In the first sentence of his history, Joseph Smith wrote about the many reports put into circulation by “evil-disposed and designing persons” in relation to the rise of the restored Church of Jesus Christ. Even as a young man, he had faced critics—even enemies—as he endeavored to do what God had asked him to do. He must have been especially distraught when a former believer, Ezra Booth, began publicly berating the Church after he lost his faith. In an attempt to discredit the prophet, he had published a series of letters in an Ohio newspaper. As a result, “unfriendly feelings … had developed against the Church” in the area. (Doctrine and Covenants 71, section heading). Joseph sought the Lord’s wisdom on this matter and received Section 71. In response to this situation, the Lord’s answer was to defend the truth and correct falsehoods by “proclaiming [the] gospel” (verse 1). He promised that, although the Lord’s work will always have critics, in the end, “no weapon that is formed against [it] shall prosper” (verse 9). The Lord’s message to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon was one of faith, not fear.
As a rule, we are generally counseled to ignore the writings of those who attack our beliefs. If missionaries spent their time arguing with those who did not believe their words, they would engender animosity and have little time to share the beautiful truths of the gospel and invite them to rest in the peace of Christ. The admonition to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon to preach in order to allay these unfriendly feelings, seems to be a “context-sensitive case, and it did not constitute a license for missionaries to debate in public” (see David Ridges, The Doctrine and Covenants Made Easier, Part 2, 186-187) The Lord had counseled in Doctrine and Covenants 19:29-30 to “declare glad tidings”. . . “with all humility,” . . . “reviling not against the revilers.”
Shortly after his return to Ohio, Ezra Booth parted ways with the Church in a very public fashion. Because his experience did not match his expectations of how Zion should look or how Joseph Smith should behave, he first wavered and then abandoned his faith. Beginning in October 1831, the Ohio Star, a newspaper located in Ravenna, Ohio, began publishing a series of Booth’s letters which heavily criticized Joseph Smith and the Church. By December his letters had even started to hinder missionary work, and Joseph received two revelations in December 1831 and January 1832, now found in Doctrine and Covenants 71 and 73, challenging dissidents to “bring forth their strong reasons against the Lord.” They also encouraged Joseph and Sidney Rigdon to preach actively: “Confound your enemies; Call upon them to meet you both in public and in private” (“Revelation, 1 December 1831 [D&C 71],” josephsmithpapers.org).
Although Sidney Rigdon challenged both Ezra Booth and Symonds Ryder to a public debate, they declined, probably because they were aware of Sidney Rigdon’s reputation as a fierce debater. Sidney preached in Ravenna, Ohio, and in other locations, and refuted Booth’s claims, and the negative effect of his toxic letters was short-lived.
Joseph Fielding Smith commented on this situation:
Quite generally, the Lord counsels his servants not to engage in debate and arguments, but to preach in power the fundamental principles of the gospel. This was a condition that required some action of this kind, and the Spirit of the Lord directed these brethren to go forth and confound their enemies, which they proceeded immediately to do, as their enemies were unable to substantiate their falsehoods and were surprised by this sudden challenge so boldly given. Much of the prejudice was allayed and some friends made through this action (Church History and Modern Revelation, Vol. 1, 269).
Bishops are tasked with administering the law of consecration.
In Doctrine and Covenants 42, the Lord introduces his “law,” which is the law of consecration. This is to be the law of Zion, which would result in a people who dwelt in righteousness, were of one mind and one heart, and had no poor among them. The economic side of this law requires that the saints “remember the poor” and covenant to take care of them through the consecration of their property. As people do this, they develop a “consecration mentality.” They realize that they have no need of excess once they have sufficient. If we do as the Lord has admonished, and “esteem our brothers as ourselves,” we will become one with God. Consecrating our properties will come naturally to us as a result. The beautiful thing about the law of consecration is the motivation to add to the Lord’s storehouse to help the poor. Doctrine and Covenants 42:31 says that giving something to the poor is like giving it to God. We develop a “stewardship” mentality instead of an “ownership” mentality. We recognize that all we have is really his. We learn to place our hearts on heavenly things.
