of Consecration. I don’t know of any better examples in our history than they provide us.
The passage in D&C 58 about being anxiously engaged in a good cause of our own free will is well known. It’s less well known that it was specifically for Edward and Lydia. They had been called by D&C 57 to move their family to Independence, Missouri right away and they wondered how. That passage in Section 58 was the Lord’s answer, and they enacted it to a T.
Today there are many, many descendants of Lydia and Edward Partridge who cherish their consecrated heritage.
Do bishops today act like Bishop Partridge relative to the Law of Consecration?
Bishop Partridge didn’t preside over a ward. There were no wards during the decade he served. But he modeled the modern bishop’s commission to seek out the poor, to keep a storehouse, and to meet the needs of the poor out of the storehouse.
What is the difference between the Law of Sacrifice and the Law of Consecration?
Elder Uchtdorf answered that question perfectly in his April 2022 talk, “Our Heartfelt All”:
Sacrifice and consecration are two heavenly laws that we covenant to obey in the holy temple. These two laws are similar but not identical. To sacrifice means to give something up in favor of something more valuable. Anciently, God’s people sacrificed the firstlings of their flocks in honor of the coming Messiah. Throughout history, faithful Saints have sacrificed personal desires, comforts, and even their lives for the Savior.
We all have things, large and small, we need to sacrifice in order to follow Jesus Christ more completely. Our sacrifices show what we truly value. Sacrifices are sacred and honored by the Lord.
Consecration is different from sacrifice in at least one important way. When we consecrate something, we don’t leave it to be consumed upon the altar. Rather, we put it to use in the Lord’s service. We dedicate it to Him and His holy purposes. We receive the talents that the Lord has given us and strive to increase them, manifold, to become even more helpful in building the Lord’s kingdom.
Very few of us will ever be asked to sacrifice our lives for the Savior. But we are all invited to consecrate our lives to Him.Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Our Heartfelt All”
Are there any outward signs that someone lives the law of consecration?
We can’t discern or measure whether someone else lives the law of consecration very well. There will be donations of means when they do, and offerings of time and talent.
But only God knows when we’ve offered what Elder Uchtdorf called “our heartfelt all.” The only person we can get—or should get—to live the law is ourselves.
If we are both equally committed to loving God and living this law, will my life of consecration look the same as yours?
Not likely. As the Primary song goes, “some must push and some must pull.” The revelation in D&C 46 about spiritual gifts says that when many people with various gifts offer them as what Section 82 calls the “common property of the whole church” (D&C 82:18), then “every member may be profited thereby” (D&C 46:29).
The toxic culture of comparison is not the culture of consecration. Nor is the culture of acquisition. In Zion we stop worrying about acquiring stuff (largely for the sake of how we compare to others) and willingly become the Lord’s, to spend and be spent in the cause of our Master.
Morgan Pearson asked Elder David A. Bednar what it means to be “all in” the gospel of Jesus Christ. He said, “If I only had one word to describe all in, it would be consecrated.” What can we learn from his response?
One thing we can learn is that apostles model, think about, and teach the Law of Consecration perhaps more than we think.
We can also see that the word consecrate is high stakes. To consecrate something is to devote it entirely to God’s purposes. Consecration is all for all—all we have and are for all God has and is.
What does Steven C. Harper wish people knew about the law of consecration?
That it is beautiful. That our Heavenly Parents live it, and we will too if we want to live with them and like them. That it’s the antidote to many of our problems. And that, as President Hinckley said, the Law of Consecration is still in effect.1
Did you enjoy this interview?
About Steven C. Harper
Steven C. Harper is the Editor-in-Chief of BYU Studies Quarterly and the author of Let’s Talk about the Law of Consecration. He holds a Ph.D. in early American history from Lehigh University, and was the managing historian of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days.
- Brigham Young and the Law of Consecration
- The Law of Consecration vs. Socialism
- The Role of Peace in a Zion Society
- Hugh Nibley and Consecrated Scholarship
- “The Windows of Heaven”: Lorenzo Snow and the 1899 Tithing Revelation
- What Was the Purpose of ZCMI?
Interviews from Deseret Book’s “Let’s Talk about” series
- Let’s Talk about Polygamy (Brittany Chapman Nash)
- Let’s Talk about the Book of Abraham (Kerry Muhlestein)
Law of Consecration resources
- Let’s Talk about the Law of Consecration (Steven C. Harper)
- Steven Harper: Is Consecration Still A Thing? (All In Podcast)
- About the Temple Endowment (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)
- “All Things are the Lord’s”: The Law of Consecration in the Doctrine and Covenants (Steven C. Harper)
- Consecration: Summary (Joseph Smith Papers)
- An Examination of Scholarly and Prophetic Statements on the Law of Consecration (Richard D. Gardner)
- Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997), 639.