Restoration and Church History
Consecration and Stewardship

“Consecration and Stewardship,” Church History Topics

“Consecration and Stewardship”

Consecration and Stewardship

In the centuries since the dawn of the Christian era, many groups have tried to emulate the New Testament Christians mentioned in the book of Acts who “had all things common.”1 Joseph Smith learned through revelation that this way of living had much earlier roots. While working on his inspired Bible translation during the summer of 1830, Joseph dictated a revelation about the ancient city of Enoch, whose people were “of one heart and of one mind” and had “no poor among them.”2

The following January, Joseph Smith received a revelation in New York directing the Latter-day Saints there to relocate to Ohio, where the Lord would “give unto you my law.”3 Meanwhile in Ohio, a group of new converts known as “the family” were living on Isaac and Lucy Morley’s farm and attempting to live what they understood to be the New Testament ideal of holding all things in common.4 Upon their arrival in Ohio, both Joseph Smith and John Whitmer observed that the Morley family’s practice of communitarianism, while admirable, was unsustainable.5 On February 9, Joseph and several others prayed and received revelation outlining the Lord’s law.6 With this revealed guidance, the “common stock” plan practiced on Morley’s farm “was readily abandoned for the more perfect law of the Lord.”7

Ohio. Lake Co. Kirtland. Isaac Morley Farm.

Historic home on the Isaac Morley farm near Kirtland, Ohio.

Sometimes called the “law of consecration and stewardship,” this revelation taught the Saints how to pursue economic equality without neglecting voluntary choice and responsibility. It accomplished this not through communal ownership, but by requiring the Saints to consecrate their property, or make it sacred by using it to further the Lord’s work. In acknowledgment that all their earthly goods really belonged to God, Latter-day Saints signed over their property to the Lord through the bishop but retained stewardship for—and de facto ownership of—the land and goods they needed for themselves. Whatever they considered surplus they donated to the Church to alleviate poverty and build Zion.8 The primary role of the office of bishop in the early Church was to administer the law of consecration.9

Implementation of the law of consecration proved difficult, as needs always seemed to exceed resources. Many Saints arrived in Ohio and Missouri in an impoverished state, the Church needed to purchase land in Zion and construct buildings, and the Saints also faced hostility from their neighbors. The members of the United Firm—the council tasked in 1832 with managing the Church’s finances—disagreed on how to prioritize expenditures.10 Some Saints were generous in what they considered surplus and donated to the bishop; others clung to spare land and property.11

Two revelations in 1838 introduced the law of tithing as a component of the law of consecration.12 These revelations taught that after consecrating their surplus property, Saints should donate “one tenth of all their interest annually.”13 Subsequent prophets reemphasized that tithing is one means by which Church members live the law of consecration.14

While the principles underlying the law of consecration have remained consistent, the ways the Saints have implemented the law have changed under prophetic direction and in response to changing circumstances. For example, Brigham Young encouraged the formation of cooperatives throughout Utah and in surrounding areas to help sustain frontier settlements and align the Saints’ economic practices more closely with Joseph Smith’s revelations instead of the individualistic American economy. These cooperatives, sometimes called “united orders,” were implemented in various forms by different communities throughout the Great Basin region during the late 19th century.15

Orderville, UT

An 1875 sketch of Orderville, Utah, one of the communities that sought to implement principles of consecration under the direction of Brigham Young.

In addition to paying tithing, Saints have many ways to consecrate their time, talents, and means to carry out the work of the Lord. Beginning in Kirtland, Saints made fast offerings for the poor. In Nauvoo and later in Utah, the women of the Relief Society coordinated with local and general Church leaders to see to the needs of the needy.16 Church members donated resources to the Perpetual Emigration Fund to defray travel expenses for overseas converts wanting to gather with Saints in Utah.17 The Church’s welfare program was established in the 1930s to assist those struggling under the crushing economic conditions of the Great Depression.18 In 2001, Church President Gordon B. Hinckley initiated the Perpetual Education Fund to enable economically disadvantaged Church members around the globe to pursue educational opportunities.19 Each of these programs responds to the purposes of the law of consecration as established by revelation: to care for the poor and needy, to live together in love, to avoid idleness, and to support the growth of the Church.

Related Topics: Bishop, United Firm, Tithing, Female Relief Society of Nauvoo