In Matthew 25:40, we learn that “inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” We can let the Lord be a part of this process by consecrating property to the bishop. This voluntary consecration will ensure an ordered process in God’s “house of order.” There will be “overseers” who have a vision of the big picture. As we catch this vision, our attitude changes from “ownership” of our property to “stewardship” over it. After a person consecrated property to the bishop, he was given a deed. He understood that this was his “stewardship.”
The giving of deeds was to help people have a different attitude towards their possessions—to enable them to view them as stewardships. They would act as stewards for the Lord, who really owns all things. Some people’s property was divided up to give to others, but most were given back everything they consecrated.
For example, Levi Jackson consecrated all he has and received a receipt. “Sundry articles of furniture, two beds, three axes, and other tools.” He was a carpenter. He received back another receipt which listed the exact same items plus a parcel of land. Now he can build a house. Nothing has changed except he is in a better position than he was in before. However, it feels different now because he was able to give it all up. He could say to himself, “I was able to trust the Lord and his servants to give me what I really needed.” (See Steven C. Harper, “All Things are the Lord’s”: The Law of Consecration in the Doctrine and Covenants,” The Doctrine and Covenants: Revelations in Context).
Today, we keep the law of consecration as part of our temple covenants. The Lord allows us to keep our possessions, but because we have been “endowed with power from on high,” we have a better perspective of what to do with the “belongings” we have been given. Our willingness to make this paradigm shift from ownership to stewardship is key. All that we have ultimately “belongs” to God, and he has merely allowed us temporary stewardship over it. As we recognize this, we realize the Lord can do what he wants with his own possessions, whenever he has need of them. During all of this giving of “deeds” and s”tewardships,” hearts are changed from being “set” upon the things of the world, to being totally given over to the Lord. Many time, the Lord has said that he loves the pure in heart, and those who have broken and contrite hearts. The word “set” calls to mind what happens to cement when it dries and becomes hard. When hearts become hardened, they can no longer respond to the soft pricks of the spirit, and they grow “past feeling” in spiritual matters. If we have a consecration mentality, we can avoid the temptation to accumulate more “stuff,” because everything belongs to the Lord anyway. He has promised to open the windows of heaven and pour upon us blessings, even more than we are able to receive. We just have to develop the right attitudes toward earthly wealth.
Wilford Woodruff wrote a letter to Bishop Partridge in 1834:
“Be it known that I Wilford Woodruff do freely covenant with my God that I freely consecrate and dedicate myself together with all my properties and affects unto the Lord for the purpose of assisting in building up his kingdom even Zion on the earth that I may keep his law and lay all things before the bishop of his church that I may be a lawful heir to the kingdom of God even the Celestial Kingdom.” (Ibid.) He then listed all his property. (Wilford Woodruff, journal, December 31, 1834, Church History Library.
Wilford Woodruff said, “I consecrate myself.” You can have me as well as all my stuff. Lord, do with me what you will. It might be wise for us to think of consecrations and stewardship in other areas besides property. We could consider the way we are keeping temple covenants, caring for spouse and family, magnifying church callings, getting an education, and so forth. We even have stewardship responsibilities as employees and employers.
Joseph Smith: “The matter of consecration must be done by the mutual consent of both parties; for to give the bishop power to say how much every man shall have, and he be obliged to comply with the Bishop’s judgment, is giving to the bishop more power than the king has; and upon the other hand, to let every man say how much he needs, and the bishops be obliged to comply with his judgment, is to throw Zion into confusion, and make a slave of the bishop.” (Documentary History of the Church 1:364)
The Issuing of Certificates and Recommends
In order that the establishment of Zion be done in wisdom and order, Doctrine and Covenants 72:17 states that every man who comes to Zion must present a “certificate” to the bishop there showing that he had been authorized as a “wise steward and as a faithful laborer.” In order for the establishment of the New Jerusalem to succeed, it was crucial that those who became part of Zion in location, were truly those who had made Zion their lifestyle. In verse 19 of this section, the word “recommended” is used in referring to the accountability of every elder. In like manner, Doctrine and Covenants 20:64 speaks about the “license” or “certificate” which authorized a priesthood holder “to perform the duties of his calling.”
