His way of helping has at times been called living the law of consecration. In another period His way was called the united order. In our time it is called the Church welfare program.I was reminded of when I taught a fifth-Sunday lesson years ago. I asked the class if the law of consecration had been “repealed.” Many in the class said it had. And I disagreed.
The names and the details of operation are changed to fit the needs and conditions of people. But always the Lord’s way to help those in temporal need requires people who out of love have consecrated themselves and what they have to God and to His work.
I have always drawn a distinction between the united order and the law of consecration. The former, it seemed to me, was a method of implementing the latter. But the abolition of the united order did not mean the law of consecration was dead. I acknowledge that in Kirtland there was a more open practice of concecration which was distinct from the United Order. But the principles of concecration are very much alive. President Eyring seems to echo that idea, suggesting that today’s welfare program is similar to the law of consecration. (Of course, Nibley echoes this sentiment also in his essay, “The Law of Consecration,” found in his collection Approaching Zion.)
One of the key messages of the Book of Mormon for me is that we can judge a people by how they treat the poor among them. King Benjamin offers counsel to individuals as well as to his entire kingdom as he reminds them about the relationship of serving others and serving God (see Mosiah 2:17). His injunction to share of our surplus with the poor in order to retain a remission of our sins seems a personal injunction:
And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants (Mosiah 4:26)
Nibley’s essay, “How to Get Rich” (also in Approaching Zion) reminds us of several rules given to the Israelites in Deuteronomy (“And,” he clarifies, “the rules for them are the rules for us!” (emphasis his)):
1. Everything you have or ever will have, individually and collectively, is a gift from God; you owe it all to Him (179-180).So what is left for me to do? It seems it is more than just slipping the value of two fasted meals into the blue envelope each month.
2. We have not earned the good things we enjoy. God Himself gave us the capacity for success because of the covenant He made with our fathers (182).
3. Since God is giving it all away free to everyone, regardless of all other circumstances, everyone has a right to whatever he needs to live on (184).
Among the bishop’s resources for the care of the poor and needy are fast offering funds, food from the bishops’ storehouse, services of LDS Employment Services and LDS Family Services, and Deseret Industries (even available in my Midwestern community as a training resource), and me.
The Lord’s storehouse, available to each bishop in each ward, also includes all the resources – “the time, talents, compassion, materials, and financial means” – of members of his ward (Handbook II 6.1.3).
So, President Eyring, King Benjamin and Jehovah (as recorded in Leviticus & summarized by Nibley) remind me of a few things about a covenant that I have made:
1. Everything I have is God’s.
2. Even if I “earned” something, my ability to do so came from God, so see #1.
3. Returning a portion of what is already God’s back to God (like tithing) and calling it a day is not enough.
4. I must share my surplus – whatever I don’t need to live on.
5. How I care for the poor will determine whether I retain a remission of my sins.
6. Sharing of my surplus is the essence of the welfare program, but sharing it through the welfare program is not the only way I can do it.
Now, to sort out what I need to live on so I can understand the surplus…