Such orderliness is essential in maintaining the integrity of God’s kingdom on earth. It is imperative that Church leaders, wherever they were located, could be assured that those who represented the Church were who they professed to be. Otherwise, they would not know whether these people were worthy and possessed the priesthood authority to officiate in the duties and ordinances they would perform.
As I read these verses, it brought to mind Elder Boyd K. Packer’s story of the insurance salesman.
It is my purpose to fix in your minds so serious an interest in the ordinances of the gospel that you will seek to qualify for each ordinance in proper sequence, to make and keep the covenants that are connected with them, and to make sure that everything in this regard, for you, is in proper order. Consider this illustration. Suppose an agent came to you with a real bargain in insurance. He claims that his policy offers complete protection. He talks of generous coverage, very low premiums, no penalties for making a claim—even a heavy claim. Other features make the policy look better than any you have considered before. He tells you of the company he claims to represent. You know it to be very reputable. You study the policy and find more offered to you with less required of you, than any policy you have looked at before. You check carefully on the company and come away satisfied that they are indeed reputable. They do stand behind their policies. Some of your friends have dealt with them for years and have always been satisfied. You, it appears, have found a real bargain.
But in this imaginary account there is one thing that you did not discover, one hitch. This agent was never hired by that company. They have not authorized him to represent them. The company is not even aware that he is using their name. He obtained copies of the policy and adjusted it to give it a little wider appeal. He had some forms and letterheads printed and set himself up in business. When he writes a policy and collects the premiums, they do not go to the head office. The policy goes into a drawer somewhere, and the premium money into his pocket. Chances are, he figures, there will be no claim against the policy anyway, at least not while he is around. And since it is life insurance, certainly there will be no claim while the policyholder is around. You have, as the expression goes, been sold a bill of goods. For all you know, you are well insured. You feel content and suppose that when the day comes, as it surely will, you claim will be paid. Too bad for you! No doubt the company will reject your claim. They cannot be compelled to honor policies except those written by authorized agents whom they have hired and certified, no matter how convinced you were that this man was a bona fide agent.
Will you get sympathy? Oh yes. Full value of the policy? Not a chance! Would you not receive anything? Well, for as long as you didn’t know the difference you felt secure, for whatever that is worth (Boyd K. Packer, BYU Speeches, 3 Feb 1980, 12‑14.).
Unfortunately, my husband and I had a similar experience. He has always been very diligent in saving for the future. I told a friend that he was looking for an investment counselor to start a portfolio for us so we could start saving for our children’s college expenses. She recommended a young man in her ward who had such a company. He came to our home, sat at our kitchen table, and talked to our young children as he wrote up our policy. He made lots of references to the future missions this money would pay for, and dropped the name of the Church often. We should have seen a red flag at that point, but we were very young. My husband investigated the company he represented and it seemed to be legit.
Every quarter, we would receive a letter on company letterhead specifying the progress of our account. When the stock market went up suddenly in the early 1980’s, we called the number on the letterhead and the receptionist answered. We gave our name and read her the account number off the statement and she asked us to hold while she checked. When she came back on the line she said, “I’m sorry, but there is no account on our records for that name.” We couldn’t believe our ears! We called the young man several times, but he never answered. After a while, we became very nervous. Our whole life savings was tied in that company. My husband called the Better Business Bureau. They told him that the agent was a fraud and that he was sending us false statements on a legitimate company’s letterhead, but that he had pocketed all the money himself. We were not the only ones that had been swindled. He was later arrested in his lawyer’s office and sent to prison. However, we never did get back any of the money we had invested.
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are indeed blessed to know that those who stand at the head of our church are indeed bona fide representatives of Jesus Christ. What a glorious message to be able to share with the world! No longer does anyone need fear being “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine,” (Ephesians 4:14) but can know with a surety that the church we espouse is built on the rock of our Redeemer, with a living prophet at its head. These are glad tidings indeed. Who wouldn’t want to shout them from the housetops?
The Lord blesses those who faithfully proclaim His gospel.
Many times in these sections the Lord shares his displeasure that his servants are not “opening their mouths” because of the fear of men. Many times, they had been told to “open your mouth and it will be filled,” and in doing so, the hearts of others would also be filled. In the hymn “Have I Done Any Good?” we find that doing good is “a blessing of duty and love,” and “there are chances for [missionary] work all around just now, opportunities right in our way.” The basic idea of this hymn is that we have a duty to “open our mouths,” as the Lord has directed to show our gratitude for the many blessings God has given us. The Lord encourages us to “let our light shine” to the world, and share the joy that the gospel can bring. He has counseled us not to let worldly worries influence us. People want to know who can help them. How will they know who they can approach with their questions? Be open enough with your identity that people know they can come to you when they need help. Make yourself approachable and available.
In my last article on D&C 60-62, I shared many ideas about how we can be “everyday missionaries,” and weave the doctrines of the gospel into our normal conversations with our associates. We need to “think outside the box.”
Let me conclude our discussion of these sections by turning to Doctrine and Covenants 73:4 which speaks of finding ongoing, “practicable” ways of preaching the gospel. I learned recently of a missionary who has been called on a “tech mission.” What does a tech missionary even do? In his letter he shared this information:
Our main role is to train and lead other missionaries with how to use Facebook and other social media. So that requires a lot of meetings and a lot of communication. Our other main role is run our eight Facebook pages and manage ads, keep track of data, and determine best practices. Honestly I’ve been learning so many good skills. We joke about how sometimes it feels we are running a business, but it’s so cool seeing the miracles that come from our efforts. Really basically, we are running a business, and what we do is bring joy and lasting change into people’s lives. All that it costs is an open heart and a willing mind.
This past week over forty people showed an interest in learning more about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ through our mission’s efforts to reach out to people on social media. One of those has already accepted a baptismal date, that date marking the day he will fully commit to following our Savior Jesus Christ. The most amazing aspect of this work that we are a part of right now, is it’s no longer the task of knocking doors and really seeking anybody who would even be willing to listen to us. Now, we see these people coming to us. People who have been humbled by recent events. People who realize that they need something greater in their live.
Some other cool things that happened this past week. We sat down for a lesson with this dude that used to be taught by missionaries. He low key wanted to bash with us, and debate some of our beliefs, but in a very good natured way. He is interested in learning more about our church, but he wants to know absolutely for sure what the truth is. Well we asked him, “What would it mean to you if you came to know that the Book of Mormon is true?” He responded and said, “It would mean everything to me. I would read it cover to cover.” Again we see how people are being prepared and led to accept the gospel.
I must admit that I was totally impressed with the innovative “practicable” ways that this missionary was magnifying his calling to “open his mouth.”
As we live the gospel and uphold the covenants we have made, those around us will take notice. They might not be ready to ask for our help in learning the truth at present, but when they are, we need to make sure they know we are available to answer the big questions they might have. Life has different seasons and passages, and a person experiencing a life trauma might be at a place where he is ready to reach out for answers. Make sure we are identifiable as one someone who knows the purpose of life and shows it.
As we build friendships and get to know people, they will notice that we have answers that they are missing. With patience and love, these people they will see that the way of life resulting from living the laws of God is much better than the way they were living. It provides freedom from to many of the world’s obsessions and infatuations, and from cravings that never can be satisfied. They can glimpse the peace that the gospel brings and, when the time is right they will, of their own volition, come to find the answers they seek.